Understanding the Stress – Hormone – Metabolism Connection

Stress and lack of sleep could be why you are having trouble shedding those extra pounds.

Let’s face it, most of us are running from appointment to appointment, deadline to deadline and continually feeling behind. Working out is great  for counter acting stress but if you aren’t keeping your stress levels under control or getting enough sleep it may contribute to other health issues and make it difficult for you to lose those extra pounds.

There has been quite a bit of research recently measuring stress hormones and how they affect our fat cells and fat metabolism.  Dr. Pamela Peeke has been the leading researcher in this area and she has found that our body interprets any kind of stress in our lives as physical stress and immediately responds using the “Fight or Flight” response. Unfortunately, most of the stress in our lives is not physical stress but rather, work, kids, financial etc – more of the emotional or mental type of stress. But nonetheless, as our stress increases, the stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the blood stream.

Cortisol has two negative effects in terms of fat loss.

One, it causes the body to crave more fat and sugar.

And secondly, it causes the body to uptake more fat into the fat cells in order to store energy.

Both act as a defense mechanism to provide the body with energy to fight off the stress – unfortunately, since we’re not really undergoing physical stress instead, we just gain weight. Plus high levels of stress have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

The message is clear. If you want to obtain optimal health, you need to manage your stress.

Not the simplest thing to do (and the possible subject of a whole other blog post…) but a few things to consider are:

~Whether you are prioritizing the things in life that are most important to you and not getting lost in the details

~ Can you learn to interpret your stress differently, so that your body will perceive it differently, and secrete less cortisol

~ What relaxation techniques work best for you –  consider meditation, practicing deep breathing, time alone,  hot baths, journal writing etc. and then carve out the time to practice them!

In addition, more and more literature is touting the importance of sleep in terms of optimal health and fat loss.

We now understand that when the body doesn’t get the 7-8 hours of sleep every night that it needs to rejuvenate/repair/heal, it finds ways to compensate for the lower levels of serotonin or dopamine caused by lack of sleep. It does this by increasing appetite and craving foods with sugar and fats that instantly give you the immediate release of serotonin and dopamine.

It also causes people to store more fat as a defense mechanism to provide the energy for managing the longer days. So try to get to bed early and get some good R & R ! Plus if you are in bed at a decent hour, you’ll be less likely to be munching!


-Contributed by Trainer Stephanie