As Americans, we are on the verge of a national health crisis. Not only are we fatter than ever before, but we are getting fatter faster than ever before. The obesity epidemic is spiraling out of control and if we don’t come up with some effective nationwide solutions soon, researchers believe that the United States may experience its first modern decline in life expectancy, as a result of obesity’s associated health problems. Obesity and the diseases that come with it – type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many more – are the largest threats to our national health. We need solutions, and we need them fast.
One dietary factor that we seldom consider in our weight loss efforts is caffeine, which most of us regularly consume in the form of coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. How do these caffeinated beverages and foods affect our weight loss efforts? For years, the discussion of caffeine’s impact on weight gain has been confined to the dark corners of internet chat rooms and forums, where some coffee drinkers were beginning to make connections between their caffeine habits and weight gain. Now, we have access to a wealth of new research that proves their suspicions correct. Caffeine does make us fat, by contributing to overeating and by slowing metabolism.
Caffeine contributes to overeating and slows metabolism in a number of different ways. In this article, I will focus on caffeine’s impact on our stress levels, which causes an increase in hunger, muscle breakdown, and a relocation of fat stores to the body’s center. More precisely, caffeine raises our cortisol levels, and cortisol is one of the body’s chief stress hormones. With regular caffeine use, our cortisol levels become chronically elevated, making weight loss and the maintenance of a lean physique difficult.
First, elevated cortisol levels promote appetite, contributing to overeating. Second, elevated cortisol levels also lead to muscle breakdown, reducing our fat-burning muscle mass. Finally, elevated cortisol levels make our bodies prefer to store central and visceral fat, contributing to the “pot belly” look. By stimulating cortisol and its fat-promoting effects, caffeine contributes to positive energy balance and makes weight loss more difficult.
Since caffeine has these fattening effects, cutting back on our caffeine intake is helpful in maintaining a lean physique. While decreasing caffeine is advisable, given the difficulty in reducing caffeine intake and the centrality of daily caffeine use at the workplace, mitigating caffeine’s fat-promoting effects while continuing to drink coffee, tea, and soda may be a more practical strategy than eliminating our caffeine use altogether.
So what can we do to counteract caffeine’s effect on our stress levels without quitting caffeine altogether? The best way to keep your cortisol levels in check is by adopting and maintaining a diet that is high in vitamin C, which is effective in lowering cortisol and keeping this stress hormone under control. To maintain healthy levels of vitamin C in your body, you can eat fresh fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, fresh greens, and berries. If you are under a lot of pressure at work and find yourself increasing your caffeine intake, then you can add an additional green salad or some citrus fruit to your diet in order to help blunt caffeine’s cortisol-raising effect. By making fresh fruits and vegetables a regular part of your diet, you will be reducing at least some of caffeine’s fat-promoting effects.
Eugene Wells discusses other ways in which caffeine causes us to overeat while slowing metabolism in his book, The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making You Fat? available at Amazon.com. Wells also describes what we can do to blunt caffeine’s fattening effects when we choose to use it, and how we can reduce our overall level of caffeine consumption to achieve and maintain a lean physique.
An Excerpt from the book The Decaf Diet, Is Caffeine Making You Fat?
*Image of “coffee” via Shutterstock