Fight or Flight Response – Is Stress Hindering Your Weight Loss?
Eating healthy and losing weight isn’t an easy task; It usually requires lifestyle changes and constant maintenance. If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from exhaustion and are impacted by daily stressors, losing weight can be even more challenging. The body is a marvelous tool with mechanisms to warn us of pending danger and is geared to keeping us safe as we make our way through life. These same automatic neurological systems can also impede our weight loss.
When our body perceives external danger (this can be stress related) the hypothalamus (a small yet powerful region of our brain that manages the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland) activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system (Hypothalamus). These two nervous systems work to assist us during times of stress, with the sympathetic system utilizing pathways of nerves to originate physical reactions in the body and the adrenal-cortical system using the bloodstream as a super highway. When these two systems combine and are thrust into action to encourage the avoidance of the threat, the result is the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The fight or flight response is an automatic reaction in the body that enables people as well as animals to move quickly to cope with perceived threats to survival (Stress Recess: Fight or Flight).
Of course, the stressful situations that originally initiated this type of neural stress response were quite different than the daily stressors of the 21st Century. Early man’s threats usually appeared while hunting for food, or when his food was perhaps hunting him. The fight or flight response today can be attributed to stressors such as a traffic jam, workplace overload, waking up late, teens arguing, or just a fundamental lack of sleep. Although these chemicals produced by our amazing bodies produce benefits for our survival, the adrenal glands producing cortical hormones encourages our bodies to hang on to excess weight. This cycle of stress and the body’s reaction to it (producing excess cortisol) is a dangerous one that impedes weight loss.
When our body speeds up in response to stress, we grow tense – think of how your blood pressure rises when you’re rushing to get to work but get stuck in traffic. As we become more alert (if we have to move quickly), the sympathetic nervous system notifies the glands which signal the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) into the bloodstream (physical effects of stress). Then, the blood pressure and heart rate soar, while stress hormones flush throughout our body. When this happens daily, there’s a risk of being in a constant state of stress – that signals our bodies to hold on to the excess weight.
The nutritional link to stress is the need to reduce the body’s stress reactors through proper nutrition and exercise. Keeping your blood sugar balanced is an effective way to reduce the fight or flight response. For example, eating portion-controlled, balanced meals throughout the day helps to keep your blood sugar balanced. Companies like Eatfitters in Houston, TX offer creative solutions to being ‘too busy’ to eat well by delivering a host of pre-packaged and portion controlled meals. Each meal is a perfect blend of fats, carbohydrates and protein, providing you with the energy you need to face the day. Stress will always be part of life but eating well will help keep your fight or flight reactions at bay so you can successfully lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle.