It seems like in almost every podcast episode, blog post and email I’m repeating the absolutely essential fat loss fact: fat loss is about hormones. Your hormones allow or disallow fat burning. Unfortunately, we are fantastic at screwing up our hormonal balance in two primary ways:
- Poor food choices
- Chronic stress
As Dr. Sara Gottfried says in her book The Hormone Cure, treat stress management as a matter of life and death, because it is. Sure, chronic stress impairs fat loss but it also does a whole lot more than that. When it comes to stress and weight loss, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
- Emotional stress is only one form of stress you need to be aware of. Eating processed foods and regularly consuming sugar elicits a physical stress response in your body. You might not feel the stress, but those regular food choices are creating hormonal chaos and stressing your body in ways you might not feel or know of for many years. The stress response is triggered whether you realize it or not.
- Your stress response is designed to be intermittent – short bursts of stress followed by long periods of relaxation. The state of chronic stress from emotional triggers and poor food choices creates a state of constant alert in your body – this impacts all your hormones including insulin, testosterone, thyroid hormones, adrenaline, estrogen and progesterone. Hormonal imbalances impair fat burning and accelerate fat storage.
- Cortisol, one of the primary stress hormones, belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids. Why is it called a glucocorticoid? Because elevated cortisol levels raise your blood sugar (whether you eat or not). Clearly, chronic stress contributes to weight gain for this reason: you cannot burn fat when blood sugar is high.
- Chronically elevated cortisol signals the body to deprioritze fat burning and to slow your metabolism so that resources are reserved for the percieved impending emergency.
- A second hormone responds to chronic stress – neuropeptide Y. This hormone increases the rate of fat storage, especially around the abdomen, and triggers cravings and hunger.
- Cortisol compounds the fat storing impact of insulin. If cortisol is elevated when insulin is elevated (in response to a high carb/high sugar meal), the likelihood of excess carbs being converted and stored as fat is much higher.
- Chronically high cortisol can impair the production and release of feel-good chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Not only can this lead to depression and mood swings, it can lead to overeating, especially sugar, in an attempt to achieve that emotional pick-me-up you crave.
Stress and weight loss are inextricably linked. Poor food choices causes a physical stress response in the body. If you’re making poor food choices every few hours, each bite sounds the “emergency” alarms in your body. Overreacting to every emotional or mental challenge in your life compounds the problem. If weight loss is the goal, physical, emotional and mental stress reduction absolutely must be a priority. Even when you can’t change your circumstances, you can reduce mental and emotional stress by improving your response to your circumstances. And don’t underestimate the power of reducing physical stress by reducing consumption of processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
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