by Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN
Stress is a normal function in life. It helps us to meet deadlines, pass an important exam, face our fears and strive to pay our bills. It makes us feel tense, while making us feel more focused and alert. However, often we become over-stressed or chronically stressed. This can happen to anyone for any reason and we all respond to life’s daily stressors differently. When we are chronically stressed, the body releases the stress hormone, cortisol and places the body in “survival mode.” This affects metabolism, body-fat storage, blood sugar and food cravings leading to weight gain and a hard time losing weight.
Overtime, chronically stressed individuals have more hormonal changes, and this can result in adrenal fatigue. There becomes an imbalance between cortisol and DHEA which directly affects weight and metabolism. Initially, cortisol is an appetite stimulant and encourages cravings for carbohydrates specifically. This leads to eating more frequently and eating more foods that affect blood sugar and fat storage. As an added effect, over a longer period, these hormonal changes alter the body’s ability to process sugar, therefore leading to fatigue, mood swings, high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Secondly, research states that too much cortisol will also slow metabolism. This causes the food that you eat to be stored directly as fat and is commonly distributed in the abdominal area. Abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, is most commonly associated with chronic health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Typically, people respond to stress by eating or snacking. This is due to the nervous energy that the hormone imbalance causes. In addition, the fatigue caused by stress affects food choices, leading one to choose fast food or quick snacks instead of preparing a healthy meal or nutritious snack.
There are many ways to decrease the stress response and trigger stubborn weight loss. The first thing that must be done is to determine what is causing the overwhelming feelings of stress. Not all stressors can be eliminated, but we can alter how we respond to the triggers by taking charge and finding healthy outlets. Some suggestions include: making weekly check lists, taking up yoga, tai chi or breathing meditations, making time for social support, engaging in enjoyable activities or hobbies regularly, exercising and eating for wellness.
There is very strong research that supports how exercising naturally reduces cortisol and increases endorphins that improve feelings of happiness. A balanced, nutritious diet also help regulate adrenal hormones and make you feel healthier and more energetic. Stress does not have to be the culprit of stubborn weight gain. To start off the new year right, be sure to engage in stress reduction techniques and have a balance daily diet.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN, is an integrative nutritionist at Rose Wellness in Oakton, VA, specializing on digestive health, hormone balance, sugar control and inflammation. Check out their monthly seminars at RoseWellness.com.