Nutrition Tip Tuesday: Stress

Stress. This is the time of year when the average American’s stress levels tend to increase substantially. According to a poll conducted by The New York Post in 2017, “…31% of Americans describe the holiday season as “frantic”…” We all know stress isn’t good for us or for our health, but did you know stress has the ability to affect some of the following health concerns: heart disease, asthma, diabetes, headaches, depression, accelerated aging, Alzheimer’s, etc. Did you also know if you’re trying to improve your overall health as it relates to losing body fat, stress is causing you to fight against your body?

Stress, as defined by the fabulous “oracle” or more commonly known, Google,: “pressure or tension exerted on a material object” and “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” We are eating well and working out, yet we are not seeing the results we desire. What is going on?!?! It could be internal and external stress adversely impacting your efforts. We all have a certain amount of stress in our lives, however, the effect excess or chronic stress has on our hormones can quickly cause our bodies to slow or even halt our hard work in the kitchen and in the gym.

Each of our bodies has been created to react to stress in ways of protecting ourselves against predators and aggressors–ex. a wild cheetah chasing you because well, it wants to eat you. Your body triggers the fight or flight response in your brain (via the hypothalamus) any time it perceives a stressful situation. The brain then sends signals to the rest of your body via nerve and hormonal pathways to alert the body that “we are in danger and gotta boogie.” While, we no longer experience stressors such as wild animals chasing us, we still live in a time in which stress is very much a constant.

When our stress levels are increased, the hormone cortisol aka the “stress hormone” (along with others, but we will be looking specifically at cortisol), is released at a higher rate via the adrenal glands. This hormone is absolutely necessary to the body as it is part of the alert system to ensure we are “at the ready” in a stressful situation. Yet, when one is living in a state of chronic stress, cortisol is constantly elevated. This is not what we need if our goal is to lose body fat. “It (cortisol) regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of substrate (carbohydrate, fat, or protein) the body needs to meet the physiological demands placed on it. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.” (Dina Aronson, MS, RD
Today’s Dietitian) Repeated or constant exposure to elevated cortisol levels has been connected to weight gain–predominately visceral fat around the midsection. Excess body fat around the midsection is least desirable as it puts added stress on vital organs such as liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart. Additionally, studies have shown when cortisol levels are increased so is our desire for higher caloric foods.

So, what can we do? There are numerous methods to help keep cortisol at a normal level.

  • Exercise–strive to get in at least 30min of movement each day–that’s only 2% of your day; it can be anything you can do consistently–you can do it!
  • Sleeping well–striving for 6-8 hours each night of quality sleep
  • Lowering external stress–removing one’s self from activities and/or people or relationships that no longer serve as a betterment to your health and well being; learning to say ‘no’ to taking on yet another task, asking for help, etc.
  • Eating Well–aiming to get a well balanced diet is key; but also monitor your sugar intake; even more so if you find yourself stressed out often.
  • Relaxation Techniques–meditation, deep breathing, prayer, and mindfulness have been proven methods of lowering stress levels in individuals.

With the holidays upon us, I don’t know of anyone who won’t find their personal stress barometer tipping towards the higher end at one point or another. However, how we cope and how we respond to stressful situations can help or harm our overall well being. Which method will you take on this holiday season?

Until next time,

-E

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