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Stress and Weight Gain- The Connection Between The Two

Updated March 25th 2020 by Dr Hagmeyer DC. CFMP to reflect the most updated information on Stress and Weight gain. 

How Stress Causes Weight Gain

Your walnut-sized adrenal glands, sit on top of your kidneys, cannot distinguish among the various stresses that are present in your life — whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. The adrenals just pump out hormones to counteract stress — any stress! These adrenal hormones are often called your “fight or flight” hormones and they are intended to serve us for short bursts of time.

But today’s stresses are anything but short term … so the stress hormones just keep flowing! When Chronic stress persists, you can become an “adrenal type” of person — one who has overactive and/or exhausted adrenals.

This is very serious business because your quality of life depends upon how well your adrenal glands work.

Visible symptoms develop with persistent adrenal imbalances. Chief among them is hanging fat in the midsection that sags downward over the belly.Thinned-out arms, legs and buttocks generally accompany this fat because the key hormone that prevails during stress (cortisol) converts these muscles to sugar in an attempt to create more energy for a continually stressed body.

With thinned muscles and a large abdomen, people suffering with adrenal fatigue, often have a hard time finding clothes that fit. Moreover, stress hormones in excess will steal protein from the bones, leading to osteoporosis.

Sometimes a fat pad develops in the lower neck and upper back called a “buffalo hump.” Also, fat accumulation in the face may give a round or “moon face” appearance, a face that may redden because of weakened blood vessels.

Why Extra Fat In the Belly? Hint… Insulin

weight gainWith all this sugar pouring into the bloodstream through the action of stress fighting hormones, the fat-burning hormones of the liver get turned off. Then fat accumulates on the belly because of the excess sugar thrown into the blood to meet “dangers” that don’t exist. In the meantime, insulin stores the extra sugar as fat to keep your blood sugar levels out of the danger range.

Since insulin is one of the main hormones responsible for lowering your blood sugar levels, being insulin resistant typically means that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. In addition, it also means that you store fat a lot more easily because insulin promotes fat storage.

In other words, stress hormones prevent fat burning by causing blood sugar dysregulation. Cutting calories simply will not help you and in fact low calorie diets can actually make you worse-

To make matters worse, some adrenal types will try to work off the excess fat with heavy intense exercise. But for some individuals,  this just creates more stress and more stress hormones. Result? Less muscle and even more fat!

Sounds strange, doesn’t it, but it’s true. Many of those with adrenal weakness will actually get fatter as they continue to cut the calories and put in longer hours in the gym. Can you imagine how frustrated adrenal types can get with their exercise programs?

Fortunately, adrenal imbalances can be corrected to turn muscle-burning adrenal types into fat burners again.

Signs You Are Struggling with Blood Sugar- Adrenal Dys-regulation

  1. Feeling grouchy in the morning until you have had your coffee or soda?
  2. Blurry vision?
  3. Bouts of anger combined with poor memory and forgetfulness?
  4. Irritability or feeling lightheaded if you skip a meal?
  5. Sugar/carb cravings?
  6. Do you notice a frequent slump in those energy levels early to mid afternoon that 3 or 4pm window?

 

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Stress Eating-and Its Affect on the Liver

  1. Over time, a person consistently overeats and this has devastating impact on the liver.
  2. Body fat accumulates in the liver; particularly promoted by excess carbohydrate consumption (excess carbohydrates are converted into fat
  3. The liver slowly becomes resistant to insulin- the liver will produce and release more glucose into the blood.
  4. Elevated insulin levels further promote fat storage in the liver, which becomes a positively reinforcing cycle.

Stress Eating and Its Affect on the Liver

  1. Increased fat in the liver leads to increased export of VLDL into the blood (VLDL is the precursor to LDL ‘cholesterol’).
  2. Body fat accumulates in the pancreas, where it impairs the ability of the pancreatic beta cells to release a large ‘spike’ of insulin after eating a meal.
  3. Following a meal blood glucose levels, therefore, remain high (fat stops insulin release)
  4. Elevated blood glucose levels result in higher insulin secretion over time.
  5. A greater release of insulin further drives the liver to promote fat production.
  6. The cycle continues until the system is overwhelmed and full-blown type 2 diabetes develops.

Cortisol signaling is linked to many physiological processes in the body that increase one’s propensity toward weight gain. Chronic stress results in high levels of circulating cortisol which can turn off hormones that control appetite and weight gain. The overproduction of stress hormones like cortisol causes symptoms of fatigue and blood sugar imbalances that further creates dysfunction in the central nervous system. In turn, this leads to more addictive and unhealthy food cravings. (2)

The adrenal glands secrete cortisol which subsequently slows down the production of the hormone testosterone. When this happens over an extended duration, an individual can suffer from adrenal fatigue and they also are limited in their body’s ability to build muscle because of testosterone loss.

This creates a catabolic state, where the body tears down bone and muscle and stores fat.  Reduced lean body tissue slows down the bodies overall metabolism and causes the body to hold on to more fat storage leading to elevated insulin and insulin resistance as well.

So What Can I Do To Lose Weight?

Be Smart About The Fat You Eat.

When stress causes your body to burn less of the fat you eat and storing more of it, be sure to choose healthy fats. Good fat is important because it can stifle any cravings you might be experiencing in the early stages of dietary changes. Good fat also helps with blood sugar stability- A big problem for most people with Adrenal Fatigue.  Keep your fats in balance, choose only one high-fat item per meal. For example, if you want avocado on your salad, dress your greens with balsamic vinegar rather than an oil-based vinaigrette.

Are You A Stress Eater? Recognize Overeating

Remember when you are stressed, you get a rise in cortisol.  At the same time, you may notice that you are raiding the cupboard for quick empty calories. Over time, this can turn your stress into a habit of overeating.

Take a quick post-meal walk

Whenever possible, try to build in a brisk 15-minute stroll after meals. A recent study from George Washington University found that this habit helped normalize blood sugar levels for up to three hours after eating. Can’t fit in 15 minutes? Go for 10, just breaking a sitting pattern and getting your blood pumping can shift your metabolism.

Need Help Losing Weight? Consider A Metabolic Approach

Do you believe you are doing everything right but still struggling to loose weight? Functional Medicine looks to find the root cause of weight gain as opposed to only treating the symptoms. Using the principles of Functional Medicine we can test your hormones and identify which fat burning hormones may be out of balance in your body. We can them optimize your diet along with hormones to be sure you become metabolically balanced.

Key Hormone include

  • Blood Sugar
  • Thyroid
  • Cortisol
  • Sex Hormones
  • DHEA
  • Leptin

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