Stress is a crazy cat. It can make you lose weight (even if you don’t want to), it can make you put on weight, and it can thwart your best efforts to intentionally lose weight.
Especially during the silly season, which, for one reason or another is a stressful time for many.
Family issues, relationships, financial pressures, increased workloads, even the actual day itself – there are many legitimate reasons to be even more stressed out than usual in December.
Yes, we all get anxious and worried, but if your stress is impacting negatively on your weight and your health, you really need to do something about it.
Don’t let it snowball over Christmas, which, as we know, is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
There are two types of stress – acute stress (directly relating to a single or short series of events) and chronic stress (where stress has been present over a long period of time).
Being in a chronic state of stress sends the body into survival mode, which can bring on inflammation, insulin resistance or illness, as well as unanticipated weight gain.
Trying to lose weight, with no luck? Well, your body could be suffering the effects of chronic stress, even if you don’t feel it!
Stress hormones and the chain of events that follow set off warning signals to the brain resulting in the brain sabotaging your efforts to lose weight.
This chronic stress triggers increased production of two hormones – cortisol and insulin.
Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone. Increased levels can lead to a rise in your appetite, often for high calorie sweets and starchy foods, and can slow down your metabolism. This increases fat storage, and sends fat and inflammatory chemicals to the liver, which may lead to insulin resistance.
Cortisol is also catabolic (losing lean tissue), the opposite of anabolic (gaining lean tissue). Losing lean tissue leads to a decrease in metabolic rate.
Cortisol medications are known to stimulate weight gain.
Let’s talk about insulin. The role of insulin is to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels and to convert any excess into a storable form of glucose in your fat cells, called glycogen.
Eating more carbohydrates than your body’s individual carbohydrate tolerance (ICT) leads to high levels of blood glucose which in turn leads to high levels of insulin.
Long term, this could lead to insulin resistance, making losing weight very difficult.
For effective weight loss and long-term health, stress must be avoided or managed to keep that cortisol in check.
Setting healthy habits will help you to shake the stress, which, in turn, will help you to drop those kilos. One step at a time. First-up, let’s focus on reducing the overwhelm.
How can you lessen the stress over Christmas and keep those cortisol and insulin levels down?
- Keep your daily carbohydrate intake under your body’s individual carbohydrate tolerance level.
- Maintain optimal protein levels and some good fat in all meals.
- Include Omega-3 oil or fats in your diet.
- Get a daily dose of sunshine – it’s just like taking a happiness pill.
- Make sure you partake in some form of exercise or movement daily – especially over Christmas. When we exercise, the body releases chemicals that boost your sense of well-being and suppress hormones that cause stress and anxiety. Among the chemicals released are endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine neurotransmitters which are related to pain and depression emotions.
- Don’t let the stress send you to the Tim Tams. Make good choices about what you eat to avoid the guilt spiral later.
- Prioritise getting a good night’s sleep over Christmas parties.
- Focus on what you can change (not what you can’t).
- Drink less alcohol.
- Drink more water.
- Be grateful for what you have and the people in your life.
- Practise Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, breathing exercises to clear the mind.
- Play your favourite music, read a book, start a hobby.
- If the thought of going somewhere stresses you … don’t go!
- Pre-plan your Christmas as best you can, so to avoid nasty surprises and that feeling of overwhelm.
- Be kind to yourself!
- Budget for Christmas gifts – financial stress can be very overwhelming.
- See a medical professional for additional support.