Menopausal Weight and the Stress Connection
Here’s a crazy conundrum:
You start to notice that your already sagging body is suddenly ballooning out with some extra pounds. You get stressed out and worried about this. You’ve got to do something!
Maybe you decide to start a rigorous exercise program to burn it all off. And/or you start restricting your calorie intake even more.
But, weirdly that extra weight stubbornly holds on. Maybe you even gain a little more.
WTF is going on???
Most of us assume that gaining and losing weight is only about what and how much we eat and how much we exercise.
It turns out that’s only a small part of the picture… especially for those of us women ‘at a certain age’.
You probably know that the hormones are changing. You might even suspect that they’re involved in this mysterious and unwanted shift in your body composition. Most people don’t realize though that the ‘sex hormones’—estrogen and progesterone—are only a small part of the the issue.
A much bigger culprit is a hormone called cortisol – which is also known as the ‘stress hormone’.
And therein lies that conundrum.
When you get stressed, let’s say by worrying, over-exercising or undernourishing your body, then your body responds by manufacturing MORE cortisol which signals it to hold onto that midsection weight for dear life!
But the good news is that we usually DO have some control over our stress level, and thus our cortisol levels.
What exactly is cortisol?
It’s not all bad. This hormone—which is manufactured in your adrenal glands—works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear levels.
It plays important roles in your body such as keeping inflammation down, regulating your blood pressure, and controlling your sleep/wake cycle. When this hormone is produced in the right levels and the right time of day it will help you boost energy so you can handle the everyday stressors of life and restore you to balance afterward.
Of course the trouble is when cortisol levels are off – then all of these things are off. For example, the right amount keeps inflammation down – too much or too little can CAUSE inflammation.
Cortisol is sort of Nature’s built-in alarm system for your body, and it’s responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ response.
The problem lies in the fact that our brains haven’t evolved to distinguish the difference between a true emergency (think chased by a tiger, or a fire) and a minor stressor (like reading the news these days!) It just kicks in with that fight or flight response no matter what.
Let’s say you’re watching TV or reading the news. Those stressful thoughts start kicking in – and your cortisol levels shoot up. Yes, even thoughts can affect your cortisol!
And the bad news is that stressful, cortisol-producing thoughts can literally activate metabolic pathways that cause weight gain and insulin resistance.
There’s lots more to say on this topic of the fight or flight response and stressful thoughts – but for now let’s focus on how it affects that midlife midsection.
Increased cortisol and stress have been shown to:
- Reduce nutrient absorption. Meaning your body doesn’t even absorb the beneficial nutrients you are giving it, and then might start feeling ‘hungry’ for other foods.
- Cause leptin resistance. Leptin is the ‘satiety hormone’ that tells you when you’re full. It often goes haywire for people and stress is one of the big causes for this.
- Impact your digestive system, your immune system and your endocrine system in unwanted ways.
- Be directly related to abdominal fact, which is often that visceral fat known to cause health problems.
In addition to all of that, you already know that you crave high sugar and high carb foods when you’re stressed. At least most people do! We believe that these ‘comfort foods’ soothe our stress. And they do—but only in the short term!
Stress can cause us to lose sleep, drink more alcohol, and skip healthy movement in favor of being a couch potato… and none of that helps with our weight or overall health!
All of this can seem like a real downer…. especially in current times when stress levels are at an all-time high all over the world! (I’m writing this during the fall of 2020 while the Covid-19 pandemic is raising and the lead-up to the US election is causing record high cortisol levels – at least in this country!)
But… don’t despair! Remember, you KNOW there are ways to reduce your stress levels!
You can start by understanding that getting stressed out about your weight or your body is simply exacerbating the problem! Take a ‘chill pill’ – as I used to tell my daughters when they were freaking out.. LOL!
I don’t really want you to take a pill, but you will be well-served to make an effort to calm down.
Or, simply take a few deep breaths! Your breath is always accessible to you, and it is the #1 way you can reduce your cortisol levels fast! When you are breathing deeply you are telling your body that it’s not possible that your life is in imminent danger – and your fight or flight response will diminish.
There are SO many other ways you can lower your stress levels and hence your cortisol. Originally, this was one of the steps to reshape your body that I talked about in my Ageless Health & Vitality workshop. As a group we would brainstorm plenty fun ways to ‘take that chill pill’ and relax.
Below are a few of them, along with some of my suggestions.
One caveat though: Don’t let this list cause you MORE stress because you start ‘shoulding’ on yourself.
Doing something because you SHOULD do it is never a pathway to eliminating stress. Choose activities that make your body say YES. It feels like an Aaaah!
Doesn’t that sound like a more stress-free way to start releasing that extra mysterious weight?
Here are a few suggestions to lower those stress levels. I’m sure you can add a few of your own. What if you made it a point to practice at least three of these a day? I’d love to know what changes you notice.
Healthy Ideas for Reducing Stress and Cortisol Levels
- Take 3 deep breaths (or 10!)
- Try EFT Tapping! It’s been proven to lower that cortisol and, like your breath, you always have it available
- Get outside in nature – even if only for a couple of minutes. No nature near you? You still have sky and air!
- Read a good book
- Set a limit to your time with the news
- Call a halt to conversations about current events that stress you out without giving solutions
- Do some art
- Write in your journal
- Meditate – even if it’s only for 2 minutes
- Take a walk
- Exercise – just watch that you don’t push your body so hard that you increase that cortisol!
- Knitting, or other crafts
- Cuddle with a pet or a person
- Back away from the computer and take a dance break
- Spend time with friends that you truly enjoy
What would you add?
There are so many factors that affect your body’s weight and overall wellbeing – besides what you’re eating! If you’d like to learn more—and join in a sisterhood of fun women who are ready to FLOURISH after our 40’s, you’ve got to come join the Ageless Radiance Facebook community.
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