Dr Lina Begdache is an assistant professor in the Health and Wellness Studies department at Binghamton University, NY. She received her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology with a Neuroscience concentration from Binghamton University. She earned a master’s degree in Nutrition Sciences from the University at Buffalo, NY. Dr Begdache is a registered-Dietitian Nutritionist, a Certified Nutrition-Specialist-Scholar, a Certified Dietitian and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is also a speaker and a writer on different topics on nutrition, brain health and mood. Her research focuses on depicting and modeling the links between dietary and lifestyle factors (such as sleep and exercise) in relation to stress, mental distress (anxiety and depression) and brain function. She has a special interest in gender differences and age groups as brain morphology differ across these groups.
You Are What Your Stress Level Is During the Pandemic
If you have experienced unwanted weight gain or weight loss during the pandemic, you are not alone. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, 61% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight change since the pandemic began.
The results, released in March, showed that during the pandemic, 42% of respondents gained unwanted weight – 29 pounds on average – and nearly 10% of those people gained more than 50 pounds. On the flip side, nearly 18% of Americans said they experienced unwanted weight loss – on average, a loss of 26 pounds.
I am a nutritional neuroscientist, and my research investigates the relationship between diet, lifestyle, stress, and mental distress such as anxiety and depression.
The findings about unwanted weight changes make sense in a stressful world, especially in the context of the body’s stress response, better known as the fight-or-flight response.
This response is an innate reaction that evolved as a survival mechanism. When faced with stress, the body wants to keep the brain alert. It decreases levels of some hormones and brain chemicals in order to turn down behaviors that won’t help in an urgent situation, and it increases other hormones that will.
Overall, stress can throw eating habits and motivation to exercise or eat healthy out of balance, and this last year has certainly been a stressful one.
The pandemic left many people confined to their homes, bored and with plenty of food. When adding the stress factor to this scenario, this a perfect situation for unwanted weight changes.