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The Impact of Stress on Weight Maintenance

Do you ever wonder why you can’t lose weight even though you’re eating healthy and exercising? Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, may be the reason to blame!

Increased levels of cortisol have been proven to disrupt our body’s natural processes. Long-term activation of everyday stressors can lead to a variety of health issues including anxiety, depression, sleep trouble, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain.

It is important to understand the body’s responses to stress and the role of diet, exercise, and sleep in stress reduction.

Our Body on Stress

When we put ourselves into stressful situations, our hypothalamus, a small, hormone-producing part of the brain, is activated through what is known as the body’s “fight or flight” response. The hypothalamus then sends a message to the adrenal glands that release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline elevates heart rate and increases blood pressure while cortisol decreases blood sugar levels, alters the immune system and suppresses the digestive system. The activation of these hormones trigger regions of the brain that regulate mood, motivation, and fear. It’s no wonder why we feel anxious and distracted when we encounter stressors!

Cortisol and Diet

Since cortisol suppresses insulin production and causes our blood sugar levels to drop, our body’s response is to send hunger signals to the brain.

With lower blood sugar levels, we are more likely to crave foods high in sugar and fat. This explains our unhealthy cravings during times of stress.

It also doesn’t help that our body releases chemicals in response to food that may have a calming effect on the body.

Over-Exercising and Weight Gain

Too much of one thing is never good! Spending too many hours at the gym has been linked to increased levels of cortisol and impaired function of our adrenal glands.

Since excess cortisol encourages fat gain, we may be reversing the effects of our workout sessions when we workout for extended periods of time.

Cortisol, Sleep, and Weight Control

There is a correlation between cortisol levels and amount of sleep. Increased levels of cortisol may result in too little rest and vice versa, too little rest may result in the production of cortisol.

Sleep aids the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and maintain balanced blood sugar levels. When we are sleep deprived, blood sugar levels are impacted, causing increased insulin production. Since too much insulin can lead the body to store fat, our weight loss efforts may be hindered.

Tips for Managing Cortisol Levels

Find the balance between exercise and recovery. Create a balanced workout routine that involves cardio, strength training, and stretching.

Practice mindfulness. Schedule time to meditate and try other breathing practices such as yoga and tai chi.

Get adequate sleep. Work on getting more and better quality sleep by reducing surrounding noises and allotting yourself enough time to rest.

Reduce caffeine intake. Excess caffeine levels can increase the body’s production of cortisol so try limiting intake to one to two cups per day.

Consider scheduling an acupuncture or massage appointment. Both techniques have been proven to reduce pain, tension, and lower stress hormones.

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