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March 2008 • Adar 5768 Volume 20, No. 8, #144
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Stress - A Huge Waist

By Rochelle, cspn, cft

Life is full of stress. But for many people, stress does more than inflame the nerves - it can also end up on the waistline. More doctors are beginning to believe that, for some people, it is one sure route to obesity. “I’m not sure how much of the entire obesity epidemic can be explained by stress, but certainly it plays a role,” says Dr. Robert Yanagisawa, director of the Weight Management Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
It has long been known that reaching for high carbohydrate and fattening “comfort foods” is one way to pack on the pounds. Research now shows that stress triggers hormones in the brain that affect not only appetite, but the ability to burn calories.
Initially, the body responds to stress with a burst of adrenaline which is necessary to combat our stressor and also causes our blood sugar to rise. While this initially diminishes appetite, a subsequent rise in cortisol, a hormone that’s also part of the stress response, does the opposite, telling the body to replenish and restore. In other words - “time to eat!”
Normally, once the stressful event is over, all hormones return to normal, and so does appetite. But when stress is chronic and ongoing, cortisol levels can remain elevated, and so does appetite. It’s as if your body interprets stress as a message to keep on replenishing. The result is that you feel hungry all the time, and you eat way more than you really need to.
Studies show that, in addition to causing weight gain, cortisol can also cause you to store extra fat around the midsection. There isn’t a good explanation, but the association is definitely there. People with excess cortisol do gain abdominal fat more easily.
More seriously, the more cortisol you produce, and the more weight you gain, the greater your risk for type II diabetes - which can make dropping those extra pounds even more difficult. Normally, insulin rises to help clear sugar from our blood and store it in our cells to be used for energy, and then drops back down. However, when cortisol levels remain high, the body is prompted to make a lot more insulin, which in turn keeps us in “storing” mode. When you are storing, you are not burning, so it becomes more difficult to lose weight.
While you may not be able to cut all the stresses from your life, experts say you can control at least some of its effects on your weight. One of the easiest ways is via deep breathing. Before you reach for that handful of chips or cookies, slowly inhale and exhale five times. This helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, prompting your body to “rest and digest.” This signal to your brain that “everything is OK” will create less of an urge to eat - or, at least, you will probably eat less.
Another very effective solution is regular exercise - and not just for its calorie burning potential. Exercise also burns stress hormones so they are not hanging around in your body increasing your appetite and impacting insulin levels.
Experts say you should also get more shut-eye. How can this help? When you don’t get enough rest, other hormones involved in appetite control such as leptin and ghrelin can go off-kilter making it even harder to control your weight. A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who slept fewer than five hours a night had a higher level of body fat than those who slept more.
Another way to fight stress-related overeating is to eat small meals more frequently. This can help keep blood sugar balanced, which in turn will control those stress-related insulin surges.
So go for the basics. Get regular exercise, sleep at least seven hours a night, and replace junk food with fruits and vegetables. You will not only better control your appetite, but may also find yourself feeling less stressed as well.   

As a certified nutritionist and fitness trainer, Rochelle’s unique approach to weight management combines diet, exercise and behavior modification in a warm, understanding, and relaxed environment. Recognizing that people gain weight for different reasons, she tailors personalized nutritional and fitness plans suitable to the individual. She educates her clients on the importance of eating healthy and regular physical activity, and works with each client on a personal level towards effective solutions for attaining a healthy lifestyle.
Rochelle’s practice is an innovative blend of nutrition, health, and fitness, with her sincere personality and integrity, using proven methods that address the multi-faceted needs of our community. For more information on this vital health issue, contact Rochelle CSPN, CFT, at 718.438.1632.

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