Let's face it, our relationship with food is complicated. We eat when we're hungry, but we also eat because it's "there." We eat because our mom cooked it for us, it's tradition, it's a holiday, it's a celebration! These reasons are not necessarily bad, but if we find ourselves relying on food to handle everyday stessors, we are in for a rollercoaster ride for our bodies, hearts and minds.
When we're anxious, upset, angry, sad, lonely or _____ (you fill in the blank), many times we reach for something to stuff in our mouths to comfort or calm us, when really a friend, a walk or a nap would be the best option. In the moment, that bag of cookies may seem enjoyable and comforting, but in the long run we are sabotaging any efforts towards reaching our health goals, which include weight management, lowering our risk of disease, and being emotionally and mentally stable.
Research shows us that stress makes us hungrier and, if not managed well, triggers the release of hormones (like cortisol) that can cause us to gain weight in the main area we're usually the least happy with - our waistline. By design, our cortisol levels are meant to peak between 5 & 6am as the body prepares to wake up, and decrease during the day, not to rise again till about 2am. However, in our modern too-busy, stressed-out lives, we keep going well into late day and evening which keeps our cortisol levels high, creating a desire to overeat and snack.
So what exactly is going on inside, when we are not handling things well emotionally and we're physically overwhelmed? Chemically, the brain signals the adrenal glands to release hormones, including cortisol, which leads to excess glucose being transported to our muscles. This would come in handy if you were being chased by a crazy person, but you're not! You're just getting angry at your co-worker or spouse, or yelling at your kids. Cortisol levels stay elevated after the confrontation has passed, but since your muscles really didn't need that fuel, it's transported to your fat storage area where it's safe and sound! Oh, joy.
The real bummer is that extra weight carried around the midriff increases our risk for chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease because this "central fat" storage area is close to the vital organs. Just consider the liver, which is responsible for many metabolic functions, regulating things like insulin, cholesterol and blood pressure. Chronic unmanaged stress leads to elevated cortisol levels all the time, and as central fat cells constantly get "plumped up," fatty acids are released into the blood stream. They pour into the liver which is now always over-worked, which causes insulin, cholesterol and blood pressure levels to all rise, leading to more fat cell storage, fatty acid release - and on and on in a vicious cycle. This scenario also sets us up for adrenal exhaustion, something I see quite a bit of in my health coaching practice. You can see how this doesn't bode well, right?
So, here's the good news! We encounter stress factors in many forms every day, and in fact we can't avoid them, but we can lessen the impact and our waistlines, by taking charge of our health and doing these things:
- Commit to not over-extending ourselves, our energies, and learn to say "no"
- Carve out more time for rest and relaxation
- Practice "calmness" and deep breathing
- Assess situations first before reacting, hit the "pause" button; This will help you not over-react
- Learn to recover quickly when stressful situations occur
- Take responsibility for our reactions, mental outlook, and how we navigate relationships, at home and work
- Lower our intake of stressors like alcohol, sugar, caffeine and chemically processed "food;" Focus more on non-inflammatory REAL foods which include lots of plants; Start treating our bodies more like a temple and less like a garbage dump
- Learn to see food not as an emotional coping tool, but as fuel and enjoyment, and reach for quality nutrition when we are truly hungry
There is a connection between all of these factors and the shape you are in now. If you're looking for some education, motivation, inspiration, rejuvenation and reconciliation with the real you, contact me! I specialize in helping people live healthier, more vibrant lives!
Be Well! - Carol