Ok some people may argue against this but in general when people discuss weight with me in clinic, we really do need to reassess how people are eating. I sometimes find people may wake up in the morning and do their normal morning routine. Which could include an hour in the gym or taking a dog for a walk or kids to school. So, the first item of food to pass their lips may be hours after they have woken up.
Blood sugars can be at an all time low and well this can lead to bad decisions. So my Tip number two is:
- Eat little and often – the idea is to convince your body that food is abundant, that it does not need to store extra fat and that it can burn off excess that is already stored. If you go for more than 3 hours without food your body will start to go into survival mode. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that simply by switching to a regime of eating every 3 hours you could reduce cortisol levels by 17% in just two weeks. These people ate the same amount of food as normal; the only difference was that instead of eating it in 3 big meals, they divided it into smaller more frequent meals. By eating three meals and two snacks daily it will increase energy levels, decrease cravings and blood sugar levels will steady.
So how you may ask does cortisol have anything to do with this? Also what do you mean about survival mode? Fluctuations in blood sugars i.e leaving too long between meals may trigger survival mode your bodies cunning way of protecting itself from any potential danger. It may also trigger your fight or flight response.
Fight or Flight
Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger, just like wild animals, on constant alert to fight or run if threatened – called the flight or flight response.
When your brain thinks your life is under threat, it releases a substance called corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) which immediately stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. At this point a number of physical changes take place in your body. This is the fight or flight bit –
- Your heart speeds up and your blood pressure rises.
- The clotting ability of your blood increases so that you will recover more quickly if you are injured and start to bleed.
- Your ability to conceive is reduced as you don’t need to make a baby when you are ‘in danger.’
- Your digestion shuts down and the energy needed for that system is diverted elsewhere.
- Your liver immediately releases emergency stores of glucose into the bloodstream to provide instant energy to fight or run.
- Your immune system produces more white blood cells so that you’ll be better equipped to fight foreign viruses or bacteria.
- Your muscles tense and blood is moved away from the skin and internal organs (except the heart and lungs) and towards the muscles.
- Breathing becomes faster and shallower to supply oxygen to your brain, heart and muscles.
- Sweating increases to release toxins produced by the body.
- Bladder and rectum muscles relax – you can even wet yourself or open your bowels.
- Adrenaline is released directly into the blood stream and cortisol levels rise, boosting blood sugar to give you energy.
Adrenaline levels come down fairly quickly and cortisol more slowly. The problem is evolution is lagging a little behind modern-day life. These days, many of us live under chronic stress but this stress comes from deadlines, traffic jams or children having tantrums, rather than spear wielding attackers or sabre-tooth tigers. The body can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, family disputes, leaving too long between refuelling your body and the truly life-threatening stress. So it reacts in exactly the same way as it always has – fight or flight.
So the bottom line is that people who suffer constant stress, will have constant high Cortisol levels. Cortisol makes your body think it needs refuelling after all this fighting and flighting so it increases your appetite. This is fine if you have been fighting or running for your life since your body clears the stock, if however you are chained to a desk or watching Netflix, constant refuelling is hardly appropriate. The extra fat will be deposited around your middle. It targets the middle because it’s close to the liver, where it can most quickly be converted back into energy if needed. It provides you with a cunning form of protection, ready for the next stress attack.
So people under constant stress quite often feel hungry all the time. Worse still, their body urges them to stock up on foods it thinks will be most useful for this activity namely carbohydrates and fats.
Stay safe and remember to consult a health professional before making any changes to the way you eat.
BSc.(Hons), MSc PHN, ANutr
M: +44 07957 267 964
‘Registered with the Association for Nutrition – www.associationfornutrition.org
Protecting the public and promoting high standards in evidence-based science and professional practice of nutrition.’