This is how your stress levels are secretly making you fat

“If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out. It’s not pretty,” I said during the 2013 Third Metric women’s conference. I wasn’t kidding. I could write several books about stress’s massive, chronic havoc on your body.

If you want to avoid stress, you’ve been born in the wrong era. Chronic stress has become an epidemic in our society where faster is better and we attempt to pack more obligations into our ever-expanding schedules.

Among its havoc, one meta-analysis involving 300 studies1 found chronic stress could damage your immunity. If that wasn’t enough, stress also makes you fat and contributes to diabesity. A study in the journal Appetite found stressed-out women had significantly higher waist circumference2 compared to non-stressed women.

Experts have long known a relationship exists between stress, blood sugar, and belly fat. In the face of chronic stress, insulin increases. This drives the relentless metabolic dysfunction that leads to weight gain, insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that flood your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage and generally wreaking havoc on your body.

That hormonal havoc creates very practical adverse consequences. For example – you stop by your favorite coffee shop on your way to work. Frazzled by a million demands and work-hour traffic, you realize you haven’t had breakfast and order a muffin along with your gigantic coffee.

Looking at that seemingly innocuous breakfast scenario, the caffeine in coffee increases catecholamines, your stress hormones.  The stress response elicits cortisol that, coupled with the sugar in that muffin, increases insulin.  Insulin increases inflammation and this makes you feel lousy. And the sugar in the muffin increases cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones. Yes, sugar literally jacks up your stress hormones, even if you are not stressed!

Chances are, you’ll continue that pattern throughout the day. Regardless, you’ve created the perfect storm for a hormonal hell that leaves you tired, miserable and storing fat.

Managing Stress Starts with Your Diet

The right diet can do wonders to reduce stress’s impact on your life. When you eat whole, real foods, you restore balance to insulin, cortisol, and other hormones.

When you clean up your diet from mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eat regularly to avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body, you maintain an even-keeled mindset throughout the day even when things get hectic.

You’ll replace those foods with clean protein, healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries, and non-gluten grains. Food is information that controls your gene expression, hormones, and metabolism. When you eat the right foods, you balance blood sugar, restore hormonal balance, and reduce stress’s damaging impact.

Reduce Stress with these Simple, Powerful Techniques

Stress is a thought, a perception of a threat, even if it is not real. That’s it. No more, no less. If that’s true, then we have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.

The dictionary defines stress as the “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” Your thoughts become unbalanced.

Here’s where it become interesting. Stressors can be real or perceived. You might imagine your spouse is angry at you. Whether or not they are, you raise stress levels. Real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.

Most people, when they look at my life, think I’m crazy and wonder why I’m not more stressed—running a medical practice; opening a new Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic; doing research; writing books and blogs; teaching all over the world; working on health policy; volunteering in Haiti, churches and orphanages; being a father, son, brother, partner, friend, boss, and more. But it’s actually quite simple. I don’t worry about things much. I simply wake up and do the next thing as best I can.

I manage these duties with a wide variety of techniques and tools that help effectively manage stress. Among them, these 13 are some of my favorites.

13 Ways to Manage Stress

1. Tap

Tapping is a combination of Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. To learn more about this technique, get a copy of The Napping Solution by Nick Orther.

2. Address the Underlying Causes of Stress

There are many different causes of stress, including gluten allergies, mercury toxicity, and magnesium or vitamin B12 deficiencies. All of them change the body, which is turn changes the mind.

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