2

votes

Stress questions... I just don't get it.

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 27, 2011 at 11:53 PM

So I've been told by many people that stress = cortisol = body stores fat.

My question is actually two. One: I'm no more or less stressed now than I was a year ago (at about 60% paleo), and even under much less stress than I was 5 years ago (pre-paleo) so why didn't I gain fat back then yet it appears I've slowly gained some in the last 6 months?

Two: every person I know who's ever gone through a stressful situation has lost weight. Two of my family members were under a lot of stress last year: one lost her mother after a prolonged illness, another went through a messy divorce. They both lost so much weight that I hardly recognized them when I saw them recently (neither is paleo). How is this possible if stress = fat gain?

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 06:04 PM

So interesting how different people are affected by different things... My husband consumes all the CRAP he wants, as much as he wants - sugar, grains, junk, alcohol, you name it (though my recent efforts to turn him towards the light have resulted in some positive changes). But he's generally a very happy and upbeat person, sleeps like a bear, walks a lot. He's skinny, and I don't mean skinny-fat. His BF% is like 15% (at 5'8"). At 42 he doesn't look a day over 35. So yes... I think being happy does play a major role on body composition.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:57 PM

Most people seem to have issues with sugar. I have zero sweet tooth... And I still haven't figured out what my main issue is that keeping me from losing. So frustrating.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:56 PM

Most people seem to have issues with sugar. I have zero sweet tooth... I finally gave up all sugar for good last week. I still haven't figured out what my main issue is that keeping me from losing. So frustrating.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:54 PM

"In the near term extreme stress... will probably make people lose weight because they are not eating" - see, you assume stress = overeating. I actually lose appetite when I'm stressed. But I never lose weight no matter how little I eat.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:52 PM

Great response. Thanks. I guess the moral is that skinny doesn't = healthy. I wish more people in the modern world saw it that way. So many of the visually "healthy" ones can't even do a proper pushup.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:46 PM

Quick and dirty and good. Thanks.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:44 PM

But that's exactly my point: a lot of people overeat when stressed, but just as many lose their appetite under stress (I'm the latter). Some lose weight, others don't. Forget about grief, I've known plenty of executive types who were walking stress factories... and they were slim. If cortisol is the core problem to losing weight, why does it only affect some stressed people and not all?

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:40 PM

This is so true. It's just confusing that the moment someone asks, "why am I not losing weight, I'm eating and working out the right way", the immediate response is: "cortisol! stress!"

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:36 PM

Thanks for the link, bacon! Checking it out... Ben - that's just the thing, they were not thin to begin with. They lost the fat. I don't know, maybe they lost the muscle too, but the fat lost was the obvious part.... Dave - I totally agree on this. The human body is a mystery.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 05:20 PM

Me too. October can't come fast enough!

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 05:12 PM

Thx for making the list a bit prettier. Yeah while I love Robb wolf and his podcast I have to say he has gone some way in prolly inciting a bit of over-fear of cortisol in our little freakish communities. He's great but I think it's easy for us to hear him say something and go overboard with it yknow. Ori has always been aces for me. I like what he says. I pre ordered his upcoming book.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:43 PM

Yes! Nice. The whole cortisol thing is interesting to me. I hope my answer didn't come off as "phobic" about it. It's the chronic release just as you said. Have you read Ori Hofmekler's Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat? He talks about this very thing - I'd lend you my copy but it's on Kindle.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:33 PM

Good point, Leah. I would agree that the community in general is very confused about cortisol.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:32 PM

Tried to fix your list, you can put it back if you want.

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:51 PM

upvote on your entire response, but especially on the 'digression' paragraph. The differentiation between acute cortisol spikes and chronically raised cortisol is not discussed enough.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:18 PM

ugh, the list in the beginning of my post didn't come out quite as i imagined it, sorry.

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:06 PM

It's very tricky. Depression cause some to overeat, others to stop eating. I think there is still a ton of biochemistry that we don't know or understand even partially, let alone completely.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:59 AM

BTW - I am a stay at home mom of boys, so when I say dirty I really mean it! As in covered in snots and poopy diapers. Nice.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:59 AM

I am a SHR junkie. (Well, to be honest I am a podcast fanatic). I don't "know" him, but he commented on one of Mallory's blog posts - waaaaay cool. He's a celebrity in my book. A real Smartypants!

