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Feeding Feelings: stress and weight gain

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Defined as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health", obesity is a condition that is increasingly common. In Australia, 3 in every 5 adults are overweight or obese; with obesity representing an important risk factor for numerous life-threatening health problems including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.

The notion that stress plays an important role in the development of obesity is becoming increasingly apparent. As obesity continues to escalate as a health problem worldwide there is growing evidence that stress-related chronic stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, resulting in excess glucocorticoid exposure, may play a potential role in the development of visceral obesity. This physiological response is commonly interrelated with an emotional attachment to food characterised by eating when dealing with negative emotions. Chronic stress may trigger and reinforce neural pathways leading to a vicious cycle of mood eating and stronger reactions to highly rewarding foods. By taking into account this systemic disturbance in homeostatic balance the clinical opportunity for successful weight loss is not only increased, but the wider health risks associated with obesity can also be better managed.

In this infographic we explore the critical relationship between chronic stress, alterations in HPA activity and obesity and offer important therapeutic considerations for better clinical outcomes.


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Melissa Lee
Melissa is a designer turned nutritionist, who has combined the two modalities to create purposeful designs for various health publications and websites. Having initially studied Multimedia Systems Design, she then went on to complete a BHSc in Nutritional Medicine which led to her involvement in the integrative medicine industry and eventually to FX Medicine.