If you can’t shift the weight or feel like your middle is getting bigger no matter how much you try take a look at your stress levels. It’s not your imagination. If you’ve been under stress for quite some time it is very likely that elevated cortisol levels are contributing to your increasing waist-line. Cortisol is one of the adrenal hormones produced in times of stress. It was developed in a time when we got chased by bears and other predators. Even though the stress is not usually life threatening our brain perceives the threat in the same way.
Cortisol is quite the hormone. In a perfect world it’s the hormone that gets us up and outta bed in the mornings. Mornings are when it should be highest. As the day goes on it is meant to decrease and be at its lowest in the middle of the night. It also ensures we remain on alert when danger is near. It sharpens our memory and our responses, it mobilises glucose for the brain to use and it shuts down non-essential things like digestion and muscle repair. Basically it preps the body to run from a bear! It’s really useful!
Once the danger has passed cortisol is meant to decrease to regular levels so our body can chill, digest, sleep and repair itself. But, in chronic stress it simply doesn’t get the chance. It stays in high alert levels for the majority of the time leaving us tired and wired, finding digestion not what it should be and craving sugar and carbs.
Craving sugar and carbs? This is where things get complicated as long term heightened cortisol levels results in cells that are insulin resistance. The cortisol increases blood sugar levels but the muscle and fat cells refuse to take the insulin in a bid to stop the enormous flow of glucose and redirect it to the brain. Insulin is needed for glucose to enter muscle and fat cells but not brain cells however. The excess insulin makes you want to eat more but the excess glucose that isn’t being used gets turned to fat. Whoa! Complicated hey?
Belly fat? It gets better! Why the middle fat? Cortisol also encourages more fat around the middle as this visceral fat is better able to make cortisol and also has more receptors. This means not only are the adrenals pumping out cortisol but now you have extra being made in your belly fat! Super! Can you hear the sarcasm?
It may also be because while your body is in fight or flight it ain’t digesting food well at all. Part of that belly could be bloating from poor digestion.
Can’t sleep? Lack of sleep comes into play here too. High cortisol levels means we are tired and wired. By the time we relax enough to sleep, it’s time to wake up. Only our cortisol has only just reduced. We struggle to get out of bed, reach for coffee, more coffee and then a side of coffee with that coffee. But by night our cortisol is back up to danger speed and off we go again. And what happens when we’re tired? Our body craves food for energy. Enter more weight gain!
Emotional eating?. We often turn to comfort food in times of stress. Comfort food is usually high carb or sugar or both. But cortisol is causing insulin resistance so all the excess glucose gets turned to…you guessed it! Fat!
What does this all mean for my weight? In a nut-shell the longer you are under stress the longer you are experiencing on going high cortisol levels. The longer this goes on the more belly fat gets made, the more insulin resistant the cells become, the more you crave energy rich (not necessarily nutrient dense) food, the less quality sleep you get and the less your body is properly digesting leaving you bloated. As cortisol also constricts the arteries it raises blood pressure. Not ideal!
If you want to know how you can nourish your adrenals check out next week’s blog!
Stress is not the only cause of weight gain, but it is a significant contributor. If you are experiencing unexplained weight gain get in contact with your preferred health care provider because it may be something else but if you are experiencing on going high levels of stress it could just be that this is causing your pants to tighten.
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