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How Stress and Lack of Sleep Makes You Fat!

sleep stress weight loss Jul 12, 2016

Ellen, a 44 year old IT specialist with 2 kids had been putting in long hours at her job. She wanted to prove to her boss that she could do a good job so she took on extra projects and as many of you know, salaried positions often really require that you work over 60 hours per week anyway. So her exercise by necessity had to be reduced due to work and family commitments, and her stress levels and the means she used to deal with her stress levels had exponentially increased.   Then she found that within 6 months she had gained 30 lbs! And her digestion was also really suffering! While a 30 lb weight gain is hard enough on your health, Ellen’s self esteem took a very big hit because she felt less physically attractive, felt exhausted and completely overwhelmed by the thought of losing all of the weight that she had gained.

She also found that with increased stress, even though she was utterly exhausted trying to balance her life, she had trouble sleeping too! She lacked the energy needed to be a good parent to her children, and the family dynamic was suffering. And to add to her stress, her husband had recently been laid off from his job so her income was crucial to the wellbeing and support of her family.

“I really need your help” she said.” I am down to my last nerve and I just want to feel like myself again. I will do whatever you recommend. I will eat what you tell me to eat and not eat what you tell me not to eat. I just want my body and my life back again!”

And with this story we began to unravel the causes of her health crisis. Let me break it down for you!

With extra stress your body secretes more cortisol. Cortisol is one of our “fight or flight” hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. While we evolved so that when fear and adrenaline kicked in, we could outrun a mountain lion, what we seem to have more of these days is chronic lower levels of modern day stresses. Deadlines, time constraints, financial and work stress, childcare without the help of an extended family, and long evening hours in front of a computer screen catching up with work (I am guilty of this myself!). These stresses can eat into our natural circadian rhythms disrupting sleep. And when cortisol increases, the body says “Whoa! I had better hold onto this fat just in case I need to outrun that wooley mammoth!” At least that is what our genes tell us to do. They haven’t yet caught up to the modern world. Don’t they know that one should be able to maintain a healthy weight sitting 60 hours per week in front of the computer screen and living on jelly donuts and coffee? Perhaps they forgot to read that memo! Alas, we are stuck with the fact that evolution has not caught up with our natural world so we are seeing these problems!

Elevated cortisol levels increase insulin secretion which causes you to be even MORE hungry. So you eat MORE jelly donuts and drink even MORE coffee to get all of that work done. Especially to deal with that energy dip in the late afternoon! (You know what I am talking about, don’t you?) While caffeine was a modern miracle that ushered in the Renaissance era with advanced levels of higher thought and coffee smells amazing, there is a BIG price to pay, and that price may be your waistline, and your fasting blood sugar levels. With increased carb consumption and weight gain comes an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Did you know that there is a prediction that by the year 2021 1 in 3 Americans will have Type 2 Diabetes? Shocking! And much of that has to do with our food supply and stress levels.   But mostly elevated stress levels are associated with weight gain because of wacked out insulin levels!

I mentioned earlier that increased cortisol levels are associated with a decrease in sleep quality. Conversely, a decrease in quality sleep also leads to carbohydrate craving (just to get you through the day) and weight gain. Many of my patients start losing weight when they decrease their carbohydrate intake (including alcohol for many) and their sleep quality improves. There may also be underlying issues interfering with quality sleep that need to be addressed. Many of my patients with autoimmune disease also have difficulty sleeping, and there is often an underlying adrenal fatigue issues. So adrenal fatigue issues can also eventually cause a decrease in thyroid functioning which can make losing weight even more difficult.

So back to Ellen. First of all I put her on my weight loss program, so we worked with her nutrition. She went on a very structured Ketogenic Paleo type diet. Paleo means pretty much meats and vegetables and Ketogenic means fat burning, so that you preserve muscle mass which is your fat burning engine.  So there were very limited carbs in her diet. We also tested her Adrenal Function and found that her Cortisol levels were very high. Not surprising since she has 2 young children and a demanding stressful job! Then we treated her adrenal issues, which helped her thyroid issues. She made a concerted effort to get more exercise, which helped with the stress levels as well as increasing her energy and helped her lose some weight. It took Ellen about 3-4 months to lose the extra weight but she was super motivated and adhered strictly to the plan! She found that her energy, digestion and sleep also improved.   She is now back down to her “happy weight”, has more energy and feels that she concentrates better on the job now.   While we can’t at this time do anything about her stressful job, besides finding her a new job (not MY area of expertise!), she is handling it better because she feels so much better and has implemented strategies to promote her health!

If you would like help losing weight as well as sorting out your fatigue , sleep and digestive issues, (or joint pain which often goes along with all of this) I offer a FREE 15 minute phone consult where you can see if you want to work one on one with me! It is a chance for us to see if we are a good fit for each other! You can schedule that by clicking this link or by calling (303) 443-2206 M-F 8:30-5:00 Mountain Time. I can work with long distance people by phone or video as well as in-person with local to Boulder Colorado patients.

I look forward to hearing from you soon! Be well!



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