Is Stress Making You Fat?

The number one question I get asked on a daily basis, is how to get a flat tummy or rock-solid abs. People want to know why they can’t seem to shift stubborn bellyfat when they are training more, eating less and generally being particularly obsessive about doing everything Google has told them to do.

What if I told you that was exactly the problem? If you’re a classic example of an over achiever, it is often a case of taking your pedal off the metal and doing less to achieve more. 

Excess baggage around the mid- section is correlated to prolonged exposure to stress, and elevated levels of Cortisol, the stress hormone.  Stress isn’t just crazy work deadlines, family commitments and being stuck in rush hour traffic. It also includes physical stressors such as food intolerances, digestive issues, poor quality sleep, dehydration, having too much coffee and overtraining or under-recovering. 

Our bodies were not designed to deal with being stressed every minute of every day, and when this happens, we turn into a fat storing machine. This is why a relaxing holiday could well be the best fat loss nutrient we have.  It also explains why as we age, and our cortisol levels increase, it’s more important to utilize stress management techniques to fight the flab.

On a positive note, you can learn to work with your body, not against it by making simple lifestyle changes for an immediate impact.

1.     Test for food intolerances.   Just because a food is “healthy” doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you.  If it doesn’t make you feel good, don’t eat it!  Some of the most common intolerances include eggs, gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, corn and nuts.  In terms of food intolerance testing you can ask your doctor or naturopath to organise one for you.  I like the ALCAT test which measures the inflammation response to foods at the white blood cell level.  No nutrition plan will work if the foods you have included are inflammatory for YOU.

2.     Support your digestion with a good quality probiotic, digestive enzyme, and plenty of fiber through cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.  Add sauerkraut to salads for a prebiotic benefit. A glass of warm water, lemon juice and raw apple cider vinegar is a great kickstart to the day.   Supporting gut health is hugely important for general health & wellbeing, fat loss and performance.  You won't be able to utilize nutrients from your food or your supplements if your digestive system is compromised.

3.     Sleep more and sleep soundly. Your room should be a bat cave free of light, sound and electronic devices. Turn WIFI off at night, pop your phone on Airplane Mode and change your iPhone backlight setting to Night Shift. Develop a bedtime ritual. Try reading  a good book instead of watching TV. Have an Epsom Salts bath. Drink a chamomile tea. Try a gratitude list before bed where you can channel all the negativity of the day out of your head and onto paper. I personally find rubbing topical Magnesium oil on the soles of my feet really effective.

4.     Avoid dehydration by filling up water bottles first thing in the morning, and taking them to work. A good daily foundation is 3L. Aim to make sure they are finished by end of play.

5.     Cut the CRAP – literally!  Try to restrict your coffee to mornings or pre-workout only, minimise refined sugars and processed foods, and I’m sorry to report that a beer belly isn’t called a beer belly for no reason!

6.     Train smart not long. Stress puppies achieve better fatloss results using a combination of weight training, and high intensity interval training, instead of long sustained cardio.  Aim to be in and out of the gym within 45-60 minutes.  Balance out hard training with recovery practices like yoga, infra red saunas, epsom salts baths and passive meditation.

7.   Practice Stress Management Techniques. Our hormones change with age. Cortisol tends to increase with age and this can have a detrimental effect on the rest of the endocrine system.  High cortisol levels affect digestive processes, the immune system, sleep cycles, the body's inflammation response, daily anxiety and the ability to cope with life's daily adventures. It's important to understand that rest and recovery is just as important than training itself, and even more so as we get older. 

8.  Use natural supplementation to assist the body to lower cortisol, promote rest and reduce inflammation such as Vitamin C, Rhodiola, Magnesium and Omega 3 oils.

This is the second in a series of articles that explores your bodyfat and what it says about your health and your hormones.  Next time, we cover managing muffin tops, and why fat is your friend, and sugar is your enemy.