Stress has become an accepted part of our lives and as a result we may even start to minimise the effectthat it can have on the internal running of our body. If we look back to the role of the stress response, it was there to save our life in a time of threat. If a wild beast was chasing after us and threatening our loved ones, our body would increase the production of certain hormones that would give us super human strength to either fight or run away. The unfortunate thing is that in our modern world the majority of things that initiate our stress response are with us 24/7 – they increase these hormones but then we rarely have the moment of peace that comes after the threat when things feel resolved.
So in understanding the constant natureof our current stress,we can now go on to understand thedetrimental effect that those same ‘life-saving’ hormones can have on our bodies when they are around for too long. In regards to your waist line, cortisol is the main culprit!
Cortisol is a hormone produced from the adrenal glands in your body. It is your ‘survival’ hormone and its production is a priority as far as your body is concerned. Your body is so hard wired to produce cortisol that it will do so at the expense of other hormones – which is a good thing short term but will have undesirable results long-term.
When you have elevated cortisol you will be primed for energy conservation, which means a greater desire to consume food and a lowered ability for your body to use it. When cortisol is present your body particularity likes to increase fat storage in the abdominal region, resulting in a larger waist circumference. Interestingly, the more fat your body stores in the abdominal region, the less your brain detects stress – your growing waist line actually comforts your brain (but then eventually stresses you out more!).
Elevated cortisol has also been linked to Insulin Resistance, Autoimmune Disease, Osteoporosis, Sex Hormone Imbalances, Insomnia, and Accelerated Aging – which are all good reasons to get your cortisol lowered TODAY!
So you may be thinking – “yep, my cortisol could be affecting my body and stopping me from getting the body shape I desire” – well the good news is that you ARE able to do something about it and current research is showing us that the stress response is very much based on your perception of stress.
Changing your mind set and being able to put the feeling of stress into perspective is a great first step and there are various tools that I use to help you do this. But even today, at home or in the office, you have the power to engage in breathing! Deep Breathing Techniques are at your disposal and they have an immediate effect on lowering cortisol. The key is to make sure that the OUT breath is longer than the IN breath – the pattern I recommend is 4 seconds in, 2 second hold, 7 seconds out. Doing a few rounds of this technique whilst driving or going to the toilet can make a world of difference to your hormones instantly.
Exercise is an interesting one when it comes to elevated cortisol as exercise has the ability to elevate cortisol further and can actually work against your efforts to lose that stubborn fat. If you are punishing yourself regularly at the gym or running intensely and not seeing the results you would expect, then maybe you should consider a different form of movement that is gentler and more compassionate to your cortisol levels – bush walking, dance, yoga, walks on the beach may all be worth considering.
Other support that I have available at the clinic involves various therapeutic grade herbal and nutritional formulations – these are vital elements in supporting the stress response for individuals who are not able to engage in a complete life change and remove the stress completely – which in reality is many of us. If only we had the luxury of leaving all our stress behind and escaping our fast paced lives – then we might get the waistline we desire!
By Melissa Hohaia, Naturopath