Why is Stress Causing Weight Gain?
Stress affects our adrenal glands, which in turn affects our hormonal system and overall health and well-being. It is at the root cause of 95% of chronic disease, including obesity. There are four key stressors that involve:
- Glycemic (Glucose) regulation
- Circadian Rhythm
- Mental/Emotional realm
What is making us women overweight and sick is not simply an issue of ‘overeating’, ‘sloth’ or ‘the luck of the draw’ contrary to popular myth. It is stress and the four key stressors that is creating this for most people. And, peri-menopausal and menopausal women are particularly susceptible.
I want to begin by stating that if you are happy with your weight and you are obese, that is fine. This isn’t about external standards of beauty or about what you ‘should’ weigh or how you ‘should’ look. Loving yourself without condition is important to good mental health.
Reversing obesity is about creating health and increasing our immune system resilience. It is about reducing chronic diseases of all types. And we can now see in living color how obesity and chronic disease makes people more susceptible to dying even from routine seasonal flu. Just check out the CDC stats for flu season 2017-2018. It is astonishing – 61,000 deaths. Deaths related to obesity and chronic disease. You see, stress is a silent killer, and is at the root cause of 95% of all chronic disease.
There are stressors from foods, toxins, lifestyle, poor sleep patterns, everyday things that we are doing to ourselves unwittingly. And, weight gain is a big side effect of stress. Inflammation causes weight gain. If you don’t know what is causing unnecessary weight gain, how can you even begin to help yourself?
And, by the way, you need not be overweight to have chronic disease impact you.
These five causes still apply to ‘normal weight’ people also, because they are a source of creating chronic disease whether you are overweight or not. It is just that being obese accelerates the diseases and contributes to multi-systems disease.
This is NOT about dieting or watching calories. Or about drinking food substitute shakes. That does not work. This is about understanding how a food system and medical system that is fundamentally flawed is affecting your health and well-being so that you can change your health trajectory to get where YOU want to go with your health. This is about learning to use Food as Medicine.
Maybe as a busy woman who feels stressed, you have noticed some of the following ‘annoying symptoms’ that are so very common. I have come to realize we need to pay attention to these symptoms and do something about it early on. They are not ‘normal’ aging or otherwise, and are not meant to be ignored. Your body and mind are asking for help and attention. Symptoms such as:
- Brain fog, memory challenges
- Anxiety/Depression/Mood issues
- Sugar cravings
- Chronic fatigue, low libido
- Weight gain
- Muscle tension and cramping
- Sleep disturbances
- Joint pain
- Hair loss and dry skin
- Gas, bloating and other digestive disturbances
This post is about:
- What are some of the things creating this weight increase, obesity and chronic disease epidemic in the United States (and a growing number of other countries worldwide that have also adopted the western processed foods)
- What you can begin to do to expand your awareness
- Helping you to realize that the extra fat is drastically contributing to making you susceptible to serious health issues, and even more importantly…
- What are 5 common root causes that contribute to weight gain, obesity, and chronic disease that most people do not realize
- Information to begin to help you to become aware of what’s going on so you can start to empower yourself
Weight gain and chronic disease is currently a rapidly growing epidemic affecting children and adults alike. In fact since 2013, ‘obesity’ is also officially considered a ‘disease’ by the American Medical Association (AMA). Our traditional medical system can help decrease your acute symptoms and deal with acute crisis and emergencies, but it has a poor track record with chronic disease.
A person whose weight is higher than what is considered as a normal weight adjusted for height is considered being overweight and if their weight is 35 pounds or more above this level is considered obese BMI, or Body Mass Index, is the tool most commonly used to estimate and screen for weight problems and obesity in adults and children. Your healthcare provider can use a simple measuring tape to calculate this BMI or you can find an online BMI calculator tool to estimate for yourself.
Here are some obesity facts and data from the CDC:
- The prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death
- The prevalence of obesity was 35.7% among young adults aged 20 to 39 years, 42.8% among middle-aged adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 41.0% among older adults aged 60 and older
CDC has released a study with the following conclusion: “Mean weight, waist circumference, and BMI in adults have increased over the past 18 years”.
Our traditional medical system has obviously done a poor job addressing or solving this problem. In fact, the U.S. has pretty much the worst healthcare outcomes record for morbidity and mortality as it relates to chronic disease in the world when being compared to other developed countries. Yes, you read that correctly – we are right there near or dead last at the bottom of the list depending on the source you read. And we are by far the most expensive.
This post, of course, can’t cover everything, it is meant to start the conversation and to share eye-opening information. Stress is related to obesity and other conditions. Obesity is a serious disease and it is not about having more ‘self-control’ in your eating habits or going to the gym more often.
