Tonight many of us will make New Year’s Resolutions and many of us will resolve to lose weight. Sometimes the fastest way to a goal is by clearing the path. So go ahead and focus on your food. Keeping a food diary is a proven weight loss aid. But please also focus on controlling your stress.
Stress adds weight
Stress can lead to weight gain. A team of researchers lead at the National Cancer Institute examined a matched set of parents. The more stressed out the parents, the more weight they gained. The researchers said the most marked differences between groups occurred in the area of physical activity. Being stressed out wears you out emotionally and then you end up not being as active. When you are less physically active you burn fewer calories, so you tend to gain weight.
A study of over 45,000 employees published in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed that higher job strain was associated with a higher body mass index, a measure of overweight. When your job is stressful you gain weight.
The body’s stress response
We live in modern times, in bodies designed to help us survive the Stone Age. We get stressed from work, traffic or credit card bills and our bodies react as if the stress was from a wild pack of dogs chasing us--the "fight-or-flight" response. Your body reacts to a nasty phone call just like it does to a growling wolf and this response occurs automatically when you feel threatened.
This stress alarm in turn signals your adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys, to release a flood of stress hormones into your bloodstream. These hormones — including cortisol and adrenaline — focus your concentration, speed your reaction time, and increase your strength and agility. Adrenalin increases your rate of breathing and your heart rate, tenses your muscles and raises your blood pressure. Cortisol increases the amount of blood sugar (glucose) available for your brain so you can think fast and increases glucose to your muscles so you can run fast. Cortisol also leads to the release of fatty acids from fat cells, so they can be burned for energy by the muscles. These responses would be very helpful if you had to run from wild hogs. The problem is if your stress is not followed by a run for your life you sit there steaming mad with high blood sugar, high blood pressure, with lots of fat flowing through your veins.
When the immediate stress is over, the adrenaline goes away pretty fast, but the cortisol lingers to help your body recover from the five-mile run for your life. One of the ways it does this is to increase your appetite so you can replace the energy you burned while fleeing or fighting. Again, great if you ran away, but not helpful if you are sitting in traffic or in a cubicle at your workstation. Your increased appetite will just add to your waistline and gaining weight in turn tends to stress most of us out even more.
Apple or pear?
The hormone cortisol, because it helps increase your blood sugar, makes your body accumulate abdominal fat, which gives you that apple shape. People with apple body shapes have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes than do people with pear body shapes, where weight is more concentrated in the hips. Women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches may have a higher disease risk than people with smaller waist measurements because of where their fat lies.
Everyone has stress. The key question is what do you do when things get stressful? The solution is to get moving. Exercise is like mental floss; it cleans out the stress stuck in your brain. Get outside for a walk, even just for 10 minutes. Other stress reducers to try are yoga, tai chi, massage, meditation or prayer. If you can lower your stress, you lower your stress reaction and therefore need not fight that cortisol induced craving to eat more.
Sleep and stress
When you sleep your body levels of the hormone leptin rise to signal a decrease in caloric need. During periods of sleep deprivation, leptin levels are low. If you are continually sleep deprived, the lower level of leptin may send a signal to the brain that you need to eat more when, in fact, enough food has already been eaten. Try to get more sleep
Get ahead of the game
When the boss yells and the bills are due is not the best time to try to think, “What will lower my stress?” At that point, chocolate may be the answer, but then stop and plan. The key is to incorporate stress-reducing techniques into your life. Schedule in a walk, a massage or a yoga class. Wake up 15 minutes earlier each day for a short walk, a few yoga poses or centering prayer. Starting the day less stressed will help keep you on a more even keel.
Speaking of starting the day, try eating a decent breakfast. It need not be fancy or time consuming. A piece of fruit, some leftovers, or a whole grain breakfast bar can give you the energy to face the day and the confidence from knowing that you have done something nice for yourself.
Do you need special stress vitamins? The short answers is probably no. When scientists say that B vitamins are needed for stress they mean the kind you get with a raging fever or surgery. They do not mean that extra niacin or thiamin will help you feel less stressed out by life's everyday worries. However, it is always a good idea to take a multivitamin with all the B vitamins and A, C, E, D, and K too to be sure you are not missing out on any important nutrients. It can help you have one less thing to stress about if you know your nutritional bases are covered.
Life causes stress. We can’t avoid stress but we can work with it to manage it and not allow stress to take over and make us gain weight.
Carol hikes to clear her stress and tries to do at least 15 minutes of yoga on most days.