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 02:27 AM

Woa, you all know Andro? I listen to him on SHR all the time. Good stuff. By the way, can I get some quick and dirty?

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 02:24 AM

The result is the now-classic skinnyfat body. Exactly what happened to me.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 02:24 AM

When i was under extreme stress for about nine months I too lost tremendous weight. But it was all lean muscle mass. That's what chronic stress and chronically raised cortisol does: maintains fat stores and canabolizes muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically expensive while fat is not so our bodies, when signaled that they are in a chronically stressed environment, cling to the fat and ditch the expensive muscle.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:56 AM

MALLROY - I read your blog. Prof. Dr. Andro contacted you! How cool is THAT!? Do that show! You have a lot to say!

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:19 AM

I'm a fan of the starving-inside-their-fat-tissue theory in some, perhaps many, cases of obesity and overweight.

1f8384be58052b6b96f476e475abdc74

(2231)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:05 AM

awesome response!

1f8384be58052b6b96f476e475abdc74

(2231)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:03 AM

its bilogical IMO, it depends on how your dopamine/serotonin circuiting in your brain is wired

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:30 AM

Thanks TC (torso chick...I'm lazy). And I like quick and dirty too. But I can't re-plus 1 you again :(

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:25 AM

Very dirty LOLOLOL Hey B-Baeaaaatch - I'll message you some links tonight :)

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:24 AM

There are some great posts here: http://paleohacks.com/search?q=cortisol#axzz1QVlqEELb The Quilt (another PH member and a Dr) has posted some good stuff in those forum questions. I'm actually re-reading some lately and learning a ton.

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:22 AM

+1 for quick and dirty

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:22 AM

Ooh, I'd love some more links if you have them. I'm battling stress (what mom isn't?)

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7 Answers

7
226b10cbb6b1d3530b00d2d84a2dc86e

(3313)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:13 AM

I'm starting to wonder if it even makes sense to do 60% of what nature intends for our bodies, even 90%.

If you go 100% Paleo and still have troubles, it's time to pay good money to see a specialist. Otherwise, you are inviting instability through that 40%, 30% or 10% window.

No two people will share an identical reaction to any food substance ingested because of genotype. Because of our unique genetic blueprint, our bodies respond differently to diet and lifestyle changes as well as exposure to microorganisms.

Why do some people with influenza miss 2 weeks of school or work while others can kick the same virus in only 1 or 2 days...or even 20 minutes? Furthermore, symptoms are also different even though the virus causing the symptoms is the same. One person gets a high fever, the other diarrhea, another victim suffers from both and a runny nose as well...

Do you see where this applies to you and gluten consumption?

Maybe (and this is just hypothetical) high eating bread, pasta and cereal in one person decreases the absorption of vital vitamins and nutrients in the small intestines causing micronutrient deficiencies. The victims body senses depleted vitamin reserves and responds by shifting into starvation mode and storing fat for energy use at a later date, while in another person the symptom is not obesity but rather nervous system imbalances triggered by the same micronutrient deficiencies. Perhaps that person can't synthesize an optimal amount of neurotransmitters due to the ingredients that are missing. This person experiences more depression, anxiety and other negative conditions of the mind.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:19 AM

I'm a fan of the starving-inside-their-fat-tissue theory in some, perhaps many, cases of obesity and overweight.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:40 PM

This is so true. It's just confusing that the moment someone asks, "why am I not losing weight, I'm eating and working out the right way", the immediate response is: "cortisol! stress!"

4
559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:28 AM

grief and heartbreak are a different kind of stress that can cause a loss of appetite.

as far as cortisol, it can maybe be seen as a barrier to losing fat, rather than as catalyst for gaining. i might just be making that up though.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:44 PM

But that's exactly my point: a lot of people overeat when stressed, but just as many lose their appetite under stress (I'm the latter). Some lose weight, others don't. Forget about grief, I've known plenty of executive types who were walking stress factories... and they were slim. If cortisol is the core problem to losing weight, why does it only affect some stressed people and not all?

4
0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:11 AM

This is going to be quick and dirty with no citations and totally off the cuff.

My take:

Stress (this can be all sorts of things including psychological, but also too much light when it's supposed to be dark, too few carbohydrates, etc) = cortisol.

