Many tired, over-worked Americans are suffering from the effects of a naturally occurring hormone inside your body known as cortisol. Cortisol can cause fatigue, impaired immunity and stubborn weight gain. If you have pounds that won’t budge and no energy to boot, it is time to reconsider your strategy for successfully regaining your health and your waistline.
Your body releases certain hormones and neurotransmitters based upon how you perceive a given stressor and the duration of that stressful state. Prolonged release of these hormones, particularly cortisol, impairs your body’s ability to perform other necessary tasks, which is why so many systems seem to shut down throughout stressful encounters. It is your “fight or flight” mechanism working in overdrive.
For example, say you begin to hear rumors about layoffs at work, you feel slightly threatened, but take action to work harder: more hours, more effort. In this scenario, your body will release norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is also known as the “fight” hormone. It makes your heart beat faster and gears you up to “fight” back for control of the situation. On the other hand, if a co-worker from your department informs you they are handing out pink slips to 85 percent of the department next week, you may feel that there is nothing you can do because, odds are, the decision has already been made. This will cause the release of the “flight” hormone known as epinephrine. You may begin to feel weak and anxious because although nothing has happened, you have no control of the situation.
When the big day arrives and you discover that you have not been laid off, however more work has been laid upon your desk and if you cannot keep up, you will be the next to go. As the days and weeks pass, you feel hopeless, fearing that you cannot do the job that previously completed by four people, instead of just one. You begin to wonder what will happen next and how you will survive. The situation seems hopeless as business is not improving and no one seems to be able to handle their new workload.
Seemingly overnight, you look down and your belly is protruding awkwardly over your belt and your pants will barely button. The prolonged stress, anxiety and feeling of hopelessness, have caused stimulation of the hypothalamus in the brain to activate and results in the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Unlike, the epinephrine and norepinephrine, excess cortisol leads to the creation of more fat cells, visceral obesity, fatigue and a suppressed immune system.
Cortisol is essential to optimal health, but it must levels must remain delicately balanced. Cortisol is released daily in small amounts, as a reaction to basic stressors in everyday life including fasting, food consumption, waking up, and exercise. Cortisol, although often touted as a cruel antagonist of weight loss, is actually responsible for energy regulation and mobilization. Cortisol is capable of moving and utilizing the body’s fat stores for energy under various “stressful conditions,” including exercise. Cortisol keeps your body moving during a marathon or long hike; but in the case of prolonged stress due to illness, injury or emotional turmoil, cortisol moves fat stores and deposits it deep in the abdomen. This process illustrates how the body is designed to protect you from starvation, the primary stressor in the early days of humanity when food was scarce.
In addition to storing fat in all the wrong places, high levels of cortisol can impact the hormones that regulate your appetite. This may result in not only an increased appetite, but also cravings for high fat, high sugar foods. Managing your diet often becomes a feat of superhuman willpower, but awareness of the issue can improve outcomes.
So, to answer the question: yes, stress is making you fat. If you have hit a plateau in your weight management program or have recently accumulated excess pounds that won’t budge, particularly around your abdomen and chin, relaxation techniques, such as a massage, yoga or meditation are best strategies for defending your health and your waistline.