Is Stress Making You Fat?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Stress, Weight Gain, and Strategies to Lose Fat are Connected
Stress affects all species. Most humans have a good idea of their stress levels and whether the stress is helpful (such as exercise) or harmful (such as an injury). As well, we human personages can distinguish between Chronic and Acute Stress. Interesting to note is that we tend to handle major stressors better than micro ones.
When it comes to weight gain and fat accumulation, chronic stress is the problem. In short, chronic stress triggers a cascade of hormonal reactions that tell your body to store fat, create more fat, and swell up. Yes, long term stress increases both number and size of fat cells. As fat cells increase in size, they increase chronic inflammation, which triggers more hormonal reactions, all leading to more fat. Aaaaarrrggggh!
Getting caught in this cycle can be very … well, um … stressful! Keep reading and take a relaxing breath as we look at ways to decrease fat that stress may have added to your “friend’s” figure.
Recently Alexandra and I attended and spoke at the IDEA Personal Training Institute. One of the many stellar sessions we attended was Professor Len Kravitz’s talk “Stress, Obesity, and Cortisol.” He offered key insights on stress and fat collecting — the collection we don’t want to inherit, pay too much for, nor store for posterity (in posteriors).
First off, bad news and some Fat Facts:
- More women than men are obese because of menopause (not really bad news for men).
- We now know our bodies can make more fat cells at any age. We used to think we added fat cells only at certain times in life, such as gestation and puberty.
- Fat cells can swell up to three to six times their minimum size. Oh, swell! Those cells are unwell!
- “Normal” weight adults have about 40 billion fat cells; overweight people may have as many as 80 billion. Yes, DOUBLE! The odds are really stacked against the stressed out.
Now for some good news and Fit Facts:
We really don’t gain a lot of weight over the holidays. The average is about one pound … per holiday season, so pack light for the upcoming 4th of July!
- Two super duper interventions that really work to unpack fat are exercise and destressing. No kidding, Sherlock. (Yes, I heard you thinking that all the way from here.) What Dr. Kravitz emphasized is our need to shift our thinking from all or nothing strategies to ones that are more realistic and flexible.
The plan? First, implement the 4 F words of Weight Management and Lower Stress Levels
- Have a Flexible approach when creating your workout program. For instance, maybe morning routines don’t work for you, though you’ve heard that early bird exercisers tend to be more consistent. Or your favorite cardio machine is taken. Try a different piece of cardio equipment or an aerobic class. Look for what fits YOU. Today. With each day up for a renewable contract.
- Remind yourself that you are not a Failure if you lapse.
- Forgive yourself for any unmet goals or expectations.
- Fix what’s not working — without blame or self criticism.
As Dr. Kravitz stated, “Learning to lose weight is a skill, just like learning to ride a bike.” He recommends that we use the same strategies as proven, successful weight losers. Referring to the work of Dr. James Hill, who founded the National Weight Loss Registry, Dr. Kravitz highlights the actions in common of those who lose fat (and keep it off):
Successful Fat Losers:
- Stay or become physically active
- Log 250-300 minutes per week of aerobic activity
- Limit and monitor dietary intake
- Accept realistic weight goals
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Schedule meals and exercise thereby staying consistent with both
- Limit fast food
- Eat some favorite foods without guilt
- Accept their body shape
- Confront problems rather than eat to cope
- Recognize that weight control is ongoing
Got all that? You now have THE ULTIMATE list of what it takes to lose fat. So relax. And exercise. Then relax some more.
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A good laugh also reduces stress. So check out this interview of Kymberly from BiteSizeWellness. Spread the Wellness with us!