Tag Archives: stress

How stress turned me into a fat storing machine

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It was mid 2015 and I’d just left my corporate career of 13 years, having decided to start working for myself as a Nutritional Therapist. The thing is I didn’t really have a plan but I just knew I HAD to get out of my City office job and start creating a new life for myself, having spent 5 years training to qualify.

I didn’t have any savings, just one more months salary to come, then that was it until I started making an income self employed – something I didn’t have a clue about back then!

Some of my friends didn’t really understand and some of them still don’t, but I knew this was something I HAD to do and if I waited until I had a load of savings behind me first I’d be waiting a LONG time, plus I knew that NOT having a safety net would make me more determined and driven (which it totally did).

During the first 9 months of working for myself and trying to figure things out, making mistakes, dusting myself off, trying again, over and over, I became VERY stressed and lost a lot of sleep. As a result I gained a stone in weight over the course of those 9 months. My nutrition had stayed the same during that time and was pretty much on point, yet still the weight just kept creeping on.

I wasn’t sleeping properly at all for those 9 months, I’d toss and turn until 3am most nights and then have broken sleep until 7am when I’d get up.

The stress was affecting my sleep and my sleep was affecting my stress – it was a vicious cycle, and this changed how my body was running metabolically and put me into fat storing mode.

The high stress meant I had more of the hormone cortisol in my body, which can lead to things like fat gain, sex hormone imbalances (causing hormonal symptoms and more weight gain)

Stress was also creating inflammation in my body, which turned into chronic, low-grade inflammation. This chronic low-grade inflammation was having a negative impact on my hormones, especially the hormones that regulate blood sugar levels; insulin, and cortisol.

I was basically a fat storing machine with muscle aches and pains, digestive issues, and hormonal symptoms.

Apart from my nutrition still being very good I wasn’t doing anything else at all to look after myself. I was stressing and worrying from the moment I woke up in the morning, and even in my sleep because I would usually wake up grinding my teeth. I wasn’t taking ANY time out at all, I felt guilty if I went to the gym or to a yoga class, or if I spent the evening watching TV or reading a book or God forbid having any fun! I made zero time for the gym or any sort of movement including walking, and I sat in front of my computer for hours on end each day pushing and trying to make things happen for my new business. I was seeing a bunch of clients at a health club until 9pm a few nights a week then staying up late to write their programmes.

I pushed and pushed and pushed, and after 12 months like this, I was a stone heavier, and I know that my symptoms and weight gain would have been a whole lot worse if it hadn’t been for my good nutrition.

I knew things had to change – and it down to me to make those changes.

I signed up to an intro offer at a local yoga studio and did a yoga class everyday for the next 10 days, more the restorative type classes rather than strong fast ones, as I knew my body didn’t need any more stress put on it at this point.

I decided that at this point going back to the gym wasn’t going to be helpful as I needed to do things that reduced the stress load on my body and right now anything other than walking and yoga was just going to add more stress. 

After a beautiful run of yoga classes over a few weeks I started to fall asleep a little easier, I felt more ‘grounded’; a term I had always heard but never truly understood until then, basically I was feeling more calm, and more mentally and emotionally stable, and now operating from a far more powerful place.

I started to allow myself the time out that I should have always allowed from the start. Yes I was worried about making enough money each month to pay the bills, the rent and allow me to live, but working 16 hours a day and worrying all night wouldn’t help or make things happen quicker.

I started reading fiction books to help me switch off from my work and anxieties about money, I started to actually listen to Mark when he was talking to me, took myself out for walks in nature (my local green common), did lots of yoga, meditated as many mornings as I could (I did 5-10 minutes), and as I started to feel a bit stronger I added in 2 structured heavy weight lifting sessions per week, but NO cardio or ‘HIIT’ because that would just stress my body again and get me storing fat not burning it.

I’ve lost the weight now but its was SLOOOOOOWWWW, and it was never going to be quick. 

My body did nothing wrong, it simply responded to its environment – and that’s all our bodies ever do – they respond to their environment. If your environment is one of high stress, poor sleep, and zero down time then eventually it will start to respond – very negatively. 

Same way if your environment is one of calorie restriction diets and a tonne of cardio it will eventually respond by slowing itself (your metabolism) down in a bid to help you preserve as much energy as possible.

I’m glad this happened to me because it only equips me EVEN more for the work I do everyday. I help women find fat loss that lasts, get really healthy, and really happy. 

