Our biology is cued to hold onto weight whenever it perceives you to be in danger. Now this makes sense when you think the biggest danger our ancestors had to face was lack of food (and the occasional mammoth). Back then, you needed body fat to protect you against the cold, as well as to tide you over for when food was scarce – the body literally evolved to respond to any physical or emotional stress by holding on to fat!
In the modern world, physical stressors like insufficient sleep, poor nutrition and missed meals or psychological stressors such as sick family members, pressing deadlines, challenging relationships, road rage, money worries or the intense demands of parenting are all perceived by the body as ‘danger’and therefore can be a major cause of weight gain, even if you are eating and exercising like all the beautiful people on Instagram.....
The mechanisms are such: when cortisol is released in stressful situations it encourages your body to hold on to every last bit of fat, no matter how little you eat or how much you exercise (in fact high impact exercise if you’re already exhausted and stressed can also raise cortisol). Excess stress compromises gut integrity and contributes to leaky gut which creates inflammation – also a major factor in fat retention.
A healthy gut is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight, however stress also alters the composition of your gut bacteria and destroys many of the healthy bacteria we need. Every time you unbalance your gut bacteria you weaken your digestive system, setting yourself up for leaky gut and you now know what that means!
The goal however is not to strive for a stress-free life as we can’t all suddenly leave work or our children (however tempted we are!) but we can figure out what kind of support your body needs to feel ‘safe’ rather than ‘stressed’. Eating well, sleeping well and taking the right exercise for you, all contribute to feeling safe. Stress reducing exercises such as mindfulness, meditation or just listening to music for 10 minutes lying down can have a huge impact on the parasympathetic nervous system and is a good way of combating the external stressors we have no control over.
Your body interprets less stress as “more confident about getting food” and “less likely to face physical challenges that require stored body fat” and when it feels safe, you are more likely to burn fat rather than storing it.