Cortisol is a breaking down hormone. It will canabalize your fat but it will also tear down muscle and bone. It is tearing these things down in order to raise blood sugar - to your body stress means run the hell away from that tiger, but there's no tiger and in many cases very little running.

Okay, so now we've got high blood sugar which was made out of the lean tissue that is the primary engine of your metabolism. You may have lost weight in the short run, but at long term expense.

Ten years down the line, you are looking at low bone mass, low muscle mass, high fat (and visceral fat as a huge number of cortisol receptors are in the belly). Some people get the skinny arms and legs and big belly look.

For an extreme example of hypercortisolism Google Cushing's syndrome.

I've been independently reading about stress, it's various manifestations and ramifications for a while. This is a huge question you are asking here.

TO read more in depth check out Hans Selye and Ray Peat - tough stuff but worth it.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 02:27 AM

Woa, you all know Andro? I listen to him on SHR all the time. Good stuff. By the way, can I get some quick and dirty?

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:59 AM

BTW - I am a stay at home mom of boys, so when I say dirty I really mean it! As in covered in snots and poopy diapers. Nice.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:25 AM

Very dirty LOLOLOL Hey B-Baeaaaatch - I'll message you some links tonight :)

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:30 AM

Thanks TC (torso chick...I'm lazy). And I like quick and dirty too. But I can't re-plus 1 you again :(

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:22 AM

Ooh, I'd love some more links if you have them. I'm battling stress (what mom isn't?)

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:59 AM

I am a SHR junkie. (Well, to be honest I am a podcast fanatic). I don't "know" him, but he commented on one of Mallory's blog posts - waaaaay cool. He's a celebrity in my book. A real Smartypants!

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:56 AM

MALLROY - I read your blog. Prof. Dr. Andro contacted you! How cool is THAT!? Do that show! You have a lot to say!

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:22 AM

+1 for quick and dirty

1f8384be58052b6b96f476e475abdc74

(2231)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:05 AM

awesome response!

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:46 PM

Quick and dirty and good. Thanks.

3
667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:17 PM

While stress levels do indeed affect one???s fat stores, there are of course a myriad of other factors involved in whether one stores fat or does not. These include but are not limited to:

  • Caloric-intake

  • Hormonal status

  • Caloric-expenditure

  • Stress levels

Sleep quality and quantity

Age

If you consider all these factors (and of course a number of others) then there are prolly a number of reasons that you may not have gained fat back then although you say you were more stressed.

Right here lets also acknowledge that something like ???stress??? is not easily gauged. We say things like, I was under more stress then, etc but there is no monitor, no ruler. Essentially you do not know how much stress you are under. We don???t even have a definition of stress. What you perceive as stress may not affect any cortisol response whatsoever. What you would never consider ???stress??? may indeed provoke cortisol-release.

Following that, when most of us talk about ???losing weight??? we do not really know what our bodies are losing. Water, fat stores, muscle mass, bone mass? You do not know. Some of us may, but the layperson just sees a number on the scale and if it goes south they smile, north they frown. This is intimately tied with society???s drive for women to just be lighter all the time. No mention of BODY COMPOSITION. Only numbers. This is terrible.

The people you mention that lost weight during stressful times were definitely going through what I describe above: they are canabolizing lean muscle mass and bone mass while storing fat. This inevitably leads to ???skinny fat.??? Same thing happened to me about 2.25 years ago.

Digression (stop reading if you???re bored;): I???d like to take this opportunity to lambast the fear-of-cortisol in the paleo community. Well, in the xfit community, too. Acute cortisol-release from exercise is not something to be feared. Just know that it happens and maybe most of the time don???t overdo your exercise bout. However, people extrapolate from this that they should NEVER lift weights for more than an hour, etc. All the studies done on drug-free weight training individuals show that exercise bouts with the greatest cortisol release also lead to the greatest level of hypertrophy. Acute, temporary cortisol-spikes are not a big deal. Chronically raised cortisol, from things like the above stressful situations, running marathons regularly, not sleeping enough, etc, is bad and should be avoided.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 05:12 PM

Thx for making the list a bit prettier. Yeah while I love Robb wolf and his podcast I have to say he has gone some way in prolly inciting a bit of over-fear of cortisol in our little freakish communities. He's great but I think it's easy for us to hear him say something and go overboard with it yknow. Ori has always been aces for me. I like what he says. I pre ordered his upcoming book.

