In a three-part fat-loss series, Katherine Watkins shares with our readers how stress can be a road-block to your fat loss goals. The importance of stress management it crucial when it comes to weight loss. Read below for stress management strategies so that you can maintain a healthy weight.
What is 'stress'?
Although the term 'stress' is generally associated with psychological stress, (for example, the type of stress caused by having a fight with your spouse, losing your job or getting stuck in traffic) what many people don't realize is that physiological challenges can also produce stress, for example:
- chronic infection
- diets high in sugar or refined carbohydrates
- autoimmune disease
- environmental toxins
- chronic, restrictive dieting; and
- too much exercise
Our bodies are well-equipped to handle short-term, acute stress, however, we are simply not adapted for the chronic, unrelenting stressors of modern life. This chronic stress can have detrimental effects on our health, and our weight.
So how exactly does stress lead to weight gain?
When stress becomes chronic and prolonged, the adrenal glands are triggered to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is normally released in a specific rhythm throughout the day. It should be high in the morning when you wake up (to help get you get out of bed and start your day), and gradually taper off during the day (so you feel tired at bedtime and can fall asleep).
However, when we are subjected to chronic stress, not only are absolute cortisol levels in our body increased, but our natural cortisol rhythm can also become disrupted. When this happens, it unleashes a cascade of negative effects on the body making it almost impossible to lose weight. A disrupted cortisol rhythm:
- raises your bood sugar
- makes it more difficult for glucose to get into the cells
- increases hunger levels
- produces sugar cravings
- suppresses your HPA axis leading to hormonal imbalances
- reduces your DHEA, testosterone, growth hormone and TSH levels
- increses insulin resistance
- increases belly fat
- causes fatty liver
- raises the level of fatty acids and triglycerides in your blood;and
- increases the rate at which you store fat.
As you can see, each one of these things by themselves can make weight loss difficult, but when added together you have an almost perfect recipe for obesity.
What are the tell-tale signs of stress?
So how do we know if our bodies are being negatively affected by stress? Here are some of the main things to look out for:
- slow to start in the morning
- cannot fall asleep or stay asleep
- inability to recover appropriately from exercise (you should feel tired post-workout for approximately 20-30 minutes, then you should feel just fine - if you are dragging for hours or the rest of the day, you have probably done too much!)
- headaches brought on physical or mental stress
- weak immune system & allergies
- gastric ulcers
- afternoon headaches
- feeling full or bloated
- craving sweets, caffeine or cigarettes
- blurred vision
- anxiety and unstable behaviour
- becoming shaky or light-headed if meals are missed or delayed
- dizziness when standing up or sitting down
A salivary adrenal stress test can also tell us whether or not we have a disrupted circadian rhythm.
What can we do?
So what can we do to fix up our stress levels and put our body back into prime fat burning mode? Here are a few simple strategies:
- Sleep! (refer back to email 1 of the Prime Your Body for Fat Loss series for sleep tips)
- Avoid people and situations that drain you of energy, and learn how to say NO!
- Don't overtrain. Too much exercise is as dangerous as too little.
- Engage in restorative activities such as Qigong, meditation, restorative breathing, walking and restorative/yin yoga which are great for relaxing and lowering cortisol
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Play and have fun! Laugh whenever you can.
- Eat a well balanced diet (I recommend a Paleo template) focusing on high quality proteins and fats. A good way to judge what is working for you is to see how you feel by the time you are eating your next meal (are you starving, shaky, irritable....) and experiment with levels of protein, fats and carbohydrates etc to see what helps you feel best
- Consume a wide variety of organic vegetables and fruit
- Include omega 3 fatty acids to help manage inflammation
- Add a high quality mineral sea or rock salt
- Keep hydrated
- Identify and eliminate any food sensitivities (an elimination diet is a good way to do this)
If you suspect that you have any underlying infections (e.g. parasitic, bacterial or viral infections) or autoimmune disease, I highly recommend you undergo testing by a qualified medical professional so that these conditions can be managed appropriately.
Implement some of this tips today and be on the road to stress-free weight loss and maintenance.