Step 10: Minimize Stress!

Stress2In a fairly recent study conducted by the Departments of Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine it was discovered that chronic stress and the production of cortisol induced insulin are main contributing factors that can lead to increases in body fat and ultimately obesity.

Most people are aware of the behavioral and psychological factors concerning stress-related obesity. When you’re stressed you have trouble maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It translates into eating often even when you’re not hungry or eating high-calorie/fatty fast foods because you don’t have time to prepare something healthy. And the piece de resistance of it all, you’re too exhausted to exercise regularly due to the very same stress.

Here’s how stress is supposed to work, when faced with a stressful situation, the body triggers the stress response or what is called the fight-or-flight response. When that response is triggered the body secretes cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones as well as increases blood pressure, breathing and heart rate. This increases the energy readily available to the body for action while non fight or flight essential processes like digestion are decreased. This process is geared for short term use and is self regulating. When the stress is relived and cortisol and adrenaline levels decrease, the body is supposed to return to normal function. The problem is, in today’s world the stress just keeps on coming.  When stress is overwhelming, constant, and excessive the fight or flight response never turns off. The resulting situation is a body constantly making adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline helps fat cells release energy so that the body is ready to use it. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism which leads to increased blood sugar levels and the release of insulin which in turn makes us hungry so that we replace the same energy we used in our fight or flight response. Now you will remember in step 8 I stated that the caloric needs of an individual hunting and foraging for days are demonstrably different than those that shop for food at the local Piggly Wiggly.  Well the same is true here.  Our bodies are constantly responding in a fight or flight way, but the stresses are traffic jams, crying babies, crashing computers, unrealistic expectations at work and home, and the list goes on. The caloric needs to deal with those activities are demonstrably different than someone running into a band of invaders, or a saber toothed tiger. The environment has changed, but the body’s responses have not so that extra cortisol running through your body gives off the signals that you need to refuel, when in all actuality you haven’t used the energy that has already been released to you. So what happens? You wind up converting the released energy and the newly consumed calories into fat.

Once I did this research I got it in my head that I needed to do two things 1) keep my system flushed out.  It’s the accumulation of these hormones that causes the problem. Get them out of your body as quickly as possible, and 2) Seek counseling so that I could learn the coping skills necessary to not have this fight or flight release happen as frequently as it can occur under today’s uber stressful conditions. Learning that I cannot control every situation and that every action is not a personal slight or affront went a long way towards reducing my blood sugar, having more energy for the gym, and ultimately changing my thought patterns and eating habits so that I could lose the weight and keep it off.