STRESS – WEIGHT GAIN & MORE

Stress often contributes to weight gain through emotional eating and the production of hormones associated with weight gain. Excessive weight is associated with many unwelcome and avoidable health issues.

STRESS AS A NATURAL OCCURRENCE

Our bodies are designed to handle variations from diet, exercise, stress and weight.  It regularly produces various hormones for a period of time to take care of these situations.  All this is a normal cycle for the body.

STRESS & HORMONES

The challenge is when that stressor continues for a prolonged period of time.  This causes the body to overproduce hormones thus stressing the entire system; breaking down cells, tissues, and organs.

When our body undergoes a stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline aka epinephrine.  This hormone stimulates the heart muscle, alters the rate of blood flow, and raises basal metabolic rate.  This is known as the fight or flight syndrome.  Epinephrine also prompts the secretion of glucagon by the pancreas, causing the release of nutrients from storage.  The steroid hormone cortisol is also produced.  It enhances protein degradation, which raises amino acid levels in the blood so that they become available for conversion of glucose.  The two other hormones induced by stress, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone both help to maintain blood volume.[1]

Epinephrine does not stick around very long in the body however, when stress is prolonged, cortisol does.  This hormone will affect the body in detrimental many ways.  [2]Excess cortisol will:

  • Decrease metabolism by inhibiting thyroid function
  • Depletes protein in the muscles, bones, connective tissue and skin which can cause fatigue, weakness, thinning of the bones, and bruising
  • Decreases the production of androgens and growth hormones which build muscles
  • Can cause insulin resistance[3]
  • Increase fat accumulation, especially in the belly
  • Increase appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Will cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?
    “Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly “visceral” abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas “regular” fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.”[4]

The challenge with cortisol and weight is this.  First, when you are stressed you produce more cortisol which will lead to weight gain.  When you are overweight the adrenal glands produce more cortisol so it is a viscous cycle.

ADDITIONAL AFFECTS FROM STRESS

Free radical production

THE NEGATIVE ROLE OF CERTAIN FOODS & DRINKS

Food can play an important role in both exacerbating the problem and relieving the problem.

The following list will cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol.  Over the long term this will eventually exhaust the adrenals:

  • Caffeine, especially beyond one or two cups a day on a regular basis will actually act like long term stress in the body
  • Chocolate in excess as it will act as a stimulant
  • Soda will affect blood sugar levels as well increase production of stress hormones
  • Heavy alcohol consumption will cause the adrenals to overreact
  • Refined foods and sugar will affect insulin production and consequently blood sugar spikes and falls
  • Refined foods will deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals thus stressing the entire system
  • Refined salt is chemically cleaned and devoid of all minerals and will increase blood pressure
  • Can create a more acid pH in the body, which allows for disease to develop

THE ROLE OF HEALTHY FOODS

The following is a list of vitamins and minerals that will support the body during stressful times and therefore should be included in your daily meals:

  • B Complex is necessary for the production of all neurotransmitters including Seratonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter, and it is vital for the functioning of the adrenal glands. Foods high in the B vitamins include:  dark leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, most grains
  • Vitamin C is depleted with prolonged bouts of stress and is also required for normal functioning of the adrenal glands. Sources include:  fruits especially citrus and berries, tomatoes and green vegetables
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant thus maintaining the health of the cells. Foods rich in A include:  milk, eggs, butter, and fruit
  • Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. Foods rich in E include:  nuts, germ oils and green leafy vegetables
  • Minerals, especially magnesium which relaxes muscles. Sources of magnesium include:  leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, vegetables, seaweed, nuts (almonds, cashews and filberts especially) and seeds (especially sesame)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have a positive effect on moods. Sources include:  salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seed oil, pumpkin oil, dark green vegetables
  • Night shade vegetables as they have an expansive effect and therefore might be beneficial for someone tense from work, stress or activity which takes great concentration.[5] Nightshade include;  all peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant

WHAT YOUR DIET SHOULD INCLUDE

  1. Salmon
  2. Eggs
  3. Lots of leafy and dark green vegetables
  4. Night shade vegetables, if you can handle them
  5. Almonds, cashews, filberts and sesame seeds
  6. Beans and legumes
  7. Citrus fruits and berries

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK AT TO REDUCE THE AFFECTS OF STRESS

