Stress is a word we seem to encounter more and more.

Chances are it is regularly spoken around us or features heavily in the media and sometimes it may raise its ugly head closer to home. It can lay its corrosive influence anywhere and, despite exercise’s reputation for being a great way of stress busting, it can even wheedle its way into our workout programmes and stall our efforts.

Because it is insidious it can creep into every nook and cranny and into everyone: husbands, wives, children, mums, dads, friends, colleagues. And it’s no good to any of them. And thanks to ever increasing media platforms and a need to fill them all 24 hours a day, it has become an industry in it’s own right.


What used to be momentary vexation, hassle, exasperation or agitation is now medicalised as ‘stress’. Of course there are serious stress issues and stress related illnesses, and these must not be devalued by the glib use of ‘stress’ at every turn.

But lets bring it right back to how a heightened sense of anxiety can derail your health and fitness goals and what we can do about it. The fact is stress can shamelessly sabotage fat loss plans. That familiar saying “Stress makes you fat” runs rather true.

In my competing days I had a big appetite. In fact I’m not even sure it wasn’t the vast appetite that got me training in the first place. Like many, I thought that no matter the level of gluttony, I could burn off my greediness the next day. It was a happy state of loving to eat and loving to train, without any guilt or real acknowledgement of what complexities my body was having to deal with.

It wasn’t until a much respected colleague mentioned that sugar destroys muscle, that I had to face my affair with desserts head on. All that work, all those hours of training, all those techniques to hone the perfect shape and to think that sugar was sabotaging my efforts all the time..

That was a while back now and my understanding of sugars converting to energy has somewhat developed. Now the stages between eating it and expending it interest and worry me. And now when I make a nice home-made pud, I’m practically drugged to sleep, which in turn reminds me of how years of  sweet trolley indulgence have come back to affect my adrenals.

I might be closer to sugar making me old than I dare to admit. But that’s sugar.

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What about stress?

Stress comes with its accomplices: cortisol and insulin. It is these two villains that can set off a chemical reaction that makes you select foods that calm you, boost you and mask the pain. The process is started by the adrenal glands offering assisted energy for the time of crisis by producing cortisol and cortisol increases insulin levels.

Stress and simple sugars create the same pattern. We don’t need to be reminded of the troubles that too much insulin can cause, but heart disease ranks among them. And some of the immediate physical reactions to this chain of events are an increased appetite and a slower metabolism. Not a good combination.

So how come when you were stressed, you became slim?

Well here’s a thing; like most cases in emergency, the matter of least importance is shed first, or even consumed. In this case that is muscle. Cortisol eats away at vital tissue; your hard earned muscle. As you’ll be well aware, muscle is precious tissue and weighs three times as much as fat.

Now take your mind back to that time when you lost weight during your unhappy time, were you lean and firm or skinny and soft? If you regained that weight quickly, that would be another clue as to the composition of that weight loss.

Just to add to this happy cycle, stress is also poisonous! Well OK, maybe that is stretching things a little but we all know being close to a stressy person is disruptive, destructive and…stressful. So believe it or not, tests have been done on a gentleman having a wobbler.

Saliva was taken mid rage and analysed. And guess what? It was found to have the same qualities of some snake’s venom! To find out more about the effects of this they continued the experiment by injecting the saliva into small lab creatures…which all died!

So that is how attractive stress is. It also helps us realise how we look for all sorts of props to numb it. Drink, drugs, tobacco, food, chocolate. No wonder these things are big sellers, just because they are legal it doesn’t make them better than some illegal stuff – they all have the ability to numb pain and create addiction.

But whatever the habit, what is worth knowing is that cortisol numbs you to the hormone called leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells us we’ve eaten enough.

So assuming many of you are keen exercises and would like to hang onto your well earned muscle or anything else of personal physical value, the stress thing will just have to go. Fine tune your stress-o-meter!

Here are a few tips:

– Make sure protein features regularly through the day. Protein encourages the release of leptin and leptin will tell the brain your appetite is satisfied. (Go for plenty of vegetable proteins rather than too much meat).

Eat lots of dark greens, sea food and almonds. These are high in magnesium. Magnesium is a good pick me up. Hemp seeds are an excellent source.

– Keep a check on the alkaline and acid balance in your diet. Most foods we crave are acidic. Balance that out with raw fruit and veg. Lemons seem like they would be acidic but actually they help with the alkaline balance, squeeze some into water.

– Get some daily sun. Just a few minutes of natural light stimulates mood improvers.

– A few minutes of escapism; that might be while you feel the sun on your face but otherwise read a few pages of a good novel, play music, weed the garden, get intimate! Anything that carries you into another land for a few minutes… Sometimes we’re too busy for life itself.

– Buck up! Is this stress about life or death? Melodrama can make it seem like the latter but there’s a big difference, and there is no bigger contrast in this world. If things were that serious we’d be in shock rather than stress. Get things into perspective!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just get back to my fat and stress busting workout…



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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans