Are you convinced you don’t eat ‘that much’ yet you keep putting on the weight? Do you exercise yet you’re still putting on weight? Are you dieting and not losing weight? Well maybe the problem is stress.
That ‘spare tire’ or 'muffin top’ or those ‘love handles' could well be down to your lifestyle not just your food intake.
As a teacher, the best thing about September and the new school year was that my waistline would have decreased over the summer. I always put it down to being more active and better eating habits, but actually it was equally likely that it was the only time of the year I was stress-free, and stress-free long enough for it to have an impact on my body.
Stress generates cortisol
When we are stressed, our body releases the hormone cortisol as part of our fight or flight response. Stress is helpful at times to give us motivation, but too much of it for too long can cause health problems, for example it’s associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Cortisol changes to the way that our body metabolises glucose and how much energy our muscles burn. Constant release of cortisol may increase our risk of developing insulin resistance, raises our blood sugar, alters our appetite, reduces our ability to burn fat and increases the rate at which we store fat.
Lack of sleep, strict diets and exhausting exercise regimes create stress
While we might cheer at some stress when it causes a loss in appetite, long-term or chronic stress can increase your hunger as it results in higher insulin levels which means your blood sugar levels drop causing you to crave sugary, fatty foods. So instead of the healthy foods you would usually eat, you crave comfort foods These are the same consequences as sleep deprivation.
If you have been keeping to a strict diet you may be stressed - worrying about the number of calories and what you can eat is stressful and if you have been dieting for more than 3 weeks you are at risk of creating metabolic damage which increases cortisol which may further reduce your metabolism.
If you are doing a strenuous work out every day for an extended time, you may be causing the over release of cortisol and your belly will be stubbornly refusing to disappear.
The more stress you are under, and the longer you are under that stress, the more severe your symptoms are likely to be:
- Permanent low energy
- Weight gain especially on the waistline
- Needing caffeine and carbs to keep you going
- Energy crash in mid afternoon
- Second wind in the evening
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Cravings for sugary foods
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased tolerance to stressful situations
- Mood changes and feeling depressed or anxious
- Racing mind
- Feeling burned out
So instead of crashing on the sofa, grabbing a glass of wine and comfort foods in the evening and putting yourself at risk of diabetes, what can you do to alleviate the stress and get rid of that belly?
- Address the source of the stress. This may be easier said than done in many cases but the problem cannot be resolved without this. Stress can be divided into different categories and you could even be suffering stress as a result of several sources, so tackle a bit at a time.
- Physical - over-exercising, not sleeping, long hours
- Social - Peer pressure, relationship breakdown, bullying, social media/phones
- Emotional - emotionally draining work, PTSD, worry about deadlines or performance, financial difficulties, grief
- Environmental - lack of fresh air, noise, ElectroMagneticFields
- Health-related - chronic conditions, hormones, poor nutrition, depression
- Do not restrict your calorie intake for longer than 21 days. Stop and eat sensible to stabilise your weight loss and work out how to eat at that new weight. Choose foods that provide your body with fuel which will actually help you lose weight by giving you energy instead.
- Make sure you exercise to relieve the stress but ensure your exercise routine leaves you energised and that you allow recovery time in between sessions. Low intensity exercise such a yoga is a great option.
- Go for a walk to change your environment and increase your energy levels. Even 10 minutes away from your source of stress can improve your resilience to difficult situations.
- When you notice you are stressed, stop what you are doing, acknowledge the feeling, and breathe. Breathe out for longer than you breathe in and push your breathing down to your belly. You can say to yourself 'rest and digest' (the opposite of fight or flight) here as you breathe in and out.
- Reframe the situation - look for the opportunity, look for what you can change, put yourself outside of your situation and advise yourself, re-prioritise.
- Practise a visualisation exercise, such as putting yourself in a bubble of your favourite colour or a calming colour, or imagining the person causing you stress as a cartoon character, imagine the situation solved.
- Add a meditation and affirmation to your daily routine. I have a mantra ‘there is always time’ as my stress was the idea that I’m time poor.
- Do something creative or listen to your favourite music.
- Create a wind-down routine for the evening to ensure a good night’s sleep, for example a to-do list to get it down on paper, no phone for an hour before bed, a warm bath.
- Surround yourself with positive people and laughter. Try a laughter yoga class.
- Drink water.
- Eat nutrient dense foods: leafy vegetables, fatty fish, oatmeal, probiotic yoghurt, white meat, blueberries, 85% chocolate, avocado, seeds and nuts.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Or instead, green tea and matcha have l-theamine to offset the caffeine they contain so that you don’t get the ‘jitters’.
- See your GP if symptoms persist and you need to have your cortisol levels tested as well as support to reduce it in the longer-term.
- Take an adaptogenic herb supplement like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, or Rhodiola.
- Use essential oils. These are some suggestions:.
|Basil||To combat fatigue, low energy|
|Bergamot||Promotes relaxation and calm in your endocrine system. Slowly breathe the vapours to relax and calm the mind and body when a food craving comes, especially if you are under emotional stress.|
|Clary Sage||After a long day, treat yourself to a soothing bath with Clary Sage and Lavender. When you know it’s going to be a stressful day, put a drop on the bottoms of your feet or to your pulse points to promote feelings of balance and relaxation.|
|Grapefruit||Encourages a positive relationship with one’s body to counteract obsession with food or dieting.|
|Lavender||Diffuse to reduce stress improve sleep and combat teeth grinding. Add a few drops to a bath with epsom salts|
|Tangerine||Invites creativity to combat feeling overworked, overburdened and overly responsible.|
|Vetiver||Provides a centring effect if you are feeling split between priorities|
|Ylang Ylang||Gets rid of bottled up emotions|
|Comforting blend (Console)||Soothes emotional pain after periods of extreme stress or trauma.|
|Joyful blend (Elevation)||Reduces emotional stress, teaches worry and fear aren’t productive|
|Massage blend (Aromatouch)||Assists in calming, relaxing and releasing physical tension.|
|Reassuring blend (Peace)||Created to assist inner peace through connection.|
|Renewing blend (Forgive)||To reduce overwhelm that is creating cynicism and negativity|
|Restful blend (Serenity)||Reduces emotional overload, anxiousness and disconnection to create a feeling of calm and relaxation|
|Tension blend (PastTense)||Relieves headaches caused by stress|