How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain

March 29, 2020

Two nutritionists share some of the hidden stressors that can cause weight gain and some nutrition solutions you can put into practice to buffer the biochemical and hormonal causes.

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LEAH: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. I am Leah Kleinschrodt. I'm a Registered and Licensed Dietician, and I am very proud and very grateful to say that all of us dietitians and nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness are still able to support and educate our clients during this highly stressful time. We are all working from our home offices and we're connecting with our clients by phone or Zoom, whichever they prefer.

TERESA: Yes, highly stressful time. I think that hits it on the head right there.

LEAH: Yeah, that summarizes it in a nutshell.

TERESA: The clients I've worked with over the phone the last week express their desire for me to use my nutrition knowledge to help them, you know, support them during this stressful time with their immune function and their health just because it's such an unsettling time. They understand that good nutrition is critical for them to reduce their stress and anxiety and to stay healthy during this time that we've been talking about.

In fact, one client told me… this is kind of funny. I like to know that I'm in people's heads. One client told me that whenever she starts reaching for a cookie, she hears my voice in her, in her head saying how sugar and processed carbs can actually put a damper on our immune system. Because she wants to keep her immune system strong she fixes celery and peanut butter snacks instead of eating that cookie.

LEAH: Yeah, so, I mean, you're making an impact Teresa.

TERESA: I think we all are, I hope. My name is Teresa Wagner. I am a Licensed and Registered Dietitian at Nutritional Weight and Wellness. In addition to helping my clients with immune supporting ideas, I also share recipes that I have found easy to make during this stressful time. I have clients who for whatever reason have not cooked much for the past few years, so these simple recipes should help them ease back into the kitchen.

LEAH: Yeah. Teresa, I know, I'm sure you have talked to clients about this in the last two weeks or so. I know I definitely have, but now that our clients are, most of them are spending more time at home, it's, now they really do have to cook or plan or at least think about, “Okay, what am I going to make and have for breakfast and lunch and dinner and my snacks.” And so, you know a couple snacks every day, especially if you have a whole family that you're trying to feed all at once. You know, you have school age kids so you can say, “Oh well if my kids went off to school, they provide lunch there.” They might get some snacks there. Or if you have a spouse who normally is getting lunch out, you might not have had to do some planning around that. But now, now that there are a lot of things that are closed, people are home from school. This is, this is a different mindset or some, it's a change in routine.

TERESA: Yeah, absolutely. There's so much more planning involved or quantities involved, and people just need ideas cause just running out of the ideas, the tried-and-true’d” recipes that they have used, you know there might be getting tired of it by now. And certainly in over the next couple of weeks we might have to broaden our repertoire of recipes. And like you said, I do have kids, school-aged kids; and they have been home now for the last two full weeks. And starting Monday we will have school at home with all three of my kids and I like to make family meals. I want my family to be eating foods that I know what the ingredients are and I also try to limit the screen time.

So I understand that meals can't be overly complicated or super time-consuming. Of course, I understand how easy it would be to open a bag of chips or a box of cookies or throw frozen dinners into the microwave. However, as a dietitian, I know that chips, cookies and most frozen meals have those awful factory fats and so much sugar in them. And sugar can come in the form of table sugar. But it can also just be like the really high carbohydrate meals.

LEAH: The things that just turn into or breakdown into a lot of sugar in our bodies.

TERESA: Right. And you know, things that are easy snacks, you know, like cookies often contain, if they're not made from home, you know they often contain high fructose corn syrup. And of course all of our listeners know that sugar and these bad fats leads to inflammation and that lowers our immune function.

LEAH: And that last little bit perks up a lot of ears these days of okay, we get these questions. I've been getting it a lot the last couple of weeks. What can we do to support that immune system? So we'll be touching on some of those things in this podcast as well. Yeah. So this morning though, our topic is actually How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain. So at this present time, we're living in a highly stressful time. This may be one of the most stressful times that any of us or some people really have had to experience in their lifetime. We know that currently about… in the U.S. here about 45% of the population's weight is in the obesity range. And this is an increase from the last time they ran the numbers. It used to be under that 40% mark. We're over the 40% mark now, so that's, we were heading in the wrong direction. So in the next two months, four months, six months, whatever the case may be, we don't want that percentage of obesity to increase. So today we want to help you understand how stress can lead to that weight gain; and that's where it starts. You start with the knowledge because you don't know what you don't know sometimes, so we're going to start with the knowing and the understanding. We're going to discuss some of the hidden stressors that can cause weight gain, but then we're also going to talk about the doing. What can you do about it? And give you some nutritional solutions that you can put into practice even if you're more homebound now to buffer those biochemical and hormonal causes.

