Why Does Stress Sabotage My Weight?

Cortisol Makes Cells Less Responsive

We all know that stress can make you gain weight – you’re anxious over bills or deadlines so you binge on junk food and wake up feeling full and swollen the next day. It also makes you tired and less likely to exercise, but also steals your ability to sleep. Not a great cycle!

But it’s important to understand the mechanism behind these things.

One of the most powerful things that stress does to your body is making your cells less responsive. An over-abundance of cortisol blocks your cells from being able to read usual signals, which pushes your hormones out of balance.

Cortisol affects the receptor sites of other hormones making the cells less responsive to their signals. For example, Type II Diabetes is a disease where sufficient insulin is produced, but your body’s cells can’t read the insulin signal. This is called insulin resistance and the onset of insulin resistance typically leads to diabetes when not acted upon with correct dietary and activity changes. When insulin remains high (as happens when you have insulin resistance) your body will not release fat from its fat cells. This basically traps the fat you have into their cells, even if you go on a diet. This is why for some people, low carb diets can work wonders (because they had underlying insulin resistance).

Leptin is another hormone that plays a key role in losing weight. Leptin is a hormone released from your fat cells and acts as a thermostat to gauge how much fat you have and how fast you’re losing it. When leptin levels are high and your brain can read the signal you feel full and don’t over-eat. If your brain can’t read the signal though you have leptin resistance and feel hungry all the time. Generally, if you have insulin resistance, you also have leptin resistance.

Excessive stress and it’s concurrent release of cortisol negatively effects the receptors for both insulin and leptin, making it harder for your body to read the signals of those hormones. If your body can’t read the signals for insulin, fat stays trapped in your cells. If you can’t read the signals for leptin, you’re hungry all the time. Both of these things place you on an uphill battle when it comes to losing weight.
– via BuiltLean

Quick Ways To Curtail Cortisol

We know how hard excess cortisol is on your body, so it’s time to find ways to curb stress, lower cortisol, and reclaim balance within your body.

Drop and do 10.

That’s right, power out some push-ups. “Moving your muscles is an effective, instant stress reliever. It actually fools your body into thinking you’re escaping the source of your stress,” says Talbott. “Exercise makes your blood circulate more quickly, transporting the cortisol to your kidneys and flushing it out of your system.” But if push-ups aren’t practical, just flexing your hands or calf muscles will help move cortisol along, he says. Even taking a stroll on your lunch break is beneficial. In one study, Talbott found that 18 minutes of walking 3 times per week can quickly lower the hormone’s levels by 15%.

Go slowly at meals.

Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food. In fact, research has linked this behavior to bigger portions and more belly fat. But Epel hypothesizes that slowing down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of fullness may lower cortisol levels along with decreasing the amount of food you eat, thereby shifting the distribution of fat away from the belly.

Stop strict dieting.

It’s ironic, but research shows that constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise as much as 18%. In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (you guessed it) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn’t stand a chance.

Curtail caffeine.

Next time you’re under duress, choose decaf. When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. In one study by the University of Oklahoma, consuming the equivalent of 2½ to 3 cups of coffee while under mild stress boosted cortisol by about 25%—and kept it up for 3 hours. When subjects took 600 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 6 cups of java) throughout the day, the hormone went up by 30% and stayed high all day long. You’ll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of lattes. And because high cortisol levels can contribute to stress eating, you might want to consider quitting caffeine altogether.
– via Prevention

In what ways do you see stress affecting your body? What are you doing to control it?