Yup, you read it right. By being more relaxed and calm, you can actually fight off ugly weight gain!
Studies reveal that STRESS affects our eating habits, metabolism, weight gain and even where fat is distributed in the body!
Our bodies respond to stress by producing cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline induces the body to metabolize and convert fat to produce energy. Cortisol is a hormone that is also churned out by our adrenal glands in response to stress, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, environmental, chemical or even imaginary stress! You see, our brain is hardwired to survive and protect the body from harm at the first sign of stress by trigerring the "fight or flee" response essential to survival.
These two hormones work in tandem to put the body on red alert mode and ready for battle! Our pupils dilate, thinking becomes sharp and alert, our heart rate raises and lungs open up to take in more energy! It tells the body to get ready for battle or at least flee if the challenge is insurmountable. When the stress situation is gone, adrenaline dissipates but cortisol remains to help bring the body to a "normal" state. It partly does this by increasing our appetite so we can take in more carbohydrates and fat which the body assumes we burned while fighting or fleeing from the scene.
That automatic stress response and the replenishment or reward system was good in the days when us humans had to run from predatory animals or even predatory humans. But nowadays, the beasts we battle or run away from are our boss or a bullying, annoying office-mate, an irrate wife or a demanding girlfriend. Or our beasts can simply be just problems at home or with money or with our jobs. Whatever it is, the body still reacts the same way. The brain tells the adrenals to pump us up with adrenaline and cortisol but we don't use up much energy. Instead of wrestle with a Lion or run in a jungle, we retreat to an office or at a Starbucks sipping coffee to deal with being in a constant state of stress. Some also make things worst by smoking.
Meanwhile the cortisol that lingers in our system and drives our appetite and insulin levels to rise. This produces glucose which in turn becomes fat because instead of battling and enemy or running away chicken to avoid conflict, we are just likely to be sitting on our butts to calm us down. It is not converted into energy. And the favorite storage space for this unused fat is around the waist line. The stressful event also leaves us tired and wasted thus triggering the need to eat to recover.
Another thing happens when the body is stressed. The body's self healing system slows down. This is because healing also requires energy and "raw materials" in the form of nutrition. And the need for immediate survival steals this energy and raw materials away from the body instead of use it to heal thus supressing the immune system and recovery.
When put in a constant state of stress, more and more cortisol and insulin is pumped into our system. And more and more fat accumulates in our mid-section. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol contribute accumulation of ugly abdominal fat that is hard to get rid of. The immune system also takes a beating making you sickly.
So, how to fix the cortisol balance?
Stress Reduction is Key!
Resolve the stressful environment or take on interventions such as triathlon (although it can also get stressful), running, swimming or whatever physical activity suits you. This balances out the bad vibes and helps burn the fat that stress accumulates. Meditation is also good or other means of relaxation such as art, movies, etc.
Rest is also helpful.
Managing workload is important. Sometimes, the source of stress is not so much the environment but more our desire to get a lot done. Oftentmes, too much.
Attitude Change is also a powerful and potent weapon for lowering cortisol levels. Don't be a bitch or an ass. Just be generally friendly and appreciate your state in life, whatever it is and your stress levels will slowly melt away.
Drink less coffee! The effect of too much coffee replicates the "flight or flee" stressful state. Cut back a bit.
Easier said than done, I know. But your overall well being depends on it.
Cortisol is also known as the "ageing hormone". Who wants to look old? Stay stress free.