EXERCISE

  • Moderate levels are best with a duration lasting less than one hour
  • Critical to maintain optimal cortisol levels and hormone balance
  • Helps handle stress by improving cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems
  • Improves insulin resistance (studies have shown that as little as 3 weeks of regular exercise can lessen insulin resistance[6])

LAUGHTER

  • Using a similar protocol, the current research found that the same anticipation of laughter also reduced the levels of three stress hormones. Cortisol (termed “the stress hormone”), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine), were reduced 39, 70 and 38 percent, respectively (statistically significant compared to the control group).  Chronically released high stress hormone levels can weaken the immune system. [7]

MEDITATION

  • The study, done in China, randomly assigned college undergraduate students to 40-person experimental or control groups. The experimental group received five days of meditation training using a technique called the integrative body-mind training (IBMT). The control group got five days of relaxation training. Before and after training both groups took tests involving attention and reaction to mental stress.
  • The experimental group showed greater improvement than the control in an attention test designed to measure the subjects’ abilities to resolve conflict among stimuli. Stress was induced by mental arithmetic. Both groups initially showed elevated release of the stress hormone cortisol following the math task, but after training the experimental group showed less cortisol release, indicating a greater improvement stress regulation. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than was the case in the control group.
  • “This study improves the prospect for examining brain mechanisms involved in the changes in attention and self-regulation that occur following meditation training,” said co-author Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon. “The study took only five days, so it was possible to randomly assign the subjects and do a thorough before-and-after analysis of the training effects.”[8]

YOGA[9]

  • Asana are the physical postures that help with muscle relaxation
  • Savasana is usually at the end of a class and it is a pose for complete relaxation
  • Pranayama breathing practice

BREATHING

  • Pranayama / Yogic techniques[10]
  • Paradoxical

IN CONCLUSION

Stress is naturally occurring in our daily lives and has positive benefits.  Long term stress however can play havoc on our system resulting in poor health and unnecessary diseases.  We all need to take a closer look at how to reduce or eliminate chronic stressors in order to have a longer healthier life.

I hope this information has given you some thoughts about changes you can make to reduce chronic stress!

 

In health,

Julie

[1] Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[2] Hormone Balance, Scott Isaacs

[3] A reduced sensitivity to insulin in muscle, adipose, and liver cells, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[4] Tom Venuto is a certified personal trainer, natural bodybuilder and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle

[5] Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

[6] Per Hormone Balance, by Scott Isaacs

[7] The research is entitled Cortisol and Catecholamine Stress Hormone Decrease Is Associated with the Behavior of Perceptual Anticipation of Mirthful Laughter. It was conducted by Lee Berk with Stanley A. Tan, both of the Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA; and Dottie Berk, Loma Linda University Health Care, Loma Linda.

[8] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008193437.htm

[9] Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science.

[10] http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/pranayam.html

Going Green for Your Carbohydrates

Suffer from joint pain?

Do you have chronic inflammation?

Want to lose a few pounds?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions then you might want to read on…

If you have read any of the articles in my blog, chances are you know about how I feel about carbohydrates – especially simple ones.  By ‘simple’ I mean those items that have been processed to create a product such as scones, pasta, breads, cookies, cakes, and more.  Let’s face it, these aforementioned foods are yummy and addictive!  I know as I go through periods of time when I crave them just like the rest of America.

Usually I am pretty good at avoiding them on any regular basis but occasionally I slip.  This last weekend was a perfect example.  I was visiting my mother in California for a long weekend.  She has been recovering from Ovarian Cancer and is doing amazingly well for an 89 year old woman – has regained 23 pounds, is back to all her social events, going to the gym and even walking her ‘old 2 mile route’ that she did for years.  Yes, she is a trooper!

While in California, at the 1 mile marker of her ‘route’ lays a small town called Sierra Madre.  On the main drag is a coffee shop called Bean Town.  Well, they have the best cranberry scones ever.  Of course a visit to see mom always involves a day of going to Bean Town but this time it got out of hand.  We ended up going there all three mornings in a row!  Now I did vary one day and have their cinnamon coffee cake instead but… well you get the picture.

By starting each day out this way, lead to wanting more carbohydrates throughout the day.  Consequently I ended up eating bread as well as crackers rather than just the usual huge salads.  I even had a cookie one day!  This is a lot of these types of food in a very short period of time for my body.  Normally having one of those things every week or two wouldn’t really make a difference but the quantity and frequency played havoc on me and it got me to thinking how this has such a huge impact on peoples’ health.

