Emphasizing Stress Management
Tips for correcting the hormone imbalances that lead to weight gain, other health issues
Don't stress if you weren't already aware that April is Stress Awareness Month. We understand your mind has been on other things lately — work, family, health, relationships, finances, laundry, yardwork, what to make for dinner, spotted lanternflies and rising sea levels. So little time, so much to fret over.
We can't eliminate stress entirely — it's always going to be there in some form or fashion. But we can limit its impacts on our minds and bodies, and we can also condition ourselves to better handle it. Denise Horton, owner of Erie's BeBalanced Hormone Weight Loss Center (5031 Peach St.), makes a living of telling clients how.
Hormones and stress
Out of evolutionary necessity, stress is a highly physiological event. When provoked, perturbed, worried, scared, or otherwise threatened, the body's hormonal balance shifts. The problem is that in the 21st century, we're not eluding acute threats like sabretooth tigers — we're running from a host of issues that nibble and eat away at us more gradually.
When our hormones are more consistently out of whack for more prolonged periods, stress becomes more visible as the ways the body metabolizes energy change, leading to weight gain. BeBalanced Hormone Weight Loss Centers aim to restore the body's natural hormonal interplay so that regression is minimized.
Specifically, Horton says, BeBalanced focuses on the relationship between four hormones:
- Insulin — regulator of blood sugar (glucose) levels and harbinger of fat storage, a product of the pancreas
- Cortisol — the body's main stress hormone, secreted by the adrenal gland. Cortisol's role is to lend tissues more energy (e.g. glucose) for fight or flight. Thus insulin and cortisol motivate one another.
- Progesterone — primarily functions to thicken the uterine lining in women, coinciding with the latter half of the menstrual cycle. Low progesterone levels allow other hormones to run more rampant, leading to weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, low libido, anxiety, insomnia, etc.
- Estrogen — the other main female sex hormone, which in excess encourages fluid retention and elevates insulin levels (instigating sugar/carb cravings).
A major player in weight gain in women is progesterone being "stolen" and converted to cortisol to buffer themselves against the stresses in their daily lives, which makes the body think it has to produce more insulin (so that particular woman has enough energy to fend off all those sabretooth tigers, of course).
BeBalanced offers a couple of transdermal creams to help correct imbalances — one that contains the building blocks of cortisol (so your body doesn't have to commit resources or steal progesterone to make its own) and another containing natural progesterone — however, these "don't bring stress down in the body," Horton says.
That is done, instead, by tweaking (or in more drastic scenarios overhauling) one's lifestyle.
Diet and Exercise
Stay away from processed foods and refined sugars. Opt for whole foods — fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats (from coldwater fish, nuts, and seeds) — whenever possible.
Committing to a regular exercise program obviously goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet. However, even going for a brief walk, stretching, or deep breathing can decrease stress and boost mood.
Sleep has a vital role in restoring our bodies, but many of us sabotage our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Eating or exercising too close to bedtime winds us up, and blue light from electronic devices suppresses melatonin production in the brain.
Horton adds that you should make sure your bedroom temperature is cool enough, "between 63 and 65 degrees." A hot bedroom can negatively affect sleep onset, sleep quality, and the amount of time spent in the most restorative sleep stages.
Horton has seen a lot more people come through her doors carrying extra weight due to COVID, which she attributes to stress eating (eating for a sense of control) or boredom eating (because it's the only thing you can think of to do). Food has often become filler for the life experiences we've been sorely missing out on.
Now that vaccines are more widely available, it's important to get back to spending time with the people with whom we are most comfortable. Positive social interaction, laughter, and physical touch put us at ease, lowering stress and its numerous side effects.
In between working on lifelong lifestyle changes, do not neglect the immediacy of the senses. Here are a few things you can do within your physical environment to help take the edge off.
More subdued colors such as soft blues, greens, and earthy tones support an environment of peace and calm — important in spaces where a relaxed mental state is a priority.
Some research suggests that music at a frequency of 432 Hz can induce a deep, meditative state (there's plenty freely available on YouTube to go around).
Aromatherapy utilizes aromatic essential oils, whether infused into candles or dispersed through oil diffusers, to facilitate relaxation.
Yoga and meditation combined with the above practices may altogether leave you much less aware of your stresses until next Stress Awareness Month rolls around.
BeBalanced Hormone Weight Loss Center, located at 5031 Peach St., is currently offering free consultations and hormone assessments for its 14-week weight loss program. The program begins with a 30-day weight loss phase, continues with a maintenance phase (to reset the metabolism), and ends with a lifestyle phase and nutritional course for lasting results. Women typically lose 15 to 22 pounds in 30 days, while men typically lose 20 to 30 pounds.
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