Are life’s troubles weighing you down?
Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It Magazine (Volume 13)
Escaping stress in our modern word is not an easy task. There is always something causing anxiety be it a concern over finances, ageing parents, sick children, political instability, crime or a relationship that has broken down. Stress comes at us from every direction, and is often unrelenting. Whether the source of stress is physical, emotional, dietary, or environmental in nature, the manner in which one’s body responds is the same. Chronic stress causes a cascade of chemical reactions that impacts our sleep, cognitive abilities, hormonal balance, mood, and libido. As if being an irritable, foggy-brained zombie isn’t bad enough, stress also makes us fat. The type of fat where you seriously consider buying a pair of elasticised trousers from the maternity wear section so that you can sit, breathe and eat a meal all at the same time.
How does stress make us fat?
Stress turns on the body’s survival response. Our adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones provide us with the extra energy and strength required for either fight or flight. This mechanism came in very handy when we were running around the bush in loincloths being chased by lions. However, the on-going stress of our modern world means cortisol levels remain constantly elevated. This can cause levels of blood glucose, insulin and blood pressure to increase and one can feel constantly fatigued. Our bodies also end up storing fat, especially in the belly area and around our internal organs (visceral fat). These are all symptoms of metabolic syndrome, which can precede more serious diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Rampant cortisol is destructive to our health and our waistlines. Gaining an awareness of its effects is vital when formulating a stress management plan and garnering the motivation to stick to it.
Poor quality sleep
Do you need a fix of caffeine in the morning to wake up properly? Or perhaps you rely on sleeping pills to fall asleep at night? This indicates that your diurnal pattern of cortisol is “out of whack.” Unfortunately, due to poorly managed stress, the use of coffee and sleep medication is how many people function on a daily basis. Quality sleep is vital for the production of human growth hormone (HGH), which facilitates fat burning and weight loss. Growth hormone release is highest during the first part of the night, which is why getting to bed at a decent hour is so important. Electromagnetic fields that emanate from devices such as a digital clock, smartphone, computer, or TV can disrupt the production of melatonin and serotonin (both essential for a good night’s sleep). Therefore, adopt a relaxing bedtime routine, switch off all screens at least an hour before going to bed, take a warm bath, ensure your bedroom is cool, your bed is warm and the room is dark. Aim for a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night. If you are going to eat some healthy carbs, like a little sweet potato or butternut, have them at night with your supper. Doing this promotes the release of serotonin and melatonin, which aids sleep. Have protein for breakfast. This ensures an adequate surge of morning cortisol, which wakes us up and keeps us alert.
Increased hunger and cravings
Have you ever found yourself hungrier or craving sweet or fatty foods when worrying about a job interview, exam or the fact that the new puppy has totally destroyed your carpet? Cortisol increases your appetite and seems to affect food preferences too. This is another reason why stress can make you fat. You just end up eating more of all the wrong kinds of foods. No one reaches for a spear of asparagus when they are stressed! Our bodies crave sugar and fat at times like these, which makes chocolate or chips a far more tempting option. Cortisol also affects other hormones like ghrelin (tells us when we are hungry), leptin (tells us when we have eaten enough) and insulin (tells the body to store fat). When these hormones aren’t working properly it can lead to a vicious cycle of hunger, over eating and weight gain. So to prevent hunger and cravings getting the better of you, have emergency LCHF snacks on hand. Keep some chocolate fat bombs in the freezer and a stash of fatty biltong and home-roasted nuts in your pantry. Get rid of all the junk food to remove temptation from the home. If you know you are an emotional eater who looks for comfort foods when feeling stressed out, then it is even more important to put these strategies into place.
Would you rather rather read a good book in bed than make love with your spouse? High cortisol from stress lowers testosterone in both men and women. Lower levels of testosterone means your libido will be heading south as well. Low testosterone can also contribute to insulin resistance, ensuring that any carbs you eat will be sent off directly to your fat cells for storage. Regular sex is a fantastic way to decrease cortisol and get your testosterone levels back to where they should be. The endorphins released during sexual intercourse are natural mood-boosters and stress relievers too. So put stress in its place by showing a little love instead. Another problem related to decreased testosterone, is that muscle mass is lost. The more muscle we lose, the fewer calories we are able to burn. Counter-act this process and boost testosterone by incorporating some heavy weight training as well as high intensity interval workouts into your exercise routine. This will also boost human growth hormone, which we know promotes fat burning. An important point to remember here is that shorter and more intense exercise restores health and hormonal balance, whereas longer, steady paced exercise stresses and depletes your body. Exercising smart is therefore a key factor for good stress and weight management.
Bad lifestyle choices
When a deadline looms at work, do you forego your workouts at the gym? Has reaching for the bottle of wine after a stressful day at the office become a daily habit? Too busy to cook, so you head to the fast food drive-through instead? Besides cortisol release, stress definitely has a psychological and emotional impact on us. Less physical activity, greater alcohol consumption, and poor food choices can all result in weight gain. Make the time to prepare healthy LCHF meals and packed lunches for work, even if it means getting up a little earlier. Leave work at 5 pm and go workout. Exercise is fantastic for managing stress and raising endorphins – the feel good hormones. Having a good dose of endorphins on a regular basis will reduce the chances of experiencing low moods. This should help the comfort eaters to stay away from the chips and chocolate. Surprisingly, just two alcoholic drinks will hinder fat burning by a whopping 73%. To make matters worse, food eaten together with the alcohol will turn to fat since your body needs to prioritise the burning of the alcohol (a toxin in your system). Frequent alcohol consumption has also been shown to raise cortisol levels, which is very counter-productive. If you are using alcohol as a way of coping with stress, then all you are actually doing is making the situation worse.
The bottom line is that stress is not good for us. It can make us fat and sick, but is probably never going to go away. We therefore need to identify our stressors and learn new patterns of behaviour to more effectively manage them. Weight loss is a complex issue and getting a handle on stress is an important piece in the puzzle. What changes do you need to make in your life? Commit 100% to your stress reduction plan and hopefully those unwanted kilos will start to melt away.
Posted on March 7, 2017, in Primal 101 and tagged cortisol, cravings for sweets, impact of sleep on weight gain, low testosterone, poor quality sleep, stress and weight gain. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.