The State of Israel is currently facing one of the most challenging periods in its history. With the threat of rockets and missiles looming amid the war with Hamas, millions of citizens find themselves in a constant state of fear.
Tens of thousands of Israelis are concerned for their family and loved ones serving on the front lines to defend Israel. Coping with the realities of this war has caused widespread stress and anxiety, which can contribute to weight gain.
Extended hours spent in front of the television, lack of physical activity, and emotional eating to find comfort all make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Additionally, the stress-induced lack of sleep experienced over the past two weeks can lead to obesity. Less sleep means fewer calories burned while awake.
When we are stressed, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood our bodies to keep us alert and tense. It doesn’t matter if the pressure stems from red alert sirens, fear of security incidents near the border, or uncertainty about the duration and intensity of the fighting in Gaza. These stress hormones can have mental and physical effects, ranging from panic and anxiety attacks to sleep disturbances and weight changes.
However, it is important to note that stress itself is not the sole cause of weight gain. Sometimes stress can result in loss of appetite, causing individuals to skip meals. Furthermore, the need to alleviate tension can manifest as physical activity, aiding in burning calories and losing weight.
Here are four reasons why this current period may actually present an opportunity to address the issue of obesity and stay healthy:
4 ways Israel’s war with Hamas can make you stressed and lose weight
- Stress can stimulate appetite hormones, leading to increased hunger. However, shorter periods of stress can actually suppress appetite hormones.
- Research estimates that around 40% of people respond to stress by eating less. The distraction and stress caused by the security situation might cause individuals to eat smaller portions, skip meals, or even forget to eat altogether.
- Various studies suggest that releasing stress hormones can impact metabolism. For example, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) can reduce appetite and stimulate the breakdown of fat tissue. Hormones like cortisol, released during stress, target energy stores in the body, resulting in increased calorie burning and metabolism. However, it is crucial to remember that cortisol can break down muscle to generate energy, potentially leading to a decrease in muscle mass rather than a decrease in fat percentage.
- During periods of stress, the body suppresses the digestive system to prioritize other bodily functions. This slowdown in digestion and reduced secretion of digestives enzymes may hinder nutrient absorption. Additionally, stress and anxiety can cause stomach disorders, leading individuals to avoid or reduce food intake and potentially experience weight loss.
Engaging in physical activity, ranging from aerobics to yoga, can effectively lower stress levels. Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, as demonstrated in a study published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Regular low to moderate intensity aerobic exercises for six weeks led to decreased depression and anxiety symptoms among students. Exercise prompts the body to produce more endorphins, which boost mood and help avoid emotional eating, thereby balancing hunger and satiety mechanisms in the body.
So what should you do?
- Exercise restraint with eating: Recent estimates say that the war may continue into the foreseeable future, unlike the previous rounds of fighting with Gaza that ended relatively quickly. In fact, Israel is moving into a state of “emergency routine” – a period in which we have to move rapidly between normal day-to-day activities as much as possible to an emergency state. Not exercising restraint with eating can lead to significant weight gain. It is clear that in times like this, there may be cases where we find ourselves eating irregularly and there will be an excess of calories. However, it is important to try and get back on track as soon as possible.
- Eat only when hungry: In order to not starve yourself into uncontrollable binge eating, it is recommended to listen to your body and eat when hungry. If you don’t feel the need to eat, then there’s no need to go to the refrigerator. In addition, it is important to make sure to have full and varied meals, and not grab some candy at random from the pantry.
- Limit the hours you watch the news: One of the significant causes of stress and anxiety in this period is watching the news and following updates on what is happening on the front and the home front. Limit your hours watching or reading the news and go exercise instead. There are many studies that have found that exercise has a significant effect in reducing stress. It can be running, walking, or even yoga. If it is not possible to leave the house, you can train in online exercise classes and Zoom.
- Not just a comforting hamburger: Contrary to what many think, it’s not just shawarma or pizza that are comfort foods that make us feel good. In recent years, several studies have been published that examined the effectiveness of comfort foods, and found that even foods like popcorn, yogurt, and nuts can help us improve our mood just as much as high-calorie foods.
- Physical activity for children: It is true that the education system has begun to gradually return to normal, but many children and teenagers find themselves, just like during COVID, staring for long hours in front of the screen and snacking. It is important to try and give them a time dedicated to physical activity. If you are afraid to leave the house, you can find many options to exercise at home or even at the gym, through online classes or Zoom.