"If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out. It's not pretty," I said during the 2013 Third Metric women's conference.
I wasn't exaggerating. Chronic stress has become epidemic in our society, where faster seems better and we pack more obligations into our ever-expanding schedules.
Research has confirmed the havoc stress can wreak, with one meta-analysis involving 300 studies finding that chronic stress could damage immunity. Another study found stressed-out women had significantly higher waist circumference compared to non-stressed women.
Experts have connected stress with blood sugar and belly fat. Chronic stress raises insulin, driving relentless metabolic dysfunction that becomes weight gain, insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.
Insulin isn't the only hormone that becomes out of balance with stress. Your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that flood your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain's memory center, increasing belly fat storage, and generally doing damage to your body.
Want to reduce stress? Start with your diet.
The right diet can do wonders to reduce stress's impact. When you eat whole, real foods, you restore balance to insulin, cortisol, and other hormones.
Eliminating mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eating regularly can help you avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body. You maintain an even-keeled mindset throughout the day, even when things get hectic.
You'll replace those foods with clean protein, healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries and non-gluten grains. Food is information that controls your gene expression, hormones and metabolism. When you eat the right foods, you balance blood sugar, restore hormonal balance and reduce stress's damaging impact.
Stress is a thought, a perception of a threat, even if it isn't real. That's it. No more, no less. If that's true, then we have complete control over stress, because it's not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.
Here's where it become interesting. Stressors can be real or perceived. You might imagine your spouse is angry with you. Whether or not they are, you raise stress levels. Real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.