Every month, our team gets together for a professional development session where we share knowledge and increase our skills so we can better serve clients.

Recently, team member and recent graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine Kamala Sivasankaran led a very informative session about stress, hormones and weight gain. This is an important topic to understand if fat loss is one of your goals. So we thought we’d share some of the key points of her talk with you here.
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 When we think about stress, we usually consider the mental and emotional stresses that are experienced day-to-day. Things like work conflicts, getting the kids off to school, and bill payments can all put us in that stress mode. However, other factors like lack of sleep, poor air quality, and even anticipation of a fearful situation also create stress on the body.

When we are stressed, our bodies go into “fight-or-flight” mode – heart rate and blood pressure increase, immune system function goes down, and the blood flow to the digestive system slows.

In isolated moments of stress, the effect is not a bad thing. But chronic, low-grade stress that never fully goes away can have multiple negative effects, like bloating and indigestion. It can also cause a hormonal change that can affect your weight.

  Here’s a little info about the hormones that are released when you’re under stress, and the effect they have:

  • Cortisol: competes with your thyroid hormones for the amino acid tyrosine. This significantly affects your metabolism and can make it harder to lose weight. It also stimulates neuropeptide Y, which causes carb cravings, and decreases leptin, which suppresses appetite. It’s like a triple-whammy of weight gain factors.
  • Epinephrine: also known as adrenaline, too much of this hormone damages arteries and blood vessels, and increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
  • Insulin: is released when we eat carbohydrates. Eating too many simple carbs (refined sugars, processed foods) causes an excess of insulin to be released, resulting in water retention, increased blood pressure, and increased appetite.

So, what can you do about it? In addition to avoiding stressful situations that put your body into that ‘fight or flight’ mode, there are things you can do to help reduce the stress on your body. Here are a few key suggestions of things to do/consume more – and less – of:

Less of this:

  • Refined sugars and processed foods: these cause fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin and can contribute to a sugar “crash”.
  • Caffeine: may over-stimulate your nervous system, preventing a good night’s sleep.
  • Alcohol: while some people find it initially takes the edge off in stressful situations, it can actually prolong feelings of tension that are brought on by stress and make you feel worse.
  • Foods with excess sodium (salt): makes you retain water and leads to a bloated sensation. It also aggravates high blood pressure, stimulating the cycle of physical stress.

More of this:

  • Water! Often we confuse thirst with hunger when we are stressed. Next time, try going for a glass of water and see if it helps curb that craving.
  • Veggies: high fibre and antioxidant-rich vegetables like broccoli, chard, and kale keep the bowels moving and decrease stress on the body.
  • Deep breathing: calms the fight-or-flight response and promotes good digestion. This means decreased blotaing & cravings, and a clear mind. 
  • Regular physical activity: just 30 minutes a day can decrease stress hormones and help you feel your best.