The human body makes two dominant stress hormones. They are adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is our chronic stress hormone. In other words, we tend to make too much of it when we are stressed for a long time. It also has other important duties in the body which you can read more about here.
Historically, the only long term stress humans had were floods, famines and wars; all sceanrios where food may have been scarce. Today our long term stress tends to come from relationship or financial worries, or health or weight concerns.
However, because cortisol was designed to save your life when food was scarce, even though food may be abundant for you today, cortisol sends a message to every cell in your body that your metabolism needs to be slowed down so that those precious fat stores can keep you going until the food supply returns.
Cortisol has a distinct fat deposition pattern. It lays fat down around your middle, on the back of your arms and you grow what I lovingly call a back verandah. Most people’s response to fat accumulation around their tummies is to go on a diet, which means eating less food. This only confirms to your body what cortisol has driven your body to believe is true, when in fact the opposite is true and food is likely to be abundant for you.
When you restrict your food intake on your “diet” you slow your metabolism even further, making it feel like you only have to look at food for weight to go on! If cortisol is a contributing factor to your weight gain, going on a calorie restricted diet is not your answer, sorting out your cortisol is. And there are numerous stress busting methods that you can use to do this.
- Use your breath to alter your stress response. The way you breathe is key, even though that sounds too simple to make a difference. Start the day with 20 long slow breaths before you get out of bed or alternatively, breathe and move your diaphragm while you wait for the kettle to boil (to make your lemon and warm water of course!) or while you sit at traffic lights. When you breathe in this way, you communicate to every cell in your body that you are safe, as breathing is shallow when your life is literally in danger. Nothing lowers stress hormones faster than diaphragmatic breathing.
- Make simple swaps. Consider whether you are using caffeine to amp yourself up and wine to wind down. Simply swap caffeine for green tea and wine for sparkling water to give your nervous system a break, which can have a huge influence on fat burning and appetite.
- Gratitude. It is impossible to feel overwhelmed or stressed when you feel grateful. Volunteer, give thanks to those who have passed before us or for the beautiful nature that surrounds us in this country, or recite positive affirmations, what ever works for you. Always take time to slow down. Live, breathe, and learn. Take a look around you and be grateful for all that you are and all that you have.