Remember when you were younger and wanted to trim down for that tropical beach vacay or dazzle in that sexy skin-tight outfit at your friend’s wedding … no problemo, right! A few tweaks on the diet front plus a couple of extra trips to the gym and voila, you were right where you wanted to be.
But as the years tick by, are you finding that those same tried and true diet and exercise plans are no longer cutting it and that losing weight has become a real challenge?
Let me give you ‘the skinny’ on what could be going on.
It is not an understatement to say that hormonal activity plays a pivotal role in weight gain as we age. So what’s the connection? Well, as our lives evolve, so do our responsibilities and pressures - longer working hours, around the clock raising of kids, taking care of elderly parents, marriage issues, financial headaches … you get the picture. Soon enough we’re just one big ball of stress thanks to our daily grind and that’s when the weight issues can often start.
One of the major players is cortisol, a hormone produced by our adrenal glands (those two little organs sitting on top of our kidneys). Often referred to as our ‘stress’ hormone, one of cortisol’s jobs is to helps get us out of immediate danger (along with the hormones norepinephrine and adrenaline) by increasing our blood sugar levels, raising our blood pressure and modulating our immune system. That sounds helpful, right?
However, if we stay at a constant (aka chronic) high level of stress, our cortisol levels also stay elevated and this triggers our bodies to lay down fat reserves for what it perceives might be hard times ahead, even starvation. In addition, these chronic high levels of cortisol trigger the release of insulin, our fat storage hormone, contributing to the accumulation of fat cells. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance (a topic for another day). Obviously fat reserves were a necessary part of survival for our ancestors (think fleeing from dinosaurs) but now it’s an unwanted side effect of our modern day, stressful lives.
So where does this fat get stored? You’ve guessed it, face, neck and around our waists where our deep abdominal fat is equipped with FOUR times more cortisol receptors compared to subcutaneous fat - that’s the fat just under the skin that we can pinch. (1)
So we can start to understand that stress and weight gain are closely intertwined. The imbalance of hormones caused by chronic stress can turn our bodies into virtual fat-producing machines, making it hard not only to take the pounds off but easy to put the pounds on. And that could be one reason we are finding it nearly impossible to lose weight.
Look out for my next Inspiration to discover other daily habits that could be self-sabotaging our weight-loss goals … and yes, they’re hormone related too.
(1) Epel, E.S., B. McEwen, T. Seeman, et al. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic Medicine 62:623-632, 2000.