Living in the fast-paced twenty-first century brings with it a great deal of unavoidable stress and with that, a side-order of sleep deprivation and decision-anxiety about diet and food choices. Because of the chronic stress we are constantly exposed to, we are also putting on weight.
Consider this: According to Shawn Talbott, P.h.D, and author of ‘The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat And Ruins Your Health, And What You Can Do About It’, Stressed out people eat more and their diet invariably consists mostly of junk. Stressed-out people have more belly fat (and thus more diabetes as a result). Stressed out people exercise less due to ‘time-stress’ and are constantly tired during the day. Despite this, they can’t get a good night’s sleep. Stressed out people also have a greater risk of heart attack and depression.
So what exactly is stress?
We all encounter varying degrees of stress in our daily lives. Hans Selye, the renowned psychologist who coined the term ‘Stress’ defines it as “…the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it”. Talbott defines it as “what you feel when life’s demands exceed your ability to meet those demands.” In our day to day lives, we face not only physical but also psychological and social stress. While some psychological stress is real (like our monthly bills or taxes), some are purely imaginary (like stressful encounters we imagine we might have with our boss, co-workers, kids, others). Other factors such as physiological ones like lack of sleep, chronic infections, environmental toxins and too much exercise also cause stress.
How does Stress make us fat?
Chris Kresser, a leading expert in the field of functional and integrative medicine explains that when stress becomes chronic and prolonged, our body secretes a hormone called Cortisol, which is otherwise released in a specific rhythm throughout the day. It is usually high in the mornings, enabling us to wake up and get going, and tapers off slowly throughout the day so that we can fall asleep.
Recent research has shown that chronic stress does two things:
- It increases the absolute levels of cortisol
- It disrupts the natural cortisol rhythm, which sends our bodies into havoc-mode
The disruption in cortisol rhythm wreaks havoc on our bodies in several ways – raising our blood sugar, making it harder for glucose to enter our cells, making us hungry and crave sugar, reducing our ability to burn fat, causing hormone imbalance to name a few.
Each of the above-mentioned effects of chronic stress causes us to gain weight and puts us at a high risk of diabetes.
What can we do about it?
Controlling the cortisol levels will yield benefits and aid in reducing the impact of stress in our daily lives. Returning cortisol to an optimal range will help you reduce body fat, preserve muscle mass, normalize your appetite, and increase energy levels – and these are just a few of the effects you will be able to feel, while other ‘silent benefits’ like normal blood sugar, low cholesterol, maintaining brain power and stronger immune system will also occur.
Three easy ways we can achieve this are outlined below:
A moderate level of exercising releases “happy hormones” or endorphins in our systems and keeps cortisol under check, which is essential for managing stress. If you’re not an ‘exercise’ enthusiast, try going for evening walks in nature and lay emphasis on being active.
Being well rested helps us to manage our stress better. Switch off all gadgets an hour before bedtime and try light-reading, listen to calming music, or take a relaxing hot shower before bed which can help soothe you.
Practice Breathing Techniques
Try some deep breathing exercises to reduce stress. It helps in relieving exhaustion, controlling anger, improves cortisol and blood pressure levels. You may like to scour YouTube for some guided breathing practices.
Combating stress can take some effort and time, so above all, it is important to be consistent and patient in your efforts. Keep trying and remember to seek professional help when you feel you need it.