Reducing stress to reduce body fat through your diet

At first glance you may think that your diet (what you’re eating) doesn’t have anything to do with your stress levels.  And that your stress levels have nothing to do with your body fat percentage.

But stress, diet and body fat are all related

I’ve written before about the chronic stress levels that many of us suffer in modern life.  The hormone cortisol is probably something you’ve heard about before.

It naturally rises and falls each 24 hours and also acutely rises in response to anything perceived as stress; a near accident, a fright, running late, deadlines etc.  It is then supposed to lower again back to normal levels.

We need cortisol to repair cells, increase mental alertness and energy, improve mood and increase blood sugar ( in readiness to deal with that stressful situation).  However, when stressors are constant, as they usually are these days, our cortisol levels become higher over time and remain elevated.

The following are some of the symptoms of constantly higher cortisol levels that you may be passing off as something else:

  • Frequent colds or other infections
  • Signs of premature ageing – wrinkles, hair and memory loss etc
  • Weight gain – yes, higher stress levels cause weight gain
  • Insomnia – again increasing weight gain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Irregularities with menstrual cycles

As you can see, higher cortisol levels make you fat, old and sick.

If you ignore symptoms, you can continue on to complete exhaustion, mental and physical.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression,, low energy,  regular dizziness (especially when getting up), unexplained pain in muscles are all signs you may have gone to the next level of stress.

So how can diet help?

There are 3 main things to consider

GET ENOUGH NUTRIENTS

If you’re not eating a variety of nutritious foods daily, you will increase your stress levels leading to the above symptoms including gaining lots of body fat.  You are simply not giving your body the things it needs to deal with your level of stress – even if its not really high at the moment.

While all nutrients are important, some are especially important to adrenal health.  They are Vitamin C, Magnesium, Omega 3 and the B vitamins.

You could supplement, but studies show that our bodies cannot absorb and use single nutrients in the same way as they can when getting them from real food.  It could be because its not just that nutrient itself that helps, but that they work in combination with other nutrients commonly found together.

If you consume lots of veggies (especially green leafy ones and mushrooms), a mix of fruits (especially berries), nuts (especially almonds, brazils and walnuts) eggs and a variety of meats and seafood in smaller quantities (beef, lamb, fish – including oily ones such as salmon, shellfish and offal – I you like it,  you will get all the nutrients you need to support healthy hormone function including your adrenals and those stress hormones.

INCREASE HEALTHY FATS

This one is a bit tricky because too much fat will itself increase fat gain.  But you do need to include healthy fats daily.  The best are from oily fish so that you get Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet regularly.

I also suggest taking a regular dose of fish oil capsules as well to help with this as lots of our fish are farmed or depleted in the Omega 3 fatty acids and reducing your use of vegetable oils to improve your ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats.

STABILISE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR

This can be achieved by making sure that each time you eat (3-5 times daily) you include lots of vegetables, a small portion of protein (in the forms listed above in the nutrient section) and including healthy fats a couple of times per day (avocado, olive oil, fish etc)

Limiting cereal or grain foods will really help with stabilising your blood sugar levels as will avoiding the obvious culprits such as sweets, baked foods, soft drinks (and other flavoured drinks) chocolates, biscuits etc.

Not surprisingly, the same dietary changes that will help to improve your stress levels will also help you to lose excess weight as well.

This is due to a lower calorie intake, a better functioning body and the actual decrease in cortisol as well.

One final thing that can’t be ignored and can really help is to add exercise to your daily routine.

Exercise helps to decrease cortisol levels if done correctly.  Those with high levels may initially need to start with just walking and other low intensity exercise because adding too much or too high intensity can become a stressor itself and work against what you’re trying to achieve.

If however you are eating well, getting enough sleep and working on reducing other lifestyle factors that are increasing stress, exercise is a must as part of the solution to lower stress levels AND reduce body fat.

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