By Nik Toth
During my years of working as a holistic nutritionist with a focus on natural weight loss, the most common issues women tell me about are their inability to lose weight despite exercising regularly. Consequently, they suffer from stress because they have stubborn belly fat that won’t budge no matter what they try.
Did you know that stress and weight gain are actually closely related? Yes, that’s right.
Here’s how your nervous system affects your weight: Above your kidneys is where your adrenal glands sit. They are two walnut-size glands that produce stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol.
These hormones play a critical role in managing your weight because they are controlled by your nervous system, which tells your body whether it should be storing or losing fat.
Ever found that in an emergency you can do things you would’ve never imagined possible? When you are in danger, your body responds by kicking your sympathetic nervous system into gear, and the adrenal glands release adrenalin to help you get away from danger, such as running away from a saber-toothed tiger that’s chasing you in prehistoric times. Think of adrenaline as your acute-stress hormone.
Adrenalin triggers what we call the ‘fight or flight’ response, which ensures that your heart rate increases, blood rushes to your muscles, your pupils dilate and your systems slow down so you can get away from danger as quickly as possible… if you need to. Fortunately, these days the threats we face are more of the perceived kind, such as deadlines, finances, lack of time, family or relationship issues.
What many people don’t realise is that simple things like their morning bestie – coffee – sets off the same exact stress response, which in turn triggers the nervous system to act as if in an actual stressful situation.
When adrenalin has been released over a long period of time, the body can change the stress response by switching to producing higher levels of cortisol.
You can think of cortisol as the chronic, long term stress hormone that encourages you to eat or drink anything you can get your hands on in order to preserve nutrients and keep you alive.
Cortisol makes you store nutrients as fat, because historically we only produced cortisol during wars when food was in short supply, and it made sense to preserve nutrients to keep you alive during those times.
However, the long-term stress that most women face today are concerns about balancing their family and career, finances, picking up the kids on time, finding the time to gym, or an ever-expanding waistline.
We have over 60,000 thoughts per day, and over half of them are reoccurring thoughts from the previous day, typically relating to one of the above topics.
So what can you do when the recurrent stressful thoughts, coupled with your favourite morning coffee, are all encouraging your body to gain weight?
The solution is certainly not to jump onto the next promising fad diet. Because guess what? When you go on a diet and start eating less or drastically change your dieting habits, you are just reassuring your body that food is indeed scarce, and therefore it produces even more cortisol.
In order to get your body out of fat storage mode, the answer lies in calming your nervous system and activating the parasympathetic state, also called ‘rest and digest’ mode.
Meditation has been proven to help promote relaxation. However if meditation isn’t your thing, try to add yoga to your daily routine to help lower stress levels, while moving your body and burning calories at the same time.
A stressed body stores body fat out of self-preservation, so de-stressing is the first step to getting your fat-burning system moving.
Already stressed individuals don’t tend to respond well to high intensity training, as it can further aggravate the stress response. Opt for restorative exercise such as yoga, pilates, tai chi or qi gong, which will be much more beneficial.
Yoga has been scientifically proven to:
Repetitive poses strengthen the body and improve flexibility, but the concentration required to hold these poses can interrupt stressful thought processes, and consequently calm your mind and body.
The time invested into improving your body through the calming power of yoga will pay off in the long run, placing stressful life situations into perspective, and promoting a quiet mind.
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