UNDER 20 FITNESS BLOG

Is Stress the Cause of Your Weight Gain? 5 Ways To Instantly Reduce Stress


Your job is hanging by a thread; your credit-card bills are mounting. You’ve got a baby on the way. Or maybe it’s the 24-hour news channel that has you stressed out about the big storm/earthquake/terror attack that’s looming.

Stress is an albatross that’s hanging around our neck in the hectic 21st century. It’s a fact of life, no doubt about it.

I, myself beat the system for a long time. Then I got slapped in the face by life.

Since starting The Under 20 Workout and becoming my own boss my life was finally stress free. Well, very low stress anyway.

This amazing little business I started made me healthy, happy and generally less pessimistic.

That was until I was faced with an awful reality that I had no control over.

My mother died.

How Stress Took Over My Body

My mom lived a blessed life and handled her death like a complete champ. But that didn’t stop pain and stress from overtaking my body.

I went to North Carolina for several weeks and I was lucky enough to be by her side when she passed.

But in those weeks my body changed. I stopped working out. I wasn’t eating much at all and when I did it was usually something I could grab out of the fridge.

Yes, I said I stopped working out. For the first time in 3 years I skipped workouts.

I started gaining belly fat and my face was starting to age because of the stress. Yes, all of this in just a few weeks. Is that possible?

Stress and Hormone Production

I started researching stress and the damage it does to the body.

You’ve heard me talk about cortisol before, I’m sure.

Cortisol is the nasty “stress hormone” that not only causes you to readily store belly fat.

Yep, stress forces your body to store fat in your belly area. This fat is called visceral fat and it’s extremely unhealthy.

Not only that but cortisol also causes you to crave sweets and simple carbs.

While in North Carolina, I noticed myself craving ice cream and other sweets and I just thought it was because it was so freaking hot there.

Turns out, I was craving these things because of that dammed stress hormone cortisol.

Think of the last time your were stuck in traffic… Did you crave a handful of veggies or did you crave M&Ms and a Coke?

Turns out that the cortisol that is released by stress makes your body crave quick energy in the form of simple sugars. That’s why you crave a slice of cake after a stressful day at work.

After just 14 days in N.C., I took my son Oliver to the pool. Susana was with us. I saw her notice my uptick in belly fat. She finally admitted that yes, I was getting fatter.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was eating way less but storing belly-fat.

I researched and researched how this could be possible.

Here’s what I came across.

What Is Cortisol and How Does It Cause Stress Fat?

Stress causes your adrenal gland to release two hormones at the same time, Adrenaline, which is felt immediately, and Cortisol, which you don’t feel, the effects of until an hour or so after the stress.

And when you feel the cortisol, you know it.

Cortisol’s sole function is to make you ravenous.

“Cortisol is one of the most potent appetite signals we have,” says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., author of The Metabolic Method. Some research suggests that it may interfere with the signals that control appetite (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin). Stress and cortisol might also cause our brain to find more pleasure in sweets. And because cortisol can mix up your hunger signals and suppress your brain’s normal reward system, feeling tense may make you crave a decadent dessert even after a big meal.

This was a good thing back when we just burned through a ton of calories running from predators and chasing our food… But today stress comes from inactive triggers like being in debt, commuting through crappy rush hour traffic or just logging onto Facebook to see that jerk from high school just got promoted to head jackass of his Fortune 500 company.

And the reason y0u crave crappy foods is because sugars are the quickest form of usable energy for the body and stress demands energy.

We’re not the only animals who respond to stress this way. Pissed off mice do too. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania offered lab mice their regular food and, for a one-hour window each day, as many high-fat food pellets as they could eat. When the mice were stressed (since rodents, as far as we know, don’t sweat gridlock, researchers riled them up by exposing them to the odor of a predator, among other things), they scarfed as many of the high-fat pellets as they could in that hour, and ate even more day after day. Result: a lot of fat, angry little rodents.

So, what can you do about this vicious circle.

How I Overcame My Belly Fat Explosion

The next morning after Susana looked at my increasing belly fat, I woke up and looked in the mirror… for 28 minutes.

I knew that the first step was to get back get back on my 20 Minute Workout Program. 20 heart-pounding minutes later, I felt like a new person.

But I knew that I needed more than just a workout.

I needed to eat better, so I used this FREE nutrition guide that I created:  10 Natural Fat Burning Foods and Recipes

I needed to spend time alone, so I spent 15 minutes in silence everyday and focused only on breathing deeply.

I needed to connect with others, so I started working out with my friends as soon as I got back. Thanks Mark, Stephen and Danielle. They really pushed me to make every workout.

During my research I also made this list for myself and I’d like to share it with you…

5 Ways to Stop Cortisol Production

  1. Workout – Short, intense workouts for just 10 to 20 minutes will release day’s worth of stress. Some people use a bag. I use a workout like this – 10 Minute Stress Busting Workout 
  2. Eat Healthy But – Eating healthy is key, but if you happen to eat an unhealthy meal, don’t stress over it. Adding cortisol to an unhealthy meal is a deadly combination. Read this guide: 10 Natural Fat Burning Foods and Recipes
  3. Breathe – As soon as you feel your body go into stress/Adeline release mode, stop… Take 10 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Think happy thoughts.
  4. Laugh (my favorite) – Hang out with your funniest friend or have lunch with that lunatic you work with. Their very presence may help you temper hormonal stress. Simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half, according to researchers at Loma Linda University.
  5. Listen to Music – Music can lower cortisol by up to 60% according to researchers at Japan’s Osaka Medical center. Play some background music during dinner and instead of watching T.V. before bed, put on your favorite Itunes mix. Or just pop in your cassette tape if you’re reading this in 1987.

I have to admit I only used a few of these but the one that worked best for me was laughing.

On the night that my mom died I stayed up until 6:30 am with my brothers and sisters. We laughed all night telling stories of our childhood and the horrors of a divorced family.

Where there’s pain, there’s humor.