A recent 2019 study has revealed that women are more vulnerable to weight gain when they are experiencing chronic stress at work! Upon looking for a link to weight gain over a 20-year period, it appears that exposure to job strain is a primary cause to this.
The explanation lies within a hormone called cortisol. Stress induced from the mind and body can lead to a prolonged output of cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to a loss of muscle mass. Since muscle burns more calories at rest in comparison to fat, the less muscle we have the slower our metabolic rate and the easier it is to gain weight.
If chronic stress is affecting your weight, then these 6 top tips may help to keep your metabolism high and keep stress at bay:
1. Protein: little and often
Little and often is key when it comes retaining or even gaining muscle mass. Spread protein consumption throughout the day by including a quality protein source at each meal and snack.
Tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds are perfect for your daily fix of protein! Snack on almonds and cashews and make sure to include legumes into your meals.
2. Resistance training
We don’t maintain or gain muscle mass by simply eating more protein. It is essential to carry out regular resistance training too. The current guidelines are to complete some form of resistance training at least twice a week.
Lift weights or simply use your own body weight to complete exercises such as sit ups, squats or lunges.
3. Balance blood sugar
Blood sugar dips throughout the day can stimulate the release of cortisol to help normalise blood sugar levels. Three regular meals a day, which provide sustained fuel to the body and brain and minimise the risk of experiencing these blood sugar lows.
Balance your blood sugar levels by combining fibre rich wholegrains, protein, healthy fats and rainbow-coloured vegetables at each meal.
4. Switch your coffee for calming teas
Caffeine may help us to kick start our day; however it’s important to note that it also stimulates the stress response which puts us into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Whilst a little caffeine may have cognitive benefits for some, over relying on coffee throughout the day result in chronically high cortisol levels.
Instead of having coffee, try calming caffeine-free teas such as chamomile, lavender tea or even lemon balm and ginger.
Exercise is well proven to boost energy, mood and even reduces stress. But it’s not the marathon runs and lengthy spin sessions which lower cortisol, it’s the calming workouts such as yoga, pilates and even tai chi.
A 10-minute daily power walk throughout the working day can be a healthy way to manage stress and keep energy high.
Lack of sleep can result in elevated cortisol levels, which stay high throughout the day. What’s more, sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of weight gain.
Aim for 7-9 hours a night and if you struggle to sleep, try cutting out your afternoon caffeine rich coffee or tea. Avoid eating heavy meals just before bed and minimise your alcohol intake.
To find out more about this new study, read it here.
By London nutritionist Lily Soutter, BSc (hons) Food & Human Nutrition, Dip NT