If you’re ready to learn how best to serve your body so that you CAN lose weight AND KEEP IT OFF for good, AND know how to navigate yourself through life’s twists and turns without them being detrimental then the next round of The Forever Plan is for you. Enrolment is open now and we kick off on Monday 3rd Sept for 12 weeks of unwavering support, education and transformation. Send me an email at francesca@flnutrition.co.uk if you’d like to know more and reserve your place.

To find out more about how my coaching programme (whether the group or one on one) can help you, please complete the application questions below to book a complimentary breakthrough call with me where we can speak about working with me in more detail. I can’t wait to speak with you!

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How to deal with stress so it doesn’t halt your progress

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Stress really does have a lot to answer for. Whilst we all need a certain level of stress in our lives, its when it becomes to much and chronic we can run into problems.

I used to suffer massively with the effects of stress both mentally and physically. My entire body would feel it and I’d go for all sorts of body work treatments (which were amazing) to help it but at the end of the day it was the stress I had plus my thoughts and feelings towards it that was causing the pain. The treatments helped to dampen it down but it was only when I sorted my head out and learned how to manage the stress that I truly overcame it. Today, when I can feel stress building up from time to time I know exactly what I need to do and I’ve become so used to managing it better that I don’t need to remind myself more than once to start taking action. For me its journaling/writing my thoughts and feelings and flipping them on their negative head, upping the yoga and reducing intense gym sessions, no TV at night – baths and books instead and early to bed.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed with life and stress is getting the better of us we can tend to just do our best to get by rather than thrive in any sort of way. Our thoughts and feelings start to tend towards negativity as well.

We might say, think or feel things like:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m not slim enough
  • I’m not fit enough
  • I don’t have enough time/there isn’t enough time
  • I don’t have the confidence/I can’t go to the gym, go for a run, do any exercise, ask for help at home/reach out to someone for help
  • I don’t have enough money/I’m broke
  • Etc. etc….

The thing is, our thoughts become things. If you say or think it then IT IS.

This is a concept I’ve really only just taken on board myself and I’m starting to get comfortable with.

If you say you are broke then you are broke, if you say you aren’t slim enough or you look horrible then you are and you do, if you say things aren’t going to go well then they won’t.

When we focus on the negative, or the lacking, then all if our energy goes to those thoughts and feelings and there is no room for it to go elsewhere and manifest anything positive. Our energy will get stuck in this place of negativity and scarcity.

We’re then switched onto a continuous cycle of self-loathing and sabotage.

I’ve been in this place, for years and years in fact, and its only recently in the last year or so that I’ve started to change my ways and I now think say and feel from a place of abundance instead. Now it’s not always that easy. I get days when I just feel AWFUL, and I have to try so very hard to stay up, to stay positive, to love myself, and to NOT think and feel from a place of lacking.

But imagine if:

  • You loved yourself, every inch of your being both inside and out
  • You were grateful for everything that already IS and everything you already have
  • You appreciated everything about your life even the stuff that isn’t quite as you’d ideally like it yet
  • You felt your life was so abundant and full

Imagine where your focus would go if you felt/thought/said as per the above?

Imagine what sort of choices you’d make and how you’d spend your time?

Imagine how you would show up for the people and things in your life?

When we feel grateful for what we have and are, rather than sorry for ourselves and hard done by, we make better decisions and enjoy day to day life a thousand times more, trust me.

This applies to your life on all levels but also to weight loss, if that’s something you’re trying to achieve.

Yes, to lose weight successfully you need the right information and advice, personalized for you, but you also need:

  1. To manage the stress in your life so that you’re actually in a place where you CAN implement changes and new habits, if you’re too busy to do this then you need to look at what of the things that are keeping you busy that you can toss to the side to make way for implementation and success once and for all.
  2. To stop focusing on what we don’t have or what we are not, and instead think, feel and speak from a place of abundance and gratitude for all that we are and all that we have. Our thoughts become things and thinking from a place of scarcity simply instills and perpetuates unhappiness, sucking of energy, negative energy and self sabotage.

Can you start to change the way you think feel and speak about things, your life and yourself? Trying to implement changes and new habits will be a LOT harder until you do. So I hope you can take this on board and start speaking and thinking differently about some of those negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs you have. Flip them on their head, keep repeating it until you believe it, and then keep repeating it some more 😉

If you want help with any of this stuff and think a complimentary call with me would help you get clearer on where you need to go (with NO obligation to work with me AT ALL), then click here to book yourself in for one at a time that suits you, or just reply to this email to let me know you’d like to speak.

