At a time when Americans should have been focused on their health, as a population, they were anything but. During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the average American gained two pounds a month, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network Open).
But the reasons for this trend were the result of brain chemistry that evolved in humans over the millennia, according to the well-respected neurologist, Dr. Steven Goldstein, founder of the Houston Healthcare Initiative. He described these on his regular podcast that can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Audacy, Houston Healthcare Initiative, iHeart, Podcast Addict, Podbean, Backtracks, Soundcloud, and just about anywhere podcasts can be heard.
Stress & More Stress
Dr. Goldstein told his audience that the main reason for the weight gain was related to stress. “The main reason is stress, especially given the really bad news about the seriousness of the pandemic and the controversies about different treatments early on,” he told his listeners. “That was the stress of a long duration which exacerbated the physiological accompaniments of stress.”
Fight or Flight Responses
As part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, the human brain goes on high alert. Maintaining a high state of alertness requires more energy for the brain in the form of calories. “Heightened states of stress and anxiety-like this require more calories to keep the brain on high alert, Dr. Goldstein stated. “We eat sugar to get a boost of energy. Sugar gets converted to energy faster but does not last long, requiring more sugar. It is a cycle that is unhealthy short term, but really bad long term.”
Long Term Fear of the Unknown
On top of that stress was the unknown. No one living had ever experienced anything like the Covid-19 pandemic and closure of practically everything. According to Dr. Goldstein, not knowing was a huge problem for the American psyche. Research shows that the unknown makes people more stressed than when they know something is about to happen. “In late March, April, and May of last year we really didn’t know what we were dealing with, in terms of how contagious the Covid-19 virus was or how potentially fatal it might be,” Dr. Goldstein said. “Obviously then, the unknowns of the virus and the dramatic worldwide lockdowns were things none of us had any experience with and that is the perfect recipe for stress, anxiety, and the overeating that accompanies both.”
To Flee or Not to Flee
Stress like this is in reaction to the ‘fight or flight’ response that is hard-wired into the consciousness of humans. According to the website Psychology Tools, the fight or flight response is ‘an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee.’ When the duration of this automatic response is months or even over an entire year, part of the evidence that Americans endured all this stress is registered on the scale.
So what in the human psyche links eating with stress? “Humans evolved such that when faced with stress, the body does what it must to keep the brain on high alert,” Dr. Goldstein reported. “It decreases levels of some hormones and brain chemicals to discourage behaviors that won’t help in an urgent situation, and it increases other hormones that will.” Dr. Goldstein added more details, “our ancestors had to outrun predators and other humans or be ready to fight them. Thus, we evolved to release adrenaline in response to the fight or flight response. From an evolutionary perspective, that stress responses are tuned to environmental uncertainty suggests that they gave people a better chance at survival, depending on who or what was chasing you.”
A Gut Feeling
Dr. Goldstein also explained that there was a connection between the brain and the stomach. “The brain is connected to the gut through a two-way communication system called the vagus nerve,” he said. “When you are stressed, your body inhibits the signals that travel through the vagus nerve and slows down the digestive process.” Eating for comfort can be a natural response to stress, but when combined with the lower motivation to exercise and consumption of low-nutrient, calorie-dense food, people can and did gain weight.
About the Houston Healthcare Initiative
The Houston Healthcare Initiative podcast with Dr. Steven Goldstein is an information vehicle for people who want to know all medical options for themselves and are interested in reforming the healthcare industry. To learn more about the Houston Healthcare Initiative please visit www.