Stress less - is stress making you fat?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

If you have stubborn weight that won’t shift, it is worth a lot at your stress hormone levels. Stress promotes fat accumulation so become aware and bust out of the stress cycle for long-term health.

Many health complaints re related to stress from headaches, high blood pressure, digestive problems, menstrual disturbances to sleep problems. In addition to that long list is the accumulation of central fat-or more commonly referred to as the ‘pot belly’. Not only is it an undesired look, it is also the most dangerous type of fat.

Stress hormones

As well as making us fatter, stress also makes fat more persistent and keep you fat. Stress responds via two main hormones-cortisol and adrenalin, which are responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ response.

Adrenalin gets your body ready to fight or flight. It is released very quickly in response to severe stress such as a gunshot, danger, being yelled at or finding a pile of bills in the mail. Adrenalin acts for a short duration. If stress prolongs, then the long-lasting hormone will kick in-cortisol.

Both cortisone and cortisol stress hormones work together to store more fat, especially around your central area. This fat will remain there for as long as your cortisol hormones remain high. Examples of long term stress could be a stressful job, studies, relationship issues or even chronic pain. These stress factors could all contribute to the extra fat that you have stored around your tummy and regardless of how hard you exercise, this particular fat will not budge.


Long-term stress also plays with our appetite and food cravings by influencing our food choices. Unfortunately stress does not make us run for spinach and carrots but the high fat, high sugar/salt type junk foods. These type of foods might give you a quick fix of feel good hormone serotonin but shortly after you will feel worse and start the viscous cycle of again by searching for your next serotonin fix. That is why they are called ‘comfort foods’-they temporarily comfort us from the stress blues.

In addition, stress can affect the quality and quantity of your sleep, which in turn affect your food choices. Individuals who are not getting enough sleep often tend to make poorer food choices.

If you have been struggling to keep to a healthy diet, it might be worth your while to look at reducing the stress levels in your life first.
What can you do?

1. Talk about it
Seek help and tell someone about your worries and stresses. Remember the good old saying; ‘A problem shared in a problem halved.’ Talking can reduce your anxiety levels whether it’s a friend, family or a professional.

2. Get sleep
Eliminate all distractions in the room that you sleep. TV’s, alarms, phones etc. It is best not to even have them in the bedroom at all. The room you sleep in should be designed for sleep, relaxing and rejuvenating. It is the only time of your day that you get to do this. Aim for about 7-8 hours a night.

3. Eat regular meals
This ensures your blood sugar levels won’t get too low and you will make better food choices. By skipping meals a low blood sugar levels might make you overeat and eat the wrong type of foods. In addition, more stress hormones need to be released to activate energy stores.

4. Exercise regularly
Exercise releases feel good endorphins that will increase your mood and confidence. If you are feeling acutely stressed or sleep deprived yoga classes, swimming, tai chi or stretching might help you relax more.

5. Meditation classes
Find a class in your local paper or buy a meditation CD and listen to it regularly.

6. Herbal and nutritional supplements
These are no substitute for nutritious healthy food but in times of stress they can reduce the effects of stress on your body. Vitamin B’s are always beneficial in times of increased stress as well as herbal medicines such as gingseng and withania. Gingsend has been round for generations in helping boost energy levels and work performance, Withania is an Indian herb that is a very gentle non-stimulant that helps with the function of the thyroid gland. Hypericum perforatum in anotherherb believed to relief nervous tension and mild anxiety.

If you are worried about your cortisol level in your body you can always do a salivary cortisol test, which can measure your cortisol levels throughout the day.

Either way, combating stress factors in your life and ensuring that you have a good work-life balance is essential for good health and is often overseen. Learn to listen to your body’s needs and treat it with respect. You will soon see a positive response if you take good care of yourself-inside and out.

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