With love

Francesca

10 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

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Most of my clients come to me when feel like they’ve exhausted a lot of different avenues for finding weight loss only to be unsuccessful at either getting results and/or sustaining them. I like to think of myself as their health detective who is there to try and figure out what is the underlying reason/cause of their weight gain and their trouble losing weight. This is when it is not as simple as eat less and exercise more (if it ever is that simple?!)

Time and time again you’ve been told that to lose weight you must count your calories in My Fitness Pal and make sure you burn more than you take in and if this doesn’t work then there’s something wrong with you or you’re sneaking in more food without noting it down or not doing enough exercise. It breaks my heart when I hear people recommending this simplistic and in some way ignorant concept. I was standing in the queue in Starbucks the other day and two girls behind were choosing some lunch based on which one had the lowest number of calories – there was no mention of the ingredients i.e. did it have adequate protein, any healthy fats, any veg, was it lower on carbs, etc. The calorie thing really has been engrained into us.

In this blog we’re going to look at 10 reasons why you might not be losing weight, and I hope this helps to give you a better insight into the world of weight loss and show you that calorie counting is actually quite irrelevant. I am yet to meet one female weight loss client who needs to reduce her calories, so far they have all needed to INCREASE their food intake in order to see results.

Once you’ve read through these points you should also be able to see that quick fix one size fits all diet plans just cant cut it when it comes to long term sustainable weight (fat) loss – simply because they overlook all of these points. For some people it may be as simple as exercising more and eating more sensibly. But for most if not all of the women I see it’s just not that simple.

SO HERE ARE 10 POSSIBLE REASONS! 

1) YOUR HORMONES MIGHT BE OUT OF WHACK

We have some truly wonderful hormones at play: Insulin, Glucagon, Cortisol, Ghrelin, Leptin, Oestrogen, Testosterone, Progesterone. Balanced hormones = balanced and happy life! When your hormones are in harmony you feel amazing, you look amazing, you’re energised, in control of your moods and cravings and ready to take on the world! However when they’re out of whack you feel exhausted, your moods can be out of control, and you gain weight and have trouble losing it.

Glucagon and insulin are your fat burning and fat storing hormones. Cortisol regulates your “fight or flight” response and is in charge of deciding whether your body should use/burn or store fat.

Leptin and Ghrelin play a big role in regulating your appetite.

Oestrogen and Testosterone are our sex hormones, oestrogen is thought of as being the female sex hormone whilst the big T is generally the male sex hormone, although both men and women have levels of both. Oestrogen dominance can happen in both men and women. Testosterone is often thought of as the big ‘manly’ hormone but it’s actually needed in women also, just in a different amount. We need to have the right hormonal balance for all our systems to be working properly. Getting stress under control is HUGE when it comes to hormonal balance, amongst other food and lifestyle related factors and I recommend you work with a qualified health practitioner (perhaps me ;-)) to see how you could ensure your hormones are in optimal balance and not holding you back from losing weight.

 

2) YOUR GUT HEALTH MIGHT BE SUFFERING

There’s definitely a misconception that gut health is fine as long as you don’t need to run to the loo urgently, or have terrible gas or bloating. There’s much more to gut health than that! I hear people say they have a great functioning digestive system and then in the next sentence they’ll tell me they have a bowel movement every few days but apart from that it’s fine. This isn’t fine! So much is linked to the health of your gut – your mood, your cravings, your sleep, and of course your ability to lose weight and improve your body composition. Hippocrates once said over 2000 years ago that “all disease begins in the gut,” and it’s truer today than ever. This is so often overlooked when it comes to evaluating your health and nutrition. Digestion, absorption and elimination, and even the production of brain chemicals all takes place in the gut. So if these steps aren’t able to happen because your gut isn’t functioning how it should then you can imagine the array of health issues that could arise. We can eat all of the right foods, but if we aren’t digesting them properly, we’re not going to see results! Eating healthy food is only half of the nutrition story; the other, and most important half is being in the ideal state to digest the food.

The truth is that most people have impaired gut health unless they’ve done some work to improve it. This is due to our stressful and hectic lifestyles, use of antibiotics, lack of and poor quality sleep, poor quality supplements and following a standard Western diet that’s high in sugar, refined carbs, nutrient-void convenience and processed foods. A lot of my clients see improvements in their digestion and significantly reduced cravings for sugar and carbohydrates within days of starting a gut health programme, not to mention…WEIGHT LOSS!

