Working out hard, training for competition, contest prepping, juggling fitness, family and home, struggling with sleep while living a busy life, these are all stressors on our bodies (not to mention minds).
Not all stress is “bad” mind you. There are good stresses too, as not all “stressors” are going to threaten our bodies homeostasis.
Homeostasis: the maintenance of relatively stable internal physiological conditions (as body temperature or the pH of blood) in higher animals under fluctuating environmental conditions; also : the process of maintaining a stable psychological state in the individual under varying psychological pressures or stable social conditions in a group under varying social, environmental, or political factors.
Lately in my own practice I’m seeing more and more how stress, lack of sleep, anxiety and over work can contribute to weight gain and the “holding” of weight (ie: fat) particularly around the midsection.
Many people spend countless days, months and years trying to lose weight and combat obesity. And then add the food and supplement industry doing it’s best to encourage the purchase and consumption of foods and drink stuffs to further promote weight loss “cures” and the stress level just continues to rise (for me, out of frustration!)... ;)
However in my opinion there is a missing link in all of this that must be looked at, and that is the connection that cortisol has in weight gain and/or in the lack of weight loss.
WHAT IS CORTISOL?
It is a hormone secreted daily by our adrenal glands. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning and then decline through the day being at the lowest in the evening. It is a stress hormone activated during the stress response. Our bodies have a built in mechanism (this stress response) which is also known as “flight or fight” to help us survive with stressful situations via fighting or escaping. This is meant to be a short term response.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
It stimulates the release of glucose and amino acids and fatty acids for energy into our bloodstream (so that we can be mobilized act). This flight or response however is intended to be of a short duration, whereby the cortisol hormone levels then return to normal. If those “bad” stressors are constant and chronic though it can lead to lowered immune function among others things AND weight gain.
HOW & WHY?
Issues in getting enough sleep, light pollution (at night), what we eat or don’t eat, environmental stress etc. all add up and are starting to leave many people constantly stressed. Since this stress isn’t the quick fight or flight response it turns into… you guessed it, a more chronic condition hence, elevated and constant cortisol levels. This eventually disrupts the bodies normal homeostasis and metabolic functions.
This can then lead to glucose intolerance, hypertension, loss of muscle mass and higher insulin levels in the body. This can be linked to weight gain and you tend to see that present itself mainly in the abdominal area as belly fat.
Chronic (long standing and persistent) stress brings about chronically elevated cortisol levels and changes to our bodies’ tissues, of note the fat cells in particular.
ON THAT NOTE…
From experience I have had some clients who are sticking to their eating plans, working out consistently and to the intensity required, doing everything “right” but not sleeping well or under such enormous and constant levels of emotional and mental stress that they don’t seem to move or progress, and in fact, have often been gaining more weight around the middle.
Being aware of the cortisol-stress-weight gain connection is something I feel very important to maintaining and managing (and achieving!) a true healthy quality of life.
So though the stresses may always be there, we can and must find ways to manage them through things that bring those stress (and cortisol) levels down to where they need to be. Watching comedy shows, sharing hugs with friends and family, setting aside quiet time to sip tea and watch a candle glow, getting quality sleeps, meditating, communing in nature, being more conscious and thoughtful of our “red button” responses, etc.
For a healthy life and a weight and body composition that is healthy and in balance, our chronic stresses need to be managed so as not to disrupt balance and create hormonal and metabolic disturbances.
Stress less = more success with weight loss and healthy body weight maintenance.