Stress and poor eating go hand in hand. A hectic lifestyle can leave you with little free time and plenty of exhaustion. For thousands of overworked, under-relaxed Americans, grabbing a quick burger at McGreasy's and skipping yoga class doesn't seem like a choice. It feels like a survival necessity.
But in truth, the problem goes beyond how a few (hundred) extra calories can impact your gut. Your bodily functions are regulated by chemicals called hormones—and hormones are regulated by a series of glands throughout your body known as your endocrine system. These glands don't work independently. Much like a government, a soufflé recipe, or a John Irving novel, they're all interconnected and if one part is impacted, it can cause a cascade of health issues, including weight gain.
For example, for most of us, stress prevents you from sleeping well. This is a problem because this stimulates production of a hormone called ghrelin, which tells you to eat and decreases the levels of the hormone leptin, which tells you to stop eating. In other words, when you don't get your 7 to 8 hours of sleep, your hormones send signals to your brain to eat more.
Why are those bad ol' hormones beating you while you're down? Probably because, in primitive times, we didn't sacrifice sleep so that we could sit at a desk for an extra 4 hours or watch an entire season of The Walking Dead in one sitting. Instead, when we didn't sleep, it meant we were on a 24-hour buffalo hunt or our cave had been flooded in the middle of the night so we were seeking shelter. In these situations, we needed to eat more because we needed energy for these demanding tasks.
But that's just a small example of how stress can make you fat. The much larger issue has to do with your stress hormones, particularly everyone's favorite biological bugbear, cortisol.
When thrown into a "fight or flight" situation, your endocrine system adapts by jacking your brain with adrenaline (aka epinephrine) in an effort to marshal all your bodily functions into solving the problem at hand. Blood flow to your brain increases to sharpen your wits. Blood is also sent to your extremities so that you can fight your way out of the situation or run away. (Contrary to the title, humans can't actually "fly" in stressful situation, although that would be cool.) To pump all this blood around, your heart beats harder and you breathe harder so that you're getting plenty of oxygen.
But if you remained in this state too long, you'd probably have a heart attack, so the next thing your body does is release noradrenaline into your system to normalize things and flush the excess hormones from your system (this is why people sweat in stressful situations). Then, if the issue isn't completely resolved, the body releases a separate hormone to cope with prolonged stress: cortisol.
When it's doing what it's supposed to do, cortisol is great. It keeps you ready for action. It raises your blood pressure, elevates blood sugar, and diverts energy from other tasks to whatever is mission critical (healing, for example).
But it tears up your body in order to do this. To keep blood pressure up, it retains sodium in your cells. (Oh, hey there, water weight!) To keep blood sugar up, it breaks down lean body mass (muscle). And when it diverts energy, less immediately critical systems, such as digestion, are impaired. What's more, this whole process depletes micronutrients like crazy.
Chronic stress can make you fat in a number of ways. Faulty digestion means you don't absorb nutrients as well, which can also influence your ability to exercise. (I know claiming that cortisol inhibits your ability to exercise sounds contradictory considering its raison d'être is to make you battle ready, but remember that cortisol was never intended for months or years of use—or abuse.)
Want a more direct link? A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that cortisol increased women's desire to eat foods high in sugar and fat. So if you're stressed and you don't sleep, it means that your poor willpower is being hit from all sides by ghrelin and cortisol.1
Even if you can resist those late night fridge raids, you're still at risk. A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed that excess cortisol directly contributed to visceral adipose tissue around your stomach and intestines (aka "belly fat") because the enzyme 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase that is used to convert inactive cortisol to active cortisol is found in higher concentrations in visceral fat. Visceral fat is associated with increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So, cortisol might not make you fatter, but it can give you a beer belly—and potentially, a heart attack.2
There are supplements out there that claim they can combat cortisol, but they don't work. There are also adaptogens and antioxidants, which are great for fighting some stress-related issues, but they haven't been proven to lower cortisol levels.
But there are a few simple things you can do to reduce cortisol levels:
See a pattern here? The best way to combat stress—not to mention the weight and other health-related issues that come with it—is to do things that help you stop stressing. So do your hormones, your mind, and your waistline a favor. Try to relax a little.
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Working out in the summer heat can be a miserable, sweat-soaked endeavor. As much as you don't want to slack off, let's be real—when it's a bazillion degrees with 8,000% humidity, just lying on your couch in your air-conditioned living room starts to look reeeeeally tempting. But with the proper preparation, you can keep your workout going strong throughout the dog days of summer. Here's how to weatherproof your workout.
Blazing sun isn't going to do you any favors, so if you are going to exercise outside (or if you don't have air-conditioning), schedule your workout for early morning or late evening. "It's ideal to work out before or after the heat index rises," says Elizabeth Kovar, an ACE Master Trainer and mind-body movement specialist. "If your schedule doesn't allow you to work out during those hours, play it safe by working out indoors."
