The causes of the global obesity crisis are not fully understood, but stress may have a part to play, new research suggests
Does stress make you fat, even if you don’t overeat? That is the question researchers from UCL have been trying to answer by giving volunteers of different shapes and sizes a haircut and measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their hair. Long-term stress raises cortisol levels, and the researchers found that the larger volunteers had higher levels in their hair. So does this mean we can attribute obesity to stress and, if so, what can we can do about it?
The idea itself isn’t new. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. It plays a vital role in keeping glucose levels in the bloodstream in a steady state. When we are stressed or threatened, cortisol levels rise to release more glucose from stores in the liver, so we have more fuel to fight or run for our lives. Too much cortisol means too much glucose floating around and if it doesn’t get used, the excess is stored as fat.
But it has been hard to measure long-term cortisol levels reliably because they fluctuate over time. Traditionally, they have been measured in blood, urine or saliva but this new study used hair cut as close to the scalp as possible to measure accumulated levels over a two-month period. Researchers found that obese individuals with a BMI in excess of 30, or waist circumference above 102cm (40in) in men and 88cm (35in) in women, had the highest cortisol levels. Dr Sarah Jackson, of UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, explained: “People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death.”
Excerpt from The Guardian Online, read the full article here
Weight & Waist
There is no “quick fix”. Weight loss programmes take time and commitment.
The desire to lose weight can be so intense that it is easy to be tempted by the quick fix. However, fad diets will only cause the wrong kind of weight loss and will eventually lead to weight being put back on. The secret to weight loss is to make small changes to everyday lifestyle habits – this ensures healthy, gradual but permanent weight loss.
Follow these top tips that will help you do just that:
- Don’t diet. Make changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. Remember the basics of weight loss – you must expend more calories than you take in.
- Improve your eating habits. It’s not enough to just eat the right foods – you may be eating too much because of sloppy eating habits. Learn to eat when you are hungry and to stop when you are satisfied. Don’t watch TV, read or work whilst you are eating. Write down everything you eat in a week and you will easily identify your bad habits.
- Don’t feed your emotions. Many of us eat for reasons other than hunger. We eat when we are happy, sad, bored or stressed. If you eat for these reasons you will increase body fat percentage. Learn to distinguish between emotional hunger and real hunger and learn to deal with stress in other ways than eating.
- Boost your metabolism. After the age of 35 years you start to lose muscle tissue each year. Yo-yo and fad dieters have an accelerated rate of muscle loss. Exercise increases muscle tissue and slows down the natural loss in muscle tissue. Boost your body’s ability to burn calories through a regular physical activity programme.
Remember body weight is a balance between energy taken in and energy expended. Always combine a healthy diet with exercise for the best long-term results.
Managing your waist size
Waist circumference is currently considered to be a very accurate measure of future health problems. People who are an apple shape and store fat around their midriff are far more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes than those who are a pear shape or more diffusely plump.
A waist circumference greater than 80cm (32in) for women and 94cm (37in) for men indicates increased risk, while a measurement of more than 88cm (35in) for women and 102cm (40in) for men is particularly worrying.
It’s so easy to gain weight. To gain one pound of fat per week all it takes is 500 extra calories per day over and above your daily allowance. It’s harder to burn it off than take in. Concentrate your attention on your waist size and how well you fit into your clothes each week.
Cook healthy meals
- Eat lower fat foods and trim visible fat off meat
- Eat more fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day)
- Eat less take away and processed foods
- Cut down portion sizes of carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, bread, pasta)
- Avoid high calorie foods like crisps, chocolate, cakes and biscuits
- Drink less alcohol – beer and wine can be high in calories
- Cook in a healthy way – (grill, steam, poach or casserole)
- Keep snacks to less than 100 calories
- Avoid high calorie snacks when tired, feeling low, watching TV, in the car or bored
- Eat only when hungry and never past the point of feeling full
- Do 30 minutes+ exercise or 10,000+ steps per day
- Attend support group or follow prescribed diet plan (e.g Weightwatchers)
- Don’t fry – try grilling, stewing, poaching, steaming, boiling, dry roasting, stir-frying, dry frying, micro-waving or baking in the oven, instead.
- Try using non-stick cookware to reduce the fat needed and let any excess fat drip away before serving.
- Avoid adding extra oil when cooking meat or mince. If you have to use oil measure it rather than pouring it from the bottle. Choose healthier options such as olive oil, rapeseed oil or canola oil.
- Buy reduced-fat and low-fat dairy products – such as skimmed milk, semi-skimmed milk or reduced-fat cheese.
- Choose a low-fat spread rather than butter – olive oil or rapeseed oil based– remember to use sparingly.
- Choose lower fat dressings – avoid mayonnaise, creamy sauces.
- Choose lean meat and mince, trim the visible fat off the meat and the skin off poultry before cooking.
- Use stock cubes, stock and corn flour or a little gravy powder to make gravy rather than fatty juices from the meat.
- Replace cream in recipes with low fat natural yogurt, low fat fromage frais or reduced fat crème fraiche.
- In casseroles and stews use less meat and add more beans, pulses or vegetables. Choose tomato or vegetable based pasta sauces rather than cheesy or creamy ones.
- Check food labels, and choose those with less salt added.
- Cut down on salty snacks such as crisps/nuts and heavily salted foods such as bacon, cheese and other processed foods.
- Taste your food before you add salt, you may not need it. If you need to add salt during cooking, do not add it again at the table.
- Snacks such as chocolate bars, crisps and biscuits are very high in fat and calories. If you are trying to lose weight you should try to reduce the amount that you eat of these foods. It will be difficult to cut them out completely, so initially try to reduce the amount that you are eating, for example if you eat 2 bags of crisps per day, start by cutting down to 1 bag per day.
- You should also think about healthier snacks that are lower in calories and are more likely to satisfy your hunger. Try the following; fruit bun or currant bun, bowl of breakfast cereal, plain popcorn, breadsticks, oatcakes or rice cakes; vegetable sticks (carrots, celery) – dipped in low fat yogurt, fresh fruit or fruit smoothies, dried fruit (such as a small packet of raisins or 4-5 ready to eat dried apricots), low fat yogurt or fromage frais, crackers with low fat cream cheese, cup of low calorie soup, mini cans of fruit.