Eek, I missed a blog last week. The reason? Totally overloaded with work; hours available to sleep, exercise and eat well greatly reduced by school inset days and after-school drama rehearsals. Blah blah blah, excuses, excuses!
But seriously, I have been a bit more stressed than usual as a result, and it’s really played havoc with all areas of my life!
Sleep – not been getting enough again. Desperately need to find the time to re-read my Week 5 blog to remind myself why it’s so crucial to have at least eight hours’ sleep each night. And how it can be dangerous if you don’t.
Exercise – George at GPFIT London is on holiday and left me with two home workouts to do while he was away. I didn’t find the time to do them. (And I STILL haven’t joined an exercise or dance class to supplement the two weekly personal training sessions, and I’m entering the final week of my #121toFitMum fitness challenge. Eek again).
Eating – I’ve not had time to shop and prepare meals in advance, so I’ve been grabbing more unhealthy snacks and meals than usual. And I’ve started picking off the girls’ tea plates again because I’ve allowed myself to become so hungry I can’t wait even to chop a carrot and dunk it in some hummus.
In short, I’ve gone a bit of the rails (again!) and this has stressed me out further. Argh! I guess that tomorrow is another day though, so we’ll try again.
But last week’s events got me thinking about stress, and its impact on my health, so I decided to have a bit of a Google. I was surprised – no, shocked – at what I read. Initially stress can cause you to lose weight; however, chronic stress can have the opposite effect. I now realise what I’ve been doing to myself these last few years, and am so relieved that I’m now addressing my lifestyle with GPFIT London‘s help. Here’s what your body goes through when you experience high levels of stress:
- Your brain tells your body to release adrenaline, which uses up stored energy.
- This results in an increase in cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’. Your body goes into what’s known as the ‘flight or fight’ (or survival) mode and is tricked into thinking you’ve used calories to cope with the stress, even though you haven’t!
- What feels like real hunger kicks in, so you prepare yourself a lovely health snack, right? Um, no. You grab something high in fat or really sugary, like a doughnut – anything that causes your brain to release pleasure chemicals to reduce the stress! They don’t call doughnuts and other such foods ‘comfort food’ for nothing!
- The above pattern happens each time you experience stress – you crave foods that aren’t good for you.
- To add to the bad news, as your body produces more cortisol, testosterone levels decrease and, over time, this lowers your body’s muscle mass.
- Lean body mass determines your metabolic rate, and so a lower body muscle mass results in your body burning fewer calories since fat cells are less active than muscle cells. Uh oh.
Now, it’s a well-known fact that, as you age, there is a tendency to lose muscle mass and you naturally burn fewer calories. But regularly high cortisol levels can speed up this process and cause you to store more fat around your middle. Higher levels of fatty acids in your bloodstream can also mean an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Not good at all!
But it’s impossible to go through life without getting stressed or feeling anxious, isn’t it? So what can we do to reduce those inevitable feelings of stress? Here are six ways:
- Have a little bit of what you fancy: sometimes your body craves something because it’s lacking a certain nutrient, eg. if you have low potassium, iron or calcium levels you might crave something salty to replenish minerals. The key is to satisfy your craving, but in as healthy a way as possible. So instead of eating that bag of Frazzles’ crisps (which is what happened to me last night – yep, told you I’d gone off the rails!) eat something like slightly salted cashew nuts instead so at least you get some good fat, protein and minerals as well.
- Meditate: some people find meditating or practising mindfulness techniques useful. Where I live in North London there are lots of yoga classes on offer, eg. Yoga Balance in Finchley, N12.
- Go easy on the coffee (and tea): drinking high levels of caffeine can, like stress, increase cortisol levels. And we now know what this can lead to. It’s recommended you don’t drink more than one-two cups per day, and not after 2pm (and certainly not as a bedtime drink, which is what I’ve practised for years and even now. Something else for me to work on!)
- Exercise: a bit rich, coming from me this week I know! But exercise can regulate hormone levels. Just don’t overdo it because a high-intensity workout can increase cortisol levels further.
- Stop dieting: restricting calories can trigger cravings and encourage binge-eating (hence why dieting doesn’t work as a long-term solution for achieving fitness and wellness).
- Sleep: again, I refer you – and I – to my previous blog post on sleep!
Talking of which … zzz!
Until next week!
PS. Next week is blog post TEN – the last post in my #121toFitMum series! Keep reading to find out if I’m getting anywhere close to achieving my goals …