Stress Less to Lose Weight: How Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Stress Less to Lose Weight: How Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Did you know that prolonged stress can lead to elevated fasting blood sugar (aka glucose) levels?

Your fasting blood sugar levels measure the amount of sugar circulating in your bloodstream after going without food for at least 12 hours. Typically, a fasting glucose test measures the risk for diabetes. Often, I’ll see women in the B3H+® clinic who are eating healthy and exercising daily, but whose fasting blood sugar levels are still elevated. They are often shocked to hear that their blood glucose is running higher than normal. This is when I have a conversation with them about chronic stress and how it contributes to this health marker being elevated.

Chronic Stress & Weight Gain

You have probably already realized that weight loss is not about calories-in vs. calories-out. Nor is it only about eating nutrient dense foods and weight training. Stress levels play a significant part in the weight loss equation. If stress is unmanaged, you will have higher fasting blood sugars which leads to high insulin, ultimately creating inflammation in the body. Such inflammation reinforces leptin resistance and insulin resistance.

Remember, the leptin hormone is responsible for regulating appetite. If leptin is working correctly, you will start eating when hungry and stop when full. When someone becomes leptin resistant, their body will likely never receive the signal from their brain that they are full, thus they continue eating.

Sugar Cravings & Chronic Stress

Prolonged stress also makes us crave sugar and refined carbohydrates. This is because stress lowers a brain neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that helps us feel happy and good about ourselves and lives. It also helps us fight depression, improves our sleep, and reduces our risk for headaches. Stress also lowers another brain neurotransmitter called dopamine. When dopamine is released we experience pleasure and excitement. So, when we are under chronic stress, we crave more sugar to increase our serotonin, and more calories to increase our dopamine.

As a result, stress sets us up for a roller coaster of blood sugar highs and lows. We get up in the morning fatigued, so we get going and grab a sugary treat – maybe a muffin or pastry and caffeine. Our blood sugar spikes and our insulin surges to bring it back down. Often, insulin will overcorrect and surges above what is needed to bring blood sugars back down to normal. This is what happens when someone becomes insulin resistant. When our body pumps out too much insulin, our blood sugar levels will drop again. Which continues the roller coaster effect of extreme blood sugar highs and lows. Thus, we will soon be searching the office for another muffin and more caffeine. This disaster of a scenario is bad news for fat loss, inflammation, our mood and stress because all that sugar and caffeine aren’t exactly calming you down.

What’s the best way to beat your stress-related sugar problem?

1. Begin to take small steps towards balancing the stressful moments with moments of pleasure, peace, relaxation, restoration and laughter. Stressful moments will always appear in our lives, but they should pass too. Work on taking care of yourself more when overwhelmed and under stress.

2. Try being more gentle, compassionate and sensitive with yourself. Treat yourself as if you were a crying infant. What would you do to soothe this baby? Whatever you have come up with is something you should probably do for yourself. Make lifestyle choices to enhance your well-being, happiness and contentment. Lifestyle choices not focused on eating or drinking. Ever since I changed my lifestyle and health habits, I decided to get my nails manicured every 2 weeks. I do this as a reward for taking care of myself and keeping my diet clean with healthy proteins and a variety of high fiber veggies.

3. Furthermore, don’t forget (or avoid) exercise! Program your exercise type, intensity, and duration to your level of life stress. If you are under a ton of stress, you may want to lower the intensity until it passes. For example, you may need to change the type of activity from a maximum effort HIIT (high intensity interval training) session to a weight circuit at moderate intensity, and then opt for a long, restorative walk in nature.

4. Lastly, for most women I recommend a variety of calming supplements to help balance blood sugars, restore the gut, soothe an overstimulated nervous system, and support adrenal gland function.

Author: Dr. Siobhan Kealy