Another hormone produced by the adrenal glands during stressful times or from lack of sleep is cortisol. This hormone can promote weight gain as it is related to the storage of fat in the lower abdomen. Unlike adrenaline, which is produced for only short periods of time, the adrenal glands can produce cortisol long-term. This means that any fat burning effects from adrenaline will be overcome in the long run by the fat-storing effects of cortisol.
From a survival standpoint, cortisol serves the purpose of providing emergency storage of fat for energy when the body is under stress for long periods of time. This storage of fat in the lower abdomen will provide energy and keep a person alive if he or she must endure long periods living under harsh and physically demanding conditions. The problem is, mental or emotional stress will elevate cortisol levels too, and for individuals who lead particularly stressful lives, the continued high cortisol levels will likely stimulate lower belly fat deposition.
But aside from the life-critical job the adrenals play in activating your stress response and supplementing healthy hormonal balance as we age, the hormone cortisol itself has a powerful hand in so many other regulatory processes across all your systems: protecting the body from stress by regulating blood pressure, normalizing blood sugar levels, helping to regulate the immune and inflammatory responses, and influencing mood, memory, and clarity of thought.
Maybe this helps explain why, when your adrenal reserves are depleted, you might feel a little crazy and your sleeping and eating habits seem a little crazy too!
What does that mean to you?
Well with persistent stress, we become increasingly less grounded, which can increase stress even more — and the constant demand for stress hormones means the adrenals become depleted and ultimately exhausted. In return impairing weight loss, and even causing weight gain and
excess belly fat, fatigue so now your'e both tired and frustrated from the weight gain, you begin to have cravings for salty, sweet and fat laden foods, a need for caffeine or other stimulants just to stay awake during the day, a lower immune system, and disruptive sleep patterns – like waking up frequently in the middle of the night.
So what can you do about it?
The first thing to do is to identify the source of your stress. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines but just because “it’s always so” doesn’t mean you’re not stressed. To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses. A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed; keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log you will begin to see patterns and common themes.
Next: What are your options when dealing with stress?
If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Pare down your to-do list, Avoid hot-button topics, Take control of your environment, Avoid people who stress you out, Learn how to say “no “and Learn some breathing exercises. Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.
Next you need to improve your eating habits.
I know, I know, it can be difficult to make good nutritional choices when we’re going through periods of stress. Not only are our minds preoccupied with the stressor at hand, but also our bodies are telling us they desperately need support, so we reach for foods that provide quick energy. Particularly at the end of a stressful day as the body is entering a period of recovery, overeating or making poor choices can be easy to do.
You need a Steady flow of nutrient dense meals and snacks.
One thing I tell my clients is to never allow yourself to get too hungry. Low blood sugar by itself puts stress on your body and can tax your adrenals. You may not realize that your body is in constant need of energy — even as you sleep. And the primary adrenal hormone cortisol serves as a kind of moderator in making sure your blood sugar between meals, especially during the night, stays adequate. Long periods without food make the adrenals work harder by requiring them to release more cortisol to keep your body functioning normally. Low Glycemic Impact eating provides you with nutrient dense foods and not only is it superior in inducing fat loss and maintaining lean muscle, but the reason it is superior is because Low Glycemic Impact Eating supports healthy blood sugar levels. Your blood sugar levels determine how full you feel throughout the day, energy you have throughout the day, and how mentally clear you will be throughout the day. So when you eat Low Glycemic you can also make a difference in preserving, supporting, and restoring your adrenals.
If you decide to do nothing else for your stress out body and taxed adrenals, I urge you to provide your body with a strong nutrient supplement base. Like a good multivitamin, B-complex that supports neuro-transmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, Omega 3s - (these essential fats are important to the formation of healthy neuro- receptors in the brain) and an adrenal support product to help your body adapt to the ongoing stress.
And lastly, Moderate Movement:
So often when we are not seeing the weight loss results that we are looking to achieve, and stress is the culprit, our mind set is that we need to up our game and workout harder. This is a big no no, because it puts more stress on the adrenals. Avoid all forms of high intensity cardiovascular exercise if you think you may have adrenal and chronic stress issues. This includes running, elliptical machines, spinning classes and boot camps. While it may provide a boost, in the long run vigorous exercise further exhausts your body. People dealing with adrenal fatigue need to reduce exercise, often to a minimum in order to conserve their energy and allow their adrenals to rebuild. Exercise requires energy and adrenal reserves that people in adrenal fatigue mode do not have.
So try moderate Walking, Yoga, Pilates, and Aquatic exercises. These are perfect exercises for people who are fatigued, because you can fine-tune your practice to suit the amount of energy you have at any given moment. These not only help you get your exercise in, but these are also known for reducing stress. The combination of movement, deep breathing and a peaceful outlook gently releases tension and stress from the body. Holding tension in the muscles and organs requires energy, so when we release tension we have more energy to handle everyday life.
Your adrenal glands are tiny in comparison to many other organs. They are roughly the size of a walnut, yet they have enormous responsibilities in your body. When they are functioning at their peak, these small glands can help you feel energized when you need to be and relaxed when it is time for rest. They contribute to the production of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and so much more. But life's demands can slowly drain the balancing power of the adrenal glands. Even the healthiest person’s adrenals, though evolutionarily equipped to handle periods of stress, become fatigued under chronic, unrelenting stress.
You have the power to lessen the burden on your adrenals — and your whole body. It doesn’t take much. The small choices you make in regards to your lifestyle, nutrition and eating patterns will make a difference.
Yes, stress is a part of life…so let’s try to deal with it the best we can. Recognize your stressors, evaluate your options, and take action to change your lifestyle to help you overcome the affects of stress. You'll be happy you did!
Alissa Robertson, MS, RD