9 Ways To Reduce Stress, Rebalance Your Adrenals, & Increase Weight Loss
When we gain a few pounds, it’s normal to want to immediately blame our food choices. While nutrition plays an instrumental role in weight management, there’s often another major culprit at work here...stress! Have you ever felt like you’re doing all the “right things” (e.g., eating well, exercising, cooking meals from home), yet the weight keeps creeping on? It can feel hopeless and downright maddening at times, right? This can be, in large part, due to cortisol “stress” hormone and adrenal imbalances!
And here’s the “Catch-22” - finding out that stress contributes to weight gain can make us feel more stressed...which can then in turn cause us to gain more weight. An unfair and vicious cycle, to be sure. But before your cortisol levels rise from simply reading this article (don’t worry, we promise all hope is not lost!), let’s break down the correlation between stress and weight gain to provide you with real, tangible tools you can use to balance your weight and reduce stress.
Let’s start by first understanding if stress may be impacting your weight. Go ahead and take a moment to answer these questions:
Do you find yourself constantly craving sweets, treats & chocolate, and carb-rich foods like pasta, bread, crackers & pizza?
When it’s time for bed do you often feel “tired but wired?” Aka you’re exhausted when you hit the sheets but your brain starts racing and you can’t seem to shut it off (even when you try counting sheep)?
Are you addicted to your morning coffee routine and feel like you can’t make it through the day without a steady stream of caffeine?
Are you generally tired, lethargic & often feel like your head is in the clouds?
If you answered “yes” to more than one of these questions, then chances are your adrenal glands could use some TLC!
First, let’s talk adrenals. If you haven’t heard of them before, they are two tiny pyramid-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys and are involved in producing over 50 hormones and regulating vitally important actions in your body including your stress response, weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, our sleep-wake cycle and immune system! They also control our “fight or flight” response; so that when we are in danger or there is a perceived threat, they can help us to survive!
Many moons ago in the days of our ancestors, “fight or flight” may have looked like escaping a saber tooth tiger or outrunning a forest fire. While terrifying, these dangers were typically short lived. Meaning our bodies would react in the moment (pumping out cortisol to provide energy & mobilize blood sugar to feed the muscles) and then return to homeostasis once the threat was no more. While we don’t have to worry about outrunning saber tooth tigers today, we do live in an “always on” society. As a result, we are constantly activating the stress response from getting stuck in traffic to overdue bills, fights with loved ones, work deadlines, unemployment, Instagram comparisons, and the list goes on. When operating smoothly, the adrenals help us bounce back from these everyday stressors, but if we continue hitting them with unrelenting stress (physical, emotional, environmental, nutritional), eventually they have to work in overdrive to keep up with our bodily demand. Over time they can become overworked and imbalanced, leading to weight gain, irritability and chronic fatigue!
Signs that you may have an adrenal imbalance that could be impacting your ability to lose weight and keep it off:
You feel hungry all the time and often reach the point of being “hangry” (“angry+hungry”)
You have intense sugar and/or carb cravings and find it really hard to resist them (more pronouncedly when you’re stressed, sad or bored)
You’ve been gaining weight and noticing that a lot of it is going straight to the belly or midsection
You get irritable or have mood swings much more frequently than you’d like (e.g., snapping at your kids or significant other when they forget to take out the trash)
You are constantly tired but when you do try to sleep, you have a hard time winding down. Even if you do sleep 7-8 hours, you have to hit the snooze button multiple times because you’re so exhausted in the morning
Brain fog is a feeling you’re used to dealing with and your memory is not as sharp as it used to be
Your libido is nowhere to be found
You get sick easily and don’t bounce back as quickly as your friends, coworkers, or peers
Curious how to find out if you have an adrenal imbalance?
Getting to the root via (saliva) hormone testing is the key which Metabolic Research Center offers as part of the Body in Balance program. This at-home test kit works by measuring cortisol "stress hormone" levels collected in saliva, four times over the course of one day. If you are a woman, you’ll collect samples at a specific date based around your cycle. Men can test any day of the month.
Upon receiving your results, they will be interpreted for you at your local MRC center. Based on your unique results and imbalances, you will be provided with a food plan and herbal and vitamin supplement recommendations to help target and reverse these imbalances in a safe, natural, and effective way.
