30 July, 2015

11 reasons why your stress is making you fat

Remember the scene from the movie Dil dhadakne do, where stressed Shefali Talwar is shown to binge on cakes and sweets? It is called depressive eating.
Stress has an impact on the body. It escalates the weight and fat gain specially around the waistline. It also causes loss of muscle, which is a live tissue and responsible for good metabolism. Stress plays a havoc on thyroid and makes weight loss a battle.
Losing weight is not as simple as plain exercise and controlling your diet. Sometimes you do not achieve the desired results despite exercising and watching your diet. There are many other factors attached like adequate rest, stress, hormones, water retention, eating at right time, sleeping at right time, constipation, etc.
If you are constantly tired and constantly craving for food, how can you achieve weight loss? Do you know that the underlying factor of all this is STRESS.

In modern, fast paced, competitive world, stress comes as part and parcel of every one's life. There are high expectations and ambitions but the bodies are not equipped to cope with it.
When weight is not ready to budge, it is a clear signal that we need to listen to our body and slow down, change the lifestyle. However, instead of doing that, we press panic buttons and become more anxious and depressed because of weight gain. People hit the gym with more vengeance and do crash diet. The result- total breakdown. Stress makes the situation bad to worse. It does not allow the fat to burn. In fact, when we are stressed, the body releases the hormone, Cortisol that holds on to the fat reserves as its reaction to protect the body for a long term. It also alters the energy levels and the metabolism. In a normal situation, Cortisol levels are high in the morning so that we can be active during the day. By bedtime they lower so that we need rest and our energy levels become low. But when a person is stressed, cortisol, which is produced from adrenal glands at time when it should be ideally low. This interferes with rest and sleep. That is why, when one is stressed, one has difficulty to sleep. When a person is stressed for long duration- for days or months, it is not just tiring but starts affecting the system of the body- the digestive system, reproductive system, hormones, etc.

A client came to me who had been gyming like a maniac. She would not eat much, run a lot, had tried various dietitians and gyms but the weight was not reducing. When she came to me, I assessed her and did her counselling. I told her to reduce her workout and increase her diet. She was not ready to believe this. In fact, she was very apprehensive. But I asked her to trust me. I made her do gentle Yoga and increased her diet. In two months she lost 8 kgs. She was surprised but very happy. I would not do this with everyone. But her case was different. Her body was already functioning at an optimum low. 
Sometimes, we need to pamper ourselves a little, take a small break, slow down, focus more and relax.
In women, specifically, the causes of stress are related to job, finances and most importantly strained relationships. For men, stress is primarily due to jobs and finances.
Today the stresses are not the same as what we have grown up to cope with. We have not evolved to cope up with stresses of modern times. Today, the turmoils are more due to society and its expectations of us vs our desires and needs. These challenge us more emotionally and less physically.
Modern challenges are due to technology, rat race, lots of pressures. Today our lives have changed and we are not equipped to handle the stresses. People are facing these stresses alone. They are either single or live in nuclear families. They have no time to exercise or to meditate. There is no emotional support and less contact with nature.

This is how stress makes us gain weight

1. When a mind is stressed, the first response of the body is to store the fuel (food) for upcoming fight or challenge. Glycogen, which is stored glucose is released from muscles and liver and sent to bloodstream. During stress, person does not exercise, to burn this excess energy. The body turns this excess glycogen to fat. The cells in abdomen have more receptors for this and hence, the fat gets stored around the midriff. That is why people, who are more stressed have bulging abdomen/ apple shaped body and not pear shaped body.

2. The sugar loading from stress triggers release of insulin. This functions to move sugar from bloodstream into cells and use as energy. High insulin prevents burning of stored fat and instead promotes stored fat. It leads to weight gain. It is a vicious circle. Reducing stress and exercising more regulates insulin.

3. The alimentary canal or gastrointestinal tract or the intestines get affected due to stress. It affects all body functions, systems and immunity. The body cannot detoxify properly. The hormones get imbalanced and the digestion is affected. Good bacteria are destroyed by steroids, stress, antibiotics, alcohol and sugar. This is how one experiences bloating, water retention in abdomen and weight fluctuation. Probiotic foods can be helpful. They are garlic, onions, artichokes, bananas, etc.

4. Exercise is very helpful to combat stress. It lowers cortisol naturally and in fact, releases happy hormones to counter stress called endorphins. Exercise is better than anti depressants. It improves immunity and supports pro biotic bacteria for alimentary canal. Exercise also increases metabolism and lowers insulin. Thus, you do not have stored body fat in your abdomen. You not only look physically fit and better, exercise helps you to become emotionally better and stronger too. Make exercise part of your leisure time. This is a sure shot way to combat stress and depression. Exercise clears the mind, improves the mood, gives more confidence, decreases the cravings and binge eating.

Yoga and pranayama are specially very helpful to reduce stress. Yoga gives you control on your mind, heart and body.There are increased relaxing alpha brain waves and anti anxiety chemicals released with Yoga. Stress hormone Cortisol is also reduced.

5. Long term raised insulin levels are responsible for saturated insulin receptor sites. This means that they become insulin resistant or have metabolic syndrome, which is typically associated with apple shaped bodies. To avoid this, avoid refined carbs, specially in the evenings when the metabolism is slow. Rather, have good protein rich breakfast. Also have nuts, milk and milk products, avocado, fish, eggs, etc.

6. Stress makes a person impulsive. Decisions taken under stress are seldom correct. Person in stress seeks quick results and pleasures. This leads to stressful or depressive eating or binging. Person is not mindful while eating. He does not focus on health and well being. He eats impulsively, despite knowing that it is not a healthy choice and seeks instant gratification. That is why when you are free of worries, you enjoy healthy food, you savour the taste and do not binge.

7. When a person is stressed, he/she craves for junk food. It is like an emotional reward just like drug addiction. Sweets, fats and refined carbs help to calm down the stressed mind. They release pain relieving opioids and serotonin. Opioids do sound like opium and serotonin are body's happy chemicals that go to the brain. This is body's default way of dealing with stress by craving for wrong foods. It is very addictive. But the high does not last long. So you crave for more and become cranky if you do not get your smoke or alcohol or sweets that you crave for.

8. Stress increases Oestrogen. Stress hormone is made of progesterone, which balances oestrogen. When a women is stressed, she might experience change in menstrual cycle, heavier periods, shorter cycles, mood swings called PMS or even have Polycystic ovarian syndrome ( PCOS), also known as PCOD ( polycystic ovarian disease). Oestrogen is more of female hormone that gives the females their shape- breast, etc. Increase in this hormone will lead to weight gain and apple shaped body. Oestrogen levels should not be low during menopause. 

9. Stress slows down thyroid. Thyroid in turn governs metabolism i.e the rate at which body burns the energy/ calories. Exercise can trigger metabolism and help to destress.

10. Stress leads to craving for sweets. Sometimes it is so addictive that the person craves for sweets as stimulants. Sugar is always seen as comfort or reward food. It leads to insomnia, anxiety, weight gain, makes a person irritated and angry.

11. To combat stress, women shop, smoke and drink. Men have alcohol. These are instant feel good ways. Due to cravings of food and alcohol, there is weight gain and hence, low self esteem. Which, in turn causes more stress. Stress lowers our sensitivity and patience. It also lowers our feeling of leptin- the hormone that tells the brain when we are full after having food. This leptin resistance is the cause of over eating. There is an increased appetite due to high leptin. 

Combat stress and weight management becomes easier. Eat right and exercise. Those are the key elements.

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