Stress & The Battle of the Bulge
Let’s face it – we are an overstressed society. Too many commitments, too many things to do, too many obligations, and too much work. While many of us have mastered the art of multi-tasking (and take pride in doing so), we have spread ourselves much too thin and because of this, our health is starting to plummet and our weight is skyrocketing.
Stress is not easy to control, let alone get rid of. It’s in our blueprint and our hectic lifestyles perpetuate the problem. But what is it really doing to our bodies??? You may be the type of person that exercises frequently (at high intensities for that matter), eats healthy, and does all the right things to maintain a healthy status quo. The only problem is that your weight is not budging. You can’t seem to drop the excess lbs, especially in your abdomen. This is the moment to re-evaluate your lifestyle and figure out if stress the confounding factor.
Here’s how stress is directly affecting your waistband…..
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress and is considered our “fight or flight” energy mechanism. When released during times of increased stress, cortisol and adrenaline provide the body with an abundance of glucose (sugar) by breaking down fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and depositing it in the bloodstream for the bursts of energy we are demanding from our body. The problem is – our body doesn’t know the difference from sitting in traffic and being late for a meeting to being chased by a bear (our fight or flight response). The glucose is still being pumped out. Now, the excess sugar that was released and not used, accumulates in your abdominal area and is stored as fat. Furthermore, elevated cortisol levels can decrease lean muscle mass, inhibit recovery from injuries, compromise the immune system, and increase inflammation in your body.
Another negative dietary impact of elevated cortisol levels is an increase in your appetite. More specifically, a craving for carbohydrates (sugar) and fat, which we all know that excess of these two macronutrients keeps the dial moving up on the scale. So….the cortisol is telling your brain to eat and your belly to store. Definitely not good.
This detrimental process of constantly stressing our bodies to the extreme inhibit the body’s natural ability to REST and RELAX!!! Such are words infrequently used in today’s society. Which brings me to sleep. Or the lack thereof. When you are sleep-deprived, your cortisol levels are still working in overdrive, preventing secretion of hormones necessary to repair, restore, and rejuvenate during the sleep cycle such as the growth hormone, which helps to make you leaner and stronger. Additionally, ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger) and leptin (a hormone that controls hunger) are greatly affected by lack of sleep and increased cortisol levels. Here’s what happens….Ghrelin increases – you eat more frequently. AND leptin decreases – you lack control over how much and how often you are eating. The last thing you want to eat when you are tired and stressed is a bowl of steamed veggies. Forget that! Give me salty and sugary foods!!!
Now I could go into a million and one ways on how to “de-stress”. But we all know the obvious. Mediate, do yoga, go on a hike, sit and breathe (such a simple, yet unbearable task), hang out with friends, get more sleep, exercise, etc., etc. And I think you should try and incorporate those activities often. On the other hand…..how about trying something different?
- Exercise - It’s a waste of time to exercise and stress your body even more when you are already feeling maxed out. The best thing to do is REST. You will benefit more from skipping the gym, eating something light, and getting some sleep than to jump on the treadmill for a dreadful hour. Remember – you don’t lose weight while you are working out. You lose weight when your body is sleeping.
- Mix it Up - Don’t always do high intensity exercise (I should take my own advice). Take it down a notch. Less stress, less inflammation, less cortisol produced.
- Increase Healthy Fats - Omega 3′s have been shown to decrease inflammation in the body and decrease cortisol levels. Add some flaxseed oil/meal, walnuts, and fatty fish to your diet.
I would like to point out that every “body” is unique and hormone levels fluctuate significantly from one person to the next. This may apply to you or maybe it doesn’t. But the common denominator is that ALL OF US are way too stressed. Try and work on decreasing your stress levels by doing something relaxing that YOU love. And if you are concerned about your hormone levels, ask your doctor to do a hormone profile on you. The more you know, the better.
Here’s to taking a deep breath and relaxing!!!!