I know from my own experience, I was eating much less over time and still had creeping weight gain over the years until I learned more about the science of the gut-brain axis and how food is medicine. And, I started dealing with my stress and awareness of toxins head on. Also, even if you are eating excessively, there is still an underlying biological root cause to be dealt with that can help you to tone down your hunger.
We now know from the field of epigenetics that food, our thoughts and emotions, and environmental elements can literally turn on and off our gene expression for a disease. Yes, you read this right also…your genes are NOT your destiny. You have more power of choice than you realize.
It’s a matter of knowledge and application and having a physician coach to help you to navigate this maze. Lifestyle awareness and learning simple ways to retrain your brain so that the change is easily sustainable and new habits are formed with conscious awareness. It is not about dieting and watching calories all the time. This is a new day.
Here are five causes of weight gain and obesity that are preventable or treatable at the root cause using functional/integrative medicine approaches that are natural and nourishing for body and soul. When you treat at the root, you can actually heal and reverse disease.
1. Underlying hormone and insulin imbalances that hide beneath the surface and cause disruption in your physiology and metabolism
Millions of people are walking around with some of the following illnesses and they either don’t know it yet or if they do, are only covering their symptoms but not dealing with root cause healing of the problem:
- early or even mid-staged thyroid imbalances
- pre-diabetes/insulin resistance
- sex hormone imbalances
- autoimmune diseases
- a dys-functioning liver
- chronic digestive dysfunction
- toxic belly fat that contributes to ‘metabolic syndrome’
- inflammatory bone diseases
- anxiety and depression
- reversible issues in their blood/system that leads to everything from cancer to diabetes and other chronic diseases…
…without even having a clue that an issue called, ‘oxidative stress’ exists that is affecting their DNA and organ systems until disease manifests noticeably. And stress can start and exacerbate all of these condition and aggravate oxidative stress.
It creates chronic inflammation in your body. This metabolic imbalance is often associated with weight gain, though, you do not have to be overweight to have these storms brewing under the surface. Hormonal and insulin imbalances gradually contribute to this havoc in your body and mind. Insulin and cortisol are often dance partners in the management of blood sugar and inflammation control.
You can still be a thin person and if you have annoying physical and mental symptoms, pay attention because these diseases are equal opportunity illnesses. Weight gain is just a big red flag that something is off in your body’s balance.
Chronic disease typically takes years to fully manifest, which is why it is so important to educate yourself to address some of the more obvious causes of disease. Our current medical system isn’t preventative and is built upon a paradigm based upon waiting until the disease strikes and has already done sometimes great damage to your tissues. Even still, our bodies are resilient and healing can still occur in many, if not most cases.
We’ve been told that once you have a disease you are stuck with it for the rest of your life and will always need to take medication. This just is not true in general, though there are always exceptions.
But the exception, in reality, is that you are stuck and can’t heal – most people can heal given the right support, guidance, and have the willingness to take charge of their own health.
Symptoms need to be addressed, not suppressed.
Since 2016, studies are beginning to show that life expectancy in the United States is decreasing. This includes causes such as chronic diseases and drug overdose. We are in the era of chronic disease – and these diseases are actually often preventable and reversible if we start to do things differently, particularly starting with food education and unlearning the misinformation you’ve been taught.
It’s not a matter of how old we are either…even children are now struggling with obesity and Type 2 diabetes, something I never even saw in medical school in the 1980s. In fact, it used to be called, ‘Adult Onset Diabetes’ back then. These disturbances brewing in your body are often the source of weight gain – not your age. If age is the reason for obesity – then why isn’t everyone over age 30, 40 or 50 overweight or obese? What is the difference in general?
One thing for sure, we know from neuroscience that ‘Food is Medicine’ and what you eat matters even more than how much you eat.
The more I learn about this gut-brain axis science, the more I have come to realize, what you don’t know not only can hurt you – it can kill you.
And let’s be clear here: I’m not talking about ‘dieting’. Many of the foods you are eating are inflammatory to your body because of their sourcing or manufacturing even if they are positioned as ‘healthy’ or good for you…or ‘low calorie’. Or, ‘vegan’. They are causing your insulin imbalances and weight gain and you don’t even realize it.
In fact, when you eat truly healthy fats and foods, you generally will not even have to count calories and your weight stabilizes. Why? Because for one thing, you will no longer have an addiction to sugary carbohydrates that makes you hungry all the time and throws off your insulin regulation.
For another, your gut health will change and improve and you will stop having the biological triggers in your gut that make you want to eat or that slows down your digestive metabolism. These factors create the hormone and insulin problems that begin the chronic disease formation chain of events.