Looking after your digestion needs to be an ongoing thing, and not taken for granted, as it’s easy to let things slip and before you know it you’ve started letting in all those inflammatory foods again and on a regular basis. Gut health mustn’t be taken for granted. A good general starting point is to use a high quality probiotic, L-glutamine powder and fish oil supplement.

 

3) YOUR THYROID GLAND MAY BE STRUGGLING

Your thyroid gland is the governor of your metabolism. For such a tiny little gland it plays a mighty role. It’s your body’s thermostat, it controls the metabolic functions in your body and so for everything to be ticking over nicely we need an optimal functioning thyroid. Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is common. I see a lot of women with low thyroid function but they didn’t even know it because their GP tested it for them and said all their levels were ‘within range’ and so all should be well. Unfortunately though these ranges are just based on a statistical average, which is created using people who go to the doctor, not healthy people. We want optimal health not just borderline. For example your GP may tell you your thyroid is fine when your results are JUST within the ‘normal range’. To a functional medicine practitioner though this is not ok and we do not use conventional reference ranges. Being just outside of a ‘normal range’ that isn’t even applicable to a healthy person is not my idea of a well functioning thyroid gland. You will likely have all the symptoms of an underactive thyroid and the health of your thyroid DOES need to be addressed, not necessarily with thyroid medication but through addressing your diet and lifestyle.

The cause of hypothyroidism can be due to things like following a low-fat diet, stress and adrenal health issues, and decreased sodium recommendations (where many people get their iodine). Whatever the cause is, your thyroid regulates metabolism, so getting it checked (preferably privately) and nourished back to health will do wonders both for your energy and weight loss efforts.

 

4) THERE MAY BE SOME (OR A LOT OF) INFLAMMATION IN YOUR BODY

Inflammation can be the root cause of weight gain and is certainly the root cause of most chronic diseases. But what causes inflammation? Its things like stress (this is a big one), a diet high in sugar and refined carbs, artificial sweeteners, over-exercising, lack of sleep, and other things. A little bit of inflammation here and there is fine, for example, after we cut ourselves or when we have the flu – this is the body’s way of fighting an infection and this is a good thing. But it’s chronic inflammation that causes problems for us. Chronic inflammation is low grade and systemic (all over the body), and it’s silently damaging our tissues and increasing our risk of disease, and contributing to all sorts of health issues. Your body sees this inflammation as a fire and all it wants to do is put the fire out, and its trying to do this all the time behind the scenes (and little do we know!). Every person’s symptoms of inflammation may be different but just know that whilst there is inflammation in the body your body will prioritise fighting the fire over anything else, including weight loss – no matter how hard you’re trying. So if you’re struggling with lack of energy, trouble losing weight, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances it’s going to be nearly impossible for your body to fix these without reducing the inflammation first. Whether we want to lose weight, or simply be healthier and reduce our risk of disease, we need to first get a handle on the chronic inflammation.

 

5) YOU’RE TOO STRESSED!

Today’s lifestyles are pretty demanding, and unless we’re all “so busy” we feel like we’re not good enough almost. It’s a sad stat of affairs! Today we put our bodies through more stress than they were meant for. Our ‘fight or flight’ stress response was designed to help us deal with physical and life threatening situations that occurred few and far between. But today we’re facing stressful situations everyday and for some people its all day long. The types of stress we face today are non-physical, and chronic, such as being late for work, disagreements with loved ones, being stuck in traffic, worrying about a work deadline, worrying in general, over-exercising, calorie restriction, etc. When the brain perceives any type of stress it instructs our adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and then cortisol. Cortisol is essentially a fat storing hormone and because much of today’s stressors are not the physical kind, i.e. we don’t need extra energy to run away from saber-toothed tigers, our bodies will store the extra energy we are given as fat. So you can imagine the impact this will have on our weight over time, day in day out.

When we start to see excess fat accumulating around our mid sections, hips and thighs, we start looking for the latest fad diet in a bid to slim down. But if stress is your issue then all that will do it exacerbate the fat gain even more.