TERESA: We realize changing your eating habits can be one of the biggest challenges that you may actually have to face. And while I think that sounds a little bit dramatic, but think about it. Think about a time you had or tried to make changes to your diet. It's very challenging. And probably the most challenging part about it is maintaining those changes. Because once that novelty of making that food change wears off, it's hard to like keep going; keeping the, the motivation to keep going with those changes.

LEAH: Absolutely.

TERESA: And currently we're all living in a high state of stress. So if you are a person who often skips meals or lives on processed carbs, the frozen dinners, the boxed dinners, cereal, chips, bagels, cookies or muffins, I'm sure there's been plenty of spaghetti dinners over the last two weeks; or pizza dinners. You know, we'll really have to dig deep and challenge ourselves to make better food choices. If we look at this highly stressful time as an opportunity for growth and not as a punishment, I think that we could be stronger and healthier when we are able to put this worrisome experience behind us. And I, you know, I've been talking to some of my clients. Of course it's kind of saying some of the same things over and over in the last couple of weeks. But I think this one bears repeating. We really need to make our home environment a safe food environment. And I'm not talking about food safety as far as pathogens. What I'm talking about is just what can you keep in your home that doesn't trigger overeating or eating the wrong types of food; because it's extremely hard to make good choices when our cupboards, pantry, the refrigerator, the freezer are stocked with junk food. Willpower: it only lasts so long. And in this stressful environment where there are constant triggers to, you know, make ourselves feel better through food, we really need to set up that environment to be successful; making the healthy choice the easy choice.

LEAH: Yeah. I love a couple of things that you said there Teresa. I had a client that I talked to last week also who was in that same situation and she said, “Well now that I'm at home more, I find myself just kind of meandering or walking into the kitchen way more often than I normally would.” So normally she would be out and about kind of doing whatever she needed to do for a job and there was structure to her life like that as she had kind of figured that piece out. But now that she was at home more, he was like, “The refrigerator just calls to me a little more often now and how can I navigate some of that?” So, so creating that safe food environment of just creating, making the healthy choice the easy choice is one way that you can set yourself up to protect yourself against some of those, those tricky situations. So in the next 12 weeks, and maybe it's even the next four weeks or eight weeks; it can be a little more short-term than that, wouldn't it be nice to weigh less or to come out with a trimmer waist; to have fewer aches and pains, to think more clearly, to have better moods or to have less stress, to have better blood pressure; just to look and feel and perform better than you did when we started this whole situation?

TERESA: And today we're going to talk about some basic biochemistry of stress and weight gain. When people are under stress, the hormone, cortisol is released from the adrenal glands, which the adrenal glands are a pair of organs that sit on top of the kidneys. So when the adrenal glands secrete excess cortisol as a result of being stressed, it not only promotes weight gain but it can also affect where the body puts on the extra weight. So we have stress, the stress causes increased cortisol, the high cortisol then can lead to weight gain, and there is a connection to increased belly fat and excess cortisol from excess stress.

LEAH: Yeah, so it sounds like you said when we're under stress, we actually put on some of that weight in very specific places and you mentioned that belly fat. So I think that's going to be something that we, we’re going to touch on once we are on the other side of break.

TERESA: You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. Leah mentioned the fact that currently about 45% of American adults are obese. Many Americans, including those who are obese, but every one of us, we don't want the number on that scale to inch its way up or we don't want to have to buy a new work wardrobe after this shelter in place order or the social distancing orders are lifted.

I know I'm spending a lot more time in yoga pants and comfy clothes these days and they tend to be pretty forgiving when we are gaining weight. So today we are going to discuss another cause of weight gain that you might be totally unaware of. Our topic is How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain.

LEAH: And we'll be right back.


LEAH: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you go to our website, you can listen to a special podcast that Dar and I actually recorded called Immune Support During a Health Crisis. So check it out because the focus is on making good food choices today and every day after today. To keep your immune system strong during these uncertain times, there's no better time than the present than right now to start making these good food choices. So Teresa, before we went to break, you were just starting to get into that topic of increased stress leads to increased cortisol, which actually puts more belly fat on our midsection. And you actually had a piece of research that you wanted to share with us quick.

TERESA: Yeah. I thought it was interesting. So researchers found that women who had more belly fat also had more stress, so that makes sense with that cortisol connection. And then interestingly, they had more negative moods.

LEAH: Okay, so probably more anxiety or depression.

TERESA: Depression, anxiety. Yeah. Yeah.

LEAH: Interesting.

TERESA: We got to keep our stress down to keep our mood up, which that also just makes sense.

LEAH: Yup; yup. I don't hear too many highly stressed people saying, “I feel so happy and things are wonderful.” They're usually counter-opposing each other.

