We all feel it. Stress. What makes us stressed is different for everybody, as are the symptoms, but the hormonal changes that take place in our body are the same.
Can stress make you fat? Yup! But don’t let that discourage you, because knowledge is power, and knowing what to do can make all the difference.
Here is how stress makes you gain weight. Back in the caveman days, stress was usually a sabre tooth tiger chasing us. Our bodies go into fight or flight mode. We need a sudden burst of energy for action, so our body releases cortisol, our stress hormone. That in turn releases insulin, for a surge of blood sugar to get us going. That stress also turns off digestion, because when you are running from a tiger, the energy needs to be in your muscles, not in your digestive tract!
Our problem these days, is that our stress never turns off. We are constantly emitting cortisol and insulin. Insulin tells our body to store fat, so having peaks and valleys all day long is a problem. Cortisol specifically stores fat tissue in the abdomen, which puts at risk of premature death. In addition to all this, when we are stressed, we sleep less, either because we think we don’t have the time, or because our minds are too wired to turn off. Lack of sleep releases a hormone called ghrelin (see my blog all about Ghrelin http://www.fitkitchendiva.com/ghrelin-inside-sabotaging-weight-loss-efforts/ ). Ghrelin gives us the munchies. So we have numerous things working against us when we live a stressed life.
Now you are going to tell me that you can’t get away from your stress. Maybe it’s your boss, your kids, your spouse. Maybe it you causing your own stress! (now there is a thought worth investigating).
Here is what you can do to limit what that stress can do to your body
- Take 5 deep breaths. Scientists measured participants blood cortisol levels, then asked them to take 5 deep belly breaths, then re-measured cortisol levels. The levels actually dropped! And that’s with just 5 breaths – imagine what 5 minutes of breathing could do!
- Eat every 3-4 hours. Maintain steady insulin (blood sugar) levels by eating every 3-4 hours. Low blood sugar makes us cranky and craving carbs and sugar. High blood sugar tells your body to store calories as fat tissue.
- Exercise. Studies show that exercise reduces cortisol levels. Not just yoga, but weight training, cardio, walking. Anything that gets the heart rate up. Keep in mind, that long duration, or very high intensity exercise actually elevates cortisol as the body perceives it as a threat. PLus you will burn calories and build metabolism boosting muscle.
- Get extra B vitamins. During times of stress our body utilizes more B vitamins, which can leave us depleted. Either supplement with a B-complex (meaning all the B vitamins in one capsule) or eat vitamin B rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, animal products and leafy greens.
- Sleep – A University of Chicago study found that getting an average of 6½ hours each night can increase cortisol, appetite, and weight gain. Aim for 7-9 hours. Analyze what it will take for you to get that. Is it setting an alarm to remind you to start winding down for bed? Is it asking for extra help to allow you extra time? Is it stress reduction techniques? Or is it just skipping that late night TV show in favour of an extra hour sleep?
- Supplement with Magnesium or eat magnesium rich foods such as avocado, yogurt, almonds and bananas. Many people in North America are magnesium deficient. In addition to being essential in over 300 chemical reactions in the body, it is a muscle relaxant as well, enabling you to have a better nights sleep. Also great for constipation and bone health.
So while we want to decrease stress as much as possible, it is a fact of life, but there are steps we can take to minimize it’s impact on our waistline.