Although losing weight is never easy, when under stress, it is almost impossible!
Cortisol – our stress hormone
Who doesn’t have stress? We all do, but to varying degrees. Some people seem to have a great gift for completely “turning off” their mental thought processes when they get into bed, despite the very important business meeting they have at 8:00 am the next morning. Most of us, however, are not as fortunate. In order to get everything done, we tend to multi-task. The need to cope with both family and workplace commitments, increases our susceptibility to chronic stress. Combine these factors with the natural rise in cortisol levels as we age, and our bodies are soon at the mercy of this disruptive hormone.
Our stress response is one of survival, designed to help our bodies react quickly to cope with danger. It is called the “fight or flight” response, and this specific reaction takes place every time our body senses stress of any kind. The glands responsible for producing stress hormones cannot differentiate between the stress of a wedding or a funeral. They will react in a similar manner to increased workload at the office, too much or too little exercise, financial difficulty or a relationship problem. Whatever the stressor may be, the final reaction is the same, the “fight or flight” response culminating in a release of our principle stress hormone, cortisol.
Although overall, not significantly elevated, chronic stress leads to persistent adrenal cortisol secretion, which disrupts the normal daily cycle and impairs the normal feedback mechanism. The result is a variety of adverse effects and prolongation of the stress reaction. In addition, like a “cry wolf” situation, at times of true stress such as infection, the body is unable to mount sufficient response.
With regards to metabolism, cortisol acts to increase blood sugar levels by releasing stores from the liver and muscle. This is to help prepare the body for the increased energy expenditure associated with resolving the “fight or flight” situation. While this may be beneficial when escaping from a marauding tiger, it is not needed when sitting in traffic or at our desk, times when our modern perceived stress hits. Without immediate exercise, the rise in blood sugar is profound. In response to this, the pancreas produces insulin, our storage hormone that acts to sweep the sugar out of the blood, storing it primarily as fat. The associated cortisol results in this deposition being mainly in the central abdominal area of the body.
Cortisol also has a profound effect on our appetite. Prolonged exposure promotes increased food intake and cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. It is responsible for the “midnight munchies” that propel you to the fridge in the early hours of the morning!
Insulin – our fat-storing hormone
Insulin levels naturally rise as we age – you’ll secrete more insulin in response to a bagel at 50 than you did at 20. In addition the rise in blood sugar caused by persistent cortisol promotes further insulin secretion. Over time, the recurrent stimulation of insulin release leads to insulin resistance, a relative insensitivity of the tissues in the body to this hormone. The result is higher and more prolonged peaks of insulin production and eventually a number of metabolic abnormalities associated with weight gain such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Balancing our hormones to help control weight
The synergistic effect of these hormonal abnormalities makes it progressively more difficult to lose weight. Far too frequently we are eating a well balanced diet, exercising regularly and not achieving the results they desire. This is because they are not maximizing their metabolism and establishing a beneficial fat burning hormonal balance in their body.
Restoring balance to your hormone levels
Stabilizing blood sugar levels will both reduce the stress-inducing effect of low blood sugar and the amount of insulin you secrete. Try to ensure your diet includes 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day – this should be divided into meals throughout the day. (For example, a woman weighing 75kg (165lbs), should have approximately 25 grams of protein per meal – equivalent to a large chicken breast or 4/5ths cup of cottage cheese.) Consume mostly carbohydrates high in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as vegetables, salads and fruits. Avoid white refined foods and sugars as much as possible.
You can help control the secretion of insulin and stabilization of sugar in the blood with natural supplements such as garcinia cambogia and colosolic acid. To ensure the breakdown of only fat and not muscle, add conjugated linoleic acid and citrus aurantium to your meals.
Retraining your stress response involves physical therapies such as meditation, massage, exercise, sex and deep breathing. These can be augmented with natural supplements such as magnolia extract, theanine and hydrolyzed milk peptide that lower the secretion of cortisol and other stress hormones. Always ensure that you check with you health care practitioner before beginning any program that involves the addition of supplements to ensure that they are right for you.