What's stopping you reaching your healthy weight? Part 1- Stress

You have been dieting and exercising but the weight is not shifting - how frustrating is that!? 

The first thing to do is get yourself checked out by a medical practitioner, as certain conditions such as underactive thyroid can get in the way of your efforts to lose weight.  If your doctor gives you the all clear, however, it's time to look at other factors that may have affected your weight.

A major culprit causing weight gain is stress.  When you are stressed, your adrenal glands secrete 'fight or flight' hormones such as cortisol.  Way back in our evolution, we needed this response to help us run away from or fight a stressor- for instance, to give us the energy we would need to run away from a wild animal.  One of the effects of cortisol is to convert protein stores into glucose which enters the blood and is distributed to the muscles where it can be readily accessed- perfect for 'fight or flight'.  Nowadays, however, we don't often have the same kind outlet for our stress- that is, one that burns up lots of energy. If our boss asks us to type up a big report at the last minute, it's unlikely we'll be able to run around at the same time to burn up the glucose. So if stress becomes chronic, you'll tend to find that blood sugar levels become elevated.  Normally your body would up its production of insulin to return your blood sugar levels to normal, but cortisol inhibits insulin (because your body thinks that the glucose is 'needed' by the muscles).  The result? Chronically raised blood sugar levels that also, paradoxically, leads to the cells of your body being glucose deficient- as insulin enables glucose to enter your cells.  Your brain then causes you to feel hungry, making you prone to overeating- especially high calorie foods such as fats and easily converted to energy foods such as carbs. 

Another worry is that cortisol can also release triglycerides from storage- that's fat to you and me.  If not used  fightin' or flightin' then this fat is then stored round the belly area.  This is because your body stores the fat close to your liver where it can be quickly converted to energy if needed. The bad news is that fat stored here increases the risk if diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease etc. 

So what can you do to relieve stress?

  • Try yoga, Tai Chi, meditation and relaxation techniques.
  • When we are stressed we breathe quick and shallow, into only the upper chest.  When we are calm we breathe slow and deep.  We can create a feeling of calm when we are stressed simply by taking some consciously deep breaths.  When we practice deep breathing regularly, we start to react to stressors in a more considered way.  
  • Aerobic exercise 'burns off' stress hormones.
  • Take B vitamins to help keep the nervous system functioning well.  When we are under stress our bodies need more B vitamins and they cannot be stored in your body.
  • Stress can arise from tension in your body.  Try yoga and maybe a magnesium supplement.
  • Get enough sleep.  You are more likely to become stressed if you are sleep deprived - we will look more into this next week.
  • My favourite stress buster is to spend time in nature.  After walking in the woods for an hour or by the river, things look much better.  You become more tuned in with the changing seasons and you never know what you might see - birds, deer, squirrels (I always carry some hopeful shelled peanuts!).
  • Another of my favourites is a long relaxing bath with epsom salts (detoxing) and lavender (relaxing). Please see-'Been out Christmas shopping? Restore with an epsom salt bath'.
  • Reduce caffeine, sugar, cigarettes and alcohol which enhance the body's stress response.

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