When you work with a physician-coach who is trained in functional and integrative medicine, you can not only learn and understand new ways of approaching true healthcare, you can be in more control of health choices.
I say ‘physician-coach’ because the days of, ‘Dr. Dictator’ will hopefully be over for you, if you choose to have a voice in your own well-being.
You are a part of the solution – it is a collaborative effort. You just need to have a guide to help you – not simply a dictator telling you what medications to use that are not working well.
Your physician and her or his health team can also provide support services from other healthcare providers such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal medicine, group health visits and coaching for peer support and other holistic therapies and natural options.
2. Low Fat/High Carbohydrate ‘Healthy’ Meals – what you think is healthy may be harmful for your adrenal system.
Glycemic control is affected by sugar, simple carbs and chemicals in processed foods and oils. Like sugar substitutes for example. The classic Food Pyramid you learned in school based upon the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not healthy for you in general and can be linked to the rise in obesity taking root in the 1950s and 1960s when these pyramid recommendations were implemented. It is heavy on starchy carbohydrates and inflammatory grains. It focuses on refined vegetable oils and gives the green light to sugary fruits without distinction. High sugar is toxic to the liver and increases inflammation. Inflammation is a key stressor.
Let’s be clear here what I mean by low fat as well. We were told that eggs, butter, and cholesterol were ‘bad fats’ and that vegetable oils, like corn, safflower, canola, sunflower, soy, margarine and other refined, GMO-filled oils in plastic bottles were ‘good fats’. The plastic bottles themselves can contain toxins. This was the beginning of the end – of good health.
When I discovered the history of these oils and went into studying the science, I immediately cleared my kitchen cabinets of these oils and started becoming even more serious about reading labels.
It is not just a blanket statement of ‘low fats’ we should be paying attention to, it is quality of fats as well. The fact is also that we need saturated, monosaturated and even some polyunsaturated fats from nuts and seeds to run a healthy metabolism. Avoiding healthy fat is not advisable.
Your body’s hormonal system and brain need cholesterol. Training your body to be more efficient at burning fat instead of carbohydrates as its primary fuel source will also help you to avoid diabetes and inflammation.
We need healthy fat to make our hormones and to have healthy brain cells as well as many other physiologic reasons. Healthy fats, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, and olive oil are very important for your health. Note that cooking with olive oil is a ‘no-no’. High heat damages the chemical bonds in ways that are not healthy. It’s okay to saute on low heat, though I tend to pour it onto food at the end of cooking.
Also, avoid cooking with butter due to the potential for causing oxidation (when it turns brown) which creates inflammation in your body. Use ghee instead, which is the butter with lactose removed and it can then withstand higher cooking temperatures. In general, don’t let your pan ‘smoke’ – you are in essence ‘burning’ the oil.
It is not these healthy fats that should be avoided, it is processed foods high in sugar and carbohydrates that you need to avoid. This can also for many people, if not most, even include many grains. Eating too many high carb grains and beans can add fuel to the fire of inflammation. They are not always as healthy as we are lead to believe.
Foods ‘low in fat’ and ‘high in carbohydrates’ are a gigantic source of what makes you fat and inflamed! Sugar and carbs are addicting and can overload your blood with glucose which then gets stored in the liver and abdomen as fat. Combining refined, inflammation producing vegetable oils with sugar and processed chemicals in food is a formula for disaster when it comes to your health of mind and body. This food combination literally changes the gene expression and the bacteria within your gut, leading to weight gain. It can also affect cognitive functioning and mood.
Read those labels if you want to avoid blowing up your waistline and health. At the very least, look for organic items when you can and avoid added sugars in your food. You can find products that are free of these substances and when you do, you will also begin to eliminate the addicting qualities of these foods that help to feed and grow the ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut that make you hungry all the time and that turn on your appetite.
3. Thinking thoughts without Self-awareness
It is estimated that 95% of chronic disease is related to unhealthy stress in general. Mental stress is subjective and influenced by perception. What stresses one person may not bother another. By stress, I mean feelings of overwhelm, of worry and feeling out of control. There is such a thing as physical stress as well, meaning overexertion and not taking good care of yourself. Your body can start to break down this way as well. Exhaustion does not support well-being.
Mental and emotional stress is mostly perceptual, meaning how you interpret a situation or event. It can be affected by your general health, sleeping patterns, and self-talk, for example. Negative self-talk is a health hazard if it creates feelings of distress or chronic anxiety. Self-talk is that repetitive pattern of thinking that for many people is a negative source of thoughts in their head.
