Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is stress making us fat?

     Stress is one of those tricky dynamics in our life that can both help and hurt us. Under  pressure we can meet a deadline, be our most creative or score the winning run. But chronic stress can make our hormones unbalanced and this often can lead to fat storage in our bellies.  Here's some info on the dangers of belly fat.

      Why does this happen?
      You may have seen those infomercials late at night explaining how cortisol creates belly fat. Increases in cortisol can increase our cravings for foods high in sugar and fat and can decrease the times during the day that we feel hungry. So, when we have elevated cortisol levels we tend to eat less, for example skipping breakfast.  When we do eat, we tend to have bigger meals that are very calorie dense.
   However, as with most things, our bodies are way more complicated than these infomercials make them out to be. They usually leave out some very important pieces of the hormonal puzzle...The important roles that Insulin, HGH and Testosterone play in our metabolism.
   When we are chronically stressed, our bodies secrete specialized hormones to deal with it. These hormones release blood glucose. Your body works best when you counter this hormonal increase with physical activity. This need for exertion post stress can be traced back to caveman times. Back then, when we encountered a stressful situation (like seeing a lion chase after us) our reaction would be to counter it through intense physical activity (such as running away) or fighting which would naturally use up the sugar our body gave us for quick energy. The infamous "fight or flight" scenario.
  Nowadays,  in the short term, if you don't exercise regularly,  your body will deal with stress by balancing  cortisol with insulin to raise and lower blood sugar. But overtime this system will be taxed and your levels of cortisol and insulin will remain relatively higher than your muscle building hormones such as testosterone and HGH. This can create a destructive hormonal mixture that can lead to our bodies burning muscle and conserving fat.

    And of course,  it stores the fat in our bellies. 
    So how do we stop this from happening...

   I  First, we need to try to increase our growth promoting hormones to counter this insulin/cortisol combination. The way to do this is to
 1. Get enough sleep. (click here to read my blog about the importance of sleep and hormones)
 2. Exercise intensely ( here is some info on how to increase your exercise intensity)
 3. Consume adequate protein. Make sure you have protein with every meal, about 3-4 oz.
 4, Eat breakfast to combat naturally occurring higher levels of cortisol in the morning.
 5. Eat 4-6 small meals a day instead of 1-3 meals. When you eat only 1-3 meals you are eating more food and creating a greater insulin effect in your body.

  II Secondly, we need to try to control the stress levels in our life.

  Did I hear laughter when you thought about lowering your stress levels as the school year approaches?
  Well I know I snickered myself as I typed it!
  We all know that along with all of the wonderful things the school year brings it also means homework (for the kids and us ), arguments, tears (the kids and ours), late nights, crazy mornings and all around high levels of stress!

  ***Let me just admit right here that reducing stress and how I deal with stress is an area that is definitely a work in progress for me. So any additional advice you can give me on the subject would be greatly appreciated.  Just post comments at the bottom of this blog. I would love to share ideas.
But in the meantime I will share with you what I have figured out so far on this subject... (but not necessarily put into practice at all times! )

     Here are some concrete ways that I know of to reduce stress or at least not let it effect us as much when it arises...

1. Exercise (you knew I was going to say that right?) If you don't feel like jumping on the treadmill, blast some music and dance around the house. No one is watching I  promise...

2. Remember the 10-10-10 principle
    I once heard someone talk about a 10 10 10 principle. It went something like this...when something happens that makes you feel stressed think about whether it is going to matter in 10 minutes, 10 weeks or 10 years. Adjust your response and level of caring accordingly.  I find this idea very helpful. If I have an encounter with someone that upsets me, I think about whether that person or the situation is going to matter to me in those time frames. It really helps me put things into perspective.

3.  Realize you're not going to make everyone happy (this one is tough for women)
     As women I think we are natural people pleasers and even though in our head we know that we can't possibly make everyone we come in contact with happy, our hearts make us feel as though we should. We have to remember that we can't say yes to everyone who needs a favor and people are going to get angry at us for reasons that aren't fair or logical.  That's life right?  So when I feel stressed that I let someone down, I ask myself did I try my best? Was I honest? Did I do the right thing in that situation  for myself and the people I love? If I did then I let it go...(well I try anyway) 

4. Decrease your caffeine intake
    Caffeine can make you feel anxious so try to limit your caffeine consumption to a cup or two in the morning.

5. Laugh
    Remember not take things too seriously.  Call a friend that always makes you laugh or put on an old episode of Seinfeld. (it's always on and always makes our entire family laugh together!)

 6. Do something fun 
     Watch some guilty pleasure TV show, read a good book, knit....whatever makes you feel happy.

  7 Work on a project that is important to you
      Although work can bring on stress by itself, I often find finishing a project that I have put off really makes me feel less stressed and happy. Cleaning my messy desk feels great too!

  8. Think about the things that you are grateful for
    It's easy to get stressed about silly little things, so when you feel that way, think about everything and everyone your grateful for and those other things feel less important. You can even write them down and look at them when you feel stressed the next time.

  9. Get a massage (and then give one back)

  10.  Get close with your lover  (oh, you know what I mean!!)

What stresses you out? Do you have any great stress busting secrets? Let me know, I could use all the help I can get!


  1. Great post!

    I definitely suffer from this. I need to work on making time to exercise--it's so very important.

  2. Oh thanks so much Loretta! Running really relieves my stress. What do you like to do to chill? Is writing a great stress reliever for you?