The Skinny on Stress

Have you ever tried to lose weight and found it impossible….even when your diet was perfect and you were exercising like a madman? Well, that’s because weight is not always all about the calories. Sometimes, other factors in our lives, like stress and sleep, affect our ability to lose weight and stay fit.

Stress is defined as your body’s way of responding to any kind of physical, emotional, or mental demand.  It is any real or perceived threat to your mind or body.  When our bodies are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system slows everything down. Our metabolism decreases, which increases our hunger and increases fat storage Further, blood sugar increases and because food isn’t moving properly, we may experience reflux or constipation.

Stress also causes hormonal imbalances that affect weight status. It decreases testosterone, which is related to muscle loss and fat increase. Additionally, it increases cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.”  Cortisol is responsible for stimulating insulin and effecting blood sugar levels,  which affects fat and carbohydrate metabolism.  Levels of cortisol vary at different times of the day. It is usually highest in the morning to increase appetite and energy levels and lowest at midnight to help sleep and repair.  During psychological and physical stress, the normal amount of cortisol in the blood is disrupted and may promote weight gain, especially around the abdomen. This fat around the midsection is typically linked to increased diabetes and heart disease. Increased cortisol is also responsible for increasing cravings for unhealthy food, especially carbohydrates. Increased carbohydrate intake increases insulin, which then stores fat. Additionally, cortisol may decrease sensitivity to leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. Therefore, increased cortisol is dangerous in 2 ways: it decreases metabolism and increases hunger…both contributing to weight gain.

The most important thing you can do to decrease your stress levels is learn to relax! Relaxing increases your metabolism, increases your insulin sensitivity and helps you lose weight.  You can train your body to relax through yoga, meditation, prayer, hypnosis, deep breathing, mindfulness, acupuncture and saunas or steam baths.  Adequate sleep is necessary to decrease stress level as a lack of sleep is linked to an increase in cortisol levels. Exercise is also great for stress because it helps the body relax while burning calories. Physical activity helps to keep insulin and blood sugar in control.

Diet is another key factor to controlling stress and weight.  In order to decrease insulin production and eventually reduce cortisol levels, it is important to keep your blood sugar levels teady by eating a balanced diet.  Never skip breakfast and try to consume six small meals a days with a variety of foods.   Avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, which increase insulin and contribute to stress inside the body. There are many supplements you can add to your diet which have been shown to help the stress response. These include B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, vitamin c, vitamin E, lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, ginseng, rhodiola, aswaganha, licorice, and passion flower extract.

Don’t get frustrated if you are having trouble reaching your ideal weight.  Take a closer look at how stress may be affecting you. If you use the above tips to help mange your stress levels, you may soon find yourself closer to reaching your weight loss goals.

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