Stress is a major contributor to weight gain. Here’s how to de-stress as part of a steady plan to trim fat.

It is 8:30 a.m. and you rush into your nearest coffee shop, frantic and in a hurry to pick up breakfast in order to be on time for your morning meeting. You pick up an extra-large coffee and a muffin to go. You get into your car, spill some of the coffee onto your lap and begin to drive like a maniac. To top it off, you receive a phone call from your child’s school letting you know he sud- denly got sick and needs to be picked up immediately. Sound familiar?

The truth is, this is what the average individual’s life looks like in today’s society. Rushing, panicking, compulsively thinking ahead and not being in the present moment. It is no wonder the rates of heart attack, stroke and obesity are escalating. Many people know they should be more health conscious, but they have no idea where to start or how to fit it into their day.

If this scenario sounds familiar and you are currently struggling to lose weight, you may be surprised to learn that stress can actually be a part of the problem. In fact, stress itself is a huge contributor to weight gain.

This is because when we are stressed the hormone cortisol is released from our adrenal glands—the two glands located above the kidneys that produce hormones needed during times of stress. Cortisol levels are usually higher in the morning to help get your day going, and lower in the evening to assist with unwinding for sleep. They also spike when you experience short-term stress to give you extra energy. The problem is chronic stress, when the “fight or flight” syndrome gets stuck in the “on” position. Then cortisol levels stay elevated, interfering with the natural rhythm.

Although production of cortisol is necessary for survival, excess amounts of it can pose health problems. These include elevated blood sugar, anxiety, sleep disorders, acne, hormone imbalances and a reduced ability to burn fat.

When stressed, do you reach for comfort foods? You are not alone. According to researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), when faced with chronic stress, humans might be self-medicating by eating more comfort foods.

UCSF researcher Elissa Epel, PhD, and her colleagues conducted a study on rats and their response to food when under stress. The study found that the chronically stressed rats released more cortisol and desired foods that contained more fat and sugar than the rats who did not undergo stress. They also developed extra fat around their mid-section. “It is very likely that comfort food intake is a double-edged sword,” says Epel. “It leads not only to a dampened-down stress response system, but also to greater levels of risky abdominal fat.”

Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is dangerous because it surrounds the organs. Aside from making your jeans feel tight, it can pose serious health problems long-term, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It is important to understand that if you do hold weight around your midsection, spot reducing exercises such as isolated abdominal crunches is not enough to trim belly fat. In order to shed those unwanted pounds around the midsection, you must do these three important things: reduce stress levels, eat a diet high in fibre (as well as leafy greens, protein and healthy fats) and include high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts in your daily routine.

So what can you do today to start eliminating stress in your life so that you can start shedding fat?

five tips to de-stress and begin your journey to a healthier and happier life:

1. Practice meditation

Practicing meditation on a regular basis can not only reduce stress, but also boost your mood.

2. Exercise daily

Exercising daily significantly boosts endorphins in the brain, reducing stress and creating a sense of wellbeing. It also raises your metabolism, the engine that burns calories, for hours afterwards.

3. Keep a journal

Writing down thoughts, emotions, goals and what you are grateful for can help put into perspective what it is you are actually stressed about. This will allow you to focus on what is good in your life and where you want to be for the future—all creating a more positive attitude and sense of happiness.

4. Re-evaluate your circle

Are you surrounding yourself with the right people? If you want to feel positive then you need to be around others who lift you up. Find a friend who shares similar interests like doing yoga or running. Having a workout partner will motivate you to stick to your goal.

5. Un-plug

Establish a routine of limiting screen time and taking time for the simple things that warm your soul. This includes reading a book or playing a board game with loved ones.

More Inspiration: On the subject of fat, here’s a great article on how to get over body shame!

Author: Andrea Saliba is a certified holistic nutritionist, health coach and group fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. She offers nutrition plans to gain energy, strength and confidence. Her approach is to inspire people to make healthier food choices while educating her clients on the importance of the mind-body connection. Andrea is a regular contributor to Optimyz Magazine.

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