TERESA: Right.

LEAH: So when people are stressed, you know, we get this question, then, “Why do people tend to gain more fat in the abdominal area or in that belly area, the lower part of the belly, more than any other area?” So the reason is because we actually have more receptors or more doorways for that cortisol in our belly area than any other part in our body. So that's interesting. Basically there's just, there's more room or more areas in that belly area for cortisol to work its magic if you want to put it that way.

TERESA: That's some bad magic.

LEAH: Yeah, some bad magic; not the magic that we want to have happen. So the hormone cortisol stores fat mostly in that belly area, and we're not talking necessarily like cortisol levels that are high for an hour or for a day. We're talking long-term exposure day after day, month after month, sometimes even year after year. These high levels of cortisol, they're associated with not just belly fat, but other things in our health; so low energy. How often do we hear clients talk, “Gosh, I've always feel like I'm dragging” or “I just, I feel like something's off. I don't have that energy.”

TERESA: Yeah, it's very common.

LEAH: Yeah. Poor communication or elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease, hypertension; all of these things are associated with high levels of cortisol; and high cortisol levels then thinking about our immune system, they decrease our immune function by impairing white blood cell activity.

TERESA: And this is probably what's on a lot of people's minds right now; how stress affects their immune function.

LEAH: Yeah. And so there's another interesting fact that people with Alzheimer's disease, so this is another one that people typically have on their radar. Alzheimer's disease: people have higher cortisol levels than people who are aging normally. And they're, you know, actually, on my way here, I was listening to a podcast with Dr. Mark Hyman, and he had just a quick little quote in there saying that “A bigger belly, so whether that's, you know, maybe it's related to prediabetes or high cortisol levels, whatever the case may be, a bigger belly puts you at higher risk for dementia, Alzheimer's, that cognitive decline as we get older.” So as you can see it is really important on several different levels to manage your cortisol levels, which means it's necessary to manage our stress; easy to say, but not always easy to do.

TERESA: No, it's hard because a lot of times we don't have, you know that outside stress. We can't do anything about, you know, what's going on right now with the COVID-19 virus, you know, we could just, it's out of our control. One element of stress that is often overlooked is the fact that there are many stressors that we do have control over.

LEAH: So there's good news.

TERESA: So that’s good news that while, you know, while we might not be in control of the things in our environment all the time, there are some things that we can control. If we decide to manage certain stressors, we then have the ability to decrease our stress level and decrease that cortisol level and then decrease or lose some of that belly fat. With the obesity rate at 45% I think that this is a really great idea is to try to do what we can do, manage what we can manage.

LEAH: Yup. That is definitely one piece of the puzzle. So oftentimes I feel like a lot of people just don't necessarily understand what they need to do or understand what they can do to manage their stress and anxiety. So there are five stressors that we want to talk about nutrition-wise that we can manage that we have control over to reduce those cortisol levels. So the, just kind of a broad overview here and then we're going to go into each one a little bit more in depth are, so number one is lack of sleep, then skipping meals, eating excess amounts of sugar, drinking too much caffeine and not drinking enough water.

TERESA: Okay, so all of those things sound like things that we can control.

LEAH: Absolutely.

TERESA: Let's start with lack of sleep. Research tells us that about one-third of the adult population in the U.S. is sleep deprived. When you lack sleep… wow, I cannot say that word this morning.

LEAH: Did you sleep last night, Teresa?

TERESA: When you lack sleep, it creates stress throughout your body leading to excess cortisol and more belly fat. Many of our clients start losing weight as soon as they are able to get seven and a half to nine hours of sleep most nights. Over the past 15 years that Dishing Up Nutrition has been on air have you noticed a common message regarding lack of sleep? It wreaks havoc on every part of your body and brain.

LEAH: Yup. So I know that is one piece whenever I sit down with a client or I'm talking with a client the first time, you know, they fill out that health questionnaire and I definitely am looking at that sleep piece. We have a piece on our health questionnaire as dietitians for how well our clients sleep because we want to know. And we know that it's such a key cornerstone for how they feel and some of the things that we might need to do to help support them. So lack of sleep is a major stressor, and I know this having a 19-month old.

TERESA: I bet you do.

LEAH: And you know, with three children, like us having come out of those younger years with kids, those new parents, they tend to be lacking in sleep a lot of times. It can lead to weight gain, but then it can also lead to many different emotions, so it takes a toll on our emotional health as well: fear, anger, sadness, frustration, irritability, and so many more things. I know for me, I do tend to struggle baseline with a little anxiety and when I don't get the sleep that I need, I definitely see that spill over because all of a sudden molehills become mountains a lot easier. And then sometimes just being in your own head is the worst place you can be when that happens too.


