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4 Ways Stress Leads to Weight GAIN

By Lucy Rose Clinic

September 7, 2020

Stubborn to shift fat that sits around the middle is usually tied in to several other key hormone systems.

The result?

Weight loss that does not respond well to exercise, diet or medication.

Today I will discuss the 4 pathways that all contribute to this most stubborn of weight gain issues.

1. Chronic Stress

We evolved to deal with life threatening stress, such as fighting a predator, hunting when hungry, and dealing with seasonal climate changes. 

However the stress in todays world is much different from our tribal roots, and while we are living longer due to medical advances and hygiene, many people are living much of their lives with a chronic disease affecting their quality of life.

We class chronic stress as any event or activity that activates our nervous system response to ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Be it working in a controlling environment, being at the beck and call of your phone with all its notifications, suffering with depression, or a long list of other factors.

Chronic stress leads to several situations. 

  • People exercise LESS.
  • They have increased appetite – sugar, carbs and salt cravings.
  • They eat comfort foods for a dopamine surge.
  • Blood sugar is mobilised from the muscle and then lays down as fat.
  • Insulin and glucose markers go out of range, leading to insulin and leptin resistance.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns. Diurnal and nocturnal pattern inverts. Poorer sleep quality and quantity.
  • Adipose fat accumulates around the middle – the unhealthiest area to carry fat.

2. Physical energy expenditure

Ironically, when stressed, most people are less inclined to exercise. This leads to lower energy, lower metabolic rate, and high blood sugars.

3. Diet

Food choices are 99% of the time very poor. People are exhausted and don’t have energy or interest in cooking a healthy meal, instead opting for drive-through fast food options, takeaways, or Uber Eats.

Cravings can dominate and lead to mindless eating. Junk foods do not have nutritional value, so your body does not tell you when it is full, so it is easy to overeat, yet be nutritionally deficient. Excess calories get stored as fat as well.

Food addictions can be strong, and these won’t ease until your stress response is in a healthier state.

4. Sleep

Quality and quantity of sleep are essential for fat and muscle mass regulation as we sleep, as well as balancing hormones, replenishing cortisol, allowing the liver to detoxify, and balancing our energy. Chronic stress will disrupt the night time cortisol/melatonin balance, and leads to deeply set in issues if not managed properly. Chronic stress eats up our nutritional status, affecting melatonin production, and also negatively affects all our neurotransmitters.

Inadequate sleep triggers the stress response in the body, creating a compounded issue.

This collection of system imbalances is called HPA axis dysfunction (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) and it is extremely common. Correcting this can take some time, treatment, and self-care, but if weight is your concern, you must address these factors to finally shift that fat around the middle.

Your HPA axis controls;

  • Basal metabolic rate
  • Food intake/satiety
  • Energy expenditure
  • Fat distribution
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Free fatty acids oxidation
  • Lipolysis in the periphery

But I eat well and exercise???

Not all 4 points above are always at play. We often see people who have cleaned up their diet and exercise more than enough, yet still have HPA axis issues. 

The trick is that the brain plasticity actually changes with chronic stress, the amygdala gets stronger, and the hippocampus shrinks. Remodeling this back to health is possible, but many people don’t know the steps needed to succeed, so are left chasing multiple options in a hope of hitting the mark one day and lucking onto something that helps them feel healthy and lose weight.

How to find the right treatment

Treating HPA issues is always multifactorial, and different people have different needs. Essentially, you need good, thorough pathology, a practitioner with experience in this field, and often other therapies are beneficial, such as counselling, cognitive behavior training, tapping, and many more.

From a functional medicine approach, we first need to understand the state of your hormones and glands, your nutritional status, and your thyroid function. Then we can build a personalised treatment to get you feeling great again!

↓ Just like this patient who left a wonderful review on Google about her experience. 

Book your own appointment and start your journey to better health today! CLICK HERE

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