A lot of people are oblivious to the negative effects of stress and the impact it can have on our health and weight. Simply put, stress can sabotage all the hard work and effort we put in to staying or getting healthy and or losing weight. Stress has a direct impact on how we digest food, it depletes our body of important nutrients, it reduces our immune function, affects our mood, gives us ‘foggy brain’ and lack of clarity because it interferes with the production of our feel-good brain chemicals that are made in our gut. Stress lays the foundations for inflammation, which we’ve already talked about above.

A lot of us need to get out of the mindset that if we’re not rushing around and mad busy we’re not doing enough. That’s just not the truth. Quality over quantity, that’s what matters. Be the best that you can be for the things you need to do but NOT at the cost of your health. We tend to rush from one thing to the next without giving ourselves time to just sit and process things, focus, and then prepare for the next thing. If we just gave ourselves a few minutes to transition when we get home from work, or on our way home. Maybe take a detour through a pretty open space and listen to your favourite music. Do 3-5 minutes of journaling each day to write down the things you’re grateful for and also write down anything that’s bothering you or decisions you’re having trouble making, this can be so effective and such a small thing. Sit quietly from time to time, read good books, go for walks, have baths, listen to inspiring and uplifting podcasts; all these small things can pack a powerful punch for fighting stress.

 

6) YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING WELL OR ENOUGH

Again going back to what I said above about thinking it’s a good thing to be ‘so busy’, a lot of us have the same mindset around sleep. I hear people almost in competition with each other about how many hours sleep they survive on each night. We really do need to look after our z’s and make it a priority to get 7-9 hours each night. I myself can’t manage 9 every night but 7 is my absolute minimum. Sleep shouldn’t be seen as a luxury. Inadequate sleep is now becoming the norm due to our busy and demanding schedules.

You can be eating all the right foods at the right times and exercising well, but if you’re sleep is lacking then it can all be in vain. A lot of my clients will say they get up at 5am after 5 hours of sleep to get to the gym before week and they believe this is the right thing to do. But once I explain the importance of sleep for our waistlines they soon realise its not the way to go, and they make the time to put exercise into their lunch hours or ensure they get to bed much earlier on the days they want to exercise in the morning. This messes up your hormonal balance which is critical for weight loss, and since we now know that weight loss isn’t all about burning calories, it’s counterproductive to lose sleep just so you can get to the gym or pound the pavements before work.

All systems need to be working properly for your body to lose weight, if one system is off, fat burning will be put on hold, and sleep is one of these systems. It’s not just about being moody or feeling tired and fatigued, sleep controls those hormones I mentioned above that control your appetite and your metabolism, and also play a key role in immune health, which needs to be optimal for overall health AND weight loss.

 

7) YOU MAY HAVE FOOD SENSITIVITIES

Food sensitivities are usually more rife when gut health isn’t optimal, so in some cases its not actually the food as such that’s the problem but more an indication that the gut isn’t strong enough. But in some cases it is indeed a true intolerance, for example dairy could be at the root of a person’s struggle to lose weight or their skin issue for example. Through the process of elimination you could find that you have a food sensitivity that was standing in the way of you losing weight so its definitely worth doing. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy, soy, nuts and eggs (I’d be devastated if eggs were a problem!).

Remember, a food ‘allergy’ and ‘intolerance’ are 2 very different things and so you can be intolerant to a food without having any allergic symptoms. Your symptoms could manifest as anything from bloating, cramps, spots, eczema, weight gain, to depression. If you are eating foods you are sensitive to, an inflammatory reaction takes place in your body and you WILL have trouble losing weight, because your body will be spending its time fighting the inflammatory fires and healing, rather than burning fat. The best way to find out if you have a food sensitivity is to completely eliminate the suspected food for 4-6 weeks, and pay attention to how your body reacts both when you remove this food from your daily diet, and if/when you add it back in (allow up to 72 hours for symptoms to manifest once you re-introduce the food).

 

8) YOU MIGHT NEED TO REIGN IN THE ALCOHOL

Now, I love to have a glass of red wine with a meal here and there and share a bottle (or a few cocktails) with friends from time to time, but the truth is if you’re struggling to lose your excess weight and you haven’t cut down on your alcohol intake then this could be something that’s holding you back.

