You eat a balanced diet, avoid processed and sugar-laden foods, keep water intake high, limit alcohol, and build your plate around fiber-rich, non-starchy veggies…and yet you still feel weighed down and tired. What gives?
There are two major factors, aside from food, that can derail you from achieving your personal health goals… stress and sleep.
How do sleep and stress set you back? It's all about the hormones.
We all know long term stress is bad. When we're stressed, the body releases a myriad of hormones in response, cortisol being the main stress hormone. Here's the thing, cortisol isn't entirely bad, and when functioning properly in its correct rhythm, it is anti-inflammatory! Cortisol is what gets us out of bed in the morning. I could write a whole post on cortisol and circadian rhythm, but alas, that would cut into my Tik Tok time.
Stress is the body's response to any change that requires a response or adjustment. The body does not distinguish between 'perceived' and 'real' stress.
Cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, is a glucocorticoid—gluco, meaning sugar. Cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into stored protein to bring blood sugar up. This gives the body a quick burst of energy and works great in the short term.
Long term, it's linked to weight gain and insulin resistance. Cortisol shuts down digestion, hinders nutrient absorption, and even slows metabolism. Remember, cortisol brings up blood sugar, and when elevated long term, it persistently produces glucose, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. Stress is a real biatch. Research has suggested hunger hormones revs up during stressful times, causing us to over-eat and feel out of control. One study found stress increased in plasma ghrelin levels, a hunger hormone.
It also actively works against our goals as it is catabolic and can lead to muscle breakdown. Muscle dictates metabolism and plays a pivotal role in aging. Say what?! Cortisol is making it harder for our body to use energy, it can make us more hungry so we over-consume energy and it can break down our muscle, which can slow metabolic functions.
Causes: Psychosocial stressors, lack of sleep, trauma, fasting, eating too little and over-exercising, to name a few. Learn more here.
What to do: Meditate, prioritize sleep (rest and repair), avoid eating when stressed, schedule some self-care, call a friend, practice deep breathing exercises and positive thinking, go for a walk… You have to find what works for you.
NTG Stress Tips:
Eating enough. Not eating enough can also cause stress on the body. Mismanaged blood sugar is an internal stressor. Getting protein in first thing in the morning can help set your metabolic rate for the day.
Movement & sunlight. Studies have found that exposing yourself to sunlight for 30 minutes first thing in the morning can release serotonin, our happy chemical. Negative ions are produced from wind, moving water, and walking barefoot outside! Exposure to negative ions helps to increase your serotonin levels, enhances immunity, and decreases depression. Get outside and move.
Don't fear carbs. Carbohydrates increase serotonin and reduce cortisol, so eating them in the evening can help you chill out and unwind.
Sleep and stress go hand in hand. When you're stressed, you can't sleep, and when you can't sleep, you're stressed.
Studies show that poor sleep increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and cortisol and leads to higher levels of obesity. Ever feel like a bottomless after a poor night's sleep? You can thank your hormones, specifically leptin, which is impaired with reduced sleep.
Even if you are getting 8 hours of sleep, quality sleep is paramount. Waking up frequently in the evening and tossing and turning can impact gut microbiota's rhythms and has been linked to adverse changes in metabolism, insulin resistance, and even obesity. Lack of sleep can also impair immune function. Our body's circadian rhythm has a strong influence on our immune function.
Research has suggested short sleep duration causatively contributes to weight gain. One study found that partial sleep deprivation led to increased food consumption the following day, nearly 385 additional calories.
Limit late-night eating. In the evening, the actions of digestion are turned off, and the actions of repair and restoration are turned on. If we eat late at night, we're asking the body to reignite these functions, which is not ideal and can result in impaired sleep, slower digestion, inappropriate acid production, and insulin resistance.
What to do: Develop a sleep hygiene routine.
NTG Sleep Hygiene Tips:
1. Limit artificial light
2. Avoid stimulates such as caffeine and alcohol and large meals
3. Enjoy healthy carbs at dinner to lower cortisol so melatonin can be released
4. Keep your bedroom cool and dark - I keep mine at 68F
5. Improve cortisol awakening response
6. Manage stress during the day
7. Consider natural remedies
8. Be consistent and go to bed at the same time every night
Stress and sleep may be sabotaging your progress. Health is more than green smoothies and balanced, nutrient-dense meals.