Stress is ubiquitous today. Our jobs are stressful, our lives are full of deadlines and expectations, and even our families and children are stressed. Many of us feel constantly ?under the gun? and, as a result, our health suffers. But did you know that stress can also affect our weight?
It’s all about the individual
Each of us is unique, responding to life situations in different ways. What stresses one person may not be seen as a major stressor to someone else, but that doesn’t change the effect it has on the body. It’s all in our unique perception. This is one of the reasons that some people will gain weight under stress while others will lose it (if You’re one of those individuals, thank your genetic code!) For many of us, the tendency to put on waistline fat or engage in ?stress eating? during periods of strain can amplify those stress levels even more.
When You’re under stress, your body produces higher levels of the key stress hormone, cortisol. This elevated cortisol is fine for short periods, but when you face long-term or chronic stress, it can negatively impact your health. Brain cells bathed in cortisol die more quickly, and high cortisol levels contribute to insomnia and other health concerns.
When You’re in high-cortisol mode and eat food you don’t really need, It’s particularly bad for your body. Ordinarily when you eat, the satiety hormone, leptin, kicks in and gives you that feeling of fullness. But this doesn’t happen when You’re stressed; leptin production is reduced or inhibited, meaning you may have trouble discerning when You’re full. Worse, you may still feel ?empty? despite that five-course meal.
Additionally, cortisol indirectly controls the amount of fat that the body stores. Typically your body will store around 30 per cent of your calories as fat, to use when needed for extra energy and fuel. However, stress?and therefore cortisol?signals your cells to pack away more fat, up to 70 per cent. This often accounts for the increased waistline fat that accompanies today’s stressful lifestyle.
What can I do?
Lowering your cortisol may help control weight gain, but It’s not so simple as that. Often, it takes a combined effort of several factors. What do you do to reduce your day-to-day tension? A good plan is to regularly engage in something enjoyable, like reading, walking, hiking, or yoga. It may feel as though you have no time for extras, but in fact spending time doing activities you enjoy has been shown to reduce high cortisol levels.
Botanical medicine can also be helpful. Certain herbs, like Rhodiola rosea (rhodiola) reduce cortisol levels as you go about your day-to-day activities. Or seek out a herbal combination like Relora, which offers lowered cortisol with improved sleep patterns.
don’t forget that, as with most health issues, weight management isn’t limited to one culprit. Although cortisol management may be key to maintaining a healthy weight, there are other factors that may also play a part: current medications (think side effects), food allergies, lack of exercise, and poor diet, to name a few. Get all of these going in your favour and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.