Let’s say you’re following your LCHF eating plan pretty well, you’re drinking plenty of water, trying to eat real food (as opposed to ‘food products’), maybe taking some supplements, perhaps you’re experimenting with some intermittent fasting…but you’ve hit a weight loss stall and the scale just won’t move. What’s up with that?
Maybe it’s all down to stress. Long-term stress is a killer and it all starts in your brain. The HPA triad kicks into gear when you’re experience stress over long periods of time (as opposed to the momentary stress that happens when you nearly get into a car accident) when the hypothalamus in your brain stimulates the pituitary gland (also in your brain) to react to the stress. The pituitary gland then stimulates the adrenal glands (sitting neatly atop the kidneys) to produce cortisol in response to stress.
Cortisol is not your friend, friend.
Cortisol is part of your body’s fight or flight system – and when your body is in this mode it’s geared up for being chased. Or beat up. Or some other such bad, bad thing. It’s not geared up to be an efficient fat-burning machine.
Let’s imagine you’re being chased by a dinosaur, which would be fairly stressful. When that happens, cortisol kicks in. Cortisol is a steroid hormone. Have you ever taken steroids (glucocorticoids) for something like asthma or poison ivy? If so you may recognize some of its effects on your body, which are useful if you need to run like hell or try to survive being bitten, but which have some nasty effects when they occur on a daily basis without letting up. Cortisol…
- Increases blood sugar by causing the liver to create glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis (new sugar creation). Over time can lead to T2DM or make existing diabetes harder to control.
- Weight gain by signaling the body to convert triglycerides into body fat and store it in the abdomen, of all places! Also contributes to weight gain since when the blood sugar is elevated, more insulin must be created (or injected) and we all know insulin is the master driver of hunger and fat storage.
- Suppresses the immune system Need I say more about that? This leads to infections, inflammation, and increased risk of everything from the common cold to cancer. This may also increase the risk for auto-immune disorders.
- Causes digestive problems such as GERD, IBS, colitis and even leaky gut can all be attributed in part to stress.
- Constricts your blood vessels & increases heart rate and blood pressure which has a horrible effect on your heart, brain, kidneys and the blood vessels that supply their needs.
Why do our bodies react in such a dramatic fashion to the daily stresses of modern life? Depends on your view – either humans were created this way OR we evolved this way, but it was all for our good so we could survive in a harsh world where we might be eaten, or chased, or attacked. Thankfully we don’t face those types of stress these days.
But we have daily grind stress, commuter stress, family pressures stress, businesses downsizing stress, trying to get your masters degree stress, will I have enough money to retire stress, and a 24 hour news cycle that could drive anyone to jump off a building if they pay too much attention. How do we keep cortisol at bay in our stressful environment? R-E-L-A-X. The deal is, relaxation for you may look very different to relaxation for me. What’s important is for you to find your relaxation. Find your happy place.
What’s necessary is some method of pulling oneself out of the daily stress, making it a priority, and doing something daily even for short periods of time. Try one (or all) of these methods that have proven benefits: Exercise, prayer, meditation, listening to some soothing music, talking to a friend on the phone, creating a gratitude journal with 3 items you’re thankful for each day, laughing, creating something (food, art, music), etc.
If the scale’s not moving in the right direction, think about your stress and how to alleviate some of it daily.