By Taylor Robbins, C.S.C.S
You have probably heard this one too many times, right?
Of course you know stress is not good, but perhaps, you are unaware to what extent it is affecting your metabolism and you getting your dream body.
This is what I will discuss below. You will have a better understanding of how stress physiologically affects your body and body composition and what to do about it with both lifestyle change, nutrition, supplementation, and stress management tools. There are 13 things you will learn to beat stress by reading on.
Let’s start with how your stress response system works.
STRESS IS SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD
We were created with certain survival mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is the “fight or flight” response inside the sympathetic nervous system.
Imagine being in the wild, seeing a lion look you straight in the eyes and start to charge after you in a hungry fury.
Because your body comes equipped with the sympathetic nervous system, your pupils dilate (sharper vision), your adrenal glands begin to produce adrenaline for increased energy and focus, digestion slows and kidneys retain water to supply the musculoskeletal system more energy, heart rate goes up, and blood pressure rise, and your body converts glycogen into glucose for quick energy.
Everything that just happened allowed you to run away more efficiently to sustain your life.
The caveat to this reactionary system is we experience “lion chases” multiple times a day.
Wake up early to a reverberating alarm, rush to work in the car, get yelled at by your boss, fight over who makes dinner with your spouse, and on and on the stressors go.
Most of you then get into this chronic stress cycle.
WHAT THE STRESS CYCLE LOOKS LIKE
Your hypothalamus, which is a gland in the brain which receives signals like vision, emotion, touch, etc. communicates to the rest of your endocrine (hormone) system.
The hypothalamus receives stress.
The pituitary then signals adrenocorticortropic hormone.
This tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline.
When cortisol goes up, the following happens:
- The hydrochloric acid in the stomach goes down
- This diminishes nutrient absorption and digestion
- Insulin secretion increases to clear cortisol
- When this happens often, you develop insulin resistance in which nutrients are more likely to be stored as fat than used as energy
- Leptin sensitivity goes down
- Leptin is our satiety hormone and helps regulate thyroid hormone production
- Less leptin sensitivity means a slower metabolism and heightened hunger leading to binge eating, carb craving, and nighttime eating disorder (NED).
- Less serotonin production
- Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps us sleep, so sleep quality goes down
- Less sleep quality leads to less GH (growth hormone) production which means less fat lipolysis (fat burning).
- More cholesterol and triglyceride production in the blood
- This leads to worse blood pressure, and heart health issues
- More production of neuropeptide-Y
- This chemical messenger turns off immune cells thus lowering the immune system making you more susceptible to sickness and infection.
As you can see, when your stress system is in constant use, being in an environment for optimal health and body composition is virtually impossible.
HOW CAN YOU MANAGE STRESS?
Stress can be managed via nutrition, proper exercise, supplementation, and lifestyle changes. I will discuss a bit of each one.
Cortisol creates inflammation in the body to help combat stress. So, one way of diminishing the effects of chronic cortisol and inflammation is to decrease inflammation.
Decreasing inflammation can come from eliminating most of your polyunsaturated fats like refined and processed oils and vegetable oils and soy-based products.
Additionally, you can add in more omega 3 fats into your diet by eating maritime fish like tuna, cod, and mackerel, or cooking more often with coconut oil and olive oil.
We discussed earlier that thyroid function goes down from stress. The main active hormone from the thyroid is T3, which is the converted active form of T4, also called thyroxine. This hormone is created at the thyroid with iodine, selenium, chromium, and tyrosine.
Foods rich in these micronutrients are wild and natural animal meats like beef, elk, duck liver, chicken, pork, and bison. This is why a high protein diet is highly beneficial for proper thyroid function again.
Additionally, you can try to diminish or eliminate high-glycemic carbohydrate foods such as most fruit, grain, and other gluten-containing foods. High-glycemic carbs promote more insulin, which in the case of excess cortisol, needs to be managed. Thus, low-glycemic carbs are more beneficial like steamed vegetables, boiled potatoes, legumes, and some fruit such as apples.
You could also be sure to have lots of fiber via vegetables in every meal, acids like vinegar, and fats like raw butter added in every meal, as all these will help decrease the glycemic response of carbs.
