We've all been trapped in high-stress moments when one of the stress-managing solutions we turn to is comfort food. That's where the ice cream and junk food binges come into play, throwing our nutrition – and fitness plan – off track.
But rather than berate yourself for what you think is lack of willpower, consider that something else might be in play that you're not aware of. Specifically, it's the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including weight gain.
So, before you reach for your favorite food crutch during periods of stress, consider the facts about cortisol, as well as ways to resist its powerful clutches.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is released by the brain during those fight-or-flight moments that we've all experienced. It also prompts the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream and the heart to pump harder.
While cortisol is important in times of excess stress, too much of it can result in reduced muscle mass and increased abdominal fat.
Cortisol And Your Waistline
Excess cortisol isn't just released during moments of daily stress – like stress in the workplace – but also by lack of sleep, too much caffeine and/or alcohol, and even skipping a meal. Moreover, studies have shown that high cortisol levels trigger stress eating, because the sugar released by elevated cortisol stays in the bloodstream.
Ways To Reduce Stress Eating
The good news is that we aren't powerless against the effects of elevated cortisol and the desire to reach for unhealthy foods in times of stress. Here are some methods of fighting back:
1. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Instead of reaching for inflammatory foods like those loaded with trans-fat, sugar, and refined or processed grains, anti-inflammatory foods like fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and beans and nuts are better options.
2. Do Something Different
Changing your habit cycle will re-direct your cravings over time. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea rather than reaching for a candy bar.
Research has shown that people who meditate had significantly lower cortisol levels than those who don't.
4. Go Outside
Just being in the great outdoors can help reduce stress levels.
5. Give Yourself Space
You don't always have to place the needs of something else (work, family, etc.) before your needs. It's okay to carve out time that's just for you and that helps you handle stress.
Having a personal trainer can help keep you accountable, both to yourself and your fitness and nutrition goals. Someone like Ralph Roberts of the Downtown Athletic Club in Amarillo can be a partner as you strive to reach your goals.
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