When we are not aware of our feelings, our thoughts we are subject to having our attention hijacked all day long by the media and voices in our environments that consciously draw our focus toward lack, excessive competitive thinking, and negative world news. This is a common source of feeling overwhelmed and powerless – stressed – so heads up. Whereas, emotional resilience is a superpower – and a skill to be developed.
Feelings of insecurity, low confidence or low self-esteem, are also sources of stress that can affect our health.
We can learn to reprogram our negative thinking patterns in ways that improve our health. Improve our focus. Improve how we feel – all day along as well. This is a part of resiliency training. We can learn how to self-regulate our stress. This translates to a calmer mind, a healthier body – and weight loss.
This is why I also use CBT coaching (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and IFS Therapy/Coaching (IFS is ‘Internal Family Systems’) alongside my medical advice as relevant and needed. These are two psychotherapy models that I learned through personal trial and error discovery over many years and used on myself – only later to find that they are actually empirically scientifically studied models.
These are techniques that people can learn to help and empower themselves.
Allowing your mind to run wild with worry and not learning to ‘take back the steering wheel of your mind’ from the distractions around you can lead to chronic, ‘fight, flight or freeze’.
It is this chronic state of distress that is releasing hormones, such as cortisol and throwing off neurotransmitters in your body’s system. This all leads to imbalances in your glucose metabolism, for example, that can then lead to abdominal visceral fat storage over time as well…leading to metabolic syndrome. Leading to weight gain…..
Combine this issue with poor food quality and you have a formula for helping to create more inflammation in the body. Source of food matters. It is not ‘your age’ as much as it is your habits. Inflammation, fueled by a bad ‘low fat, high carb’ diet, and stress is what is making people – children included – fat and sick with time. It is a vicious trap.
Having a spiritual or mindfulness practice is also essential in reducing mental stress. ‘Free your mind’ in order to renew it. And vice versa. Making time to relax and de-stress can help to let go of the distress. Having a sense of higher purpose strengthens our heart.
4. Inflammation triggers that are little known increases stress and weight gain
This is yet another key stressor. Years ago, when I was still in my 20’s I was asked to do a health presentation on margarine and butter. I learned from that experience the dangers of trans fats in margarine and that was when I threw away margarine and went back to butter. Grass-fed organic butter is a source of omega-3 oils and ingredients that can support a healthy gut. Trans fats triggers inflammation – which increases the stress response in our bodies.
I also decided to go back to eating eggs in my twenties. I’m so glad I did. Eggs are not the cause of high cholesterol levels either. Eggs are one of nature’s best and most important foods – with one caveat: Make sure they come from pasture-raised healthy chickens, otherwise, they may contribute to inflammation. Source matters.
Environmental toxins matter. Our water is full of chemicals, so getting a good filter is worth the investment. Toxins hang out in body fat, increases inflammation….and increases weight gain,
Dental work, that puts mercury in your mouth – can lead to heavy metal toxicity if your liver and gut is out of balance and can’t keep up with its toxic burden. And the more fat you have in your body, that more heavy metal toxicity you hide in your tissues. Just make sure if you have them removed….you see a trained functional dentist – or you could get very sick in the process.
Heavy metal toxins can affect your brain and lead to neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Many environmental toxins are stored in fat. When you lose fat, you reduce your risk for accumulating environmental toxins that are dangerous to your mind and body. You can have yourself tested as part of a routine functional medicine examination and begin a detox process and have yourself retested to insure successful removal.
Remember, bad food and emotional stress can harm your body’s ability to detox itself. Let’s face it, we cannot control everything in our environment. We can, however, educate our self and decide what matters and learn how to navigate the landmines all around us with more wisdom so we can avoid these types of medical conditions.
Air pollution, toxin-filled cosmetics, excess alcohol, dehydration, lack of sleep and movement of our bodies – all contribute to the inflammatory process that makes us gain weight and overwhelms our body’s defenses to detox and moves harmful molecules out of our body. These are the sources of chronic disease, particularly when we don’t know how to change things.
FEAR inflames your mind…and ultimately your body.
Speaking of little-known inflammation triggers…how about fear. It is toxic also. Think about it – fear causes stress for most people. Under this point, I’d like to emphasize that one of the most empowering things we can all learn to do is to learn about how to ‘retrain our brain’. Fear is something that is setting us up for failure and it is mostly perceptual. It is mostly, ‘FEAR’, or ‘Fictitious, Evidence, Appearing, Real’. Fictitious or not – fear damages our adrenal system when chronic.