Did you know that saliva is considered among practitioners as the “gold standard” for measuring adrenal function? This is because it is non-invasive, pain-free and you can collect samples multiple times in a day. Standard blood tests only draw one sample that does not assess full adrenal function. Not to mention there are dozens of us who don’t like needles to begin with - and the stress of a needle stick can actually spike stress levels and skew the results!
Interested in getting your adrenal hormone levels tested, along with estrogen, progesterone, testosterone & DHEA to get to the root of hidden imbalances that could be contributing to weight gain & difficulty losing it? Reach out to MRC to learn more!
Now that we understand what, why, and how cortisol levels can become unbalanced and impact weight, let’s talk real strategies for taking care of your adrenals and getting out of constant “stress mode:”
Make relaxation and calming activities a part of your daily routine. Going for the occasional massage, taking a bubble bath every month, or signing up for a yoga class once in a blue moon is a great start, but it’s not nearly enough. Prioritizing restful practices should be just as much a part of your weekly routine as work happy hours, coffee dates, and Netflix marathons. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation, mindfulness, and massage allow your adrenals to rest and restore. In turn, this can help your body to feel safe enough to release some of the weight it’s been holding on to (that’s right, the body holds onto weight as a protective measure for the body. And the more stressed you are, the less willing it is to give those pounds up). Not sure where to start with incorporating a mindfulness component into your daily routine? MRC Coaches have a plethora of ideas to get you started. There are also several apps that you can download that can help you be on your way to more rest and relation such as yoga apps, sleep apps, and self-guided meditations.
Practice Mindful Meals. Can you think of the last time you enjoyed your breakfast, lunch or dinner away from distractions such as your phone, laptop, books, other people, or even driving? Eating in a distracted manner can actually increase “cortisol” stress hormone levels and impact our hunger hormones. This causes us to feel hungrier and less satisfied by our meals. When you allow your body 20 minutes to fully digest in a peaceful environment, you bring your body out of “fight or flight” mode and into “rest and digest” mode. During this time you reduce stress, improve digestion, absorb more nutrients, and allow your hunger hormones time to effectively communicate. You’ll feel more satisfied after meals and have fewer cravings. Challenge yourself to enjoy one snack or meal per day away from distractions, somewhere that makes you feel grounded (maybe a favorite chair or picnic blanket on the grass). Take three deep breaths in and out before beginning your meal; focusing your attention on the food in front of you. Notice the smells, textures and flavors. When your mind starts to wander, gently guide it back and practice being present. Notice how you feel and the difference in your satisfaction and stress levels when you eat in this mindful manner.
Keep your blood sugar levels steady. If you find yourself starving between meals or feeling moments of being jittery, shaky, headachy, then this could be a sign of mismanaged blood sugars. When your blood sugar levels drop too low, this is seen as an additional stressor by your adrenals; causing them to kick into survival mode and potentially hold on to stored body fat. Skipping meals, relying on coffee as a fuel source and/or appetite suppressant, and constantly reaching for sugary/carb-rich foods is like whiplash to the adrenals. The first step is starting your day with a balanced meal. One that is high in protein with a moderate amount of healthy fat and lots of low glycemic vegetables can be a great help to keeping your blood sugar levels stable and support your hardworking adrenals.
Reduce caffeine. The occasional cup of coffee isn’t an issue for most people, and we certainly aren’t suggesting all caffeine must go! But when caffeine becomes a primary factor in us being able to effectively do our jobs, be present for our family and loved ones, and still make time for ourselves, that’s when it becomes a bandaid for deeper hormonal imbalances. Too much caffeine (oftentimes through multiple cups of coffee) can add more fuel to the flame and kick our adrenals into overdrive. Rather than cut it out all together, practice reducing your intake gradually while increasing your water intake. This will help you to avoid those caffeine withdrawal headaches. When you do have coffee, make sure to have it alongside a meal to avoid blood sugar dips. If you can get past the first few days of caffeine withdrawal, chances are you will quickly start to reap the benefits of more natural energy and less anxiety.
Cut back on refined sugars and carbs. When we eat too much-refined sugar and processed carbs like candy bars, packaged snack foods, and even white flour, we increase inflammation and cortisol “stress hormone” production. Even if you’re not stressed, too much sugar can jack up cortisol levels. Then that additional stress can make you crave more sugar which becomes a vicious cycle. When you're under stress, your body uses up a lot of sugar because the brain needs glucose to function. Because stress puts the brain in “fight or flight” mode, it needs more sugar to operate. So, we’re not saying all sugars and carbs must go; because they serve an important purpose to your body. Instead, shift your focus to more natural sugar derivations such as fruit and whole grains. It’s important to pair your sugar and carbs with enough protein to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. We recommend snacks consisting of protein and carbohydrates. Used to doing sugars in your beverages? Sprinkling cinnamon on your meals and beverages may help reduce cravings and/or the intensity of your cravings.
