For most of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, research reveals that it's also a fact of fat. "Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing FAT—or even add pounds," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.
Here's what happens: Your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven't used very many calories. This can make you hungry…very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.
But few of us reach for carrots in these situations. "Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension," explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you're anxious, you want fattening foods.
With your adrenal glands pumping out cortisol, production of the muscle-building hormone testosterone slows down. "Over time, this drop causes a decrease in your muscle mass, so you burn fewer calories," explains Shawn Talbott, PhD, author of The Cortisol Connection. "This occurs naturally as you age, but high cortisol levels accelerate the process." Cortisol also encourages your body to store fat—especially visceral fat, which is particularly dangerous because it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.
Obviously, getting rid of all anxiety isn't an option. But by taking these 5 steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control—and improve your health.
1. Drop and do 10.That's right, power out some push-ups. "Moving your muscles is an effective, instant stress reliever.
2. Go slowly at meals.Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food. And remember to eat multiple smaller meals.
3. Curtail caffeine.Next time you're under duress, choose decaf. When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone.
4. Power up with breakfast.Deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium are stressful to your body. And these deficiencies lead to increased cortisol levels and food cravings. Eat breakfast and get that digestive system and metabolism turned on!
5. Sleep it off.The most effective stress-reduction strategy of all: Get enough shut-eye.Have a great day transforming!