For years, experts have been saying that stress and weight gain are connected somehow, probably, in ways that haven't been entirely understood. But recently, researchers at Lund University discovered close ties between one's weight and their "gut bacteria," or "gut flora." Both terms refer to the complex ecosystem of microorganisms living in your digestive tract. These microscopic friends play a huge role in how our bodies are nourished by the food we eat: They not only help digest and process nutrients, but they also affect fat storage and the balance of glucose in our bloodstream. They can even change how we respond to the hormones responsible for the feelings of "hungry" and "full."
There are marked differences in the gut bacteria ecosystems in people considered thin and those considered "obese." But how do those differences happen?
New research suggests that the key factor may be S-T-R-E-S-S.
A recent study conducted by experts at Georgia State University found that social stress changes the gut bacteria in Syrian hamsters. When placed in situations where they were forced to form social hierarchies, the composition of the hamsters' gut bacteria changed significantly regardless of their eventual position within the hierarchies.
Other studies have found that not only does stress alter your gut's ecosystem, but even your mental health.
So why should you care? Well, what this likely means is that if you're stressed out all the time, simply dieting and exercising isn't going to keep you healthy, especially in the long run. With a lot of us admittedly stressed TF out, this could help explain why long-term weight-loss efforts fail so routinely for so many of us.
It also means that the stereotype of a "lazy fat person" should go directly into the dumpster. Unexpected weight gain is not about weakness or overindulgence; in reality, it's often the exact opposite — we're doing too much and it's killing our good gut buddies that keep us healthy.
It's not clear yet whether reducing stress can put your gut bacteria back on track, but you know what? Take a break anyway. You deserve it.