Overweight People Aren’t Lazy: They’re Under Too MUCH Stress and Are Sleeping Too LITTLE

As we reported yesterday, overweight people don’t eat enough food … of the right kind.

Similarly, while many may assume that overweight folks are lazy and are not motivated enough, the truth is that they may be too stressed out.

Specifically, stress increases appetite.

And it is well-documented that stress causes people to crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate junk foods which pack on belly fat. For example, the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2003:

[The stress hormone cortisol] (GCs) … increase the salience of pleasurable or compulsive activities (ingesting sucrose, fat, and drugs, or wheel-running). This motivates ingestion of “comfort food.” … GCs act systemically to increase abdominal fat depots…. In stressed or depressed humans chronic stress induces either increased comfort food intake and body weight gain …. We propose that people eat comfort food in an attempt to reduce the activity in the chronic stress-response network with its attendant anxiety. These mechanisms, determined in rats, may explain some of the epidemic of obesity occurring in our society.

And see this.

And while many would assume that overweight people are lazy and sleep too much, a lack of sleep actually increases obesity. For example, the Chicago Tribune reported last year:

In 1960, Americans averaged 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night …  Today we’re averaging 6 1/2 to seven hours [Children ages 2 to 3 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, while children ages 5 to 10 need 9 1/2 to 11 hours].

Study after study showing that a lack of good quality sleep—seven to nine hours of uninterrupted slumber—is making us fat. And it’s not just overworked adults who are gaining weight. Long-term studies are finding that sleep-deprived children also are piling on the pounds.

“You’re fighting against the tide to lose weight when you’re sleep-deprived,” said Dr. Amy Aronsky, medical director of The Center for Sleep Disorders in Portland, Ore., and a board certified sleep specialist. “Good sleep is as important as a good diet and exercise when it comes to weight loss.”


Studies have shown that when sleep is restricted, the hormone ghrelin increases and the hormone leptin decreases. Ghrelin tells our brain that we’re hungry, while leptin tells it we’ve eaten enough.

Average leptin levels decreased 18 percent when sleep was restricted to four hours per night over two nights, according to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine by Dr. Eve Van Cauter, Average ghrelin levels increased 28 percent when sleep was restricted.

In other words, when we don’t get enough sleep we feel hungry, even if we’ve eaten enough.

In another Van Cauter study, healthy young volunteers showed signs of prediabetes when they were restricted to four hours of sleep for six nights in a row.

The stress hormone cortisol also surges when we’re sleep-deprived. When that happens, we crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods (“comfort foods”) to increase our serotonin levels to calm down, said Dr. Michael Breus, author of “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan.”

Other studies consistently show that adults sleeping fewer than six hours a night increase their likelihood for becoming overweight or obese — even when exercising and eating right, Decker said. Among adults ages 32 to 49, those averaging five hours of sleep were twice as likely to be obese after nine years compared with those averaging seven hours.

The news for kids is just as alarming. A study of 8,234 children (starting at age 38 weeks) found that the odds of being obese by age 7 increased 50 percent for children averaging fewer than 10 1/2 hours of sleep. Another study found that 58 percent of obese kids averaged fewer than eight hours of sleep, while just 11 percent of non-obese kids averaged fewer than eight hours of sleep.

And see this, this and this.

In addition, numerous studies show that melatonin reduces body weight and burns fat. Our body produces melatonin when it is dark. If we don’t get enough sleep, it means the light is on too much, and our body can’t produce enough melatonin.

Finally, reducing stress and getting enough sleep gives people extra energy to exercise. On other other hand, if people are stressed out and sleep deprived, they’ll be focused on just getting through the day, and will thus be less likely to exercise.

Of course, exercise is a powerful stress-reducer and cure for insomnia … so it goes both ways.

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  • I have read a report by a body-builder who urges underweight people to get more sleep. This would seem to contradict the report above, though you could argue that lack of sleep could cause both extremes when other factors are involved. Rest does create perfect bodies. Rest includes and/or requires the correct food intake, eating habits, exercise and recreation so that stress is minimized.

