How Stress Makes You Fat
- Apr 07, 2019
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If you have ever felt the frustration of not being able to lose weight EVEN when you count calories, workout and do all the things then you need to read this article because you know what? – It’s not all your fault and you are not broken.
There is this thing called stress and it could be making you fat.
What is stress?
Stress is a chemical reaction that naturally occurs in your body in response to any kind of demand or threat – real or imagined – causing what is called ‘fight or flight’ or the ‘stress response’.
So what happens exactly when this is triggered?
The nervous system releases a tidal wave of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which wake the body up for emergency action. The heart beats faster, muscles tense, blood pressure rises, your breath quickens and your senses become sharper and more alert. I know what you’re thinking…. You get this from your coffee and it’s the actual reason you like drinking it right? But more on this later… The purpose of the bodies natural responses is to increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time and enhance focus – preparing you to fight the threat or run from the danger. (2)
This is the bodies way of protecting you in a life threatening situation – it helps you stay focused, energetic and alert. The stress response can save your life and it can also help you meet challenges. It keeps you on your toes when you need to perform at a high level at work or drives you to work hard before a deadline when you’d rather be watching TV. (1)
But when it becomes the norm – stress stops being helpful and creates havoc and damage to our health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life. (3)
How does it make you fat?
Your metabolism is impacted by cortisol in a way that causes more weight gain than is normal which ultimately makes losing weight harder and we begin to believe that we just can’t lose weight which compounds stress levels.
In the short term, this hormonal rush will make you feel less hungry because this primal bodily function steers the blood flow away from your internal organs (remember… it thinks life is being threatened) and into your large muscles so you can either fight back or head for the hills.
After the adrenaline wears off though, cortisol is still hanging around and this hormone screams at your body to replenish the food supply. Fighting off danger to stay alive uses a lot of energy but in reality we are most likely to have not used that energy so the fat and glucose stores don’t actually need replenishing. The thing is, cortisol is in your system and its job is to tell you to stock up on fat and glucose and not take stock of what fat and glucose you have or haven’t used.
Too much stress changes our bodies in all sorts of ways such as where on our bodies we store fat. Cortisol stores of fat supplies often end up as belly fat and it is this extra layer of ‘visceral fat’ that creates all sorts of havoc on our health. To add insult to injury, belly fat triggers inflammation, even more cortisol production, slows your metabolism and the cycle of ‘stress’ continues. Because your body wants to maintain a consistent stream of glucose for all that hard mental and physical work dealing with ongoing ‘threats’ this enables the body to become very efficient at producing stress hormones and the fat stores can keep increasing regardless of how much exercise and ‘dieting’ we do. In actual fact, if the ‘threats’ are not dealt with it can become even more threatened when we reduce food supply and increase physical demands. Increased cortisol increases unhealthy food cravings as well as a higher volume of food due to excess nervous energy.
How do I reduce these stress hormones?
Going on a calorie restricted diet when cortisol is a contributing factor to your weight gain or lack of weight loss is not the answer as this creates more stress. You need to sort out and balance this hormone first and here is a couple of stress busting practices to get you started. (4)
Breathe. - The way you breathe is crucial to managing your stress response. Start the day with 20 long slow breathes and pay attention to your breathing throughout your day. While you are waiting in a queue or before you walk into the meeting – take a few moments to breathe in and out deep, long and slow full belly breaths. There really is nothing that lowers stress hormones faster than diaphragmatic breathing.
Caffeine/Alcohol – are you using caffeine to ramp yourself up and alcohol to wind yourself down? Consider swapping coffee for green tea and wine for sparkling water. I know! This may seem impossible but these options will give your nervous system a break and will impact appetite and fat burning. The rush you feel from caffeine is what is training your body even further to over-produce these hormones.
Gratitude – I know it’s a buzz word but it is impossible to feel overwhelmed or stressed when you are feeling grateful. Take the time, slow down and notice the little moments in your day that bring you joy.
Adding adaptogens to your daily routine will also make you more resilient to the effects of high cortisol levels.
How do Adaptogens help?
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants. They help balance, restore and protect the body. An adaptogen doesn’t have a specific action; it helps you respond to any influence or stressor by normalising your physiological functions.
Adaptogens help regulate your stress from the inside out. They are safe, natural herbs and plants that assist your body to function as normal..
And it isn’t just traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines that have been using them for thousands of years. Adaptogens were ‘rediscovered’ and scientifically tested by the Soviet Space Agency and Sports Performance Ministries during the cold war. It was actually a Russian scientist that coined the term ‘Adaptogens’ after scientifically classifying a group of plants as having an impact on the bodies stress responses.
Adaptogens were used across astronauts and athletes alike to increase mental clarity, health and physical stamina. (5)