As a holistic nutritionist, I’m fascinated by the interrelation of all the systems in our body. The more I research and study, the more I see how utterly backward it is to treat the symptom of any illness, without addresses its cause. The stress, inflammation, and obesity connection, is fascinating. Inflammation has become a buzzword of late. We’ve heard it’s bad, and that it can lead to serious disease, but let’s backtrack a little and examine how stress is involved in inflammation, and eventually in gaining unwanted belly fat! I want to show you how not to gain weight when you are stressed.
So first, let’s look at the stress=inflammation issue. Recent studies have discovered that stress can change the gene activity of immune cells before they hit our bloodstream. They need to be ready to fight the apparent “danger” that the stress has signaled is imminent. These immune cells are under the impression that there is an injury or infection to deal with, but there isn’t, so they put on their inflammatory armor, ready to fight. In the case of chronic stress, this constant state of inflammation in the body can lead to organ damage. Inflammation leads to a dangerous build up of plaque in arteries, and is now linked to degenerative brain disease. This is reason enough to for me to whip out my meditation cushion pronto, right? But what about the weight-gain connection?
When we are stressed, our adrenal glands (just above our kidneys) release a hormone called cortisol, which floods the body with glucose. It also inhibits insulin production, which causes way too much glucose to stay in the blood. This can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Furthermore, cortisol leads to an appetite for sugary and fatty food (cos we are wired to eat energy-dense foods to fight off the attacker). These foods are stored as belly fat.
An interesting study showed that women are more likely to stress eat than men. And that women who were already overweight at the beginning of the study, were more likely to pack on the pounds – probably due to their already elevated insulin levels.
So, how to NOT to gain unwanted pounds when you are stressed out – which most of us are, most of the time, right?
- Remove all temptations from your fridge and pantry: Replace ice cream, chips, cookies, and bread with healthy snacks that will make you feel good. I recommend tubs of hummus, organic carrots, cucumber, crunchy apples, almond butter, yogurt etc.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV, computer, or in your car: These are danger areas for overeating, especially when you are stressed out. I can devour an enormous bag of chips (my weakness) inside of 5 minutes if I’m sitting in traffic. Sitting in front of a screen is an invitation to overeat all the wrong foods. If you are really struggling with needing to munch on something, pop a bowl of organic corn, and sprinkle it with some herbs and a little sea salt (even a smidge of olive oil won’t hurt).
- Recognize your triggers: Meditation, journaling, or therapy might help you to understand the triggers that have you diving into that tray of brownies or a bag of Tortilla chips. It might be a certain friend or family member, it might be a work situation, or it could just be loneliness. Either way, once you discover the uncomfortable emotions that make you want to eat, you will find a way to deal with them otherwise.
Ultimately, don’t shame yourself if you are one of those women who dives straight into a pint of ice cream to deal with your stress. You’re not alone. Instead of beating yourself up, LOVE yourself. Take a breath, be aware that you are stressed (ironically when we’re really stressed we don’t think we are), and exercise compassion toward yourself. Maybe take a hot bath with lavender essential oil and Epsom Salts. Or, shut down all your electronics and take a long walk. Whatever feels like self care – that’s the ticket.