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Eating Healthy and Still Gaining Weight? This Could Be Why.

Research proves this could be causing unwanted weight gain.

Maybe you've been doing all the right things. You're eating nutritious foods, portioning them out properly, drinking lots of water, working out regularly—but you're still gaining weight. Don't worry, you're not the only one who experiences this frustration. In fact, if you're currently in a stressful season of your life, it can almost be expected. That's because stress can make your metabolism slow down, causing your body to hold on to that extra weight—regardless of your healthy habits.

Here's what you need to know about stress and still gaining weight, and for even more healthy tips, be sure to read up on The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.

Here's why stress makes you gain weight.

It all has to do with something called your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). According to research, the PNS puts your body into a "rest and digest" condition. Typically your body transfers into this particular condition during the day when you start winding down—maybe after work, during dinner, and before bed.

The opposite of this is called your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which drives your "fight and flight" response in stressful situations. Your body is more attuned to be in this state at the beginning of the day when your body and brain are rearing to get things done (you can also blame your circadian clock for this).

Both of these are natural parts of your autonomic nervous system, and you'll likely experience both throughout the day. However, if you're not careful with your stress levels, your body won't be able to naturally transfer into your PNS, causing your body to remain in that SNS "fight or flight" response.

Here's why this causes issues with your physical body. When your body is in its "fight or flight" response, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol. According to Orlando Health, cortisol "sends your body into 'fight-or-flight' mode, temporarily pausing regular bodily functions and slowing your metabolism."

Even though cortisol creates a surge of energy in your body, and can stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism, keeping your body in that state can be harmful long term. According to the Mayo Clinic, "chronic stress and persistently high cortisol levels may be associated with increased and weight gain." Plus, not only is your body under stress and not losing weight, but you'll also likely experience intense cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods—making it harder to follow the nutrition plan you set for yourself.

Plus, Orlando Health states that it's common for spikes in cortisol to cause accumulated weight gain in the abdomen, which leads to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

How to relieve stress in the body.

Easier said than done, right? Especially if your body is going through all kinds of stress—like dealing with issues at work, conflict with your family, or hey, even living through a global pandemic.

If you find yourself in a constant state of stress (when's the last time you took a long, deep breath?), then it may be time to develop a stress management practice in your daily life.

The best way to reduce cortisol and to get your body into a natural PNS state again is to relax. For starters, get an adequate amount of sleep. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need at least 7 hours a night.

You should also consider a stop time for looking at screens—smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, all of it. According to a study published by the International Journal of Endocrinology, the blue light in those screens mess with melatonin levels, which is the hormone that helps you get into a restful sleep. The blue light also affects your cortisol levels at night, increasing that "fight or flight" mode and messing with your circadian clock—which is key for getting your body to rotate through both the SNS and PNS during a 24-hour period. So consider turning off those screens an hour before bed.

Exercise is also a great way to release stress hormones—but not always the intense kind! According to the Mayo Clinic, even low-impact cardio—like aerobics and yoga—can act as a stress reliever for the body, while also pumping up your endorphins and improving your mood.

And lastly, adopting a meditation practice can also help you, in whatever form you want this to be in. According to research by JAMA Internal Medicine, mindful meditation can help ease anxiety and psychological stress. The study also points out that meditation not only helps with symptoms of anxiety, but can also assist with other nasty effects of that "fight or flight" mode your body is in—like experiencing poor sleep or a negative mood, according to Harvard Health.

So if you're feeling frustrated with your body because you're still gaining weight after doing all the right things, take a long, deep breath. Remember that there may be more at play when it comes to your body. The best way to care for it is to adopt a stress management practice and continue to eat all the nutritious foods you love, instead of stressing yourself out even more and falling for the lies that come with toxic diet culture.

Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten