Here is your question today: True or False If I say, You Need to Work on Your Stress Management, Your Eyes Go Cross and You Immediately Dismiss My Comment
Hans Selye, the famous physiologist who coined the term “stress”, defined it this way:
…the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.
The prominent psychologist Richard Lazarus offers a similar definition:
…any event in which environmental demands, internal demands, or both tax or exceed the adaptive resources of an individual…
I believe stress is one of the most important – yet most often ignored – factors driving the obesity epidemic. Studies show that stress makes it easy to gain weight, hard to lose weight, and if you do lose a few pounds stress makes it hard to maintain any weight loss success. This is one reason why some people just can’t seem to lose weight no matter how well they eat or how much they exercise.
When stress is chronic, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is normally released in a 24 hour cycle across the day. It rises in the morning to wake us up and then drops steadily across the day, so you feel tired at bedtime and can fall asleep.
Chronic stress can not only increase average cortisol levels, but more importantly it disrupts the natural cortisol rhythm. It is this shifting of our normal 24 hour cortisol cycle that wreaks an immense amount of havoc on our body.
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Among other effects, it:
Impairs blood sugar control. We need to look at blood labs for ideal ranges versus using them solely to diagnose a condition – either stating that someone has diabetes or does not have diabetes. If your fasting blood glucose is above 85, you have impaired blood glucose tolerance and/ or insulin resistance. Even if you don’t have diabetes, you should want to know that your body is having a hard time processing blood glucose and to then create a strategy to address it BEFORE it turns into diabetes.
High cortisol makes your hunger insatiable and creates a perfect storm of sugar cravings. If you have ever thought or said “I am addicted to sugar” you are in chronic stress. It really has nothing to do with food or sugar and everything to do with the shaky, hyper-vigilant chronic stress state that you are in that is driving sugar cravings up. It isn’t the sugar that you need to address, it is the chronic stress.
High cortisol reduces your ability to burn fat. When cortisol levels are high, your body is triggered to store fat and not burn calories. This usually is seen when belly fat accumulates and when belly fat is difficult to lose, no matter how much you exercise or how much you eat right. Your body will actually start to store fat at a higher rate in response to chronic stress. This makes sense, doesn’t it? If your body feels that it is stressed and may need to flee, burning valuable energy doesn’t make sense. It makes more sense to store this energy for later use.
It suppresses your HPA Axis. This is your hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis – chronic stress inhibits your ability to balance hormones. Conversely it causes an imbalance in hormones, including cortisol, DHEA, testosterone and growth hormone decrease and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels go haywire.
Each of these effects of chronic stress could alone influence your weight, but when you add these together they are the perfect storm leading to obesity and diabetes.
Chronic dieting is also seen as a chronic stress on the system. This has been shown to raise cortisol levels AND this has been shown to be especially harmful when combined with sleep deprivation. So, if you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night and these 7 hours are not very restful AND you throw on top of this a calorie restrictive diet, you are in a state of chronic stress. Now, add to this adding in too much exercise. This also leads to higher cortisol production.
Cortisol is catabolic. This means that it breaks down muscle instead of building it up. Although you may see an initial drop in pounds, you really don’t want to lose lean muscle when you goal is to lose weight and keep it off long term. Your lean muscle is what your metabolism is based on. When losing weight, the goal is to shed fat and maintain your lean muscle as much as you can. This will mean that you are at a leaner weight with a higher metabolism. This means you can eat more at a lower weight and be able to maintain the weight versus having to watch every bite that comes across your lips.
Only you can answer today’s question true or false – which is it? Will you continue to ignore your stress levels or will you decide to make a plan to address these?
If your goal is to lean out (losing fat and maintaining muscle) stress management can no longer be ignored. In fact, I would be bet that if you work on your sleep patterns and you work on stress management and simply eat healthier, that you would start to see a shift in your weight and you would lose inches.
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