Stress & Weight Gain

One of the unfortunate side affects of stress can be weight gain.  Weight gain occurs because, when we are stressed, our bodies release chemicals.  One of the first is adrenaline.  Adrenaline will make you feel less hungry as blood flows away from the internal organs and to your large muscles to prepare for “fight or flight”.  Once the adrenaline wears  off, cortisol, the “stress hormone”, stays around and starts signaling the body to eat to replenish the body’s fat stores and glucose.  This worked well in situations where the stressor caused our ancestors to physically address the threat by fighting or running.  However, our neuroendocrine system has not updated to today’s stressors…we release adrenaline and cortisol as we sit and worry about bills, work at our computers, worry about health, and the like.  The body tenses up, then our body says, “eat and replenish” and we gladly comply.

Ok, so why the belly fat?  The belly has an ample supply of blood vessels and cortisol receptors.  Our bodies learned to store fat from the days of our ancestors.  Excess cortisol slows down your metabolism because your body wants to maintain an adequate supply of glucose for all that hard work mentally and physically dealing with the stressor.  With today’s stressed out life style, our bodies are prone to getting an extra layer of visceral fat deep in our bellies.  Unfortunately, excess belly fat releases chemicals that trigger inflammation, which increases the chance of heart disease and diabetes.

One of yoga’s great benefits is de-stressing.  When stressed, the breath will become shallow.  A simple three part breath will help release the diaphragm to allow a full breath of air in and oxygenate the body.  Allowing a higher volume of oxygen to reach the body’s cells and tissues.

Deep breathing instantly creates a sense of calm in the mind and body.  It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is reverse to the stress response in the body.  Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve, resulting in slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and calming the mind and body.

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Kirsten Erickson, C-IAYT, YACEP, E-RYT200, RYT500, iRest® Yoga Nidra Level 1 Teacher, Yoga Wellness North