Have you ever wondered why despite the right diet and exercise routine every day you can’t lose weight? Or why you get to a certain point with your results and then plateau, or go backwards? Blame your brain, it’s actually stress making you overweight. You see, the body doesn’t understand the difference between a real or perceived threat. So although you may only be stressed about how you’re going to get everything done in your day, your body goes into fight or flight mode, which sets off a chain reaction of biochemical events in your body that piles on the pounds. Let’s take a look at some of the common ways stress sends the body into chaos and how to fix it.
Metabolism and belly fat
When you’re stressed the adrenal glands in the body are activated which release adrenaline to increase the heartrate and blood flow, as well as cortisol to flood the body with glucose for immediate energy (to enable you to fight or run away). Excess cortisol however affects the thyroid and slows down the body’s metabolism to maintain the glucose supply, and when it isn’t used, it is stored as fat. These elevated glucose levels also suppress insulin levels which decreases energy in the cells, causing the brain to send out unnecessary hunger signals.
When you don’t get a good night’s sleep it disrupts the fat hormones ghrelin and leptin. These hormones turn your appetite on and off, and tell the brain what to do with the fat (use it for energy or store it). Lack of sleep will confuse the process and you will experience unnecessary hunger, not know when you are full, and store fat when it should be burned. Furthermore, poor sleep impacts your ability to perform at your best and make good decisions, so on a day after little sleep you may choose to forgo exercise and choose poor meal options.
Digestion and calories
When the body is trying to fight a threat it slows or shuts down the digestive system because it is not considered integral to survival at that moment. Food is then not digested properly and a toxic build up ensues, which retains fat and excess water resulting in you feeling puffy, sluggish and bloated. The calories you eat need sufficient nutrients in order to build tissue or burn fat. Poor digestion affects the absorption of nutrients, so the calories cause excess fat. The absence of nutrients also triggers an urge to eat and leaves you feeling consistently hungry and in ‘fat storage mode’, making weight loss very difficult.
Exercise is a stress on the body and causes cortisol to be released. In a normal functioning body this is not a negative response and can be dealt with appropriately, however if you’re in a constant state of stress then the levels of cortisol will already be too high in your body, so the stress response will be further triggered and likely contribute to weight gain or stubborn fat.
How do we fix it?
The best way to overcome “stress induced fat” is to constantly communicate to your brain that you’re not in danger. Here are some easy ways you can do that:
- Identify what’s important to you at your core and what fundamentally makes you happy, and schedule these things into your life regularly
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night (it has been said time and time again but it is true)
- Turn off technology 30-60 minutes before sleeping (the blue light it emits kills melatonin which is needed to sleep, plus it keeps the brain over stimulated) and establish a relaxing sleep routine
- Eat simple consistent meals with no more than 7 ingredients and make them whole, natural ingredients
- Reduce the intensity of your exercise – bring your current regime down a notch or try lower impact options like walking or swimming. Keep track of how you feel and adjust your program accordingly
- Practice yoga and meditation (even start with deep diaphragmatic breathing). This is the quickest and easiest way to relax the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode)
- Identify your stress triggers and create proactive strategies to change the way you respond to them
- Get professional advice