Stress Busters 101

For most of us, stress is a fact of life. Life changing events whether big or small can reek havoc on your hormones and the level of cortisol that is pumped through your bloodstream. Unfortunately, research reveals that it's also a fact of fat. "Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.

Here's what happens: Your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flight syndrome. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven't used very many calories. This can make you hungry...very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.

Many of us, however, operate in a different manner. We stop eating because of the increase in acid in our stomach caused by the anxiety or stress. Contrary to popular belief, the "stress diet" that could cause a weight loss of 10 or more pounds is actually counterproductive to your metabolism. In addition, you might even have rebound weight gain once you start eating in a semi-normal manner.

But few of us reach for the carrots or broccoli in these situations. Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you're anxious, you want fattening foods.

With your adrenal glands pumping out cortisol, production of the muscle-building hormone testosterone slows down. "Over time, this drop causes a decrease in your muscle mass, so you burn fewer calories," explains Shawn Talbott, PhD, author of The Cortisol Connection. "This occurs naturally as you age, but high cortisol levels accelerate the process." Cortisol also encourages your body to store fat—especially visceral fat, which is particularly dangerous because it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.

Obviously, getting rid of all anxiety isn't an option. But by taking thesesome steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control—and improve

your health.

What can you do to combat anxiety and beat this

"stress fat" ?

1. Drop and do 10.

Whenever tempted to reach for fattening foods due to your anxiety or stress in your life, get your blood pumping. Drop and do a few pushups, climb a few flights of stairs, powerwalk or slow jog, or reach out to your favorite fitness trainer and JUMP IN A CLASS :)

2. Try to sleep it off.

Maintaining normal sleep patterns as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important thing you can do for your physical and mental health.

3. Curtail caffeine consumption.

Next time you're under stress - choose decaf. When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. In one study by the University of Oklahoma, consuming the equivalent of 2½ to 3 cups of coffee while under mild stress boosted cortisol by about 25%—and kept it up for 3 hours. When subjects took 600 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 6 cups of java) throughout the day, the hormone went up by 30% and stayed high all day long. You'll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of lattes.

4. Stop strict dieting.

It's ironic, but research shows that constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise as much as 18%. In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (you guessed it) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn't stand a chance.

5. Be kind to yourself.

Stop for a few moments. Have a good cry. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor. Go for a walk or take a long hot bath. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE and power down for a few moments. Sometimes surrounding yourself with people who love you for you and practicing a little self love is the best therapy there is.