The Importance of Optimism
Natalia Zurowski, Features Columnist
Continued from Part I
How Does Stress Affect My Weight?
There's an interaction between physiology and everyday life. Weight loss is not just physical but a state of mind. When you're stressed, there are several chemicals in your brain that get secreted. In order for you to be at optimum health, these chemicals must be in an internal balanced state; otherwise known as homeostasis.
When you're stressed, your dopamine levels (the chemical associated with the reward centre of the brain) and serotonin levels (associated with happiness and mood) decrease. So when you are upset, you try to compensate for the drop in your serotonin levels by eating. The release of serotonin is triggered by processed and refined carbohydrate-ridden foods like cheeseburgers, chips and donuts. As you indulge, that overwhelming euphoric feeling you get when you bite into your cheeseburger is your dopamine levels going up. Due to the surge of dopamine and serotonin, you continue to eat, all the while asking yourself, "Why can't I stop eating?"
Although at the time you are happy, the gratification and happiness of indulging fades fast and your stress levels increase. As they rise, your cortisol levels - the stress hormone in the brain that is essential in the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates - become hyper-activated, and you begin to panic and once again feel down on yourself. It is a vicious cycle that can lead to depression, the development of chronic (long term) stress, as well as make you susceptible to illness.
When you are stressed, your immune system declines and falls into a state of immunosurpression, where you become significantly more susceptible to falling ill. In addition, our nervous system is connected to our digestive tract (70% of the body's immune system lies in the digestive tract) and stress can lead to excessive bloating, intestinal damage, and the deterioration of your immune system. As a result, you begin to feel groggy and lethargic - otherwise known as experiencing 'burnout' - and the last thing on your mind will be healthy eating and exercise.
The production of serotonin is necessary for regular and normal functioning but I do not suggest abolishing carbohydrates entirely. A balanced mix of protein and complex carbohydrates is essential in order to have a healthy body and mind. Carbohydrates help the mind to relax (hence the calming effect you feel when you are stressed and overindulge), while protein increases alertness. Along with a healthy diet, exercise is also responsible for increasing serotonin levels and alleviating depression. To read more about healthy weight loss methods and diet tips, read Janine Cleary's article on, Getting a Model Physique.
Aside from exercise and diet choices, what are other ways you can reduce stress?
Proceed to Part III and find out.