Diet and Lifestyle Quality for a Healthy Body Weight – Part3: Stress and Weight

By: Tami Best, MS, RD, CDN

Manage stress


Seven out of ten adults fit the criteria for being overweight or obese. In this series, I have outlined critical steps that we can all take to help fight this epidemic. In part one of this series, I talked about the importance of limiting intake of all processed foods to promote a healthy body weight. In part two, the focus was on reducing exposures to harmful chemicals call obesogens that disrupt the weight control hormones in our body. In this final part, I will give you an overview on how uncontrolled stress can negatively affect your weight and strategies to help manage stress.

Stress can be defined as our perception of a real or imagined threat and our ability to cope with it. Once we perceive the threat, we signal a cascade of hormones in our body peaking with the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Of note, we do not need to be in real danger for cortisol to be released, we only need to follow our thoughts to think we are in danger and all of our cells will begin to be bathed in stress hormones. Therefore, if we are constantly ruminating and projecting on what might happen, we are activating the release of cortisol.

Cortisol is involved in energy regulation. Cortisol releases fuel into the body, halts digestion, and slows metabolism. In addition, this hormone plays a role in helping new fat cells grow into mature fat cells and aids in the deposition of fat in the mid-section. This fat that settles in our middle, surrounding our organs is called visceral fat and is the most dangerous type of fat in our body.

Not only does cortisol slow our metabolism and help us to deposit fat, it plays a role in our appetite. Cortisol causes a drop in leptin which is the hormone that is responsible for telling our brains that we have had enough to eat and that we are full. So on top of a sluggish metabolism and promoting fat cell growth, we are also craving more food.

The stress mounding on us today can feel quite overwhelming at times. We certainly can’t completely escape stress, however there is a lot we can do to improve our resilience and improve our coping mechanisms.

For starters, we need to work on strategies, such as those used in cognitive behavior therapy, to disarm negative thoughts. Consider this equation: A+B=C with A (the activating event), B(our thoughts), and C(the consequence). For example, and activating event(A) might be that you encounter an accident on the way to work and you are going to be late. Likewise we may begin a negative thought process (B) thinking – “My boss is going to kill me, he already thinks I’m worthless”. Finally the consequence (C) is a surge of cortisol being released into your blood stream. Changing our belief can protect our body. Actively work to change negative thoughts. In our example, you might use the following self-talk instead: “I’ll explain to my boss why I was late, I’ll listen to music while I wait”. With this more rational thought process, you can significantly reduce the release of cortisol.

Next, seek active relaxation. Mindful breathing is one great, free way to actively lower stress hormone levels and quiet the mind. Sit in a comfortable position, preferably with your feet on the floor. Breathe deeply into your belly for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four and then deeply exhale. Repeating this pattern for just five minutes will dramatically cool your stress response.

Other great ways to actively relax include meditation, yoga, brisk walking, being outdoors and connecting with loved ones.

Finally, fuel and supplement your body in a way that quiets your mind. Eat whole, unprocessed healthy fats, healthy wild, grass-fed proteins, and organic fresh fruits and vegetables. Dramatically minimize sugar and all processed foods. Support your diet with quality supplements that have been tested for identity, purity, and potency. Here are some good options to consider:

  1. Our standard American diets are highly deficient in omega 3 fats which is needed for many things in our body including a healthy brain capable of  quieting anxious thoughts. I like Nordic Naturals fish oils because they are third party tested for environmental toxins and pass the strictest tests for purity and freshness. Consider adding 1000mg Nordic Naturals Arctic Omega Lemon which can be ordered here through fullscript.
  2. Also, a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can help bolster our intake of nutrients needed for a healthy stress response such as vitamin D, folate, B6 and B12. I like Pure Encapsulation’s O.N.E multivitamin which can also be ordered here through fullscript.

For more on how to manage stress visit The American Institute of Stress.



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