Like the chicken and the egg scenario, it’s difficult to know what comes first: obesity or depression. But experts know that depression is caused by chronic stress and stress releases a specific hormone that triggers the body to eat high carb, comfort food.
It’s called cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” and it plays a critical role in energy metabolism. Cortisol is secreted within the pathway of communication between the hypothalamus, the peanut-sized part of the brain that governs parts of the nervous system, and the pituitary and adrenal glands, which secrete a variety of hormones. However, abnormal functioning of cortisol due to too much stress leads to cravings for carbohydrates instead of nutritious foods.
What’s more, cortisol leads to cravings for the types of carbohydrates that specifically target the abdomen. Increased abdominal fat is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, and higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol, which can lead to other health problems.
According to Chenango County’s longtime Mental Health Clinic Coordinator Martha Sichta, foods that are high in carbs – the comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and chili that are touted on most all cooking shows – in turn release the “feel good hormone,” seratonin, instead of the essential vitamins and nutrients the body needs. Fluctuating seratonin levels, as a result, can send people on a moody, roller coaster ride.