So, yesterday we talked about what faces physical stress can take on, and painted a portrait of the life that millions of American women are living. To some, it may not appear all that stressful, but to a nutritionist’s eye there are quite a few red flags.
Here is a list of potential physiological stressors that Suzie is experiencing:
1. Suzie is consuming extraordinarily high amounts of caffeine to offset the fact that her body is tired and crying out for some rest. Caffeine, particularly coffee, releases cortisol in response to the stimulation of the adrenal glands. Caffeine also, as discussed in the post on sleep cycles, will negatively interfere with sleep patterns and not allow Suzie to enter into cortisol free episodes of sleep therefore making her even more tired and requiring even more caffeine.
2. On top of her already hectic schedule, Suzie is pushing herself in/outside the gym with very intense cardio exercise most days of the week. Endurance exercise is some of the most physically stressful activity you can engage in and raises cortisol levels long after the exercise as the body tries to repair.
3. Suzie consistently eats foods that are known as common food intolerances such as wheat and dairy. She may or may not have one of them, but doing an elimination test to find out is probably advisable since Suzie is experiencing so much fatigue, bloating and digestive upset. These are not normal responses to food and should be looked at as signals rather than annoyances.
4. Suzie is eating a lot of sugar, which is dampening her already overburdened immune system and playing a huge role in the blood sugar roller coaster that causes her afternoon slump. Although it may seem like she is eating healthy foods, granola bars, fruit, wine, soda and processed grains all cause spikes and plummets in blood sugar creating the need for even more sugar later to bring it back up. 3 p.m. donut break? Both the caffeine and sugar are setting her up for insulin resistance later on down the road.
5. Suzie, although avoiding drunken stupors, is still consuming alcohol almost every night of the week later in the evening. Alcohol does several things to mess with the body’s hormone signals, but most markedly it raises cortisol and blood sugar. Often ,when we consume alcohol later in the evening, we then go to sleep once we are able to “take the edge off.” But as the alcohol wears off, blood sugar drops and cortisol raises in order to bring blood sugar back up to normal. This will, at most, wake us up in the middle of the night or at least pull us out of our restorative REM sleep. High levels of cortisol are known to cause belly fat storage and the breakdown of muscle tissue leading to that “soft” feeling under the skin.
While we could probably continue to break down Suzie’s situation even more, I think its sufficient to see that Suzie has several physical stressors that may be hindering her health and ability to look and feel her best. Now, lay on top of that any perceived stressors, sleep cycle interference or blood sugar dysfunction, and it would make sense that Suzie is well on her way to some HPA-axis dysregulation. Often clients will say, but I don’t FEEL stressed. And while this may be true on an emotional level, we have lost touch what it feels like to know stress on a physical level.
Next time you want to check your physical stress levels, try tuning in to these questions:
Do I feel tired? If so, where is it originating from? There is a difference between tired from a poor nights’ rest and tired deep down in your bones.
Am I able to recover quickly from exercise or does it take me several hours to days? Am I sore all time or am I able to bounce back after intense activity?
How is my sleep? Am I waking up a lot or do I feel too wired to calm down at night?
How are my hunger levels? Do I wake up famished? Do I get shaky, irritable or have stomach cramps if I don’t eat often enough?
Am I light headed when standing up quickly or does my heart rate seem to be beating quickly often?
Do I NEED coffee or other stimulants to feel alive and awake in the mornings and afternoons?
If these questions are seeming a bit suspicious to you, you may want to look at slowing down a bit and rebooting your physical stress levels. I will say with conviction that one the absolute biggest stressors on your body is eating a food that you are intolerant to day in and day out. We’ve talked about how food sensitivities irritate the gut lining and ultimately lead to a condition called leaky gut. If you are taking in that food every single day, often multiple times a day, your body is under constant stress to try and mediate that invader. It’s no joke and sometimes the simple act of eliminating these intolerances can bring your reserve back up so that you can get away with occasionally skimping on sleep or training for a big competition without severely draining your energy. You see, its sort of like the straw that broke the camels back. Your body is designed to handle stress, and in fact, it can be helpful to strengthen yourself when used properly. But constant every day stress is not desirable and eventually, that one thing (a big surgery, a long work trip, remodeling your house, a new promotion....) will be too much for you to tolerate and that’s when we see symptoms of full blown HPA-Axis dysregulation pop up. Trust me, it’s not pretty. Do what you can now to avoid falling into that pit because climbing out is a long, difficult and sometimes frustrating journey. So, let’s all take a look in the mirror and maybe try to weed out or reduce 1-2 physical stressors in your life today. Your tomorrow self will thank you, take it from a recovering “stress-a-holic.” J Stay healthy my friends!
Ps. For more information on how to weed out food intolerances and rebuild heathy gut function, check out my 30-Day Gut Restore program. The program is open now, but will be closing soon as my schedule won’t allow me to keep up with everyone’s support until back into fall 2016. I’d love to help you get back to balance! Check out my website at http://www.syannawand.com/30-day-program/ for details.