For most of us, stress is a fact of life.
Unfortunately stress can make you fat and weight loss extremely hard, especially for busy women over 40.
Even if you usually eat healthfully and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even adds weight.
Here's what happens:
Your body responds to all stress—physical or psychological—in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain acts as though you're in physical danger and 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 in your stressed-out state. This can make you hungry... very hungry. And worse again – hungry for a certain type of food – high in fats and calories. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.
Do you crave carrot sticks in these situations? Believe me when I am stressed I don’t, I crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that actually do reduce tension.
Why stress increases body fat?
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. 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 stress isn't an option. But by taking these seven steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control, and improve your overall health at the same time.
1. Drop and do 10
That's right, power out some push-ups.
Moving your muscles is an effective, instant stress reliever. It actually fools your body into thinking you're escaping the source of your stress. Exercise makes your blood circulate more quickly, transporting the cortisol to your kidneys and flushing it out of your system.
But if push-ups aren't practical, just flexing your hands or calf muscles will help move cortisol along. Even taking a stroll on your lunch break is beneficial. One study found that 18 minutes of walking 3 times per week can quickly lower the stress hormone's levels by 15%.
2. Go slowly at meals – eat mindfully
Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food.
In fact, research has linked this behavior to bigger portions and more belly fat. Eating mindfully: slowing down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness may lower cortisol levels along with decreasing the amount of food you eat, thereby shifting the distribution of fat away from the belly.
3. Stop dieting
It's ironic, but research shows that constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise as much as 18%.
In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (you guessed it) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn't stand a chance.
The only way around this is to stop dieting, and start using your own innate wisdom of hunger and fullness to guide you when and how much to eat. When you are used to stress eat it might be challenging at first. You will learn this step by step in 8-week mindful eating program.
4. Give in to cravings‚ a little
When stress drives you toward something sweet or salty, it's okay to yield a little.
It's much better to indulge in a small way and cut off your cortisol response before it gets out of control.
Have a piece of chocolate. You will feel better. Just stop at one. If you have trouble restraining yourself, take precautions so you won't binge.
Buy a single cookie when you're out instead of keeping a box at home; or keep them in the freezer so you have to wait for one to defrost.
5. Limit caffeine
Next time you're under duress, choose decaf.
When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. In one study by the University of Oklahoma, consuming the equivalent of 2 1/2 to 3 cups of coffee while under mild stress boosted cortisol by about 25%—and kept it up for 3 hours. When subjects took 600 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 6 cups of java) throughout the day, the hormone went up by 30% and stayed high all day long. You'll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of lattes. And because high cortisol levels can contribute to stress eating, you might want to consider quitting caffeine altogether.
6. Power up 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. But you can fight back by eating a breakfast that's high in these nutrients.
Add lean protein. Studies have found that adding foods like Greek yogurt, lentils, eggs, poultry, and fish (think smoked salmon) can keep you fuller longer and bump up your energy levels.
Include fruits and veggies. Fresh and in season is best—but frozen is also a great option. Whip up a smoothie with your favorites and take it on the road!
Opt for whole grains. If you’re going to go with a grain-based carb, make it a whole one—and by whole we mean that it should look like a grain (not just say it on the package). Brown rice, quinoa, and steel-cut oats are a good start. Opt for sprouted grain breads, too, with some good quality nut butter.
7. Sleep it off
The most effective stress-reduction strategy of all: Get enough quality sleep.
Your body perceives sleep deprivation as a major stressor.
A University of Chicago study found that getting an average of 6 1/2 hours each night can increase cortisol,appetite, and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours. As if that weren't enough, other research shows that lack of sleep also raises levels of ghrelin, a hunger-boosting hormone. In one study, appetite—particularly for sweet and salty foods—increased by 23% in people who lacked sleep.
The good news: A few nights of solid sleep can bring all this back into balance, and getting enough regularly helps keep it there. You'll eat less, and you'll feel better, too.
Want to make an even more dramatic change?
Overcome stress cravings, lose weight and be slim over 40, with no-diet mindful eating approach. Start now>>>