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Is Stress Causing the Obesity Epidemic?

Is Stress Causing the Obesity Epidemic?

When clients ask me how long it'll take for them to get in shape, there are several things I have to consider. How much exercise they engage in, what they eat and the quality and quantity of their sleep. Changes in each area result in predictable and measurable progress. There's just one problem, for a small percentage of clients the results don't happen as fast as they should and it all boils down to emotions. Or more specifically one emotion, stress.

Too much stress can make you fat.

When you're exposed to things that cause stress, your body releases chemicals to deal with the situation. Your heart rate and respiration increase. You have a heightened sense of perception and your body gets ready for action. You're going into the "fight or flight" mode to survive. When experienced in short bursts, such as stumbling upon a bear or being confronted with an angry lion, it's a response that can save your life.

The problems happen when you're in a stressful job, home life or relationship. Those situations keep your body on alert for days, weeks and months on end. Unfortunately, your body can't tell the difference between a short-term threat and long-term factors you have little control over. So your body continuously pumps out large amounts of cortisol because of the constant stress.

As cortisol levels go up, it pushes testosterone levels down. That makes it more difficult for your body to build muscle and recover after exercise. Over time the elevated levels of cortisol can lead to a weakened immune system, muscle atrophy and high blood pressure. Constantly elevated levels of cortisol have also been linked to hyperlipidemia (elevated lipids) and hyperglycemia (elevated glucose). That's just the beginning.

Cortisol also promotes the storage of fat, particularly in the abdominal area where your body can draw on it for the fight or flight response. The more stress you have, the more belly fat you're likely to put on.

That leads to a rather nasty cycle. People with a high waist-to-hip ratio (in other words, high levels of fat in the belly) are at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

In today's quick-fix culture, we're encouraged to handle stress by simply popping a pill. Products like Cortislim promise to, "boost energy expenditure and fatburning." In advertisements, Cortislim claims that it, "addresses the 3 primary mechanisms responsible for weight gain" while providing, "Appetite and craving control." Another supplement, Relacore promises it, "Helps Prevent Stress-Related Abdominal Obesity."

In reality, they do nothing of the sort. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to both companies for those specific false and misleading claims. The answer isn't something you get from a pharmacist. The solution is to reduce stress (and stress-related weight gain) by making changes in your daily life.

One of the best stress relievers available is exercise. If your body is waiting for "fight or flight," some vigorous activity can help release that tension. Your body does that by burning (or metabolizing) the stress chemicals in the bloodstream during the workout. As a bonus, your body also releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that are credited with delivering the "high" or "euphoric" feeling runners get on longer courses.

The next thing you have to do is get enough sleep. According to a study from the University of Bristol in the UK, people who sleep less than 8 hours a night tend to be hungrier, eat more and are at greater risk of being overweight or obese. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens generally need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep per night while adults typically need 7 to 9 hours nightly. If you're struggling with weight problems and sleeping too little, resolve to get more shut-eye.

When you wake up can be equally important. A study done by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo in Brazil found that "Cortisol levels appeared to be more influenced by time since waking prior to the shift than by time-of-day."

People who got up at the last minute and rushed off to work produced more stress-related cortisol than those who got up and started their day with a more relaxed routine. You'll lower your stress and cortisol levels if you get up an hour before you have to leave for work. That'll give you plenty of time to wake up, clean and eat a nutritious breakfast.

Click the link below for some additional ideas you can use to lower the stress in your life.

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