Alcohol affects your blood sugar levels significantly. Your blood sugar levels need to be kept stable for weight loss to happen. For some people their blood sugar takes a sharp drip as soon as they take a sip of their tipple whilst for other people it will spike high and then drop very low immediately afterwards. Either way, fat storage will be happening in your body. Alcohol also interferes with our ability to sleep well. You might think that you sleep better after a few glasses of wine but in actual fact your liver is struggling through the night and your sleep is disrupted, whether you realize it or not, and we know how important sleep is for weight loss too (see above). The likelihood is that you’ll wake up and you won’t feel rested, and that’s because your blood sugar probably crashed in the night and your liver was chugging away. The liver does some amazing work for us and one of those jobs is to metabolise our fat stores and move them out of our body but if its too busy processing alcohol then that fat burning takes a back seat.

So you now know the importance of reducing or even eliminating alcohol if you’re trying to lose weight and so now it’s up to you. Just know that if you do keep alcohol in the weight loss process will be a lot slower. My advice would be that you could include one glass of wine once or twice per week, WITH a meal that includes protein and not BEFORE the meal, and stop there.

 

9) YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS MIGHT BE LOW

The importance of vitamin D has been massively underestimated over the years, but more and more studies are coming out of late to put vitamin D up there with some other critical nutrients for health.me Vitamin D is really important for the function of our metabolism, as well as our mood health, immune function, bone health and a lot more.

If your vitamin D level is below the optimal range (which I consider to be 75-150 nmol/litre or 30-60 ng/ml) you’re more likely to have a slower metabolism. Most people I see have very low vitamin D levels even though their GP may have said the results are fine. So its important to get your levels checked and if they are well below these ranges then supplement daily with a good quality vitamin D3 product, most people in the UK could benefit from supplementing with at least 4,000 IU of Vitamin D3 every day. Yes you can get some vitamin D from exposing uncovered skin to the sun, and there are some foods that contain (small amounts of) vitamin D (mostly processed fortified ones, wild caught salmon and dairy products), but the amounts are not enough to keep your stores of vitamin D at optimum levels all year round unfortunately.

 

10) YOU MIGHT BE HAVING TOO MANY ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

It’s easy to think that calorie free equals guilt free. But this way of thinking goes hand in hand with the belief that it’s all about calories in v’s calories out. It’s an old fashioned and detrimental way of thinking. I speak to a lot of women that believe they’re doing great because they use artificial sweeteners in their tea and drink ‘diet’ drinks instead of having the real thing. It’s just not the case.

Artificial sweeteners have been linked with weight gain in research. They can confuse your metabolism, which will then make it slow down. This confusion comes from their ability to raise your blood sugar (yes, even though there is no actual sugar) because the brain perceives the sweet taste and may alert insulin to be released the same way as if you had actual sugar, and as we know from the above, insulin stores fat. Also, artificial sweeteners negatively impact our gut health by killing the good bacteria we have. I’ve mentioned the importance of looking after our gut health for overall health and weight loss; so artificial sweeteners are definitely not something we want to be having.

So in a nutshell, artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain, even though they’re calorie free. They raise our blood sugar level and negatively affect our gut health. They can perpetuate the cycle of wanting more and more sugar as they just replace the same sweetness we were getting from actual sugar, this doesn’t help to train our taste buds away from sweet stuff.

Book a Weight Loss Strategy Call with me today and we can talk about your key struggles and how you can move forward once and for all. Click here to book yourself in. 

Is Stress wreaking havoc on your weight, energy, hormones and digestion?

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Our body really is quite remarkable, we have a built in system within our nervous system that helps us to deal with stressful situations, acting as a protective support system.

Let me first explain how this system works and when it gets kicked into action.

Our physical response to stress is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and it’s our primitive survival mechanism that starts in our brain and quickly moves into our entire hormonal system, via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis, and basically means a message gets transferred from our brain to our adrenal glands). Our brain is hard wired to protect us, and so it responds to anything that it thinks may be causing us stress, danger or upset. BUT, if this response happens too often and for the wrong reasons it can send us on a stress-hormone rollercoaster ride.

Let me explain…

The HPA axis is very clever and very effective at providing us with the energy we need, either to run or to stick around and fight (hence ‘fight or flight’).

Here’s what happens once the brain perceives a threat or upset:

  • The adrenal glands release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
  • Plenty of sugar is pumped into the bloodstream, quickly. Your body tries very hard to make sure you have enough by breaking down fat and muscle for extra sugar, incase it’s needed.
  • Insulin (a blood sugar regulating hormone sent out by the pancreas) is pumped out into the blood to move the sugar from the blood into the body’s cells so it can be used as energy for your fight or flight.
  • Your blood vessels tighten up which raises your blood pressure.
  • Energy is directed away from bodily functions that don’t need energy in times of danger such as the digestive system and reproductive system; this affects the balance of your gut and your hormones.

