Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Stress Making Everyone Fat?

Part of my weight gain picture, I haven't talked about is the sheer stress I was under. I am talking extreme stress beyond most people's wildest dreams. During the 28 months, I gained my 400lbs, I witnessed crimes, had been laid off, had already had years worth of 60-70 work weeks sometimes combining up to 4 part time jobs to try and keep a basic apartment and car afloat, was unemployed and almost homeless, moved to a giant shockingly crime-ridden metro city where I didn't know anyone, and had to work a job dealing with actually diagnosed sociopaths [not all of them but enough of them] violent teens, in a residential home which was a job I took believing the 12 dollars an hour would be better then the minimum wages I was making at a part time fast food job, after a teaching job lay-off. This job required constant vigilance, and crisis management. I took it fearing homelessness. Stress kills and I have told friends for years, that my weight is always more stable when I am less stressed, outside of food intake. In my case, I do have the confirmed Pseudo Cushings diagnosis, my body pumps out cortisol like gangbusters.

Years ago, circa 2001, I raised the theory [this was before I read research articles] finding out about cortisol, is that I think the high stress of the American life style, is leading everyone to be fatter! Let's think about this, this isn't the acute stress of dealing with being out in the wild and maybe seeing wolf you have to get away from but having it last for a short duration but a the unrelenting lingering stress of today's modern life: life today is far too complex, and overly fast for the human mind and body to take.

There is little peace, and all but the richest live under the constant pressure to perform lest they lose their livelihood. Life was much different when there was peace, quiet, more close-knit small towns, living from the land, and when people had vast family and long lasting social networks right by them. There is a reason psychological problems are skyrocketing along with obesity. So why wouldn't the hypothalamus be damaged under years of unrelenting stress in some people? Why wouldn't the high serotonin making foods, the so called "comfort foods" in this video be the more attractive? In other words, Americans via their high driving, socially disconnected, crowded, fast, complex lifestyles, oddly combining loads of stress while being more sedentary [driving in traffic] are releasing tons of toxic hormones, and self medicating with bad food, food that may offer temporary solace, but little nutrition in helping in recovery.

After I was disabled I would escape to a small town and far slower life, had to leave that place a few years ago going to a larger town but no where near a huge metro city in size. I discovered that life 30 years behind the times is a far better life. Very few are pointing out the obvious, that the modern American lifestyle stinks, its priorities are misplaced, and is destroying people's health and minds.

I'm glad the academics and medicos are finally picking up this thread to examine it. They have done studies even realizing monkeys put under more chronic stress, obtain more belly fat, get a metabolic syndrome, get fatter and sicker. They are realizing chronic stress, the kind that comes about from modern living is shredding people's well being.
I also believe this is why poor people are fatter, not just due to the bad cheap food but knowing their precarious situation in this world, one mistake, one car break-down, one job lay-off and they can end up on the street. What does that kind of stress do to people? Add to that the rising crime-rates, lack of support and ongoing stress of "making it" among groups of people, and it's not a good mixture.

A study was done in Canada, [the references to Eastern Europe and other studies are very interesting] where they realized in the case of rich children and poor ones eating the same, the poor ones were fatter.
What else but the stress-cortisol connection could explain this?

Experts say the deeper roots of the obesity problem lie at the crossroads between social status and biology. Generally speaking, even if rich kids and poor kids eat exactly the same diet -- from Big Macs and fries to tofu and granola -- the poor kids get fatter.

"I believe that there's much more biology to this than what we've been willing to recognize in the past," says Dr. Goodman.

The centre of this poverty-obesity link is a hormonal pathway known as the HPA axis. This is a loop connecting the hypothalamus, a jellybean-size part of the brain that governs appetite, and the pituitary and adrenal glands, which secrete a variety of hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol helps the liver convert fat into the lightning bursts of energy the body needs to escape danger, a vital function. But it also signals the body to accumulate mounds of fat in the abdomen, building the "apple" shape that is so hazardous to health.

"When you have too much cortisol, you have Cushing's disease, which is an illness that causes central fat deposition," says Dr. Goodman.

Once this fat builds up, it spews a toxic array of chemical signals back to the brain and into the body. "It's a vicious cycle," she says.

Research shows children raised in low socioeconomic settings produce greater amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone.

In a 2001 study, researchers from McGill University measured the hormone levels of 300 children from poor to wealthy families. They found three times as much cortisol in low-income kids compared with rich kids.


  1. Yes, I absolutely agree and was just researching this when I found your site!!! I have read too many articles and emails that attribute obesity in poverty situations to the eating of junk food - overly simplistic, and avoiding the stress that people have when under the financial stress and social stigma of povery.

  2. Thanks, I am glad you are looking into this. I believe a huge part of the obesity epidemic in America is related to the special kind of stress in our society and how it impacts the endocrine system especially with low nutrient food. They are doing too much blaming people and all their obesity programs and diets are failing, need to go back to the drawing board, and really study things without a bias. Thank you for your post.

  3. One thing, good food is getting harder to get in America especially for the poor. I've done other posts related to that topic too. If I had my druthers I'd already be on some land growing some of my food, as much as disabilities would allow, but circumstances haven't allowed this yet.

  4. I agree with you 200%!! I assumed (& theorized) this YEARS ago. I KNOW I workout WAY more (& many times harder) & eat a far heather style than MANY rail thin people I know!! Yet they are still fit. I hated school from 3rd grade to graduation via bullying & I'm trying to break my horrific incelness (involuntary celibacy). Thus I've never been married or even in any type of decent relationship. Single, Always in between work (due to ADD & Aspergers Syndrom), & this past decade BOTH my parents passed away! All while being alone living off paycheck 2 paycheck. I also saw that documentary about stress & the monkeys. The most bullied, brow beaten, stressed out chimps were the chubbiest. Stress ALSO works havoc on every other system in your body. Yoga NEVER worked for me to mang. my stress. I'm starting Tai Chi & I'm into visualizations & verbal affirmations. I credit the law of attraction, vision boards, & verbal affirmations to all of the financial success I achieved thus far. I'm going hard now for a help-mate, weight loss, & my health. And doing meditations, massages, visualizations, tai chi, & every other type of enjoyable relaxation technique as well. Dancing is always fun & a great de-stersser!

  5. Makes sense. I eat more than 1000 calories each day and I gain weight, a few pounds for each day. Meanwhile, my mother is going through cancer treatments and I'm the only one willing to help her.

  6. Thanks Anon. Yes I have had lower food from poverty reasons and still did not lose, so I believe it. The cortisol is pumped out like crazy. I would think too if you are helping your mother with cancer treatments that is incredible stress. I am praying for you.