To lose weight faster, control your stress. Here’s how to do it effectively
A busy lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with stress. And while stress is known to cause anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and exhaustion, among other things, it is also linked to weight gain. So, this may be the reason why you are not losing weight exercising and eating right.
A new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, shows how chronic exposure to stress is linked with obesity due to the relationship between fat cells and the timing of stress hormones. “…if you experience chronic, continuous stress or take glucocorticoids (drugs used by patients of arthritis and asthma) at night, the resulting loss of normal circadian glucocorticoid oscillations will result in significant weight gain,” says Mary Teruel, assistant professor of chemical and systems biology at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
Nutrition and fitness consultant Munmun Ganeriwal says in times of stress, our body releases hormones such as cortisol. “Cortisol is linked with insulin resistance, sugar cravings, and weight gain. The equation is — higher stress equals higher cortisol which means a greater craving for junk food which leads to more belly fat,” she says.
Pooja Thacker, senior dietician, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai, explains that an increase in cortisol levels causes breakdown of glucose, fat and protein which is utilised by the body. “When all these breakdowns happen, there is a change in the hormone level which causes insulin resistance and increase in leptin levels, so that is why there is an increase weight gain and chances of high sugar levels.”
The effect of stress over time
Persistent stress is even worse for your body and can cause abnormal sleep/eating patterns, and cause psychological distress. “All these lead to increase in hormone levels, especially glucocorticoid and cortisol, the two main hormones which gets released from the brain. Eventually your immunity, heart rate and the brain get affected. So, it takes a very long time for the body to recover,” says Thacker.
While acute stress leads to release of the hormone epinephrine (or adrenaline) which shuts down your appetite, chronic stress causes the release/elevated levels of cortisol which increases hunger and the desire to eat high-calorie foods. “Unlike acute stress, periods of chronic stress do not trigger the release of anabolic hormones like testosterone and HGH, which results in loss of muscle tissue and storage of fat in the body, especially in the abdomen,” says Ganeriwal.
The study had also highlighted how stress affects people differently at different points of the day. And the worst effect is seen at night. “When there is an increase in glucocorticoid levels, there is an increase in the number of fat cells produced to replenish the body store. So, when a person is stressed and going through abnormal sleep patterns, the hormone levels shoot up and that is why there is increase in fat cells which leads to overeating,” explains Thacker.
What to do
The strategies to beat stress and associated weight gain involve relaxing the brain, calming the nerves and cells, as well as stimulating the production of repairing hormones- HGH and testosterone which counter the negative effects of cortisol. Here’s a simple four-step approach suggested by Ganeriwal and Thacker to do so:
* Get good, sound sleep for at least 6-8 hours a day.
* Include adequate amounts of protein in your diet.
* Weight train at least twice a week. Try incorporating yoga and breathing exercises in your fitness routine.
* Eat within 15-20 minutes of waking up in the morning.
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