Stressed and Fat?

You know what stress can do to your health. Stress raises your blood pressure, lowers your immunity and decreases your performance in everyday tasks. Over time, chronic stress makes everything less enjoyable. Now don’t get stressed out, but stress can also make you fat. When you are under stress, your body produces the hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline “burns” quick and works with the sugar in your blood so you can fight or flee the stressful situation. Cortisol fuels your body’s reaction for a longer time by pumping more sugar into your blood and giving you the energy you need to respond to the situation. (In more primitive times, this would have allowed you to pull the deer back to camp or run away from the mountain lion.) In contemporary terms, cortisol might help you click and drag the sales report before you run out of the office to take the kids to soccer practice. Of course, there’s no burst of physical activity in the office environment. The extra blood sugar ends up as you know what.

A recent Yale University study found the more stress study participants experienced, the higher levels of cortisol and body fat were increased. To make matters worse, the additional fat was stored primarily in their bellies.

If you’re stressed about work, playing chauffer to the kids, and trying to find quality time with your spouse, the last thing you want to worry about is belly fat. It’s easy to turn to Rocky Road or cheese fries to try to feel better. This is the natural response, according to a University of California, San Francisco study, which found a connection in rats between stress levels and seeking pleasure. But, before you say, “Supersize me,” in an attempt to temper the day’s angst, consider what happens when you gulp down another meal in a box. Fast food (hell, restaurant food in general) increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes and heart disease and cancer. These foods are loaded with fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates and mysterious additives you can’t pronounce without a PhD. in chemistry.

While the large chocolate shake may help you feel better for a short time, the same stressors, which drove you to drive through the drive thru are still present. The only answer is to reduce the stress in your life. I’m not saying you need to quit your job, join an ashram and chant all day, but here are a few ideas you may incorporate to reduce the stress in your life and improve your wellbeing:

  1. A good night’s sleep will not only change your outlook, but will give you the energy to face your challenges in a positive manner. As it pertains to fat loss, hormones released during deep sleep keep your metabolism higher.
  2. Deep breathing as part of a meditation or, maybe, during exercise provides your body with oxygen for your cells and has a calming effect. Simply sitting still for five minutes and focusing on your breath does the trick.
  3. Daily exercise provides a variety of benefits. You lower your levels of cortisol, you burn fat and breaking a sweat is a great stress reducer.
  4. A spiritual practice of your choosing has been shown to significantly lower stress levels. The simple understanding there is something greater than yourself gives perspective to your current challenges.
  5. Talking to a friend, counselor or advisor gives you the chance to see things from another perspective. Even if they do not say a word, sharing your burden with another can truly lighten your load. Maybe you can return the favor sometime.

In the end, your response to any situation is a choice. You can choose to engage in old ways of being, but that is what brought you to this point, isn’t it? Why not try something different this time?