Do you find yourself gaining weight without any valid explanation?
You have cleaned up your diet and resumed your exercise routine.
You watch your portion size and get up and walk around every few hours while at work.
Be honest with yourself, and if you can’t come up with what may be going awry, leading to that number on the scale to creep up, there might be something else at play: stress and your cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in times of stress to help our body cope with the stressors it is experiencing.
You can think of it as the signal that says to the body “something is wrong! Do something about it!”
The doing something component means that our body increases blood oxygen levels and heart rate, it increases blood flow to areas that need it the most (such as your legs if you had to run fast!), and decreases blood flow to areas not needing it right now, such as your digestive tract.
It causes your pupils to dilate, the release of adrenaline, facilitating an increase in energy, and overall essentially preps your body for “fight or flight” – deal with the stressor or be able to run away from it!
The problem though, is that we are regularly placing our bodies under chronic stress – work and our jobs, physical stress from exercise or over-exertion and lack of sleep, relationship struggles which cause psychological stress and so much more.
This also means that we are having chronically elevated levels of cortisol within the body.
Because cortisol is designed to mobilize energy, it causes the release of glycogen and stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism to offer the energy necessary for dealing with the stressful situation we are experiencing.
When we don’t need this energy however, and we are simply not properly dealing with stress, the body stores this excess fat and carbohydrates that have been generated.
In particular, studies have shown that it is stored as visceral fat (fat around the organs) or as abdominal fat.
Collectively this contributes to weight gain.
To help reduce weight gain as a result of stress, it is important to reduce your cortisol levels.
To do so, you need to reduce your stress and help regulate your body’s stress response.
Try some of the following to help make this happen:
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep is perceived as stressful to the body and will also inhibit proper repair, recovery and maintenance of bodily systems, further contributing to perceived stress on the body.
- Exercise regularly – not only does exercise ease stress, but it burns calories. Be careful however, not to exercise excessively, as this is a physical stress on the body, which will further exasperate the issue.
- Look after your mental health – practicing mindfulness and meditation, talking through relationship or career based issues when they arise and taking time for yourself are all key parts in reducing your psychological stress.
And perhaps most importantly, remove sources of stress in your life.
Cumulative stress is extremely damaging and continually exposing yourself to the same stressful scenario, such as in your career or a relationship will have negative long-term effects.