Fat is the ultimate three-letter word, especially the kind that you spend so much time watching your diet and hitting the gym to keep at bay (or at least to keep off your butt). But beyond making you look less-than-svelte, fat can have significant physical and emotional implications. We talked to Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and author of The Secret of Vigor: How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy, to find out a few essential facts that might surprise you.
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Certainly there is no easier way to ruin your day than seeing you’ve gone up a few numbers on the scale, but having excess fat—especially around your belly—activates that inflammation/cortisol cycle, which studies show may be a factor in serious mood disorders like bipolar disorder. If you’re stuck in a stress/eat/gain/stress cycle, however, you’re likely to experience at least a perpetually low mood, even if you don’t have an actual clinical condition.
To help break the cycle, try eating a square of dark chocolate, suggests Talbott; there is just enough sugar to satisfy a stress-induced craving, but the healthy flavonoids help calm inflammation that leads to more stress. Low-fat dairy products like yogurt can have a similar effect—the combination of calcium and magnesium can help calm the stress response.