Why Stress is Killing YOU

AND MAKING YOU FAT!!!

So we all know by now that stress is not good for us, but did you know it can also be affecting your weight loss (as in NOT allowing you to lose weight and potentially make you gain weight)??

We all must deal with some level of stress in our lives. It's just the nature of being human, especially in this day and age. But there are areas where we can certainly work to decrease that stress. Stress can come in several different forms. There's the traditional idea of psychological stress that comes to mind like "being stressed out" whether it's from work, family, traffic or anything else that life throws our way.  While we can't always control the stressors that enter our lives, we can make improvements in how we respond to it and we can do things to help minimize it. But the other form of stress that many don't consider is the physical kind they place on their bodies which for most is followed up with no downtime or recovery. Many of us then further compound these problems with poor sleep, poor diet and lifestyle choices (ie: smoking) and excessive caffeine intake.

When we are under stress our adrenal glands (triggered by the hypothalamus) secrete the stress hormone known as cortisol. While a certain level of cortisol is natural and normal to our physiological function, being under chronic stress leads to abnormally high levels of cortisol. Research shows that these abnormally high levels of cortisol can raise your blood sugar levels, can lead to insulin resistance, make you hungry and crave sugar, throw off your hormonal balance like lowering testosterone, growth hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone (all of which play a critical role in your weight) and can increase stored belly fat and increase the rate at which you store fat. All of these things together are like a perfect storm sure to lead to weight gain, and eventually obesity and diabetes.

Chronic stress can also weaken or suppress our immune systems which can lead to our body no longer being able to fight off harmful pathogens which can cause illness or disease. It can also lead to high blood pressure placing us at a greater risk for stroke or heart attack and will also speed up the aging process. As if this wasn't all bad enough, it can also affect our gut health, leading to intestinal permeability, or more commonly known as "leaky gut". Leaky gut can lead to issues such as IBS, skin disorders like eczema & psoriasis, as well as weight gain and a number of other things. Recent research has also found that leaky gut is believed to be involved in (or the major cause of) numerous autoimmune diseases including Type I diabetes. The topic of leaky gut is so involved that it will need to be reserved for another blog. And stress is just one of the causes that can contribute to it. (It is, however, a FASCINATING subject (okay maybe just for a nerd like me) and there is some very compelling research coming out of this field). For now, just understand that your stress can be leading to an unhealthy gut creating poor absorption of vital nutrients, minerals and fats as well as "leakage" of undigested foods through the gut lining into our bodies where they can target specific organs like the thyroid and adrenal glands causing autoimmune problems (autoimmune diseases refer to the types of diseases that are caused by our body's own immune system turning on itself and attacking itself) and thus leading to even further poor health and problems with controlling weight. The good news, however, is that it can be healed. I will be testing out a gut healing protocol on myself and hope to blog about it in the future. For now, understand that if you continue to place yourself under extreme amounts of stress you WILL struggle long-term to find health.

I'll talk about a few of the things that can further compound the stress we are placing on our bodies. These are things we have full control over and thus can change.

POOR LIFESTYLE CHOICES:

Choosing highly processed foods places undue stress on your body. Your liver must work to get rid of the chemicals and toxins found in many foods (I talked about this in another blog). In addition, as mentioned above, certain foods like gluten and soy (among many others) can cause leaky gut and cause allergies or autoimmune-like conditions (think Hashimoto's or skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis). Also, a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugars helps to support bad bacteria in your gut replacing the good bacteria with greedy little bastards that LOVE to eat all of that excess sugar you take in. This further compounds the problem of leaky gut and can lead to that awful bloating, gas, IBS, and those epic farts all of you men think are so cool! And when you consume "fake" fats your cell membranes start to be formed by abnormal, factory-made fats like those found in commercial-made canola oil or margarine instead of what they SHOULD be made of... natural fats made by mother nature (think REAL butter and other animal fats). YES, EVERY cell in your body is formed by a protective membrane of, you heard me, FATS. And since we function from the cellular level on up, do you think it's a good idea for those membranes to be formed by fats that were made by man in a factory OR do you think they should be formed by the fats that God or whoever it is you believe in, put on this Earth?? Something to think about (but hopefully for not too long. Seems like common sense to me). Our cells are where our DNA is stored. It is the basic, functional unit of the living being. When you start messing with your biology at the very core of your being, you had better expect some bad biological returns my friends. I know, I know, I'm once again going off on that tangent of eating REAL FOOD. But that's because it's so important to our health. Point is, what you DO to your body and what you put INTO your body DOES matter and CAN cause the body even further STRESS.

TRAINING STRESS OR STRESS FROM WORKOUTS:

