Lets talk about stress and the idea that "stress can make you fat." While stress alone won't necessarily make you gain weight, chronic or poorly managed stress leads to elevated cortisol levels which can spike your appetite, potentially leading to weight gain. Cortisol is our "fight or flight" hormone, it aids in regulating blood sugar and stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism. When a "stressful" situation occurs our cortisol levels rise and stay elevated for a prolonged period of time. Now pile on multiple "stressful" situations a day and you may find yourself with chronically elevated cortisol levels, poor fat metabolism and weight gain (especially in the abdominal area).
20 minutes of exercise, 3 times per week, can reduce cortisol levels by 15%
Signs you may be chronically stressed:
you crave sugars and/or starches (carbs) daily
you regularly don't sleep well
you don't wake up energized
you love coffee or energy drinks but often notice they make your heart race
you feel stressed regularly
you struggle to lose weight, no matter how dedicated and consistent you are
if you don't go to bed by 10pm, you'll be up to 1am
Beat stress fat with these 6 tips!
Oh ya! The first one is obviously my favorite. Studies show that even 20 minutes of exercise, 3 times a week, can decrease your stress hormones by 15%!
2. Stop focusing on eating "less"
Instead of focusing on eating less, or cutting out sugar, try to focus on consuming more healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Often the stress caused by a very restrictive diet can lead to binge eating, which in turn causes us to stress about our recent binge. It is a vicious cycle.
3. Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing slows the heart rate, regulates blood pressure and reduces anxiety. For many of us, we walk around "sucking in" our stomachs in order to look slimmer, causing more shallow, chest dominate breathing. Place one hand on your belly and one on the side of your ribs. Take a deep breath in through your nose feeling the space under your hands expand, and slowly exhale through the mouth.
4. Get your z's
Not only will getting more than 7 hours of sleep a night reduce your stress and cortisol levels, it will also help to keep your cravings at bay. Finding it hard to fall asleep? Go to bed by 10pm to avoid that "second wind" keeping you up into the early morning.
5. Reconsider that afternoon coffee
You now know that stress increases our cortisol levels, often leading to weight gain, but unfortunately so does caffeine. If you are chronically stressed, limit your caffeine consumption to 2 cups per day. Swap your afternoon coffee for a peppermint tea. Bonus: peppermint can improve digestion, reduce pain and eliminate inflammation.
6. Find your version of mediation
If mediation isn't your thing (I hear ya) then find something else that makes you feel calm and centered. For me it's walking. If I am overwhelmed, stressed or anxious a 20 minute stroll does me wonders! If walking is not for you, experiment with other activities. Read a book, have a cup of tea, do a Sudoku or call a friend.