Scale Won’t Budge? Control Your Stress and Weight Loss Will Follow
Has this ever happened to you? You reach into your purse and can’t find your wallet? You look in all the “regular” locations but nothing. Then your mind starts racing, your heart pounds, you start to sweat as you turn the house upside down to find it! (I hope you found your wallet!)
Did you notice how your body handled the stress? It reacted, processed it, and then went back to normal. This is one example of how we can all handle acute stress—the kind that causes heart pounding, pulse racing, fear, and worry—and how our bodies self regulate our fight-or-flight response. However, the opposite occurs with chronic daily stress which dis-regulates your natural fight-or-flight response. As a result, you develop prolonged elevated cortisol levels due to chronic stress.
Chronic stress is sneaky and can present itself in interesting and unexpected ways. Among them, mental and emotional experiences, non-restorative sleep, metabolic stress like inflammation, GI issues from poor nutritional choices, physical stress from too much and prolonged exercise, expected and unexpected life changes, environmental exposures, and even relationships with friends and family.
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So how do you know you are stressed? Your body can give you the clues! Have you noticed an increase in your cravings or unexpected weight gain? Chronic stress could be the culprit.
There are three ways stress causes symptoms in your body.
- First, elevated cortisol leads to poor pancreatic function which loses its ability to properly regulate blood sugar. You develop diminished insulin sensitivity which then causes a decrease in glucose (sugar) uptake. Once your blood sugar starts staying elevated on a regular basis it can result in weight gain, cravings, and even diabetes.
- A second way stress appears in the body is cortisol’s effect on your thyroid function. Increased cortisol blocks Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) production and cortisol blunts conversion of T4 to T3 (our active form of thyroid hormone). Also, thyroid antibodies are increased, which block normal thyroid function. In this scenario, symptoms show up as fatigue, cold intolerance, memory loss, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, depression, and poor concentration.
- The third way stress changes normal body function is by creating an imbalance of cortisol to the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). When you have prolonged elevated cortisol levels, your level of DHEA goes down and you begin experiencing increased anxiety, depression, pain, and inflammation. DHEA is the most abundant hormone synthesized and excreted by our adrenal glands and is the precursor for the synthesis of over 50 other hormones in the body, including androgens, estrogens, or both, or directly as a steroid hormone. It is estimated that roughly 75% of estrogen in women is derived from DHEA. Some have even labeled it as an “anti-aging” hormone because it’s been associated with increased sex drive, improved energy, mood, memory, an enhanced immune system, and an increase in muscle mass.
Other ways stress shows up in our bodies includes fragmented sleep, increased sensitivity or low tolerance to stress, mood disorders, headaches, sugar and salt cravings, cognitive decline (memory), immune suppression (you get sick often), auto-immune issues, and inflammation in the joints.
Now knowing how important it is to keep a close eye on sneaky and unexpected chronic stress in your life you may be asking yourself, “How can I treat or eliminate chronic stress?” Glad you asked! Let’s review some of my go-to techniques to help manage life’s ups and downs. Here are some great things you can do that will have an immediate impact on your life!
Whole foods and paleolithic (caveman type) choices help decrease inflammation and balance gut microflora. Avoid grain, dairy, or gluten if you have a sensitive gut, diarrhea, or constipation, or experience lots of pain. I encourage high-fiber foods and sulfur-rich compounds like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower). If you commonly experience nighttime cravings, then eat fewer carbs at night. Also, it’s good to cut back on alcohol consumption.
Having to metabolize alcohol can slow down your overall metabolism and decrease your fat burning by greater than 70%.
High-intensity exercise is great ONLY if you are NOT stressed. In a person who is suffering from chronic stress, then high-intensity exercise will only increase your already HIGH CORTISOL levels. In this case, more gentle, relaxing, and restorative exercise will better serve your body and help decrease your chronic elevated cortisol level. Please make sure it’s something you enjoy, it fits within your schedule, and it’s something you pick out for yourself based on your interest (not your friends’ or neighbors’ interests) if you enjoy it, you are likely to keep it on your schedule.
The best exercise to do is the one you actually do!
Try mediation, prayer, mind/body apps on your phone, music, etc. Explore different avenues and introduce some ways to decompress and bring more relaxation into your life. Again, it should be something convenient and of interest to you.
Some examples of stress management techniques (in no particular order):
- Massage or facial
- Time with friends or family that generates happiness
- A balanced anti-inflammatory diet
- Exercise (not too little & not so much)
- Good sleep hygiene (going to bed and getting up at the same time)
Just a reminder to take care of your gut, liver, and kidneys since they detoxify everything you put into your body. You can read more about detoxification in my previous blog post.
You might find it useful to try some of the following suggested supplements. I always encourage trying one thing and monitoring the results in your body before adding more.
Here are some of my favorite recommendations:
- Magnesium (take to bowel tolerance)
Supplementing helps replace the depletion of this important mineral, balance blood sugar, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety. A dosage of 200-400 mg twice a day is a good place to start. If you have issues with sleep, take your entire dose 30 minutes before bedtime and you’ll rest well.
- CabCrave Complex
CarbCrave Complex is an all-natural supplement that provides optimal support for healthy neurotransmitter metabolism, which has a positive effect on the appetite and mood centers in your brain. It contains chromium to help convert T4 to T3 (active form of thyroid hormone), Rhodiola rosea extract to normalize heartbeat and relieve fatigue, Relora to help control stress, 5-hydroxytryptophan to decrease stress levels, Vitamin C for growth and tissue repair, and Pyridoxal 5 phosphate, a highly bioavailable form of vitamin B6.
- Vitamin D3 with K2
This powerful combination helps improve blood sugar and immune function. Most women can take 5000 IU daily once their blood levels of Vitamin D 3 have been checked. Optimal level is between 60-80 ng/ml and the recommended daily dose is 2,000-5000 IU daily.
An amino acid that helps decrease anxiety, improve focus, and promote relaxation, L-theanine comprises 1-2% of the dry weight of tea leaves and makes up approximately 50% of the amino acids in tea. It is present as a free amino acid only (it does not occur in proteins). Recommended dose is 100 – 200 mg, 1-3 times a day. Best to start with 100 mg twice a day.
Green tea is a PERFECT source of L-theanine. For therapeutic benefits, you need at least 3 cups a day.
Melatonin can help initiate sleep, detoxify, and it’s an antioxidant. Start with 1-3 mg 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Once you develop a routine sleep schedule, you can discontinue the melatonin.
- B vitamins (B2, B6, B12)
The Bs can improve energy level and mood. Taking a B-complex vitamin will work well. Or check your essential multivitamin which may already be sufficient.
As mentioned, DHEA is a pivotal hormone. Plants do not produce DHEA. Significant amounts are only made by humans and other primates, such as monkeys and apes. As a result, there are no good dietary sources of DHEA other than supplementation, and the most common dose is 25-50 mg daily. However, it is strongly advised not to take DHEA supplementation unless your hormone levels (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and DHEA) are checked by a healthcare professional.
Taking 1 tablet twice a day can decrease abnormally high cortisol levels, increase DHEA, and diminish food cravings associated with stress—all of which can help with blood glucose homeostasis.
Please remember to have your hormone and blood levels checked before supplementing with Vitamin D3, DHEA, or hormones.
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