One thing that comes up repeatedly when studying weight loss is the fact that while we live in a modern world, we do not live in modern bodies. Our bodies have changed little in the past 30,000 years, and many of the ways our hormones respond to things like hunger and stress are adapted to a lifestyle far, far less sedentary than the one we are living today. Due to the way our lifestyle has outpaced our bodies’ ability to evolve, many of the “right” signals sent by our brains have the “wrong” result-rather than aiding in our survival, they can increase our risk of illness and death by promoting weight gain.
The hormone cortisol is one such example of this phenomenon. Studies are increasingly demonstrating that this hormone, which is released when you are under stress, contributes to weight gain and obesity today in a way it would not have in prehistoric times.
When you are under stress, your brain calls on cortisol to provide you with ’emergency’ energy by tapping into the body’s fat stores, moving them to the abdomen, and providing the body with protein for energy production. This occurs through the process of converting amino acids into glucose in the liver called gluconeogenesis. It also matures fat cells, and prompts the brain to crave more ‘high energy’ foods, such as sugars and fats, something which may cause your tendency to reach for “comfort foods” when upset.
Why does your brain send these signals? During prehistoric times, being under stress used to necessitate a lot more physical activity, and therefore required a lot more energy, than it does today. Those early stressors would have largely been due to events like running from a predator, being low on food and having to hunt and forage for long hours, or having one’s shelter destroyed and having to build a new one-not having to pay the cell phone bill, or being late to an appointment due to rush hour traffic. Therefore, the body is trained to release its stores of energy and crave more of what produces energy when it is under stress, as it assumes a physical threat needs to be addressed.
This can be a real hurdle to those of you looking to lose weight, due to the fact that it’s very hard to fight your basic instincts. Additionally, because of our current lifestyle, there is also no way to stop stress from entering our lives. However, all is not lost. If we learn to regulate and limit our body’s production of cortisol, we can reduce our risk of disease and lose weight. Before you embark on reducing stress in your life, make sure that eating a healthy diet tops the list of things to employ.
Try these 10 helpful tips to reduce stress (cortisol levels) and lose weight:
1. Eliminate caffeine (or at least greatly reduce it).
Drinking caffeine causes a spike in cortisol levels, likely due to the fact that it raises your adrenaline levels and your heart rate, much like stress does.
2. Eliminate processed foods.
Ah, there are so many reasons to do this, aren’t there? In addition to all the other issues processed foods can cause, they also raise your cortisol levels. Sugars and simple carbohydrates are the worst offenders. Eat a healthy diet enriched with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
3. Drink plenty of water.
Dehydration can cause a rise in cortisol levels, which can develop into a dangerous cycle, as those who are stressed are also more prone to dehydration.
This one is just logical, isn’t it? If your body is giving you energy because it’s expecting you will need to do physical activity, burn off that energy by doing physical activity. Try a relaxing exercise, such as yoga, and get a double benefit by also lowering your heart rate. Another great way to reduce stress is by walking. It’s also a fun way to walk away the pounds.
5. Listen to some music.
Music has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in patients about to undergo surgery, and it raises levels of serotonin in the brain, too. Select your favorite music and relax.
Laughter greatly curbs your body’s production of cortisol. If you’re feeling stressed, unwind with a good comedy, or joke around with friends. It will take the weight of the world right off your shoulders, and off your belly.
This age-old stress reducer activates the Vagus nerve, which triggers your body to lower cortisol levels. Try meditating for 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week, and see if you don’t feel a difference in your ability to handle stress.
8. Get your 8 hours.
Sleep deprivation has been proven to cause weight gain, and once again cortisol comes into play. Not getting enough sleep causes the body to produce more cortisol, and it’s another “vicious cycle” type of situation, because stress keeps us up at night. Exercise, chamomile tea, and natural sleep aids can all go a long way towards helping you get your rest.
9. Spend some quality time with your pets.
There’s a reason animals are used as a form of therapy-your furry friends can raise your endorphins and lower your cortisol levels in no time.
10. Get creative.
Whether your passion is art, music, writing, or something else altogether, creative expression releases endorphins while activating the parasympathetic nervous system and lowering your heart rate. This in turn lowers cortisol levels, all while adding beauty to your life and boosting your confidence.