How does Chronic Stress Lead to Weight Gain?
Over the past few months we've been no stranger to stressful times.
I’ve had many of my clients contact me worried that their weight has been shifting upwards, even though not much has changed with their food or their movement.
This situation feels incredibly frustrating, often we blame ourselves, we think if we could just EAT LESS and TRAIN MORE that things would improve. We guilt and shame ourselves. However, What is ACTUALLY happening is your bodies natural primal response to chronic stress.
How often have you been told that energy in and energy out equal weight balance, loss or gain? Simple right? Well, Yeah… No. The body isn’t a machine, there are A LOT of other factors to consider.
Lets look at the hormonal connection between weight gain and stress.
Firstly, when it comes to stress, not all stress is bad stress, in fact stress is ESSENTIAL for our life and ESSENTIAL for our health. It signals the body and the mind to get stronger, to adapt to the environment. Exercise, as an example, is a stress. However TOO much or TOO little can lead to DIS-stress In the body. The same goes for other kinds of stresses, small amounts of stress are great but when this goes on and on, this is where those negative changes start to happen. Stress becomes DIS STRESS.
Your body is always trying to protect you. When the body is signalled stress, its job is to prepare you for action. It doesn’t know the difference between a stressful thought, a deadline OR being chased by a lion!
To prepare and protect you, the body mobilises stored energy, directs it to the muscles in preparation to fight or flee! This is a protection mechanism that has saved humans since time began. However, without physical action, the mobilised energy, now has to return to storage. In comes the hormone insulin to mop up the un-utilised energy (blood-sugar) and return it back to storage. This mechanism as a short term stress response is perfect! However, in todays day and age, we are often constantly in this state. Which means we constantly mobilising energy and asking insulin to mop it up. This is a very similar hormonal situation to constantly eating sugary foods. In fact, chronic stress can indeed lead to metabolic disorders like insulin resistance.
Here's the kicker, while ever you have high insulin in the blood stream, you cannot access fat for fuel. Your blood sugar will be dysregulated, increasing your appetite and driving sugar cravings in an effort regulate. Your energy will spike and plummet. So will your mood.
Chronic stress reduces your capacity to build muscle and reduces your capacity to sleep, slowing down your metabolism. And now we have a problem..
You start to feel puffy, tired and frazzled. You can see NOW in this situation that eating less and training more, would actually make this situation WORSE as it solidifies the signals to your body that perhaps there REALLY is a lion!
So what can you do?
You need to gently teach your body that it is safe. This will turn down the bodies stress response. This is the only way we can regulate those hormones, stabilise your energy, improve your sleep.
One of the simplest ways to do this is this is an ancient built in mechanism, that often sounds too simple to be true. However, ALWAYS remember, your body has incredible wisdom, it has all the tools you need to heal and regulate.
This mechanism is YOUR BREATH.
Take a moment to think how you might breathe whilst you are stressed. Fast & shallow. If stress stays, overtime, your body thinks this is how you're MEANT to breathe and it keeps you breathing in this form. This breathing pattern, further signals the body stress response. The more you are stressed, the faster you breath, the faster you breath, the more you are stressed. UH OH.
THIS is where you can become stuck in this chronic stress state. The only way out is to begin to train your body to breathe slower.
Research shows us that by doing simple breath re-training, you can reduce your heart rate & begin to regulate the bodies stress response. Slow breath training has been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, balance blood sugar and create better mental and physical resilience.
A simple technique that you might like to try is called the 365 breath training method.
3-6-5 Reduce breathing to 6 breathes a minute for 5 minutes, 3 times per day.
This slow breathing exercise slows the heart rate, sending safety signals to the body. This leads to the body turning down inflammation, normalising hormones and dampening the frazzle!
To do this, simply find a comfy spot, sitting down. Slowly and lightly breath in through your nose for 5 seconds and slowly and lightly exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this for 5 minutes in the morning, before lunch and before bed.
Experiment with this exercise, see how you feel over the space of a week.
Remember, your breath is the gift of life and the master regulator of all
the systems in the body. Your body has ALL the tools it needs to heal and to regulate. You just need to harness them.
If you want to know more about your breath and the amazing affects it has in regulating your body: