The sneaky stress factor that's making us fat - Juice Daily
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The sneaky stress factor that’s making us fat By Laura Collins and Tori Clapham

You’re eating ridiculously well and exercising like a Hollywood starlet before awards night, yet you’re still struggling to shift the kilos. If this sounds a little too familiar for your liking, you may want to check in with your mental health.

Your physical wellbeing is inherently linked to your mental wellbeing. Even the most calculated diet and exercise routine can leave you falling short of your goals if your stress levels are raging. Enter adrenaline and cortisol; the stress hormones which can wreak havoc on your body if left unchecked.

Adrenal glands

Your adrenals are small glands that sit atop your kidneys and are vital for survival. They secrete many hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol – the two hormones which are responsible for controlling the stress response. Everything about us as a species is geared for survival and your adrenals have played a huge part in ancient times in keeping us alive.


Adrenaline is secreted when you are in danger. It’s the hormone you produce when you get a shock or you’re frightened. It signals to your body when you need to run or fight (the fight/ flight response). It redirects the blood supply away from your digestive organs and towards your periphery limbs and muscles, dilates your blood vessels for more efficient circulation, and increases your heart rate. Adrenaline also demands access to the most efficient fuel in our body – glucose. As a result, it signals to your liver and muscles to release their glycogen reserves (stored glucose) and dump the glucose into your bloodstream for rapid use.

The problem with Adrenaline today

Adrenaline can cause weight gain. Sugar is stored as fat if it is not used up or stored back in the liver or muscles as glycogen. Additionally, you cannot burn fat if your insulin levels are high, so you can see how this is a never ending cycle if you are constantly in an adrenaline fueled state.

The problem is that nine out of ten stressful situations we encounter today do not require a fight or flight response. Unlike previous eras, where we may have been threatened by a large predator. Today, we are more likely to be sitting at our desk feeling overwhelmed by the amount of unanswered emails or projects piling up.

Cortisol and long term stress

If you’re in a state of stress for a long time, your body will start to secrete additional cortisol. This long-term stress hormone was historically produced in times of famine. In the developed world, we have an abundance of food and this is not a problem for most people. However, the increased production of cortisol signals to your body that food is scarce, so it must slow down its metabolism to increase fat stores for prolonged energy – everything about us is geared for survival.

This problem gets worse when we see ourselves gaining weight. Many people begin to restrict calories, which only reaffirms to our bodies that food supply is scarce. This causes the cortisol to stay high, and the fat storage will keep being up regulated until we address the underlying cortisol issue. This unrelenting cycle may continue, no matter how much exercise you do or how little or well you eat.

So now that we’re aware of the damage they can cause, what can be done to stop these vicious cycles?

Deep breathing
Do 20 breaths a day. This signals to your body that you are safe and takes you out of that fight or flight mode.

Check out headspace or any other meditation apps to get you started.

Get enough sleep. If you have little ones this can be hard, so just do your best.

Do what’s right for your body. Slow exercises will be better for some than high intensity. Try to incorporate a slow exercise such as yin/restorative yoga or tai chi into your weekly regime.

Me time
Put yourself first and do something that makes you happy every day.

Your job is not the be all and end all. If you go home and finish off your work the next day, no one is going to die.

Fresh air
Go outside and enjoy nature for at least five to ten minutes everyday.

Avoid trigger foods and beverages, such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar.

Talk about what’s going on with your loved ones. Often talking about it can make you feel relieved and alleviate the stress.

The bottom line is that our physical health is very much a reflection of our mental health, and in some ways, we’re just beginning to skim the surface of how our mental wellbeing affects our physical self.

While working out and eating well are absolutely paramount to feeling happy and looking good, we also need to ensure we’re paying attention to our stress levels and honouring the value of tranquility and restfulness in our lives.

  • Check Bodypass for a variety of fitness classes in your area. 

Qualified nutritionist and health expert Laura Collins, and Peaches founder Tori Clapham, are holding a Stress Management and Meditation workshop to help you understand the impact of stress on your physical wellbeing and how you can manage it. Click here for more details.

Laura Collins

About the person who wrote this

Laura Collins

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Laura is a fully qualified nutritionist with over 10 years experience in the health and wellness industry. She is extremely passionate about educating people to live their best lives physically, mentally and emotionally as all three aspects are so closely interlinked. Laura has practiced as a clinical nutritionist specialising in weight loss, hormonal balancing, chronic disease management and stress reduction.

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