I made this acronym up many years ago when I gained the insight that our brain is a storytelling master. What we think and feel, we come to believe. What we believe will determine the outcomes of our lives. When we focus on what we don’t want, who we don’t like, what we can’t control and do not understand the awe-inspiring power of empowering emotions such as joy, love, gratitude, and appreciation – we are setting ourselves up for stress.
The point is, start somewhere. The thousand-mile journey begins with the first step. There can be a domino effect, once you learn what key food triggers are upsetting your system, and have some baseline insights into your health status beyond the limited testing or information given in the traditional healthcare system, you can begin your journey to wholeness. Be encouraged. Your body is remarkably resilient!
5. Lack of good sleep habits and vicious cycles that disturb sleep patterns
Sleep plays an important role in your physical and mental health. For example, sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. It is the time that your brain and body undergoes repair of damage and is extremely important for tissue repair. When we sleep poorly, we disrupt our adrenal system and increase susceptibility to stress and weight gain.
Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and affect your brain and cognitive function.
Lack of quality sleep weakens your immune system which will make you more susceptible to having colds and fighting off infection. It also makes you even more susceptible to the effects of stress and even being more susceptible to feeling stressed. Your coping ability in everyday life can be reduced when stressed. Brain fog, fatigue, and reduced cognitive functioning are all commonly associated side effects of lack of sleep.
This all translates to inefficiency in your body’s metabolic functioning and increases inflammation that can add to increasing risk factors for autoimmune and other inflammatory disease development. Studies show that our protective T-cell functioning that fights off viruses goes down and inflammatory cytokine biomarkers increase with sleep deprivation.
Getting flu shots is not going to protect you from this. The long-term solution is a lifestyle change and re-education to learn how to develop good sleep patterns.
It should also be noted that having underlying hormonal imbalances disturb sleep also, as well as alcohol consumption in the evenings. Both pharmaceutical and illegal drug use can also disturb sleep patterns and throw your body out of balance.
Women may seek help for pain, but when it comes to ‘annoying’ symptoms that can be pushed through or ignored – these symptoms are often overlooked. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people with sleep disorders are undiagnosed and untreated.
Should you have your sleep evaluated?
Ask yourself the following questions to assess if you should have your sleep evaluated:
- Do you regularly have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep?
- Do you have a problem with snoring? This could be due to sleep apnea. Has anyone ever told you that you have pauses in breathing or that you gasp for breath when you sleep?
- Are your legs “active” at night? Do you experience tingling, creeping, itching, cramping or other strange feelings in your legs while sitting or lying down that causes a strong urge to move, stretch or put your feet on the floor to stop the sensations? Magnesium deficiency is rampant and can cause calf cramping.
- Are you so tired when you wake up in the morning that you cannot function normally during the day, needing to use stimulants such as coffee to get started in the morning?
- Does your sleepiness and fatigue persist for more than two to three weeks – becoming chronic?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a complete sleep evaluation should be considered. You can use diet, natural remedies until your body is in better balance to help you to get to sleep easier. Also, behavior and habits in the evening hours before bedtime affect your ability to fall asleep.
Being able to relax your mind and avoiding the blue-light screens of technology in the 1-2 hours or so leading to bedtime is an important habit to develop. If you awakening at specific times during the night, it could be your body’s way of communicating underlying ‘dis-ease’ symptoms trying to get your attention. Make note if there is a pattern to your awakening in the night. Note how often you are awakened with urgency to go to use the bathroom, for example. Doing good detective work is helpful.
Here’s an example of just our interconnected our body systems are and how your behaviors can impact your body, sleep and heath. When you are stressed from being too busy, running around and not resting, and not taking good care of yourself, your cortisol hormones in your blood can increase. The increased cortisol hormone can decrease your progesterone hormone, particular when in menopause. Progesterone reduces anxiety and affects sleep, it helps with sleep. A chronic increase in cortisol can decrease your progesterone and this can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness.
Can you see how your hormones contribute to other areas of your life…even anxiety and sleep? We also know that chronic cortisol elevation can cause weight gain as I’ve mentioned. So you’re running around busy, but instead of losing weight with all of your activity – you actually gain weight. And when you throw in several cups of coffee per day to get you going – well, the caffeine also can disturb your sleep at night. What a vicious cycle this becomes…
The solution is, not ‘dieting’ or excessive boot camp work outs. The solution is getting to the root causes of what stress is, and what you can do about creating good health versus only covering up symptoms. When you are educated in 21-century science that supports our body’s innate resiliency and immunity – you can lose weight easier and keep it off easier – naturally.
If you are ready to take control of stress and live a healthier mind-body lifestyle, you can learn more and schedule your free Discovery Consultation https://valenciaray.com/schedule/