The other day, someone I love became very agitated and angry and attacked me viciously over the telephone. He was very stressed that day, and when I said something that he didn’t want to hear, he exploded.
Afterwards, I was reeling with toxic emotion and had a classic stress response. My heart was pounding, I was shaky, my stomach hurt, and I had a hard time withdrawing my focus. Now he had transferred some of his stress to ME. He felt better (for the moment) and I felt worse. Even though I knew it was HIS stress, I couldn’t help but let some of it bleed into ME. Luckily, I knew how to let it bleed back out.
This illustrates how, in some ways, we are not that far removed from our caveman days. If a wolf is approaching our child, or a tiger is chasing us, our body does not wait for us to sit down and calmly figure out what to do. Forget calm. It acts!
It acts immediately and automatically to give us the strength and stamina to do whatever’s necessary. It shuts down everything not needed for immediate survival – such as digestion – and floods the system with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which speed our respiration and heart rate, flood the system with glucose, and laser-focus our attention on the threat.
Most of us live stress-filled lives, with not enough time, not enough resources, not enough ……… fill in the blanks, and too much of everyone’s stress bouncing from person to person. At work, at home, in traffic, even in the supermarket, we are bombarded with signals to “WATCH OUT for danger.”
What happens to a body that reacts to constant stress (perceived threat)?
Very few of us are being chased by tigers, which is the kind of immediate, one-time threat our bodies are designed for. And our bodies respond the same way to chronic stress as they do to immediate danger, but they have many needs and processes beyond immediate survival. They need us to calm down.
We develop diabetes, heart disease, allergies, viral infections, autoimmune disorders, fatigue and much more. This article is a really great resource to understand stress-related disease better.
Now, about stress and FAT
I have drawn much of the information I will share with you next from this article By Dina Aronson, MS, RD.
Much of her article is directed towards other related information, but there are excellent sections on blood sugar and obesity.
I shall translate. “It’s all the cortisol’s fault!”
A. Insulin resistance
- One major function of cortisol is to inhibit insulin production, for fast energy during a crisis.
- Chronic Cortisol overdose” (my words) creates a state of insulin-resistance in the body.
- The pancreas works overtime to produce insulin but it’s “never enough.”
- Blood glucose levels thus remain high; still the cells don’t get the sugar they need.
- Hungry cells demand high-calorie foods, which are stored as fat.
- All this adds stress, which promotes the release of ….more cortisol…
B. Visceral fat storage
- Cortisol sends fat from storage elsewhere in the body to the visceral fat cells deep in the abdomen.
- Visceral fat protects the vital organs.
- Visceral fat cells have more cortisol receptors than other fat cells.
- Sadly, this can cause more cortisol to be produced at the tissue level, in addition to that from the adrenals.
C. Appetite and cravings
- Cortisol binds to receptors in the brain and directly influences appetite and cravings.
- Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite through stress factors and hormones that stimulate appetite.
Stress is chronic and endemic in our lives today, and when the stress hormone cortisol is more than an occasional visitor, it directly affects our blood glucose levels, our hunger and appetites and the storage of fat deep in the abdomen.
The net result is that the very cortisol that’s causing the harm increases, and, especially because of the blood glucose cycle, makes weight loss more difficult.
And so, to lose weight, we’d best learn to manage stress. How to develop a stress management plan that works for you is a subject for another day.