We all go through it, wondering why we are gaining weight and why it is so difficult to lose that spare tire, no matter what we do.
When we are stressed our bodies release a slew of hormones to help us cope, adapt and survive a stressful event. This response is the same no matter what the stressful event is. Whether we are stuck in gridlock traffic, late for our 9 AM meeting, or our children are working on using up every last gram of patience. The response within our body is exactly the same. What this means is that our brain feels the stress, and in response, causes a reaction within our bodies. This part of our endocrine (hormone) system is called our HPA axis and comprises our hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands.
So what does all this have to do with weight gain? Well, just about everything! Let’s run through what happens in our body when we are stressed. When we are stressed (regardless of a good stress or bad stress) our bodies release large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol and when these hormones are released, a number of reactions occur:
- Blood pressure increases
- Heart rate increases
- Pupils dilate
- Blood moves from your organs to your muscles so you can run or fight
- Palms can become sweaty
- You start breathing quickly and heavily
We are all quite familiar with these reactions, as we have all felt them many times over. However, stress causes a reaction we are incapable of feeling; this is when our liver begins releasing a large amount of sugar into the bloodstream. This is a mechanism evolved to provide our muscles the necessary energy to run away from a bear or survive our children. Otherwise known as a fight or flight reaction.
Unfortunately, this reaction occurs even when we are sitting in traffic or running late for our meeting, our bodies reaction is the same as if we were being attacked by a bear, only when sitting in traffic, we are doing exactly that, sitting in traffic. Our bodies strongly dislike any extra amount of sugar in the bloodstream, and in our sedentary, stressful event, our bodies are incapable of using the sugar and it works quickly to remove it which causes it to change into fat. This is the fat that ends up being stored in and around your midsection, the “stress fat” which is our muffin top or spare tire. It is that empty fat that when poked, our finger disappears into it like the Pillsbury doughboy.
This reaction can occur many times a day, let alone over a week, month or years. This leads to chronic weight gain, maybe just a few pounds a year but over time, all of a sudden, we no longer fit into our own clothes. It is this reaction that makes it seem almost impossible to lose more than a couple of pounds. This often leads to a feeling of frustration, we begin to lose our confidence, and we begin to feel bad for our very own health. It is not due to a lack in trying, being unable to lose this weight is our bodies natural response in fighting a natural survival mechanism.
In order to be happy with our weight, we first need help in addressing the HPA axis. If this sounds exactly like you then maybe we should chat!