Okay, so I royally screwed this one up a few weeks ago. On the first day of a nasty heat wave, I went for an early-morning run while it was still "only" 86 degrees out. Minor tactical error: I only drank half a glass of water when I woke up. I spent the rest of the day on the couch nursing a splitting headache, achy muscles, and wicked nausea. Oops. "Guidelines recommend consuming 17–20 ounces of water two hours before exercise, 7–10 ounces of fluid every ten minutes during exercise, and 16–24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost after exercise," says Jessica Matthews, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. If you're working out for an hour or more, you may also want to replace electrolytes with Results and Recovery Formula® or coconut water.
Excuse all the rhyming, but it really is important to eat properly before a summer workout, since the wrong foods can boost your body temperature. "Avoid spicy foods, which stimulate heat production," Kovar says. "Also, high-protein foods and anything greasy will be harder to digest, thus enhancing internal heat production." Stick with easy-to-digest foods like fruit, eggs, or yogurt instead.1
This one's really easy. "Lightweight, loose-fitting, minimal clothing can provide a greater skin surface area for heat dissipation," Matthews says. Black may be slimming, but wear light colors to reflect the heat from the sun, and choose moisture-wicking fabrics to stay cool and dry.
On crazy-hot days, you may need to change your "go hard or go home" philosophy to "go easy or go inside." If you're acclimated to hot weather, then you may be able to tolerate a tough workout in extreme heat. But if you live in an area where three-digit temps make headlines, scale back when a heat wave hits. "Anything lower intensity or steady state is probably more achievable mentally or physically," Kovar says. If you're planning on doing high-intensity interval training, she adds, "Try to find a shaded area or take the training indoors."
Heat exhaustion isn't a push-through-the-pain situation. Unchecked, it can lead to coma or death—so if you start to feel crampy, dizzy, or nauseous, stop immediately and start doing damage control. "Drink plenty of water and remove any unnecessary clothing," Matthews says. "You can also mist your skin with water to bring your body temperature down." If your skin is hot but not sweaty, or your pulse feels fast and weak, those are signs of heatstroke. "Call 911 and get cool any way that you can until help arrives," Matthews says. Anytime the heat index is over 90 degrees, you're at risk for heat exhaustion; over 105 degrees, it's almost a given.2 So play it safe—if you know you can't handle the heat, head indoors.
How do you stay cool in the summer? Email us at email@example.com and we may share your tips in a future newsletter!
Let's do a simple nonscientific test to see if you are dehydrated right now. Pinch the skin on the back of your hand. Does your skin spring back into shape, like a gymnast sticking a landing? Or does it take its sweet time spreading out and settling? If your answer is the second one, you're in need of some H2O.1
You've heard us say hundreds of times how important it is to drink plenty of water. That's because we can't say it enough! If you want to lose weight, you need to drink water. If you exercise, you need to drink water. If you want healthy skin, you need to drink water. Your body is comprised of 70% water (and your brain is 90% water!). Your blood and every cell in your body are made almost entirely from water. If you want to be alert, have organs that function properly, and get the most out of your workouts, you need to drink enough water.
We get it. Drinking enough water to stay hydrated every day can be a daunting task. Here are 25 tips that will help. In the spirit of this article, how about pouring yourself a glass of water right now to sip as you read? Go ahead, we'll wait.
Knowing is half the battle, right? We recommend drinking half your body weight, in ounces of water, every day. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, divide that by 2. Your magic number would be 90. That's 90 ounces of water every day, a little more than 2.5 liters.
Everyone has different hydration needs, based on weight, exercise intensity, kidney function, climate, and a bunch of other stuff. If you live in Death Valley, for example, you'll want to add a few more glasses of water. Pay attention to how your body feels when it is properly hydrated and use that as a cue.
Now that you know how much you need, it's time to keep track of how much you are actually getting. Measure how many ounces your glass or bottle holds and figure out many times you'll need to refill it during the day. There are a dozen free apps that keep track of your water consumption and reward you when you reach your goal. Find one that you like and turn hydration into a game.
Drink a glass—or two!—as soon as you wake up. You haven't had any fluids for 8 hours, so this could be the most dehydrated you will be all day. Plus, it's a great way to jump-start your metabolism. Try leaving a tall glass of water on your nightstand and drink it before you get out of bed. (Don't try this if you have a cat, or it will knock the glass over in the middle of the night, splashing your face and soaking your copy of People magazine.)
Set an alarm to remind you to drink every hour during the workday. When it goes off, get up, shake a leg, and take a stroll to the water cooler for a refill. You'll fulfill your water quota by quitting time.
Do the timer trick above for 21 days and, congratulations, you will have formed a habit.
Yes, it will. That's a biological fact of life. While you're in the bathroom, have a gander at the color of your pee. It should be mostly clear and odorless (unless you've been eating beets or asparagus). If it is dark or cloudy, you, my friend, are dehydrated. Drink a glass of water right away. Your body will also adjust to drinking this much water and soon, you won't be running to restroom as often.
