By Lisa Shaker-Knopp (LowFatLowCarb.com)
When I meet with a new client I ask them about their lifestyle and their level of stress.
Why is that so important? There are many studies that show a correlation between stress and weight gain. What does one have to do with the other?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the “fight-or-flight” response, and you probably know that it’s the way your body reacts to danger or stress. But do you know what’s behind the fight-or-flight response? It’s actually hormones.
When you’re faced with danger, your adrenal glands release three hormones: norepinephrine, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), and cortisol. Norepinephrine and epinephrine cause several changes to help you survive the danger, including a huge surge in glucose for immediate use, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and a suspension of your appetite. After the danger has passed, cortisol tells the body to stop producing norepinephrine and epinephrine and stimulates your appetite again.
This response evolved to help people deal with short-term survival situations, like an attack by a predator. The trouble is, it occurs in response to all stressors, including those pressing deadlines at work, the traffic that drives you crazy, or all those bills that are due. All that stress results in excess cortisol being built up in the blood. That cortisol just hangs around, causing lots of trouble: It turns young fat cells into mature fat cells that stick with you forever, and increases your cravings for high-fat, high-carb foods.
When you give into those cravings, your body releases a cascade of rewarding brain chemicals that can set up an addictive relationship with food — you stress, you eat. If you don’t consciously control the pattern, you can become physically and psychologically dependent on that release to manage stress. Chronic levels of cortisol lead to storage of fat, especially in the belly region.
You can help yourself keep cortisol in check by limiting caffeine intake, especially at night; avoiding simple carbs, processed foods, and refined grains; and getting plenty of high-quality protein. It’s also crucial that you find stress-relief techniques that work for you. If you can tame your stress response and lower cortisol levels, you’ll have a much easier time losing weight.
There are many ways to work on de-stressing. You can write down your thoughts in a journal, learn to meditate, get a massage, take yoga classes, and plan short vacations more often. All of these changes may not only help you lose some weight, but also aid in creating a better metabolism.