The physical effects of too much stress

March 8, 2017

I have written a blog previously on stress and how it can negatively affect your health that you might want to read here

This blog post is a little different, and more of a personal account of some issues I had as a result of too much stress. My experiences really made me view the human body in a whole different light – it is so clever and complex, and really does need to be taken care of from all aspects – not just diet and exercise!

So what happened to me? You may remember if you’ve followed me for a while that I was training for an Ironman, but what my social media doesn’t always portray is what else is going on in my life – I was working a full time job which I hated, I was studying 10 hours a week, training 20 hours a week and also attempting to maintain a social life. I actually think the main issue here is that as well as clearly being over worked, I was so unhappy in my career that it affected every moment of my thoughts.

As a result I started to gain a lot of weight (relative to my size and my food choices/exercise levels) – and no, this was not muscle mass as everyone assumed, my fat percentage was on the up at what felt like a rapid rate.

My periods also stopped. Again, this is common (but still not healthy) in young athletes due to low body fat – but not of someone who is gaining fat like I was.

These issues were down to my Cortisol levels, which was clearly extremely high. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands, and is normally released in response to events and circumstances such s exercising and acute stress. Cortisol plays many roles in the body’s efforts to maintain homeostasis.

Cortisol also regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) the body needs to meet the physiological demands placed on it – meaning it can have serious affects on weight and fertility and a whole list of other things.

So basically, due to the being extremely unhappy and stressed, asking my body to facilitate huge amounts of exercise and possibly the type of food fuels I was running on (high carb due to the nature of my sport), my body was pumping out too much cortisol constantly which played havoc with my health (and weight!)

I briefly saw a nutritionist throughout this process but concluded to focus on getting my Ironman completed first before attempting to resolve these issues. Since then my health has definitely returned and I have become a lot more aware of how I can stay on top of it going forward, especially as I am once again in Ironman training. The key thing for me has been my physiological state – I am no longer in a job that I hate and I do not spend every day worrying about my future (if you’re in your 20s and worrying you don’t have you life together, none of us do!) I have started to create a lifestyle that I love and concentrate my thoughts on being positive – it may sound wishy washy but the proof is in the pudding, your health is a lot about what you’re thinking and not just about what your doing and eating! I also experimented with switching my diet up a bit and seeing what works for me – turns out my body is quite efficient running on a high fat diet, which is something I had never tried before.

I aren’t a doctor or nutritionist (though soon to be Nutrition and Health Coach), so I want anyone reading this not to assume this is what is happening to them, and to switch to a high fat diet to solve it etc., but if anyone who is reading this thinks that they are particularly stressed and unhappy – please be aware the possible negative affects it can have on your health, work out how to eliminate that stress and take your health seriously.

Em x

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  • Reply Lauren Windas March 10, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Great post em! Really informative 🙂 x

    • Reply emily March 10, 2017 at 11:35 am

      Thanks lovely 🙂

  • Reply Sophie Radcliffe September 28, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Love this Em. Thanks for sharing x

  • Reply Tristan October 25, 2017 at 3:37 am

    Great post, 🙂
    You should check out Brendan Brazier’s book ‘The Thrive Diet’ especially because of the focus associated with nutrition for professional athletes.
    He was a professional Ironman Triathlete for several years and Canadian ultramarathon runner, and although the book was published a decade ago it’s still an excellent reference for healthy plant-based diet and lifestyle plan for achieving maximum health, physical strength (and for your cortisol problem, reducing stress.)
    He has a section on ‘types of stress’ and particularly focuses on nutritional stress, and how easy it can be to reduce our overall stress with change in diet.

    Emily: I see from this and other posts that you have mostly vegan diet already, but you should check out the book anyway. 🙂

    • Reply emily October 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks! I will definitely check it out 🙂

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