STRESS THE DESTROYER OF PHYSIQUES
Irony – I’m writing a blog about stress… and it’s stressing me out. Breathe in, breathe out. Okay. We face stress every day – from family, from work, from friends, from complete strangers who swoop in and take your parking space when you know damn well they saw that you had your indicator on! Some of us let these things add up and eat away at us and guess what happens… weight gain! We store fat and water and wonder why the hell the number that the scale spit out today is higher than it was last week despite sticking to our diet and training plans.
Stress triggers a bunch of reactions in our bodies – all part of our natural protective instincts. We tend to get stressed out over modern things like bills, car problems, maybe a crashed computer. But if you think back to the times of loin cloths, cave dwelling, and Flintstone cars, stress was attributed to things like finding food and not freezing to death in the winter. So when we experience stress, our bodies’ natural response to is trigger intake of more food and preserver our energy stores. So what does that mean? Increased appetite and lower calorie burn during activity – an ideal predicament for storing fat.
When you don’t learn ways to manage stress, you put yourself in danger of developing chronic stress. Under periods of chronic stress our bodies secrete several different hormones (including cortisol and glucocorticords) which increase intake of highly palatable food, which is just medical jargon for crap loaded with sugar and fat. Twinkies = highly palatable foods, broccoli… not so much. These foods increase abdominal fat depots and circulating insulin, both of these in turn may dampen the response to stress. This cycle is largely dependent on food choices rather than calories consumed. These highly palatable foods are often thought of as “addictive” – and that’s not by coincidence. They actually cause opioid release which gives us that euphoric feeling after eating chocolate, or ice cream, or those other fatty sugary delights. During times of stress we are HIGHLY more susceptible to addictive behaviors. So we get stressed out, we eat comfort food. The comfort food lowers our resistance to addiction while adding insulin and abdominal fat which makes us more prone to stress. So of course that causes us to eat more comfort food, get more stressed out, and so on! That comfort food you’re reaching for out of stress relief isn’t making things any better, it’s actually throwing you into a vicious cycle of stress paired with bagels topped with Nutella, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Ummm… or whatever your comfort food is.
Your best plan of attack is to find what works for you to reduce your stress level, just make sure it’s something that doesn’t involve Oreos! Although reducing stress alone is not going to cause you to lose the fat that you gained during your time of stress, it will likely stabilize your cortisol levels and help you maintain weight. To reduce stress, you want to focus on doing things that will eventually lead you to a place of a slower breathing rate and lower heart rate. Things like meditation, yoga, listening to relaxing music have been shown to not only reduce stress but lower your blood pressure. If you’ve never meditated before, try starting with a guided meditation podcast. Listening to them before going to sleep doesn’t take any time out of your day! Of course exercise helps since it raises your heart and breathing rate during exercise, then lowers during recovery. And then there’s always my favorite stress reducer – SLEEP!
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