  • kim

    ‘caloric deficit’ is meaningless at best. at worst, it is a religion which has caused untolds of millions to suffer needlessly.

    if it was science, it could be measured. there would a common, tested/validated procedure to determine a patient’s ‘caloric setpoint’. there would be dozens of studies showing how patients who exceed it by 200 calories a day gained more weight than those who overshot by 100.

    we don’t have those studies because 1) we don’t know people’s caloric setpoints and 2) it is nigh on impossible to measure one’s caloric intake with the necessary degree of accuracy (outside of laboratory-based experiments).

    in a world where ‘caloric deficit’ was ‘settled’ science you would never find a study where people who consumed more calories lost more weight:
    1. All dieters lost weight, but those on low carb diet lost more than the low fat group — even while consuming MORE calories:

    – Group on lower-cal, low-carb diet lost an average of 23 lbs.
    – Group on same-calories low-fat diet lost an average of 17 lbs.
    – Group on extra 300 calories, low-carb diet lost an average of 20 lbs.

    2. Over the course of the study, the group of low carb dieters who got an extra 300 calories a day consumed extra 25,000 calories. That should have added up to about seven pounds. But for some reason, it did not.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    taubes: “Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior.”

    it is also important to maintain a distinction between ‘weight loss’ and ‘fat loss’. starvation diets will result in weight loss, agreed. weight loss is not a plus if it’s at the cost of bone density or muscle mass. and it is far from agreed that only starvation can result in fat loss.

    A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women
    (low carb = unlimited calories)

    The results of this study demonstrate that a very low carbohydrate diet, taken without a specified restriction of caloric intake, is effective for weight loss over a 6-month period in healthy, obese women. Compared with the low fat group, who followed a diet conforming to currently recommended distributions of macronutrient calories, the very low carbohydrate group lost significantly more weight, a finding that was apparent both when the women completing the diet were considered alone and when the data were analyzed using intent to treat principles. In addition, despite eating a high percentage of calories as fat and having relatively high intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol, the women in the very low carbohydrate group maintained normal levels of blood pressure, plasma lipids, glucose, and insulin.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    one can easily lose fat without exercising. if you want to exercise, 10 minutes climbing a tree is probably the healthiest of all options. walk, but not to burn calories, walk for pleasure.

    sleep is still more important.

    think of a tiger. sleeps 18 hours a day. no diabetes, obesity. gets hungry, spends 10 minutes stalking her prey (typically, once a week). eats 88 lbs or so of meat. says to herself, ‘time for a nap, don’t you think?’

    what’s that tiger’s caloric setpoint today? tomorrow?

    Unlimited calorie, low-carb diet better and healthier for obese children
    Conclusions: We have demonstrated a significant decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides in elementary school–aged children after 10 weeks of a restricted-carbohydrate, unlimited protein, and unlimited energy diet. We suggest that this diet may decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese children. Long-term studies will be needed to substantiate these data.


    The problem is that this theory of physical activity has long been contradicted by the evidence. In 1932, Russell Wilder noted that his patients tended to lose more weight with bed rest than they did with strenuous physical activity.

    In the 1960s, the “experts” continued to point out that moderate exercise would only lead to insignificant increases in energy expenditure and these could easily be matched by slight and comparatively effortless changes in diet.

    Even Louis Newberg, who is certainly not a fan of the alternative hypothesis, declared that “a 250-pound man will have to climb twenty flights of stairs to rid him of the energy contained one slice of bread.”

    However, we’ve known since at least 1940 that a significant increase in energy expenditure also leads to an increase in appetite. Northwestern University endocrinologist Hugo Rony stated in 1940 that “vigorous muscle exercise usually results in immediate demand for a large meal.”
    By at least 1960, it had been amply demonstrated that exercise is an ineffective method of increasing energy output and that physical exertion eventually evokes a desire for food such that the subsequent intake of calories may exceed that lost during exercise.

  • Vivamagonline


    In today’s busy society, it’s almost a badge of honour to claim that you get too little sleep. In fact, the average person sleeps 60 to 90 minutes less than they did 50 years ago. Thirty-five to 40 percent of the North American adult population has problems with falling asleep or with daytime sleepiness. “It’s a big problem,” says Lawrence Epstein, MD, regional director for the Harvard-affiliated Sleep Health Centers and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. “People don’t think sleep is important because we can get by with less, but we’re putting our health at risk.”

    – See more at: http://www.vivamagonline.com/sleepless-in-canada/#sthash.ams3JGQ0.dpuf

  • Adam

    The article in the above comment has really improved my sleeping pattern as I started using the products recommended and applying the tips mentioned to my daily life. Highly recommended to read.