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on June 28, 2011
at 03:51 PM

upvote on your entire response, but especially on the 'digression' paragraph. The differentiation between acute cortisol spikes and chronically raised cortisol is not discussed enough.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 28, 2011
at 12:18 PM

ugh, the list in the beginning of my post didn't come out quite as i imagined it, sorry.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:43 PM

Yes! Nice. The whole cortisol thing is interesting to me. I hope my answer didn't come off as "phobic" about it. It's the chronic release just as you said. Have you read Ori Hofmekler's Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat? He talks about this very thing - I'd lend you my copy but it's on Kindle.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:33 PM

Good point, Leah. I would agree that the community in general is very confused about cortisol.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 28, 2011
at 05:20 PM

Me too. October can't come fast enough!

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 28, 2011
at 04:32 PM

Tried to fix your list, you can put it back if you want.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:52 PM

Great response. Thanks. I guess the moral is that skinny doesn't = healthy. I wish more people in the modern world saw it that way. So many of the visually "healthy" ones can't even do a proper pushup.

1
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on June 28, 2011
at 01:50 PM

When I am under stress I tend to gain weight. My wife is the opposite, she tends to lose weight.

A few years ago I went through a period of very intense stress (deaths in the family etc), and I actually lost weight. I think this was due to running on overdrive, not eating, and consuming way too much caffeine and alcohol. I don't think cortisol had anything to do with this weight loss. I am sure my stress level was off the charts however you measure it.

I think that being happy, content, and upbeat every day has a major positive impact on your health. This is not something that the conventional medical establishment talks much about, though it is often mentioned by Paleo and holistic folks.

I talked with a cancer researcher and she said that she has witnessed first hand how a positive attitude allows people to beat cancer. Some people just crumble when they get the diagnosis and most of them don't make it. Others take a positive view and those are the ones that have the best chance of survival.

Maybe cortisol is a physiological measurement for internal stress, in which case I totally agree with the idea that minimizing this maximizes your health.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 06:04 PM

So interesting how different people are affected by different things... My husband consumes all the CRAP he wants, as much as he wants - sugar, grains, junk, alcohol, you name it (though my recent efforts to turn him towards the light have resulted in some positive changes). But he's generally a very happy and upbeat person, sleeps like a bear, walks a lot. He's skinny, and I don't mean skinny-fat. His BF% is like 15% (at 5'8"). At 42 he doesn't look a day over 35. So yes... I think being happy does play a major role on body composition.

1
263e2d3f741d1ecb0886454e977f4e6f

on June 28, 2011
at 12:00 AM

I think you really have to look at it over 10 years. Before taking a job working for a major investment bank I weighed 200lbs 10 years later I weighed in a plump 331 lbs. I'm not saying the stress was everything, but it certainly facilitated me going for comfort foods, which happened to be sugar and processed carbs. That coupled with little or no exercise, then hypertension set in. Also much depends on your age, I was fine until I hit the mid 30's then it went down hill from there rather quickly.

In the near term extreme stress, like the loss of a loved one or sudden career change or finals will probably make people lose weight because they are not eating, nor are they sleeping, they have elevated metabolism due to higher heart rate. A person can't stay in that state very long. Take a state that isn't quite that elevated but is classified as high stress, stay in that state for a number of years and you have a pretty good recipe for weight gain.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:54 PM

"In the near term extreme stress... will probably make people lose weight because they are not eating" - see, you assume stress = overeating. I actually lose appetite when I'm stressed. But I never lose weight no matter how little I eat.

0
E7a462d6e99fec7e8f0ddda11b34a770

(1638)

on June 28, 2011
at 01:45 PM

Like others have said, it really depends a lot on your individual make-up. Over the last several months as my husband considered asking for a separation he lost over 50 lbs. And since I found out about it, my sugar consumption has jumped so I haven't lost a thing (but at least I haven't gained anything either -still consider that a win of sorts).

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:56 PM

Most people seem to have issues with sugar. I have zero sweet tooth... I finally gave up all sugar for good last week. I still haven't figured out what my main issue is that keeping me from losing. So frustrating.

Medium avatar

(297)

on June 29, 2011
at 05:57 PM

Most people seem to have issues with sugar. I have zero sweet tooth... And I still haven't figured out what my main issue is that keeping me from losing. So frustrating.

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