Every time you go to the bathroom, replenish your body with a fresh 8 ounces of water.
Fill up your water bottle before you walk your dog, check your email, or when you leave for work. Drink a glass of water before you brush your teeth or wash your face. Then, drink another glass when you are done.
We think drinking out of a glass is more appealing than swilling from a paper or Styrofoam® cup. And, it's gentler to the environment. Choose a beautiful glass or pitcher that you'll want to use frequently. Feeling fancy? How about a goblet?
Keep a water bottle with you at all times. Think of it as an accessory. Water bottles collided with fashion a long time ago; there are colors and styles for everyone. Splurge on one you really like, the bigger the better. Glass and stainless steel are the best choices, as they won't leach chemicals into the liquid contents. Avoid plastic bottles whenever possible.
Being dehydrated can slow you down and zap your energy, making your cardio or weight lifting workout feel brutal. Your muscles need fluids to function fluidly, so be sure to hydrate before, during, and after exercise.
If it doesn't make you stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night, drink a glass before you catch some Zs to stay hydrated until morning. Or, try a soothing mug of hot water with lemon and a small drizzle of honey.
How many ounces of soda, juice, coffee, or beer do you imbibe on a daily basis? Come on, be honest. If you regularly drink a Venti latte and an orange soda, swap them for water. That's 32 ounces right there, not to mention the hundreds of calories eliminating those drinks will save you.
If you feel a snack attack coming on, drink a glass of water, then wait 15 minutes. Dehydration pangs are often misread by the body as hunger. A glass of water will replenish your body and help you feel satiated. If you are still hungry 15 minutes later, reach for a piece of fruit or a handful of raw nuts.
Every time you see a drinking fountain, drink for a count of 10.
Drinking water before you eat will help you feel more satiated and you will eat less. A study from the Virginia Tech Department of Nutrition suggests that drinking two glasses of water before (not during) each meal can significantly increase weight loss. Not only that, but the water drinkers in the study continued to lose weight and keep it off.2
You can add even more hydration by eating water-packed fruits like melons, cucumbers, berries, and celery.
Pace yourself in social gatherings by drinking water between alcoholic beverages. You'll reduce your risk of a pounding hangover and help meet your daily water intake goals.
Not thrilled with the tasteless taste of water? Think it tastes like licking windows? You can give your water zing by adding a wedge of lemon, crushed mint leaves, sliced cucumbers, or strawberries. Try these delicious fruit and water "mocktails." They replenish your system with electrolytes and micronutrients at about 7 calories each.
If you are addicted to soda, and crave a fizzy refreshment, consider sparkling mineral water flavored with fruit, or invest in a SodaStream® to have an unending supply of bubbly water at your fingertips.
Not all of your H2O has to be room temperature, or loaded with ice. Mix it up. Serve warm water with lemon or brew a cup of herbal tea.
If you are trying to lose weight, this is an easy place to cut calories. Make the transition to drinking pure water by filling your glass halfway with juice then filling the rest with flat or sparkling water. Once you get used to this, try using only 1/4 juice.
Invite your friends or office mates to participate in a water challenge with you. Set a goal of how much water each person will drink per day, then keep score. The people who skip the most glasses of water have to buy lunch.
Many common complaints, including headache and constipation, can be alleviated by downing a tall glass of water. Studies show that water can play a vital role in preventing more dire conditions as well, including several types of cancer. In one study, drinking more water reduced the risk of colon cancer by 45% in women and 32% in men.3
How do you make sure you drink enough water every day? Send your tips to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and they may be published in a future newsletter!
Your Tips for Getting Through Your Toughest Workout
"Concentrating on the breathing: that takes my mind off the pain."
"In order for me to get to the end of my workouts, I placed a full-length mirror on a wall of my home gym. Anytime I feel like slacking off, I just look into the mirror. That is usually enough to make me keep going and do those extra sets."—Jim S.
"Each workout has a start, a middle, and an end. During each workout you're always somewhere along this continuum, but one thing is certain: the end will come. I always remember this one thing, just like my three 8-month deployments to Iraq during my time in the USMC: this too will end, and when it does, there's nothing like the satisfaction of having endured, coming out better, mentally and physically stronger."—Jacob O.
"Sometimes when I need to push through a tough part of my workout, I repeat, "the body is stronger than the mind." I had a friend in the military tell me this several years ago and it just stuck with me."—Lee Ann B.
"I work out at home and don't have a workout partner to help me through, but I do have a 9-year-old son who is sometimes in the room while I'm exercising. When I really need help getting a heavy weight up, I yell to him for encouragement and he says, 'You can do it, Mom! You're strong, keep going!' It's really awesome."—Cyndee N.
Nutritional Information: (per serving)
P90X/P90X2 (per serving):
Body Beast (per serving):
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†Results may vary. Exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss and muscle definition.
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