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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lose Fat While Relaxing!!

Oh yeah!  I mean it!  You can lose weight while taking time for yourself.  In fact, you can lose MORE weight by making sure that you have "you" time than you can if you added that extra 20 minutes to your workout!

Stressing Out Over Getting Thin

Consuming too many calories and not exercising regularly are the two main reasons you gain weight. But don't overlook some other factors that can make weight loss more difficult. One example is HIGH CORTISOL largely due to chronic stress. Stress is the leading cause of diet failure, according to Shawn Talbott who has a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry and is the author of  The Cortisol Connection

I have been know to "over think" things....just a little.

For over more than TEN years, I have been trying to lose weight.  I have tried every diet, nutrition plan, quick fix out there, only to gain the weight back. I study EVERYTHING.  I follow plans EXACTLY and freak out when I fail.  I have always been a stress eater. As a wife, mother, musical director, voice teacher that is active in my church, in the education of my children and in the blossoming career of my husband, I have A LOT on my plate (figuratively and literally speaking.) I thrive on stress!  I ALWAYS have it! Although I'm sure that there are many reasons for my excess fat, I have become VERY familiar with THIS possible reason in-particular. 

What is Cortisol?

I found on that Cortisol is an important hormone in the body, secreted by the adrenal glands and involved in many functions including WEIGHT GAIN!

Normally, it’s present in the body at higher levels in the morning, and at its lowest at night. Although stress isn’t the only reason that cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream, it has been termed “the stress hormone” because it’s also secreted in higher levels during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, and is responsible for several stress-related changes in the body.

Are My Cortisol Levels High?

Ultimately, only your doctor can tell you if they are high or not.  You can get your blood work done which which will also help you discover the CAUSE of the high levels. If your levels are ALWAYS high, there could be an underlying problem such as Cushings Disease.  

Having said that, most of us don't have chronically high Cortisol levels. We tend to send out the Cortisol in little "bursts" brought on my stress. Being over stressed causes too much cortisol to be released into our bodies. Too much cortisol in the body causes weight gain around the abdomen, face, neck and upper back. It also makes a person more susceptible to infections. Other signs of elevated cortisol levels are high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, fatigue that is severe and muscle weakness. Anxiety, irritability and depression could also occur in people with high cortisol levels.

Signs of HIGH Cortisol Levels

If we push our bodies too hard, our body thinks that we are in fight or flight and releases cortisol. This can lead to thyroid issues and adrenal stress. Our body actually starts thinking that it is going to save our life by storing the fat cells. (Silly little body!) Some of the symptoms of high cortisol levels include:
  • Fatigue in the morning (non refreshed sleep).
  • Weight gain around your waist line.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Feeling the need to finish a workout earlier than normal.
  • The overall, "I just don't feel right" feeling.
  • Feeling cold all the time.
  • Puffy face or fingers.
  • Sore muscles.
  • Restless sleep during the night.
  • Feeling tired after your workout.

Cortisol and Weight Gain

Chronic or long-term stress increases levels of cortisol, which plays a role in several hormonal and metabolic reactions that lead to weight gain. It increases your appetite and your cravings for unhealthy foods. Cortisol also reduces testosterone in men and women, which leads to muscle loss. Muscle burns more calories than body fat. When you lose muscle, your body burns calories less efficiently. Also, cortisol increases fatigue, which makes it more likely that you won't exercise to burn off excess calories. I mean, who wants to exercise when they are super tired, right?

Cortisol in Fat Cells

Even if you do not have high levels in your blood, the cortisol inside fat cells can still make weight loss challenging. An enzyme called HSD found in these cells boosts cortisol presence inside them, which triggers the fat cells to store more fat and grow, even when blood cortisol levels are normal. Visceral cells deep inside your abdomen contain more HSD than fat cells that lie just below your skin, or subcutaneous cells, a factor that increases the risk of abdominal obesity or weight gain.

Reducing Cortisol to Lose Weight
While cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important that the body’s relaxation response to be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn't always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress. Studies show that if you reduce the stress in your daily life, you also reduce your Cortisol levels and will achieve better results from your workout and fat loss efforts. 

Stress Reducing Techniques:
  • Deep Breathing
  • Meditation
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
Take time to Relax: 
  • Shower
  • Get a Massage
  • Sit at the Park
  • Eat Slower
  • Read a good book

Making the Lifestyle Change

A moderate exercise schedule is also preferable to long training sessions and overtraining, which elevates cortisol levels. 

Getting enough sleep also makes a difference. According to Talbott, just two nights of good, sound sleep can be more effective at reducing cortisol than a lifetime of stress-management classes. I devoted an entire post on Sleep and it's role in fat loss. You can read it HERE.

Eat Healthy Foods
Studies show that if you eat foods high in protein, Vitamin C, Omega 3, and even Dark Chocolate, you can help to reduce your Cortisol levels.  I don't know about you, but I do feel a sense of relaxation when I take a bite of some really good dark chocolate!  Careful though, only 40 grams per day is recommended! ;) 

If you are already doing all of the above and find yourself still stuck in a rut, consider the fact that you just MIGHT be "burning the candle at both ends." Ease up a bit... SOMETHING can give a little. I actually started losing MORE weight when I accepted that I wasn't going to stress over food and exercise anymore. Crazy how that happens!

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