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Is Stress Making You Fat? Here’s How to Fix it in Three Minutes a Day


We all know what it feels like to be stressed.  It sucks! It is that horrid feeling of overwhelm, foreboding, or worry.


It is all too common in our society and it is very harmful to our health!


Did you know, that as well as making us unhappy, tired and overwhelmed, too much stress can also make us fat?


When we get stressed, we have a physical response. Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream.  These hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are made by the adrenal gland which sits just above your kidneys.


The physical stress response is known as the “fright and flight” response is our primal, non-voluntary response to a threat. This threat may be real or it might just be perceived.


It is the perception of a threat that causes the stress response. The threat could be running late for school pickup or being chased by a bear. Our body’s stress response is the same.


Too much stress is bad for us, emotionally and physically. Chronic stress can make us fat. The stress hormone cortisol, when activated too much and too often, actually increases our fat storage.


Let’s unpack this more.


First of all, it’s important to state - a bit of cortisol is good and normal.


Cortisol does lots of important stuff.  For example, it helps us wake up in the morning.  Among other jobs, cortisol assists with memory function, it helps regulate metabolism, salt concentration, and blood pressure.  In just the right amounts it is great!


But too much cortisol is a very bad thing indeed!


Cortisol raises your blood sugar. This was helpful back in Neolithic times to help us survive saber-tooth tiger attacks. Extra glucose for our muscles helped us run faster and avoid the bite of sharp-toothed cats.  But now, in the modern world of long commutes, dough-nut rich diets, mortgages, office politics, and school pickups, stress has become maladaptive. Nowadays, in modern times, chronic (long term) stress is slowly killing us.


So, imagine a busy mum, after a long day at work she now finds herself stuck in traffic and running late for after school care pick up.  She is stressed! Her cortisol is elevated. She doesn’t have a tiger to run away from, so the cortisol-induced rise in blood sugar does not fuel any fighting or fleeing.  Instead, that cortisol induced blood sugar rise elevates her insulin. Insulin (the fattening hormone) then promotes her fat storage and inhibits her fat burning. If that weren’t bad enough, cortisol also increases insulin resistance, making the elevated insulin she is experiencing even worse.


When stress is frequent and repeated (as it is so often is) it leads to increased abdominal fat, fatty liver, and increased triglycerides in the blood, all of which can eventually lead to obesity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.  Cortisol also makes you crave sugar and increases hunger.


We simply aren’t designed for chronic stress.


So, what can we do about it?


We can’t always change our external environment.

We can’t change the way other people behave.

We can (often) reduce the stress in our lives by setting boundaries, saying “no” (a powerful work is no!) and getting our priorities straight (do you really need to be chair that second committee AND hand shop all the fruit platters for all the kid’s soccer matches AND take on that extra project at work AS WELL as agreeing to meet your friend every Tuesday evening to help her practice Spanish?).


No matter what we do, there will always be some stress in our lives. Bills will need to be paid, children will be children, co-workers will be co-workers and sometimes the washing will get rained on.


The good news is that, even if we can’t get rid of the stressors, we CAN reduce the harmful and wait-gaining effects of the stress.


What we can change, is the way we react to the situation. We can make ourselves more resilient.


One way to do this is to reduce our background stress and our baseline cortisol level through the very powerful and profound process of meditation.


Meditation is a very powerful tool for reducing the weight gaining and health-harming effects of stress.


Get started today!


How to Get Started With Meditation:


Set aside just three minutes a day.

Yes, just three minutes is all you need to start.


Many people find it easiest to schedule that time around a common activity

like waking up, just after breakfast, at the end of a workday, or just before bed, or in the car at work carpark (not when driving, obviously, but for a few minutes before you go into work) - You can set a quiet tone on your phone or an egg timer to keep track of time.


Embrace wherever you are!

You do not need a special place to meditate. You can meditate on the bus, at a

park, on your bed, at work, or anywhere else. Just choose a location where you feel comfortable and unlikely to be interrupted.


Get comfortable.

You can sit, lie down, stand, or walk—whatever is most comfortable for you in the moment.


Take deep breaths.

Focus yourself by breathing deeply. Some people count their breaths, while others prefer to repeat a word to themselves (silently or aloud). Do whatever feels right in the moment.


Be kind to yourself.

There is no wrong way to meditate, so be accepting of whatever happens. If you find your mind wandering, bring it back to your breathing and how your body feels.


Scan your body.

Pay attention to how you feel, scanning your body from your scalp all the way to your toes.

Identify the areas that are relaxed, those that are tense, and how you’re holding your body.



After meditating, take a deep breath and think about how you feel. Do you feel different? Is your breathing slower? Are you more relaxed? Check in with yourself.


Figure out what works for you.

A rich array of advice can be found about how to meditate. Take only what you find works in your daily routine.


This week – make a start (if you haven’t already) – just three minutes a day and you will start reaping the extraordinary rewards.


A few minutes a day is a small investment for the wonderful brain changing, life-changing, and body-shape changing benefits of regular meditation.


In health,

Dr Mary Barson and Dr Lucy Burns

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