Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stressed Out = High Insulin + More Fat

First of all, I want to share with you my major milestone.  On 8/15/12 I hit the 50 lb loss mark!!!  woohoo for me!!!

In addition to having weight issues, I also suffer from mental illness:  bipolar disorder, schizzo-affective disorder and severe and chronic anxiety.  I used to see a therapist every week, and it was at that time that my weight was really getting out of control.  She used to tell me that the more stress you have in your life, the more cortisol your body releases.  I didn't really know what cortisol was or how it worked; all I knew was that she said it lends to my weight gain, particularly around the middle.  It has taken me a while, but I am beginning to bring my stress levels down more frequently.

What is cortisol?  Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands.  Its function is supposed to be maintenance of blood pressure and it also has to do with the delivery of energy to the body.  Cortisol tends to have a time clock, and high stress can throw off that clock.  In normal people it is highest in the morning and lowest at night.  But when that gets all flip-flopped around it can wreak havoc on your fat cells.  I'll explain it in layman's terms because honestly I don't understand all the big scientific words so much.

Cortisol has to do with our body's ancient "fight or flight" mechanism.  When a person is under high stress, for example a car accident, your body produces adrenalin.  Adrenalin increases awareness and brings on a quick higher energy level, it also helps your fat cells to release energy and your digestive system is temporarily stopped.  Then there's the second component to the "fight or flight", which is the cortisol.  This is required to bring your body back into balance after the stressful situation has occurred.  How that affects the body is that after the adrenalin wears away, the cortisol sticks around for a while and gets the systems into gear again, mainly increasing the appetite so that we take in more carbohydrates and fats to replenish the energy we expended while in our time of stress.

This process works really well when we are in sudden danger, as it has for eons since the cavemen days of running from predators.  The problem is, our society is so often in a constant state of stress these days.  That means your cortisol levels remain high, which means your insulin remains high, which means excessive sugar that is then converted to fat and deposited most often around your mid section.  Having fat stored around your middle is particularly dangerous because that's the type of fat that lends itself to heart attacks and strokes.

Of course, the amount of cortisol in the system varies among individuals.  And this is a very basic intro lesson on how cortisol affects weight gain (and cardiovascular disease).  The question then becomes, "What can I do to lessen stress to try to keep my cortisol at a normal level?"  There are a million different techniques people can use to diminish their stress levels.  Here are a few ideas:

1.  Keeping yourself mindful and in the present moment through meditation.  Anything that can help your mind to stop spinning in a million different directions and keep focused on one thing for a period of time is helpful.  Doing handwork like knitting or painting are two examples.  Others find that light exercise such as walking will help their minds to relax and they can focus on just the walk and let everything else go.

2.  Taking deep, cleansing breaths.  Stressful situations leads to more shallow breathing.  You will want to slow down and deepen your breathing.  Take a long breath in, focusing on what it feels like as your chest expands.  Then let it out, feeling your body relax as you exhale.  Repeat this 10 times or so and see if you don't feel more relaxed.

3.  Listen to relaxing music, classical is recommended.  I read that listening to classical music for 30 minutes a day is like taking 10mg of Valium.  Try to get your heart rate to slow and match the rhythm of the music.

4.  Self-soothing.  This was one of my therapist's favorite things to recommend.  What feels good to you?  How about rubbing aromatic lotion into your hands and/or feet.  How about taking a nice warm shower.  Another good self-soothing technique is a massage.  The idea is to do something that comforts your body (not eating!) to help bring your mind and heart rate back into balance.

5.  Exercise.  Yoga is a good example.  Or maybe Zumba to help get that excess energy out.

6.  Take a nap.  Even if it's a 20 minute cat-nap, a little rest can go a long way to rejuvenate your mind and body.

There are so many things a person can do to de-stress.  Find a few ways that work for you, and practice them regularly.  That constant stress you are feeling may actually truly be contributing to your weight gain.

If I didn't get the Science exactly right, again, I am not a professional.  I do my best to understand and then relay the information.  If you'd like to learn more about Cortisol and weight gain, do a simple Google search and you will find a ton of information out there.  I hope this little introductory lesson has given you an "A-ha moment" in realizing why it is so important to keep your stress under control.  If you'd like to leave a comment or question, please...I love hearing from you.  Also, do you have another great way to help yourself relax?  Why don't you share that in the comments section.  The more we share, the more we help each other.  I can also be reached at

Be Well,

1 comment:

  1. Great post Lisa! Congratulations on hitting the 50lb mark! Amazing girl! I did not know if the connection between cortisol and weight. Very interesting. I am going to do some reading on it. No wonder why I gained so much weight when both my Mother and Father passed away. Keep up the great work. Hugs!!


I have deleted the email address I print at the bottom of every post because I was getting too much inappropriate spam. If you'd like to contact me, email me at:

j u s t h a p p y b e i n g m e (at) l i v e . c o m

Thank you!