By the time I got home late Monday evening, my joints started screaming.  By Tuesday morning, when I did my usual hike up Mt Sanitas, my knees were so cranky it took the pleasure out of the hike.  At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on but then it hit me… all those simple carbohydrates!!!  I had already started back to my usual eating habits of vegetables and protein so was on the right track yet it actually took until this morning (Friday) to start feeling normal again.  So let’s look at what happens…

First, simple processed carbohydrates are acid producing.  By this I mean that when they are broken down in the body, they create ash that is of an acid nature.  Not only is all disease found in an acid environment but so is inflammation.  Our bodies are always healthier in an alkaline environment and yet our tendency is to eat foods that are acid producing including all the refined foods I’ve already mentioned.  Now the foods themselves do not cause the inflammation but rather it is our body’s response to them when they are broken down.  Foods that have a high glycemic index and consequently convert into sugar quickly alter our body’s normal hormone balance.  This imbalance can result in an overproduction of such things as C-reactive protein (CRP); a protein designed to be produced during acute stages of trauma, infection and inflammation.  Although we need CRP produced in acute phases we certainly do not need it to be continually produced.  Just this one protein has a huge impact on the health of our cardiovascular system.  And this is just to name one of the many negative results of eating refined foods.

The picture gets even more involved as those same yummy foods lead to an increase in weight.  When we eat foods that break down quickly into sugar our body MUST burn it off rapidly or it is converted into fat, especially belly fat.  This belly fat in turn causes an increase in the production of CRP by the liver and the inflammatory response is again increased.  As you can see it is a vicious cycle.

Unfortunately as our society gets more and more addicted to these foods our bodies become sicker.  We begin to become accustom to our joints hurting.  We think it is normal to carry around an extra 5 or 10 or 50 pounds of body fat.  We tend to accept all of this as a normal process of aging. 

Well for me, I don’t buy it!  When I am eating a healthy, high alkaline diet and staying away from process foods most of the time, I feel SO different.  I feel energetic and happier.  My joints don’t ache.  I don’t have an issue with excess weight because I am utilizing the foods I eat so they aren’t storing as fat in my body.  Overall I am more vitalized. 

You shouldn’t buy it either!  I hope you will consider altering your diet to see how all this affects you.  It won’t happen overnight if you’ve been eating poorly – even just part of the time – but it will change.  I encourage you to give it a good 3 or 4 months and keep a journal of how it has created positive changes in your life.

As for carbohydrates, think of using vegetables as your main source.  Vegetables, especially leafy green ones, not only contain a healthy amount of carbohydrates but they contain so many nutrients and antioxidants.  They are our vitality foods.  Our cells will be healthier, our hormones will stay more balanced and generally our bodies will stay younger.  Of course there is also the benefit of keeping your weight down by eating vegetables.  Just read Jim’s story here:

“I’m a 55 year old male. Since I was 25 I have worked out a minimum of five times a week for at least one hour per session.  When I was younger, that meant running 40-50 miles per week.  Now my workouts involve running three times a week and lifting weights 3-5 times.  My total mileage is 13-18 miles per week.  This has been my regime for the past ten years.  I never worried about what I ate as my workouts kept me at my high school weight of 168 pounds.  It’s true that the past decade has seen a pound or two increase in my weight each year.  New Years Day 2010 was my epiphany, as the scale read 180+.  I cut out all the non-vegetable carbs the first two weeks of this year and have limited my carb intake to less than 20 grams a day (all right so I cheated on Easter Sunday, I indulged with pastries at brunch and of course a Cadbury egg).  Today I weight 168.  I sleep better, my digestive system works much better and seeing the scale at 168 is a huge mental boost.”

So think about your diet and see if you too can’t offer your body the many benefits of eating foods that are more nourishing to your entire system.  Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Eat a minimum of 70% of your diet from the alkaline side of the food chart.  For a copy of the chart, download this pdf.
  • Eat at least 80% of the time healthy; saving the ‘not so good’ foods for special occasions rather than daily. 
  • Make a journal or chart of not only what you eat now but how you feel so you can track the changes.  This is a great motivator when you are falling back into those bad habits.
  • Even if you think you eat well, you might be surprised just how often you ‘cheat’ and eat some of those processed foods more regularly than you ever thought.
  • Last, be gentle with yourself.  It is not an easy thing to change addictive behaviors and even easier to allow them back in.  When you fall off the health wagon, note it but don’t beat yourself up about it.  Simply get back on the right track and move forward.

I hope this has motivated you to make choices and changes.  You deserve it!