Obesity is a huge problem. Here in the West, we’re right in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Many organizations (including the American Medical Association, the Canadian Obesity Network, and the World Health Organisation) now consider obesity to be a chronic disease.
When we think how much the food on our plate has changed over the last forty years, its little surprise that this tidal wave of weight gain has become such a pressing issue. Modern technology has “gifted” us with high fructose corn syrup, GMOs and a whole host of unpronounceable chemicals to preserve our processed and packaged convenience foods. Even good old fruit and vegetables haven’t escaped the attention of a farming industry under pressure to supply ever larger yields for a hungry market.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the food that’s making us fat. The problem goes much deeper.
Fact: Stress can make you fat
One of the most common health issues for people with adrenal fatigue is the inability to lose weight.
If you’ve been reading around the blog, you’ll already know that changing your diet is a key feature of any adrenal fatigue recovery program. However, even armed with this information, many adrenal exhaustion sufferers find they still have difficulty controlling their weight.
You may be surprised at the reasons behind why this happens.
Fight or flight
When you have adrenal fatigue, the fight or flight response (which is designed to help you in emergency situations) is activated so many times throughout the day, that burnout is the result. When this happens, your body is unable to properly regulate stress hormones such as cortisol, which play an important role in regulating weight.
Whenever the body perceives a threat, one of the first things it will do is temporarily shut down the digestive system. This is the reason why, when people are stressed they often have an urgent need to go to the bathroom or get a sick feeling in their stomach.
Whenever you’re stressed, the adrenal glands produce cortisol which mobilises carbohydrates and fat to give you a quick burst of energy. However, once the stress has passed, cortisol continues to circulate through your blood stream in an attempt to restore balance to the body. One of the ways it does this is to increase your appetite. This is your body’s way of sending you a signal to replace the energy you burned while “fleeing or fighting”
If you’ve ever craved a sweet treat or a carb laden ready meal after a stressful day – don’t blame your willpower, it’s a natural reaction caused by cortisol. A far better way to counteract stress is to take some exercise. This is one of the best ways to move cortisol out of your system and counteract the physical effects of stress.
Weight gain and sleep
There’s another reason why cortisol might be keeping the needle from moving. It has a lot to do with the way that cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day.
Coffee is the enemy
When everything works as it should, cortisol is higher in the morning (so you can leap out of bed!) and lower in the evening (to help you drop off.) With adrenal fatigue this pattern is often reversed. Cortisol spikes in the evening mean it’s harder to get to sleep, and crashes in the morning make it a chore to get up.
What do most people do when they need to get going in the morning? That’s right, they reach for the coffee.
If you have adrenal fatigue this is one of the worse things you can do. Although that cup of coffee may provide a temporary pick me up, the caffeine it contains can cause a surge in cortisol which we’ve already seen will stimulate your appetite. Apart from the obvious calories, dropping into Starbucks on the way to work can lead you into all kinds of temptations. There’s a reason why coffee shops sell cinnamon buns and cupcakes – they go so darn well together! There are so many healthy alternatives to coffee it just isn’t worth the temporary high it provides.
Why tiredness makes you eat
If you’re familiar with the feeling of waking up drained after a poor night’s sleep, you’ll know how it makes you want to reach for a snack to give you a lift. Have you ever wondered why?
During sleep, leptin (the hormone that regulates appetite, calorie burning and metabolism) is produced to signal to the body that you’re full and there’s no need to eat. However, if you don’t get enough sleep and are running on empty, your body is tricked into thinking you don’t have enough energy for your daily needs. To compensate for this the “hunger hormone” ghrelin is released. This triggers your appetite, making you want to eat.
Studies have shown that people who don’t get adequate sleep have a higher chance of becoming obese than those who regularly get a good night’s rest. This means that in addition to managing stress, looking after your sleep hygiene is one of the best ways to tackle weight gain.
If you’re struggling to lose weight, I hope this article has given you hope. Making small changes to reduce your stress and educating yourself about what your food contains will go a long way towards helping you shift those extra pounds.