When we think about ways to lose weight, often the focus is on calories, macros and portion control. Even though what you eat plays a significant role in your body’s ability to burn fat and maintain a healthy weight, it’s not the only factor. Keeping stress levels in check is crucial if you want to avoid stubborn weight gain.
We’ve been hard-wired to cope with what comes our way, to keep us safe and ensure we could run from tigers, lions or bears. Our modern stresses can be relentless: work deadlines, financial worries, traffic jams, pollution, lack of quality relaxation etc. The lions and tigers might have gone but the stress remains.
Being chronically stressed means we produce more cortisol – the stress hormone. This plays havoc with our ability to keep blood sugar levels balanced, and slows our metabolic rate and therefore our ability to effectively utilise energy from food.
Stress And Insulin
Cortisol works alongside insulin – the fat storing hormone that keeps fat locked away – to keep blood sugar levels in check. Lowering insulin is the key to unlocking stored fat. High stress results in higher levels of insulin.
Stress And Hormones
Stress can negatively affect other hormones too, like those responsible for hunger and satiation – ghrelin and leptin respectively. When stressed, our ability to control hunger takes a nosedive, meaning we eat more and get hungrier more often.
Stress And Fat Around The Middle
Fat around the middle is the type of
fat that’s easily accessible in times of stress. Being chronically stressed leads to fat
being stored in this area as a survival mechanism. The problem is the
stress doesn’t stop and the body never
gets the chance to access the stored “emergency fat”.
The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
When we’re stressed blood sugar levels can wildly fluctuate. Cravings kick-in
and we start looking for quick-fixes like sugar, stimulants and alcohol. When we eat this way, we experience sugar highs followed by sugar lows and the cycle continues. Like a real rollercoaster in the fairground, once on it, you can’t get off!
When stressed we are more likely to eat, reaching for quick-fixes, and less likely to eat healthy foods because we start relying on food as an emotional crutch. The more quick-fix foods we eat, the more dysregulated our blood sugar levels become, and we end up a slave to our biochemistry, experiencing the highs and lows of the blood sugar rollercoaster, craving more quick-fix unhealthy foods and staying stuck in fat storing mode as insulin levels soar.
Your body is either in fight or flight mode or rest and digest mode. It cannot be in both at the same time. Most of us are stuck in fight or flight mode, which affects our delicate hormonal balance.
When you lower stress and switch to the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, you also help your blood sugar levels come into balance. When that happens, insulin drops, the body’s fat stores get unlocked and hunger decreases. The body can then access the stored fat and use it as fuel. Increasing self-care practices and lowering stress are crucial if you want to lose weight.
Make The Switch
When you breathe deeply it immediately switches your nervous system over to the rest and digest mode (parasympathetic), bringing your body out of stress response. This is where all the magic happens in your body for healing, rejuvenation and fat burning. Find moments in your day as often as possible to breathe deeply, such as whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, whilst on the loo, driving or washing up.
It’s All In The Balance
As you can see, maintaining a healthy weight is less to do with ‘calories in, calories out’, and more to do with hormonals and the role stress plays in the bigger picture. It’s all about a delicate balance. Making time for relaxing selfcare practices like Epsom salt baths, yoga and meditation, as well as enjoying fun and laughter, will help you feel less stressed, whilst creating a lovely bedtime routine will pay dividends for your waistline. Lack of quality sleep has been proven to increase cortisol output and play havoc with blood sugar regulation the following day.
Get The Support You Need
Reaching out to a health professional to address your own stress and to find out what your body personally needs, is a great step in feeling supported, motivated and accountable on your health journey. A nutritional therapist can help you with lifestyle and stress-relieving practices alongside deep nutrition for your body, so that you can find your balance.
Jo Rowkins, Nutritional Therapist & Lifestyle Coach at Awakening Health.