You’ve been under stress for a while now.
The boss has been on your back, the bills are piling up, your significant other is acting weird, your aging parents constantly need your help. The list could go on and on.
As if this stress wasn’t enough, you’re starting to notice some physical changes taking place to your body.
Your midsection seems a little more…shall I say robust?..than it did a while ago.
You know you’ve been eating more lately, but it seems as if you just can’t deny yourself those extra calories.
You try to diet. But it’s not going well because you’re hungry all the time.
How in the world can you lose weight if you’re starving?
You’re literally trapped in a vicious cycle of stress, hunger, and abdominal weight gain.
Breaking this cycle isn’t easy.
But it’s one you must break. This is why.
The Danger Of Chronic Stress And Abdominal Weight Gain
Scientific studies have consistently shown that chronic stress is highly associated with excess abdominal weight gain.
Researchers believe this type of weight gain is particularly dangerous.
People with excess abdominal fat have been shown to have higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and higher mortality rates.
Also as I showed in my last post, chronic stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol which has the potential to cause insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a serious medical condition and is associated with several significant health problems.
In today’s post, we’ll take a look at the role appetite plays in the whole process.
Next week, I’ll give you a strategy to deal with chronic stress and abdominal weight gain.
First, let’s briefly review the relationship between cortisol and insulin because as we’ll see it does play a role in appetite.
A Review Of Cortisol And Insulin Resistance
When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands secrete the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is one of the hormones responsible for allowing you to respond to an immediate threat.
One of cortisol’s actions in your body’s stress response is to increase the amount of glucose in your blood for use by large muscles.
Imagine you find yourself in a zombie apocalypse like in the movie World War Z.
You’re going to need a lot of extra energy to either fight or run away from the zombie hoard.
To get that energy, cortisol signals your body to release glucose into the blood.
After you’ve taken care of the zombie threat, your body will return to a non-stress state and cortisol will return to normal and your blood glucose levels will return to normal.
It’s a beautifully designed system.
Cortisol And Chronic Stress
However, when you’re in a state of constant stress, especially psychological stress from things like relationship problems, work difficulties, or financial hardships, cortisol is constantly being pumped out by your adrenal glands.
This can lead to a state of constantly high blood glucose levels.
Since high blood glucose levels are dangerous to your body, excess glucose must be removed from the blood.
To do this, your pancreas secretes insulin which moves glucose out of the blood into storage.
If this extra glucose is more than your body needs for energy, it will eventually be converted to fat.
However, if your stress continues, over time your cells might eventually begin to resist the effects of insulin.
Subsequently, your pancreas will continue to pump out more insulin in order to try to get the glucose that is continuing to enter your blood stream packed into cells.
But as the pancreas secretes more insulin, cells become even more insulin resistant.
As you can see, this creates a vicious cycle.
Insulin resistance creates insulin resistance which creates more insulin resistance.
The Danger Of Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance will eventually cause weight gain and potentially a number of dangerous medical conditions such as prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular problems, cancer and Alzheimers Disease.
Researchers estimate that over 50% of the U.S. population is insulin resistant.
While excess cortisol does produce insulin resistance, it’s not the prime cause.
Chronic stress combined with a poor diet is a recipe for a metabolic disaster within the human body.
There is, however, another factor to be concerned with when considering weight gain and chronic stress.
If you’ve suffered from chronic stress, you know how difficult it can be to control your appetite.
This will complicate the situation even further. Let’s see why.
Does Cortisol Increase Weight Gain By Increasing Appetite?
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports the conclusion that stress makes you hungry.
However finding the link between the two has been elusive.
Researchers know that excess cortisol can increase hunger because they’ve seen increased appetites in people taking prednisone (a synthetic cortisol).
There is also some evidence that suggests that increased cortisol levels may increase appetite.
Although researchers are not entirely sure exactly how excess cortisol increases appetite, there have been some theories offered.
One small study (6 men) showed that cortisol may increase levels of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, is responsible for making you hungry.
Some researchers have also theorized that cortisol may affect other hunger hormones such as neuropeptide Y and CRH.
While the above studies may have some validity, researchers are beginning to suspect that increased hunger from cortisol lies in a disruption in the action of the hormone leptin.
Leptin, also known as the “satiety hormone”. It’s made in fat cells and regulates energy balance by inhibiting hunger.
Think of when you are at Thanksgiving dinner, and Great Aunt Marge asks if you’d like another serving of turkey. You answer no because you’re already pretty full.
That’s usually the result of leptin. It signals your brain that your energy supplies are adequate and you don’t need any more food.
If your leptin signaling is working properly, fat cells that are full secrete leptin, which signals your brain to stop feeling hungry.
You now no longer feel the need to consume calories.
However, there’s a condition where leptin is being secreted, but your brain doesn’t see the leptin signals (leptin resistance).
Here’s the frightening part.
Your brain assumes you don’t have enough energy and causes your appetite to increase.
Leptin resistance can proceed to a point where your brain basically believes you’re starving.
It’s like that rather rotund guy you see at the potluck dinner who, every time you look up, is on the food line.
It’s quite possible that he has a problem with leptin resistance.
He really is hungry!
Of course, if you’re overeating, chances are that you’ll increase your blood glucose increasing the possibility of insulin resistance.
Let’s see if we can discover what causes leptin resistance and cortisol’s role in the process.
What Causes Leptin Resistance?
Researchers are not completely sure what causes leptin resistance.
However, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco, among others have proposed that high insulin levels might be the cause of leptin resistance. See here, here and here.
Yes, we’re back to high insulin levels again!
So, if you’re under chronic stress and your cortisol levels are consistently high, you have a good chance of being insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance may then increase your appetite which could lead to increased blood glucose and more insulin and more weight gain and the vicious cycle continues.
So if you’re under constant stress and you’re always hungry, there’s a reason for it.
Of course, if you’re eating more and those extra calories are bad calories then your blood glucose will increase even more.
This means more insulin and more insulin resistance and… well you get the picture.
In order to fix this problem, you must be able to overcome the vicious cycle of stress and insulin resistance.
It’s not an easy battle. But it’s a battle that you definitely can win. You must win.
In my next post, I’ll give you a plan that will help you break that vicious cycle.
That’s all I have today, folks. What do you have to say?
See you next time.
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