Friday Sept 21st 2012: Stress Makes You Fat

There is a notion that calorie restricting will lead to weight loss. This is a vague statement as a) calorie restricting is not defined and b) weight loss doesn’t mean fat loss c) though nutrition is a LARGE component, there are other factors that can impact your ‘weight loss.

When people get on to healthy eating diets they often times will go all out. Meaning they will cut something out completely. Most times I hear “I have cut out carbs to lose the weight I need to loose by (a date of some significance to the person). This is setting yourself up for failure as a) Deprivation essentially leads to a negative emotional state. Our brains actually release “happy hormones” when a certain food is eaten (hence the term “comfort food). These happy hormones (whether you recognize them or not) are create a neurochemical relationship similar to the ones released when one is addicted to things like alcohol, smoking, or drugs. The feeling of satisfaction.  This is not to say you should continue to feed your body with this comfort food to avoid the negative emotional state, but more so recognize this feeling. Start to see patterns that lead you to crave your comfort food. It could be stress (emotional), it could be a certain social situation (physical), or it could be routine (mental).

As you become more intune with yourself and become more consiously healthy, you will be able to REPLACE the comfort food with an alternative that is more nutritious (it actually has more minerals, vitamins, healthy fats, protein, fibre) for your body . Why feed your body with dead foods? After all, who are we kidding, most times people don’t reach for an apple for a comfort food or when they are starving. This leads me to my next point – starvation. “Starvation” when taking about nutrition is defined as a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. In humans prolonged starvation can lead to organ damage and eventually death. Clearly, when we are “starving” most of us are not at the point of death. However, we let ourselves go hungry for hours, sometimes unintentional sometimes intentional. Whichever the reason, Insulin levels have dropped (read more on Insulin, cravings and Binge eating), blood sugar levels have dropped, cortisol levels rise. Cortisol levels rise when the body goes in to stress response.

Historically we need our cortisol response as it allows us to respond to emergency situations (fight or flight). However, what our bodies cannot do is distunguish the difference between a real emergency situation (stressful), sitting in a traffic jam (stressful), a hectic work day (stressful), intense exercise (stressful), emotional stress and anxiety (stress), lack of fuel / “starvation”  (stress). All these situations (yes including lack of food – unless you are sitting on the couch doing nothing) are perceived as stressful, thus the body is in a state of fight or flight. This is only a problem when any of these situations become chronic. Chronically high cortisol interferes with all our body’s processes: hormone production such as estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, and other hormones related to sleep, immunity, and digestion.  These processes are essentially ranked by a heirachy system. Hence when a stressful situation is in place, the body diverts all it’s energy to making sure you have the energy to handle the stressful situation. Think of all the processes listed… there are many more such as cell regeneration, oxidation, bone regeneration, and last and certainly not least – energy production and fat burning. So now that you are stressed, not only are you going to experience cravings (to elicit the ‘comfort’ feeling) but there is another negative side effect of stress.

If you are in stressed state – the body tends to hoard fat. Why? a) Fat is energy. When our bodies experience stress, as a survival mechanism (that stems from ‘ancient history’) it holds on to as much energy reserve as possible. Why should your body release energy like a fat burning machine when it doesn’t know what is going on and if it will get food for a while? Are you being chased by a wild animal in the woods and won’t have food for a while? Are you in a stressful work environment? Hec, your organs perceive one thing – STRESS. So, down goes your fat burning potential in efforts to PROTECT yourself.

So, how to avoid this extremely undesirable situation? One idea – avoid stress! This is easier said than done, but knowing the impact it has on your body, it would be wise to look into the situations in your life which cause you stress and a) find ways to either deal with them so they occur less frequently or b) eliminate the stressors.

Personally I have always found eliminating the stressors quite difficult. This stems from several personality traits however including over achieving, people pleasing, and feeling accomplished.  However, I have recently become a leader in my own health and am working towards a) recognizing stress b) managing the stress when it does occur and c) the most important – figuring out what is the cause of the subconscious stress and eliminating it.

I have by no means become a master at this, but I have taken steps to improve my mental health. I notice my memory has improved, I am able to focus less, which leaves more cranial breathing space i.e. mental space. If that is not enough to motivate you to eliminate stress – read the title of this blog post and then re-read the article.

Stress has a number of adverse effects on our bodies. Recognize them, learn about yourself, and those around you will wonder what the hec you are up to 🙂

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1 Comment

Filed under Stress & Stress Management, Weight Loss

One response to “Friday Sept 21st 2012: Stress Makes You Fat

  1. Pingback: Why Does the Body Burn Muscle Instead of Fat? | AK Fitness Vancouver

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