Set boundaries around your time. It’s far too normal to feel overcommitted and overwhelmed by obligations, meetings and appointments. Saying “yes” to every invite and request in our lives may make others happy, but it comes at the price of our health; quickly becoming a catalyst for weight gain and burnout. Learn to take the pressure off your plate by practicing your superpower: the word “no.” Take a look at your calendar this week and see what meetings, appointments or unnecessary obligations that can be rescheduled, “rain checked” or simply removed. When you notice certain friends, coworkers, or bosses starting to take advantage of your time, you can politely make them aware that you are not available 24/7 by not responding immediately to every message, turning off alerts on your phone on the weekends, and being more firm about what you will and will not say “yes” to. After all, showing up for yourself first is the only way to really show up fully for others.
Prioritize deep, restorative sleep. Lack of sleep can not only increase our cortisol “stress” hormone levels, but it can also raise levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. This, in turn, can make us feel ravenous, leading to overeating habits and constant cravings. Aim to get to bed at about the same time each night and wake up at about the same time each morning. This trains your circadian rhythm. To help get deep, restorative sleep, create calming evening rituals that prep and prime your body for sleep. Some great examples are a nightly skincare routine with facial massage, nightlights instead of overhead lighting, reading a real book in bed vs. watching TV or e-reader screen, avoiding sugary desserts, listening to a sleep meditation, and more.
Exercise...but not in excess! Moving your body in some way that you find enjoyable and/or doable daily is a great way to burn calories, tone the body, and reduce stress. But it’s important to have balance in your exercise regimen. Doing too much high-intensity training (HIIT) or long-distance cardio can actually contribute to adrenal imbalances by catapulting the body into fight or flight mode. This, in turn, causes the body to hang on to the very fat you’re trying to lose. Look at the week ahead and plan more intense workouts for days when you have the most energy and the least amount of stress on your plate. From there, you can pepper in more restorative, full-body workouts like yoga, long walks in nature, casual bike rides, stretching, and barre. Listening to what works for your body is the key.
Test your hormones. It’s one thing to suspect that stress is causing a hormonal imbalance. It’s another thing to know for certain. Knowledge is power, and knowing definitively the details of your body is an empowering and essential part of being in control of your health, life, and wellness. Did you know that Hormone Imbalance testing can be done noninvasively right in the comfort of your home? There’s no need to make several trips to the doctor for testing, follow-up, and treatment. Metabolic Research Center’s Hormone Imbalance Test Kit is a saliva kit that you complete at home. Simply seal your samples, ship to our testing facility with a prepaid shipping label, and sit back and relax until the results come back in less than two weeks. An MRC Specialist will review in detail your results with you and provide safe and healthy supplementation suggestions and lifestyle recommendations that will have your on your way to rebalance right away!
TAKE AWAY: Let’s be real and completely honest, avoiding stress all together is impossible (and your body does benefit from a little bit of stress now and then). But lessening the load can make a REAL difference in your weight management, mental health, and physical health. Practicing mindfulness and checking in with yourself to evaluate your current habits can be very eye-opening and help bring awareness to the ones that may not be serving and supporting you. Go back through this list and choose just one or two areas that you want to focus on this week. Once you’ve got a good routine set in place with those, gradually add on to them. By gradually stepping into healthier habits, you’ll be able to better sustain them and adjust your body and mind with less stress (which is the goal, after all!). For example, maybe you commit to 2-3 days of restorative movement this week, download a meditation app (and play around with the features), cross a non-essential anxiety-inducing event off your calendar, and practice swapping your sugary dessert for fresh fruit instead. These are individually simple enough tasks, but together they can make a BIG difference on your health.
Need a jumpstart on making changes that last? Start by downloading our Stress & Weight Management pamphlet to learn more. Then, connect with an MRC Specialist to start rebalancing. All of our coaches are specially trained to understand the impact of stress and provide real solutions that are tailored to your lifestyle. Bonus, they’ll continue to support and guide you each step of the way, making adjustments as you find you need. Connect with an MRC Coach today to learn more and get started.
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