Stress-Induced Weight Gain

Stress-Induced Weight Gain

Many of you know, that I have a burning passion to support all women in feeling, looking and being their personal best. From this place of peace and confidence, we have the capacity to serve, love and execute joyfully the purpose that has been laid out before us. What a gift to the world to live from this foundation.

But life is tough. We do not live in a perfect world. Our lives are full of trials, disappointments, losses, uncertainties and setbacks. Some seasons we may feel like we are lost in the wilderness or drowning in an ocean while others we are sitting high on the mountain, untouchable and free. The ebb and flow of life is part of every woman’s journey. It isn’t a question of whether or not we will experience tough times, people and situations - it’s how we handle them. Do we partner with fear and pity or do we partner with faith and hope, knowing that these experiences are what builds character, perseverance, wisdom and strength for our journey.

What does this have to do with fat? Beyond the reality that all too often women are not making food choices based on the best nutrition for their bodies, but rather for comforting their emotions - there is another culprit to the destruction I see in women’s energy, body and peace. It’s how we handle stress.

Stress hormones are produced by two walnut sized adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys. We have two stress hormones - adrenaline (our short-term stress hormone responsible for what is known as the “fight or “flight” response) and cortisol (our long-term stress hormone and also known as our “fat storage” hormone). Both of these hormones have incredible health benefits when they are in optimal amounts. Adrenaline allows us to respond to emergency situations with supernatural strength, clarity of thinking and quick action. Cortisol allows us to survive times when food is scarce such as war, famines and drought.

Today, most of us have MORE than enough food to sustain us. The reality is that most of our short and long-term stressors come from financial stress, relationship concerns, uncertainty, family drama, sickness and discontentment. As women, our stress can begin first thing in the morning when we look at our to-do list - stressed out that it’s Wednesday and we still haven’t made it to the gym and wondering how we are going to find time to run to the grocery store after work and get dinner together before the kids have to go to x, y or z at 6:00...and we have that party coming up in two weeks and we really want to look great in the new dress but drinking that bottle of wine (okay, 2 bottles) with our girlfriend last night is not helping that goal. Not to mention, we just don’t feel fulfilled or appreciated in our marriage, but the exhaustion of day-to-day life just doesn’t leave much time for intimacy and connection...and we forgot to shut off the curling iron. Ugh.

Ladies, this type of manic obsessive thinking is making us fat. Seriously.

Adrenaline is designed to get us out of danger. It diverts the blood supply away from digestion because digestion is not important when we are trying to escape from danger. But most likely, our adrenaline is being triggered by our kids, husband, an email, a rude Facebook comment, a call from a passive-aggressive friend (or relative), a bill we forgot to pay, etc. Our bodies don’t distinguish physical stress from psychological stress, so the response is the same as if a saber toothed tiger were chasing us. It causes our liver and muscles to flood our bloodstream with glucose converted from glycogen because it thinks we need energy to “fight or flight”. As blood sugar shoots up, the body releases insulin to deal with the elevated blood sugar. Because our muscles are not “using” the sugar (because we are sitting in our cars and not running away), some will be restored as glycogen, but some can be stored as fat. Insulin is one of your primary fat storage hormones. Add coffee into this and BAAM - it’s the perfect storm for some women. Read more about how coffee can make us fat here.

Now for cortisol. Cortisol is our long-term stress hormone - but remember it’s not as our ancestors experienced it in the form of famines, droughts and floods. It’s psychological. In the right amounts cortisol is AMAZING including being one of the body’s primary anti-inflammatory mediators. Cortisol can be converted to cortisone which dampens down the effect of inflammation that can make you feel stiff, rigid or in pain. It also buffers the effect of insulin, so optimum amounts help us continue to burn body fat for energy while also maintaining stable blood sugar levels.

Cortisol is what makes us want to jump out of bed and get our day started (when was the last time that happened?). It should be highest in the morning and lowest in the evening, where it begins to rise again slowly and steadily around 2:00 in the morning. Prolonged stress (that is not dealt with and managed properly) will start to cause shifts in our cortisol levels - causing them to rise in the evening making sleep difficult.

Cortisol is also catabolic meaning that is breaks down proteins (muscle) into glucose because of the perceived perception that you need fuel to survive the “stress” of a famine. However, we are not in need of that energy because all we are doing is sitting on our buttocks worrying about the size of our thighs - so the glucose is not used, it is stored. Now we are not only gaining weight, but we are also losing muscle.

Cortisol signals to EVERY cell in our body that FOOD IS SCARCE. And women, what do we do when we gain weight? We go on a diet! What does a diet do? Restrict food! What does this tell the body? SEE! THERE IS NO FOOD. Dieting simply reinforces the message to the body that there is no food so our metabolism slows down even more to protect us. This is why so many women are frustrated (especially later in life) when dieting no longer works. This is also why women feel out of control with sugar, carbohydrate and alcohol cravings, because once these get into our sight, our body says, “LOOK! YOU ARE SO LUCKY TO HAVE FOUND FOOD! EAT IT AND EAT A LOT OF IT!”

This blog is way longer than I intended, and it is the first of a few blogs on this subject. But let me leave you with this as a first step when it comes to getting your stress under control so your body can do what it was created to do. Some stress can be removed or eliminated but for whatever reason, we continue to hold onto it.

  • Perhaps it’s a volunteer position that you no longer feel called to do, but you keep doing it out of obligation.
  • Perhaps it’s a toxic relationship that you need to cut off and love that person at a distance.
  • Maybe it’s the stress that you haven’t connected with God for months or years and you just need to get on your knees and say “hit”.
  • Maybe it’s unforgiveness that keeps eating away at your soul and you need to make a decision to set yourself free.
  • Maybe it’s living beyond your means so people will think you are successful or ________.

What stressors can you eliminate?

What about the stress that isn’t expendable? In that case, most often it is a shift in  perspective that is needed. I am in a season of uncertainty in every aspect of my life. Some days I live minute to minute. But I am choosing not to partner with fear that leads to worry. I am focusing on surrendering to God through my faith in Jesus Christ. It says in His word, that he gives us “perfect peace”. The type of peace that is not of this world and not based on the circumstances of this world. It is perfect and constant. He promises to provide EVERYTHING I need if I just put my trust and faith in Him. And truly, He has provided every emotional and physical provision I have needed - when I needed it and more than enough. My perspective had to shift from “me” being in control, all alone and responsible for working this out - to putting the Creator of all things in charge. He knows me better than I know myself, He knows that plans that He has for me and His intentions are always in my favor!

What shift in perspective do you need to make?