Then when the ‘danger’ is over, your body is designed to quickly get back to normal without any lasting damage. The extra blood sugar gets swept away into the cells by insulin, your blood vessels relax putting blood pressure back to normal, blood flow returns to your gut and the reproductive hormonal system goes back to normal.

This built-in stress response helps us in times of real perceived danger such as being faced by a tiger when out hunting for food in the hunter-gatherer days, or if faced by a burglar in our home who is threatening our life. The problem is that the stresses and perceived threats we experience in today’s modern world are not usually life threatening, and don’t require us to fight or flight, AND they can occur quite often, even daily, here are some examples:

  • A permanently (or more often than not) stressful work environment
  • A stressful home life or stressful relationship
  • Financial worries about getting bills paid or tax bill submitted in time etc.
  • Having a million things to do and feeling like you have no time to do them
  • Illness either in yourself or a loved one
  • Getting stuck in traffic on your way to a meeting or to collect the kids from school
  • Getting stuck on the tube on your way to work and just generally being stressed about being late, and rushing around

All these daily real life stressors activate the HPA axis described above, and the response is magnified if you’ve suffered previous traumas in your life whether as a child or an adult, such as abuse of any sort, severe financial problems, bereavement of a close loved one, and any other trauma.

The problem occurs when this HPA axis becomes chronically activated (activated all the time). This can be the case for so many people today, for example if you start your day running late, you run for the train, your train is packed and people are pushing, you get to work just in the nick of time, you have a stressful work environment, you have a disagreement with a colleague, you have to rush home from work to pick up your child but your train is late, you cant sleep because you have so many things on your to do list – day in day out – this person is chronically stressed and is chronically activating their HPA axis. This puts the body into a state of ongoing survival mode and can have a big impact on our health, for example:

  • Excess weight, especially around the middle, with weight loss being very difficult or not happening at all
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night, waking in the night, or waking up tired and un-refreshed after a full nights sleep
  • Weakened immunity with frequent colds
  • Chronic exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, lack of emotional and mental resilience
  • Anxiety, irritability, feeling tired but wired, feelings of depression
  • Cravings for sugar or caffeine or both
  • Hormonal issues such as PCOS, infertility, fibroids, PMS etc.
  • Problems with blood sugar regulation
  • Insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Lack of concentration, memory and cognitive function issues
  • Underactive thyroid

The constant release of cortisol sending large amounts of sugar into the blood stream causes us to gain weight because the excess sugar is stored as fat by insulin, PLUS our energy levels spike up then down leaving us exhausted by the afternoon!

Even stimulants like coffee can activate the HPA axis. Stimulants work by stimulating our nervous system to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, activating the HPA axis in the same way that a physical stressor does.

Stress can deplete our bodies of vital nutrients

Whenever adrenaline is released into the body it uses our stores of magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins, we need all these nutrients to produce energy, so stressors and coffee can leave us feeling drained.

So, stress upsets our digestion, depletes our body of nutrients, reduces our immune function, affects our mood, alters our ability to think clearly because it interferes with the production of our feel-good brain chemicals which are made in our gut, and it sets the stage for inflammation which is at the root of nearly all chronic diseases, as well as weight gain. So its important to manage our stress by including daily stress relievers like yoga, meditation, deep belly breathing, doing things we love and make us laugh, reading a good book even if just a few pages, having a bath, whatever it is that makes your happy, DO THAT!

Find a yoga, meditation and pilates class, these truly are wonder-exercises as they encourage us to focus on our breath which in turn sends a signal to our para-sympathetic nervous system that all is well and that we are calm and ok. The para-sympathetic nervous system is the section of the nervous system that doesn’t activate the HPA axis whereas the sympathetic nervous system DOES activate the hpa AXIS. We want to increase things in our life that activate the para-sympathtic, that way we can remain calm and in balance. You can search on YouTube for videos showing you how to breathe deeply for calm and relaxation and then implement this into your daily life, even stealing a few minutes in the toilet cubicle at work just to calm your body! Short meditation and yoga videos are also on YouTube, or find a class near you, and enjoy!

Simply taking 5 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the nose, counting to 4 both in and out can tell the body you are not under threat and it doesn’t need to activate the HPA axis.

I hope this post has been helpful and will inspire you to make some small changes that can make a BIG impact.

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