We must realize that while exercise is good for us, constantly overdoing it is NOT. When we exercise we are turning on our body's sympathetic nervous system or the "fight or flight" response. The "fight or flight" response is what allows us to run from the lions, and tigers and bears (Oh MY!). When our body's fight or flight response is turned on, our cortisol levels increase and as you saw above, if done in excess or too often, it will wreak havoc on your health. Cortisol is catabolic meaning it actually is breaking you down, not building you up. It is our natural tendency to always think if something is good for us, then MORE must be better. But that simply is not true. Working out puts stress on your body and your body needs time to heal from this stress. Doing high-intensity training EVERYday is a bad idea. There are benefits to what has been termed HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training), but once again people and gyms and trainers and workout videos (think of those really famous pyramid schemes you see everywhere), etc.. have taken it too far and now have many people exercising at high intensity every day. In the world of triathlon and endurance sports over-training and injuries are starting to become normal, run-of-the-mill things. Yes, we DO need to train long to race long, but we must control the intensity, the volume and our recovery. I have been reading more and more articles on what is now being termed "overtraining syndrome" which can be a very scary road to head down. Some athletes have experienced this on such a deep level that they have had to completely retire from sport as they are unable to dig themselves out of the hole they dug. (In fact, America's fastest marathon runner, Ryan Hall, just announced his retirement and spoke very openly about his inability to overcome chronically low testosterone levels and extreme fatigue that he attributes to starting at such a young age with extreme amounts of training both in volume and intensity. Here is just one of the articles written about his retirement). When it comes to injury, many of us have unfortunately experienced an injury that has sidelined us. Sometimes this can be due to poor form and execution, but in the world of endurance sports they are often due to overtraining. When your body breaks down to the point of injury (or is so fatigued it can not function as is the case with overtraining syndrome), you must realize this is because you were overdoing it. Simply put, it is too much stress placed on your system with not enough time for recovery and repair. Some, however, act like it is a badge of honor and are proud to display their casts or tell stories of their epic surgeries as though it's some sort of heroic war story.

Now, for those of you that hate to exercise, this is not me telling you not to exercise. Nice try :) Exercise is healthy and a great stress reliever when done in a controlled manner. There must be some controls set in place as to how much and how intense it is to keep you in a healthy state.

WORK, LIFE, SOCIAL STRESS:

I know I don't need to tell anyone how stressful work stress, family stress and other stressors from our daily lives can be. Instead I have compiled a list of some things that I have tried to implement into my daily life to help me to relax and take a little downtime for myself. 

  1. Cool it with the Caffeine! 
    • Coffee and teas CAN be good for you, but for some of us drinking caffeine in excess can really wreak havoc on your adrenal glands (once again causing them to release that stress hormone we call cortisol). Everyone is a little different, so you should pay attention to how you feel from drinking caffeine and find your limits. I would recommend no more than 3-4 cups (8 oz) per day. And NO caffeine after noon as this can disrupt your sleep.
    • Signs you are drinking too much caffeine:
      • Sweating profusely (took me years to figure out this was part of the reason I would have uncontrollable sweating. Yuck! I know :),
      • Having the jitters or feeling shaky,
      • Feeling anxious w/ a sick feeling in your stomach (like something bad is about to happen)
  2. Breathe! DON'T GET YOUR PANTIES ALL UP IN A WAD!! We all have moments and things that are out of our control that make our blood boil, but we DO have control over how we react to these things. Deep breathing is probably one of the most basic, natural things you can do to calm yourself. It is simple, easy and FREE! One of my favorite breathing exercises I learned from Dr. Andrew Weil years ago and I use it almost daily (especially at night when I am trying to get myself to fall asleep). (It is Exercise #2, the Relaxing Breath, found here).
  3. Meditate- Again, this is just another method of turning your mind off and focusing on your breathing. There are many different types of meditation. Find what works best for you. There are also many new Meditation apps that you can download to help you through a guided meditation and that will help you to learn to meditate.
  4. Unplug! Give yourself some downtime before bed. This means NO playing Candy Crush on your phone, or checking your Facebook or Instagram accounts. Trust me, I know this can be hard. It's okay to do these things, but give yourself a time everyday when that stuff will be shut off and stick to it. 
  5. SLEEP! Sleep is SO important and yet so underrated in this country. We try to cram as much as possible into everyday, thinking we can just continue to cut more and more time out of our sleep as though we might win a prize for how much we get done in a day and how little we sleep. But guess what? Once again, too little sleep can lead to high cortisol levels, insulin resistance, and uncontrolled appetite. You are not doing your body any favors by skimping on sleep. In fact, you are setting yourself up for some serious health problems. You also won't be as effective at your job as your mind is definitely not at its sharpest on little to no sleep. As athletes, sleep is absolutely crucial. Remember when I told you above that cortisol is catabolic? When we get enough sleep we counteract that catabolism during exercise with anabolism (or the act up building you back up). Sleep is the time our bodies take to recover, repair, restore, and build muscle. Think of it like this... when you exercise, you are actually tearing the muscle down and putting stress on the body. It is ONLY when you sleep that your body repairs and builds itself to be stronger and better. Isn't that why you are putting in all of that time training? If you aren't sleeping you might as well forget training. You will NOT get the gains from all of your hard work if you do not sleep.  Set a bedtime for yourself. Aim to have a time every night when you turn off all electronics and give yourself a little time to RELAX. This could be the time that you do a little meditation, deep breathing, reading, yoga or stretching. Then follow this up with a set bedtime. By getting your body on a set schedule you are more likely to fall asleep easier and have more restful sleep at that. 
  6. Make some time for a little FUN or LAUGHTER in your LIFE! Find time to do the things you love and are passionate about. Surround yourself with people that make you happy (not people who stress you out). LAUGH! Laughter really is the best medicine. If it's not a friend or partner, find it in a book, a movie, or maybe a favorite tv show.
  7. Try to get FRESH AIR, SUNSHINE and a HEALTHY dose of exercise everyday. Perhaps you can take your lunch outside to the park where you can get some fresh air, some Vitamin D (also something essential to your health) and add in a little time for a brisk walk or just some deep breathing.

Remember,  if your goal is weight loss, think of the bigger picture of total health. When you start focusing on finding overall health ALL of the pieces will fall into place. Don't STRESS about it, just pick one thing at a time to work on. It is an ongoing journey, but one that will hopefully leave you feeling content and at peace.

Pocket Rocket

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another -- William James