Don't let weight gain add to your stresses

"Stress has become a way of life – and most of us deal with stress by eating fatty, salty and sugary foods," says Paula Galvão, registered pharmacist and founder of Eden Life Weight Loss Clinic. "While this obviously leads to increased weight gain, elevated stress levels cause your body to secrete a hormone called cortisol, which also contributes to extra kilos."

When we feel stressed out, our bodies immediately react as if we are about to be harmed – we get a burst of energy, and additional adrenalin and cortisol hormones are released. "This response gives our bodies the biochemical strength we need to 'fight or flee' – to fight for our lives – when in fact our stresses today are not as dangerous and therefore do not require such an extreme response," Galvão explains.

To make matters worse, the excess weight caused by elevated levels of cortisol is usually stored around the stomach area. This is the most dangerous place for fat to end up in people, since it increases the risk of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Of course, the more weight you gain, the more stressed you become.

Too much cortisol causes your metabolism to slow down and interacts negatively with insulin and blood sugar. The more insulin your body has, the lower your levels of serotonin, the 'happy hormone' – and this biochemical imbalance results in more cravings.

"The biochemistry of your body is out of sync, so you consume calories in a sub-conscious attempt to deal with your stresses and to adjust this imbalance, and in turn your biochemistry becomes even more unbalanced. It becomes a vicious cycle – the more you eat, the more you want," she says.

The Eden Life programme, which was developed through years of extensive research, consists of a range of all-natural health supplements which lower the levels of circulating insulin and improve levels of serotonin, as a result taking away the craving.

"By correcting the body's biochemistry, our patients say 'I don't want it', not 'I can't have it'," says Galvão. "While on the programme, patients also experience an increase in their metabolism, which means they have more energy and feel healthier. These positive effects contribute to weight loss."

Along with proper diet, control over stress plays an important role in weight loss and weight maintenance. It's important to set aside time for relaxation in your daily routine – whether that is some quiet alone time or whether it's exercise, as exercise lowers stress hormones.

"A healthy lifestyle impacts on every part of a person's life, particularly their work," says Galvão. "And the first step in correcting unhealthy lifestyles is to address the issue of stress."

High on the agenda of today's health conscious employer is the need for wellness interventions in the workplace. These Wellness Programmes encourage employees to achieve a healthy balance between their private lives and their careers by educating them on healthy lifestyle choices. So critical is the need for people to adopt healthier lifestyles, that even medical aids have introduced benefits to incentivise members to take better care of their bodies.

Galvão goes onto say that managing your weight will also prevent you from being diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome, a group of risk factors, including obesity, that increase your chance for heart disease and other health problems such as insulin resistance, diabetes and stroke.

When your stress levels cause you to reach out for some comfort foods, Galvão says there are certain foods which will help you cope, and take away those cravings.

"If you constantly crave sweet things, choose low fat varieties such as rice cakes with carob, dried fruit, or low fat yoghurt. Of course, keep an eye on your portion sizes," she advises.

Other "safe" foods include:

  • Oats, as they are absorbed slowly and increase levels of serotonin, making you feel full and happy.
  • Oranges or other sources of vitamin C, as this vitamin lowers blood pressure and levels of cortisol.
  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, as it lowers cortisol and adrenalin.
  • Skim milk, as it has a calming effect, and is particularly helpful when it comes to PMS.

    Importantly, Galvão says you should drink plenty of water. "If you are craving something, and you're not quite sure what it is, drink a full glass of water. This will make you feel full and should help take away the craving."

    To find out more about the Eden Life Weight Loss Programme, please visit

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