Sitting with women daily often evokes conversations that are not always food related. It would actually be safe to say, that most of my day I speak about everything but food. As food is often not the root of the problem when it comes to helping women nourish their bodies.
We tend speak about emotional blocks and triggers, unsupportive mindsets and beliefs and then the effects of cortisol on our cells. Unmanaged stress is often one of the reasons our bodies do not look, feel or respond the way that they should, when one’s eating and activity levels remain constant. I learnt this the hard way. When trying to conceive I decided to visit a homeopath in the pursuit to fall pregnant naturally. One of her first questions was, “How are your stress levels?” To be honest, I rolled my eyes (inside) and said, “Not great, I’m pretty highly strung”. What she told me that day, changed everything.
A stress response in the body increases the production of two big hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline. On a very simple level, neither of these hormones are concerned with nourishing the cells of the body, shedding extra fat tissue or creating a fertile environment. These two ‘guys’ are there to protect us, to help us fight or flee and to get oxygenated blood to the heart and brain. Simply put, they are there to help us run for cover. Now cortisol and adrenaline are released when you stress about your mean boss, when you wake up with that knot in your stomach, when you freak out about eating that brownie at teatime and when scream at the idiot it the traffic. All stressful events have the same hormonal effect on the body.
My homeopath explained that cortisol is made from the hormone progesterone- the same hormone that decides the quality of many parts of the female reproductive system. Now if all of a my progesterone is being used for cortisol, because I am so stressed, it leaves very little for ‘you know what’. Cortisol also decides where the energy from my food goes. And it normally chooses to store my food in my fat cells, often around my organs for protection. This is what causes the belly fat in many of us. Oh and one last thing, stressing also needs energy so it can make me crave high energy foods – so that’s why I always want something sweet when times get tough!
This all came as a huge wake up call for me. Stress, or my cortisol levels were affecting my weight, my cellular health and my fertility.
I realized that by taking a more gentle approach to food, exercise and daily life – and not allowing the stress response to be fired everyday (or every hour), my body actually started to look and felt better… and my hormones were more balanced- the blood tests proved this.
So with all of these realizations, I set off to try and lower my cortisol levels. I was adamant that I was not going to let cortisol win the race. I went off to learn how to meditate. I then made yoga an essential part of my week, and cut down my cardio sessions to incorporate my yoga (I have never looked back). I also cut down my caffeine intake to one delicious (proper coffee) per day, as well as a few other things. I also focus on eating nourishing whole foods at similar times each day. This truly is a work in progress and some days I feel like my efforts are in vain – like when I have a work deadline or a work presentation to give. But on the whole, understanding the effect that stress was having on my body has certainly helped me be more conscious of what I need to do, to get my body feeling, looking and responding to all my nourishing desires!