Words by Michelle Armstrong

“A man ninety years old was asked to what he attributed his longevity. ‘I recon,’ he said with a twinkle in his eye, ‘It’s because most nights I went to bed and slept when I should have sat up and worried.”– Dorothea Kent

On a scale of 1-10, where 1 represents little to no stress and 10 represents high, unbearable, chronic stress, where would you rate yourself on average through the day?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Once you have given yourself a rating, complete the following stress questionnaire:

Put a check mark beside each description that applies to you:

  1. I get gassy, bloated or experience heartburn through the day especially after meals.
  2. I have a hard time falling and/or staying asleep.
  3. I wake up tired and unrefreshed.
  4. I have a difficult time losing weight despite changes to diet and lifestyle.
  5. I have belly fat.
  6. I experience cravings for sweet and/or salty foods most days.
  7. I have poor muscle tone or have a difficult time building lean muscle mass.
  8. I get dizzy upon standing or kneeling.
  9. I have a general feeling of weakness and fatigue through the day.
  10. I have little or no sex drive.
  11. I have a hard time concentrating, I get distracted easily.
  12. I tend to have low motivation and or trouble making decisions.
  13. I do not deal with stress well.
  14. I end up with colds and infections easily.
  15. My bowels are often either too loose or constipated.

Total:  /15

In my nutritional practice, one of the first questions I ask new clients is about stress levels. This gives me a sense of their lifestyle, how they cope, how their body copes with change and how successful they will be with weight loss. Generally, clients rate their stress levels low to average, or 1-6 on the scale above. In a very detailed health assessment, questions similar to the ones above are also addressed; do you have belly fat, do you experience cravings, etc.  What I have discovered is that most people aren’t clear what stress is, the symptoms associated with stress and that they are in fact stressed. It is only when I start connecting the dots, that clients start taking a deeper look at their lives and realize that all the little nagging symptoms that all contributed to making them feel lousy were largely due to stress. My theory is that many people claim low stress levels because it’s all they know and so it seems normal. How sad!  So many people live with chronic stress that they aren’t even aware that how they are living and coping is abnormal.

Stress, according to the Oxford Dictionary is, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

And guess what: stress makes you fat! That is essentially what I need you to take from this article. When you are stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol and one of the main functions of cortisol is to signal your body to store fat. This is in fact a survival mechanism built into our genetics from caveman days. And today, it is wreaking havoc on our bodies.

Putting It Together
In my opinion, a score of 5 or higher suggests you are under some type of stress or another. Things that are seemingly simple like gas and bloating is extremely stressful to the body. In this state, undigested food is fermenting or putrefying, not only perpetuating inflammation in the body but also interfering with absorption of vital nutrients our bodies need. If a person lacks nutrients, their bodies will be under a constant state of malnourishment—something that is tough for the body to cope with over long periods of time.

What Can Be Done?
First of all, acknowledging potential stress is the first step. If you are aware that your system is suffering than you are more likely to do something about it. Secondly, stay tuned for part two of this article that will touch upon stress management strategies to help save your sanity.

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