OK, we all talk about being stressed at some point.
“Stress” in various forms, releases cortisol, a steroid hormone in the body produced as part of our “Fight or Flight” response. It raises our heart rate, often body temperature and causes us to be alert, on edge and if you like, “a little wired”…….yep exactly the same thing through coffee drinking!
In fact, cortisol is released alongside adrenaline through various forms – caffeine, exercise, work, life stressors etc.
A small amount of cortisol or stress is actually good, in fact it actually wakes you naturally in the morning, gives you that “drive” through a race or workout, helps the body choose macronutrients (fats, protein, carbs) stored in the body and what to use them for physiologically. It’s also part of the bodies inflammatory and anti-inflammatory process which protects and then repairs the body during injury or even post workout, when you’ve stressed your muscles and change the balance of blood/lactate levels etc.
However too much cortisol or stress and you’re body moves the other way;
– It can be hard to wake in the morning.
– You feel tired at bed time, but you lie there unable to sleep
– You get ill, it clears up, and you catch the next bug going round
– You get energy crashes throughout the day, and need to reach for the caffeine or sugar hit
– Skin and body ages prematurely
– You basically feel warn out, knackered, ill and sluggish…….you’re are drained!
So why shouldn’t you eat when stressed?
Well, when stressed, your body is in “Fight or Flight mode” and the factors above start. You body starts to release stored glycogen (glucose or sugars) into bloodstream for pending action/activity. It also shuts down insulin production (which is used to store sugars from the blood stream into your cells) because it thinks you’re going to need “stored energy” shortly.
You blood vessels dilate, causing the heart to work harder, which in turn raises blood pressure, and heart rate raises.
This also draws blood away from un-needed organs, ready for the muscles and the “fight or flight” situation – this means blood flow AWAY from the digestive system.
Eating is actually quite a “draw” energy wise on the body. I don’t mean you’ll burn lots of calories through eating, I mean it takes a lot of effort and internal effort/focus to eat, digest and process food. When there’s no blood flow to the digestive system, and insulin is not being released, you’ve just served up a HUGE recipe for undigested food, bloating, further stress and pressure on the body and digestive system, and a lot of excess sugars running through the blood stream as insulin is being supressed by cortisol.
This might not seem a big deal to some, but you are basically loading stress and pressure on the body and turning your body into a stressed, fat storing machine! Once cortisol drops, your body is going to be on high alert, releasing huge amounts of insulin and plenty of those calories/sugars are going to be stored as fat!
If you are a continual stress head, you’re not only going to be damaging you body internally, but you’re literally loading your body with stressful foods and processes…..you’re fighting a losing battle if you’re trying to stay/get healthy and get lean. You’ll also find regular high levels of cortisol will not only block cells absorbing insulin (moving towards insulin resistance) but will send signals to the brain of hunger as the cells are not getting enough glycogen/stored energy…..another double edged sword.
So that’s the bad news, how can you keep cortisol down?
Firstly you need to address stressors. List EVERYTHING that causes you stress from work, lifestyle, family issues. You HAVE to address as many of these as possible. Often we don’t and just push them to the background, but the more you can face up to, resolve, or address the less stressed you’ll be.
We’ve all had the moment where we’ve addressed something head on and after felt sooo much better or relieved.
Same applies with food, many of us have intolerances to certain foods, which cause stress on the digestive system.
The most common ones are;
Wheat products (bread, flour, pasta)
Cow’s Dairy (milk and cheese)
Nightshade food groups (Mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, aubergine)
Try removing one or 2 of the above groups for 14-21 days and see how you feel, if energy increases, and you have issues (wind, stomach ache, bloating etc) next time you eat them, chances are your body doesnt work well with them
Water – Our bodies are 70% water and many people are dehydrated. This means toxins in the body are more concentrated. Water will not only help remove them, but literally dilute toxins in the body
Vitamin C – We cant store vitamin C in the body, and MUST get it from our diet, along with fish oils, they are a great anti inflammatory. Aim for 2-3g Vitamin C a day
Tulsi tea – great for rebalancing the body, and cortisol levels. Drink a few cups of this post lunchtime, and stay away from coffee after morning time. In fact if you are stressed you probably want to remove caffeine for a few weeks and let your levels drop.
Another thing to think of, outside the box – eating post workout. Cortisol levels are up, blood flow has been moved away from the digestive system, yet we’re told to eat straight after a workout.
Seems to go against the above?!
You’re body WILL not start breaking down muscle tissue in the 30mins you finish a workout! Let your bodies natural system work, then eat something around 45mins post workout for recovery.
The same could be said for breakfast……….cortisol levels are high first thing to wake us…….yet we’re told to eat?! Hmmmmmm…….. I’ll save that one for another time. Worth thinking about things sometimes tho……..and don’t live your life at Top speed all the time!