Did you know that chronic stress can not only make you chronically sick, but it can also make you fat as well! Many folks in their quest to banish excess belly fat and wobbly thighs, embark on a path that fails to address one of the fundamental factors that influences the function of our metabolism....stress!
Stress can basically be defined as anything that stimulates the overproduction of our stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones are healthy and safe when released by the adrenal glands in small amounts, but the problem nowadays is that most of us are producing excessive levels of stress hormones for prolonged periods of time, due to exposure to chronic stress. Recent research shows that chronic stress can not only increase your overall cortisol production, but more importantly it disrupts the natural cortisol rhythm. Cortisol should be elevated in the morning when we wake up - to help us get out of bed and kicks start the day As the day progresses, our cortisol levels should gradually taper off , so that by night time, we feel tired and ready to fall asleep. But when our natural cortisol rhythm becomes disrupted and goes out of whack so to speak, the consequences on our health can be monumental, not to mention detrimental.
The impact of chronic stress on your body can best be compared to driving a car in first gear at 100 miles an hour….you’ll still be able to drive the car around, however the impact of driving continuously in first gear will eventually age the engine prematurely, and things will start to seriously go wrong with the car's performance sooner, than if it had been driven around at steadier pace.
The irony is most of us treat our cars better than we would our body and then scratch our heads in bewilderment when things start to go wrong with our health. For many, a visit to the GP reveals either ‘normal’ blood test results, or you're simply bailed out the door with a prescription for a sleeping medication, anti-depressant or anti-inflammatory drug to curtail the symptoms, but this will usually only add insult to injury.
Before I became ill with CFS - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my early twenties, I didn’t realise that my lifestyle was slowly but surely wearing away at my body for years before. Being a long distance runner, whilst studying for a communications degree at the same time as holding down a full time, high stress job in advertising, were all beginning to take their toll on my body. This kind of situation was common in the majority of patients that came to see me for a variety of chronic and complex illnesses, in that chronic stress played a major role in the onset of their ailments, including weight gain.
One of the best ways to assess if your health and weight are being affected by chronic stress, is through testing your cortisol levels before 8.30am. I also like to use saliva as a backup to assess a person's cortisol profile throughout the day. Other blood tests that can provide an indication of whether stress is having an affect on your metabolism, include fasting insulin and glucose and specific thyroid function tests - and I'm not just referring to the standard TSH blood test that GP's typically run. Ask your GP to test your vitamin D levels, along with iron studies and B12, as these tests combined can provide a thorough understanding of exactly where your body is at in regards to the effects of stress - just as long as your GP is analyzing the results using the most up to date pathology target range. You can read more about this here.
But aside from certain blood markers, you can easily turn to your body and tune into what it's trying to tell you, by observing your day to day symptoms and function. Your energy levels and day to mood provide a very accurate barometer of your stress levels. If you feel as though you're running on empty, then this is a clear sign that your body is suffering from the effects of chronic stress.
Other symptoms to observe include:
Poor energy on waking, despite a good night's rest
Loose or explosive stools
Feeling tired or sluggish after meals
Carrying excess fat, specifically around your middle
Being prone to regular cold’s and flu’s
Regular mood swings and a propensity to irritability and anxiousness
Difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night, or 'busy brain' while sleeping
Bad skin - rashes, eczema, psoriasis, hormonal acne
Difficulty losing weight, despite eating less, or exercising more
Obsessive or addictive behavior or thoughts
Changes in appetite - either increased, or a loss of or excessive cravings for sugar and or caffeine
These are just a few of the common physiological signs and symptoms to observe in your body, and day to day function, as a means of gauging if and by how much, stress is impacting on your health.
Exercise and stress
Whilst exercise can minimise and even prevent the effects of stress and aid in weight loss, too much exercise when you've been exposed to prolonged periods of chronic stress, can impact negatively on your cortisol levels. Too much exercise, or the wrong type, such as high intensity or cardio exercises, can actually become a form of stress to your body, making it difficult to lose weight and weaken your immune defenses. The best forms of exercise to combat and prevent stress are gentle yoga, walking, Qigong, or Tai Chi, along with practicing daily meditation. These practices actually help to restore and regulate healthy cortisol production, unlike pounding the pavement or treadmill at the gym.
Diet, weight loss and stress
Whilst following an anti inflammatory diet, ( such as one found in my e-book and online program), in conjunction with restricting your alcohol and caffeine intake, will significantly reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress, you are likely to continue to experience the effects of chronic stress, unless you take action to reduce your exposure and reaction it as well. This is why it's essential to combine a healthy diet, with regular exercise (that does not drain your adrenals), in conjunction with getting at least 7 - 8 hrs of sleep each night, and most importantly fix your gut - as this has a direct impact on how your brain functions.
If you are keen to learn how to eat to balance your moods and maintain a healthy weight for life, then why not take control of your health and sign up to my 6Wk Eat Yourself Healthy online program.