“Is stress making me fat?”

That’s the million dollar question right? “Is stress making me fat?”

So what is stress anyway? Is it the worry over a new job or paying the bills or having two kids in college (sorry, that’s one of mine), or simply the demands of everyday life? While yes, all of those certainly fit into the stress category, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

What many people don’t realize is that stress is also caused by other physiological demands, such as:

  • insomnia
  • chronic infections
  • inflammation
  • autoimmune disease
  • environmental toxins
  • dieting
  • too much exercise (yes, don’t hate-I actually wrote an article about it the dangers of overexercising here)

How to Manage Your Stress to Manage Your Weight

Our body’s natural response to stress (or our “fight or flight” response) is to release a hormone called Cortisol. So, let’s pause there….if you are visibly scared or put in a stressful situation, what’s the first thing you notice about yourself: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, heavy breathing and so on…right? Stress also has a direct correlation to the foods you crave and consume. It’s also one of your biggest contributors to excess fat, especially around your midsection. You can thank cortisol for that.

But what is also happening that you may not be aware of is that:

  • your metabolism is slowed > your body is conserving energy so you can “fight or flight”
  • your blood sugar rises > your body is releasing immediate sugar for quick energy

Get it? So now, let’s put this into our typical everyday situations where we are not necessarily in a fight or flight situation and running for our life.

When we live in a constant state of high stress, our body doesn’t know the difference so what does it do? You guessed it–releases cortisol. With this steady stream of cortisol flowing through our veins our blood pressure rises, blood sugar elevates and our metabolism slows. More importantly, did you know that prolonged surges of cortisol can suppress the immune system, cause muscle wasting and decrease bone formation!? Hello! This is big time!

Other effects of having prolonged stress and surges of cortisol can:

  • raise your blood sugar
  • cause your body to store fat
  • increase cravings (especially sugar)
  • make your cells less sensitive to insulin (which keeps your blood sugar elevated)
  • increase your cholesterol and triglycerides

Adrenal Fatigue – know the warning signs.

We’ve already said that the adrenal glands are responsible for releasing cortisol. After releasing cortisol over and over again due to sustained circumstances of high stress, the adrenal glands obviously can’t keep up and become sluggish…in other words get all out of whack. When this happens a collection of symptoms occur known as Adrenal Fatigue.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue may include:

  • high blood sugar
  • high blood pressure
  • a state of being wired all the time
  • chronic fatigue and lack of energy
  • memory loss and/or lack of mental clarity
  • insomnia
  • weight gain

How to Minimize Stress

Let’s talk about ways you can minimize your stress so you can optimize your weight loss efforts and successfully reach your health and fitness goals.

Did you know certain foods you crave can actually heighten the stress response? Foods such as candy, processed foods, coffee, alcohol and even higher starch grains can trigger those stress hormones to be released.

Minimize stress:

  • By Identifying your stressors or triggers.
  • With time Management- prioritize responsibilities and commitments and schedule your time accordingly. Plan ahead and be prepared to avoid unnecessary, sabotaging distractions.
  • Better sleep habits. Go to bed at the same time every night. Your body needs sleep for recovery and repair. Lack of sleeps also plays a direct role in the release of cortisol
  • Stay focused on your goals.
  • Get in a support group for the accountability and encouragement.

Participate in stress-reducing activities:

  • Exercise of course! Walking or spend time outside for some good ‘ole Vitamin D!
  • Journal. This is a favorite! Journalling is a great way to not only track your food and your mood, but also your progress and those stress triggers that could be derailing you!
  • Take long baths. In spite of having a toddler and preschooler, I always took long baths. Yep, locked the door and everything! 🙂 (No, they weren’t home alone, the hubby was always home and in charge! lol)
  • Read
  • Meditation and prayer
  • Yoga
  • Play! Yes, play with the kids or the dogs. Laughter can sometimes be the best medicine!

Too many of my clients rate stress as an area of huge struggle and I know they aren’t alone. It’s real my friends and can contribute to many underlying health issues you may not be aware of. The key is realizing it and getting ahead of it. More seriously, I’ve seen too many of my peeps suffer from Adrenal Fatigue.

The only way to send the correct signals to your body so is to lower your stress burden, change your response to stress and give your adrenals more support.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the other posts in the Weight Loss for Women Over 40 Series:

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