Stress! It gets us all. Life in the 21st Century is so fast paced, so ever changing, so dynamic, and it’s full of all sorts of circumstances, situations, and physical and emotional reponses that play a huge part in our daily lives. The biggest challenge is how we cope with it all.

Just look at our careers and how they influence our emotions, our mood, our time, and our stress levels. Night shift, day shift, afternoon shift, international travel, travelling to work in traffic, and that’s just the start. Income, finance, making ends meet, the global financial crisis, mortgage payments, finding time to get to the gym, eating fast food, piling on the weight, tired, stressed, always behind the eight ball. Do you feel like your life is out of control?

Well, you are not alone. A ridiculously high percentage of the population in this day and age suffers from stress, which can lead to health problems, depression, and weight gain.

This is such a big subject, that I’m going to break it down over a few weeks and discuss it in more detail.

Stress can indeed inhibit weight loss, and it can actually cause weight gain too. Do you wonder why, after spending countless hours at the gym, and after eating all the good things you should be eating, you are still not losing weight as quickly as you would like to? This could be related to stress.

Let’s look at a couple of key reasons why stress affects our weight:

Stress can, in a nutshell, cause a rise in cortisol (a hormone) levels and keep them elevated. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can have a negative effect on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk. Now, we need cortisiol in our bodies for many reasons…

Cortisol (along with its partner epinephrine) is best known for its involvement in the “fight-or-flight” response; a temporary increase in energy production at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. The resulting biochemical and hormonal imbalances typically resolve due to a hormonally driven negative feedback loop. The following is a typical example of how the stress response is intended to operate as a survival mechanism:

Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores in the liver. This energy can help an individual fight or flee an aggressor. However, in the long term, high levels of cortisol cause the body to consistently produce glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels.

Theoretically, this mechanism can increase the risk of type-2 diabetes, although the causative factor is unknown. Since the principal function of cortisol is to thwart the effect of insulin—essentially rendering cells insulin resistant—the body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues.

Repeated elevation of cortisol levels can lead to weight gain in two ways:

One way is via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them.

A second way in which cortisol may be involved in weight gain goes back to the blood sugar-insulin problem. Consistently high blood glucose levels, along with insulin suppression, lead to cells being starved of glucose. Those cells are crying out for energy, and one of the ways they deal with that is by sending hunger signals to the brain. This can lead to overeating and, of course, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.

Another connection is cortisol’s tendency to cause cravings for high-calorie foods.

So, not enough sleep, poor diet, lack of (or no) exercise, poor muscle tone, highly stressful jobs and life situations, can all have a negative effect on our health and on our weight. We can’t change everything about our lives, but there are some things that we can indeed change and have some control over.

1. Get regular exercise, including weight training and some form of cardio.

2. Eat a well balanced diet full of good quality protein, good fats, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

3. Follow a training and nutritional plan so that you are not left floundering. Get yourself organised!

4. Get plenty of rest; at least 7 hours sleep per night.

5. Try some yoga, thai chi, or some sort of relaxation technique, maybe even a walk along the beach. It’s important to have some “you time” away from  everyday pressures.

6. Plan a holiday or break. We all need something to look forward to.

7. Laugh! Enjoy life, spend time with family, friends and loved ones. Make time for it, it really is important!

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