The relationship between stress and your weight
Here are some interesting facts for you
• 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese.
• 2 Million Australian adults suffer from anxiety.
• 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese.
• 1 in 6 Young Australians between the ages of 16-24 suffer from anxiety.
• Australians spend up to 1 million dollars per day on fad diets that don’t work.
• 13% of Australians aged 15 and over have reported being on a diet.
These are alarming figures and they are all connected in more ways than many of us realise.
Back when we were living in caves and fighting off bears and other predators, we had a choice to run away from the bear or fight the bear. This is an analogy that many of us have heard before. The very simplistic fight or flight scenario. Nowadays we still have the same alarm systems in our bodies when we experience a stressful situation. The difference, however, is that the bear is always in front of us in the way of relationship problems, school exams, illness, work pressure, financial issues etc., and there is no running away from it. For many of us stress appears in our lives every day and feels like it is never ending.
How is this connected to our weight?
We can thank our hormones for that! When we are faced with a stressful situation a chain reaction of hormone production happens in our bodies, starting with the production of adrenaline and cortisol that slows down some less important systems such as the digestive system, immune system and reproductive system and directs energy to survival. This means the release of stored glucose into our blood for energy production. Without energy we can’t run and we can’t fight and that means we don’t survive. Once the threat has passed and we are assured of survival, more hormones are triggered making us hungry so we can replace the glucose we used and making us tired so we can rest up for the next bear.
So what happens when the stress occurs day in and day out?
Our hormone production doesn’t slow, the need for extra glucose is constant (sugar cravings anyone??) and exhaustion sets in providing the “perfect hormonal storm”. Not only that, the production of all these hormones requires certain nutrients, such as Vitamin C, and as we use up our supply of these, our bodies go into a state of stress that triggers the production of even more stress hormones turning it in to a vicious cycle of nutrient deficiency and hormone production. Other body systems are compromised causing other issues such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, regular colds and flus, menstruation problems etc.
Now our bodies are very smart and know that if we run out of glucose then we don’t survive, so as part of the survival instinct we hold on to fat, especially abdominal fat, as we can turn this into glucose if needed for the next bear fight. This is no good for weight maintenance and can contribute to weight fluctuations in many of us.
So what we need to do is nourish our bodies to help re-balance our hormones and body systems affected.
If you do this then your body will not have the need to hold on to extra fat and you will find losing weight a whole lot easier. Some of the nutrients we need more of during stressful times include Vitamin C from fresh fruit and vegetables, protein from both plant and animal sources, essential fatty acids from food such as avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish, and whole grain carbohydrates, just to name a few.
So if you want to achieve sustainable weight loss it’s important to make sure you take time out to relax and recharge, get some physical exercise in each day (even a 5-minute walk is better than sitting on the couch) and eat a wide variety of fresh, whole foods to nourish your body from stress.
Written by Lisa Stegena, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755