You have probably heard of a million magic pills that will cure your symptoms and make you get the result you want quickly.
Try not to fall for these marketing ploys.
Good supplementation that works takes time (sometimes just a few days, but in some cases months) and also must be in conjunction of good nutrition, exercise, and stress management. Keep all this in mind.
Supps that will help your blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance caused by the excess cortisol and stress are:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid- take 300-600mg a day. These fatty acids will help regulate the insulin response and even clear cortisol out of your system.
- Omega 3- Take 2-10g a day of this fish oil but be sure it is in a tinted bottle (light will make the fatty acids go rancid) and be sure it’s kept refrigerated and taken from fish that were mercury tested. Some companies will place this on the label.
- Omega 6- Take 500 mg/day.
- 5-HTP- 50-100mg 1 to 3 times a day. This is hydroxytryptophan which is a precursor to tryptophan, an essential amino acid which signals serotonin production in the brain. This neurotransmitter allows your body to rest, go to sleep, and more so, 5-HTP actually has been shown to clear cortisol from the body as well. Better sleep will increase your growth hormone production again, decrease insulin resistance, decrease appetite, and increase thyroid function.
Not all exercise is created equal. In fact, some exercise selections will hurt you more than help you. I cannot discuss all of this particular topic in this article, but I will give a brief of what to do and not do.
Walking and Yoga
These modalities of exercise do not produce excessive cortisol, and therefore will not continue your cycle of stress and lack of fat loss. However, they are not strenuous enough to really rapidly shred fat and build tone muscle.
“But, I take a yoga class that is “sculpt” and there are weights.”
True, but 25 million reps of pink dumbbells won’t give the progressive overload on the muscles or energy systems to continue muscle adaptation and fat loss. You can see some results in the first few weeks, and then plateau. Take measurements of yourself and you will see this is true.
Yoga is the “ying” to the exercise “yang”. It can help de stress, detoxify, and create release in the body, but not cause it to adapt in body composition.
Walking does the same thing basically. It is a great stress reliever but is not enough stimulus to continue to see fat loss with minimal time.
This is by far the worst thing you can do for fat loss while in stress. Runnning has been shown to produce excessive cortisol, and thus continue the stress wheel. This is why you will never see the results you want in getting very lean with toned muscle running.
Weight Training and Interval Training
These modalities burn the most energy, the most energy from fat, and build the most muscle tissue in the least amount of time. Furthermore, they have less severe increases in cortisol, and in fact promote the opposing hormones of cortisol such as IGF-1 and growth hormone and testosterone.
This is the best training to manage stress with the least negative ramifications while still achieving body composition change.
Lifestyle Changes to Combat Stress
First of all, you need time for yourself.
I urge you to take 15 minutes a day doing something you love with just yourself and with no distraction.
This could be reading a chapter of your favorite book on the patio.
Maybe taking a walk listening to your favorite album.
Or doing breathing techniques down at the beach.
Or spending time in prayer connecting with your spiritual self.
Research has proven that even small bouts of personal time lead to stress management.
You also need to start saying “NO!”
You have taken on too much, with too many responsibilities, and are in a rat race to just survive. Start to turn down opportunities that don’t bring you like and enjoyment. And try to lessen the length of your weekly to-do list.
Also, start doing a daily gratitude list.
We will see what we are looking for and are focused on. If you focus on the bad and rough times you are facing, you will see bad and rough times every day.
But, if you write down what you are thankful for every morning and what good is going on in your life, you will start to see more good in your day as well.
Lastly, take time to sleep. There is an overwhelming connection in research data between sleep disorders and being overweight.
Make sleep a priority, and don’t let other “things” take this sacred rest away from you.
We were created to rest in order to be more productive. Don’t listen to the lie of being a busy body just to get ahead. The most successful people I know work less than 20 hours a week, spend copious amounts of time with family, and take lots of vacations and sleep in. Try it out.
I hope you liked this article, and if you want more help in stress management and your nutrition, reach out to us via email or message us on Facebook. We would love to help.
Taylor “the stress reducer” Robbins