A little bit of stress (and sometimes a lot) is a normal part of life. Unfortunately prolonged periods of stress can be detrimental to our weight management efforts and overall health. But, with some knowledge of how stress affects our weight and health, and some proven stress fighting secrets, we can discover ways to overcome it.
How Does Stress Affect Our Weight and Health?
Generally speaking, when we are introduced to a stressful situation, our body releases a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is responsible for setting off all the physiological responses associated with stress. Studies have shown that when cortisol is released into the bloodstream, we become less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that tells our brain that we are full. When this happens, we tend to eat more and crave more sugary foods.
That means that our body’s metabolism not only slows down when we are stressed, but it actually tells us to consume more. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. If we’re in danger, we may want to eat all we can and store that energy in preparation for dangerous times ahead.
But, in modern society, when we perceive danger even though we may actually be safe, this adaptive mechanism to stress is detrimental to our health, especially with repeated occurrence.
To summarize this process of how stress affects our weight and health simply, here’s a visual sequence (from left to right):
———>—————-> —————> ———–>
stress cortisol leptin sensitivity hunger body weight
To help alleviate stress, the first key is to identify your stressors by writing them down. A stressor is any type of stimulus or trigger that elicits a stress response such as elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, etc. Once you’ve written down some stressors, consider some of the following steps to overcome them.
Stress Fighting Secrets
1. Practice Relaxation
Enjoying a walk in nature, exercising, listening to relaxing music, spending quality time with your partner, meditating, practicing yoga, experiencing hypnosis, deep breathing, etc. In addition, taking a short nap can help calm the body and actually improve cognitive (thinking) function. Research shows that any of these types of stress management techniques play a significant role in countering the body’s stress responses (cortisol release) and therefore help with weight loss and overall health improvement.
2. Eat Stress Reducing Foods
Stress reducing foods play an important role in improving blood sugar and insulin regulation for weight maintenance. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of the stress reduction. Sample lists are provided in Y.E.S.-Your Eating Solution and also discussed in the anxiety chapter of the Real Food Therapy Guide.
3. Use Supplements to Reduce Your Stress
While a good multivitamin and mineral supplement can take care of most of these needs, there are a few specifics that have been shown to undo the effects of physical stressors. B-complex vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, and zinc. Please note that if you chose to take a dietary supplement, consult with your physician prior to taking them and be sure they are tested and true. For more information on products that are tested and true, scroll down to find the product of interest.