LEAH: Yeah, so researchers in the field of a psychoneuroimmunology…

TERESA: Wow, that's a mouthful, Leah.

LEAH: Yeah.

TERESA: I think simply said, what that means is the study of the effect the mind has on, on your health and resistance to disease. So what your mind does to your personal health.

LEAH: Oh, okay. Well that breaks it down a lot. That was a lot more easily understood than it was to say. So we know that the research in this field found that stress affects the nervous system and it impacts our emotional and our mental health. So just the stress from lack of sleep may cause, so fatigue; obviously you don't get enough sleep, you're going to be tired. But things like carb cravings or cravings for more caffeine. You need that extra cup of coffee to get through things. And Teresa, you said a couple of weeks ago you were on and you, you said something that made sense to me saying, you know, the, “If you don't get the energy that you need from sleep, then you need to pull it from somewhere else like carbs and caffeine.”

TERESA: Yeah. We're looking for energy somewhere else.

LEAH: Yeah. So, the carb cravings, the over-caffeinated, but then it affects your ability to concentrate and then of course just leads to weight gain.

TERESA: Sure does.

LEAH: Yeah.

TERESA: You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. I want to remind you that all of our Nutritional Weight and Wellness dietitians and nutritionists are doing nutrition consultations by phone or Zoom, whichever one you prefer. We need to understand that people need help to support them in their real food eating.


LEAH: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. There has never been a time in our lives before where good nutrition needed to be one of the most important things that we should practice for our immune system, our overall health and staying well. And at the present time we are not able to deliver that message to you face to face in our office, but we are still available to you online either through classes or for consultations. And this may be, you may decide that this is the exact time in your life to apply the Weight and Wellness message of eating real food in your daily life. This may be the time where you're saying, “Okay, I have a little extra time to focus on myself and to make some good decisions and to start making some changes.” So you can go to to see all the ways that we can connect with you.

Or if you do still want to talk to somebody, you know, if you, if the isolation piece is really getting to you and you just want to hear the human voice, we are still answering the phones at our offices. So you can call us at (651) 699-3438 to set up a phone or a Zoom appointment or just to learn more about which services might be most appropriate for you. And then, so we're bringing us back into break. We're kind of right in the middle of our sleep topic so Teresa, I think you had a couple things to share.

TERESA: Yeah. So before break we were talking about how lack of sleep causes increased stress, which thing creates, can cause weight gain. Lack of sleep as an ongoing problem is a very serious health problem that affects your physical and your mental health. We often see clients who have had inadequate sleep for years and years. Many times it is because they just never developed good sleep hygiene or sleep habits. Helping people retrain their brain to give up those poor interfering sleep habits takes time and patience. We often work with people on a weekly basis before they are able to set a regular bedtime so that they consistently get that seven and a half hours of sleep.

LEAH: Yeah, it takes some practice, doesn't it? Since you and I both have kiddos, you know, we set schedules for our kiddos or we have those protected bedtime routines. So we prioritize those sleep routines and that sleep schedule for our kids, but somewhere along the line we lose that as adults, don't we?

TERESA: We sure do. Yeah. I wonder why that is. We need to treat ourselves like we're our own parents.

LEAH: Yeah. And one little piece too that I learned about, oh, a couple of weeks ago or so that rang true for me, thinking about young parents, when you have young kids, your, your kids typically wake up at the same time every day regardless of what time you went to bed. So sometimes, you know, it's, it's a hard lesson learned on my end, but sometimes we do need to do, say, like reverse sleeping in. You know you can't sleep in on the back end of your night, so you actually have to be diligent with getting to bed earlier so that you can get that seven and a half, eight, nine hours of sleep; however much you need. And sleep is the time when your body and your brain and your metabolism heal. So we really can't shortchange ourselves on sleep. So to quote the famous commercial, “What is your sleep number?” So how much sleep do you need to lose weight, to rebalance your emotions, to have good concentration or to have a good working brain? And research has found that most people need at least seven and a half hours most nights. But many people need nine hours. And I would definitely put myself in that category. I find about seven and a half is my minimum to kind of keep things under control or to have things moving smoothly the next day. More ideally would be more eight, eight and a half on my end, but everyone is just a little bit different in that spectrum. So if you have gained weight easily or if you frequently have emotional outbursts or you feel like you get teary-eyed very quickly or you forget common words used every day, your stressor may actually be lack of sleep.

TERESA: I know when my kids don't get sufficient sleep, they don't gain weight at this point in their lives, but they do get very emotional, teary, crabby, they fight with their siblings and unreasonable. If you are someone who is sleep deprived and struggles with getting sufficient sleep, I encourage you to make an appointment with one of the dietitians or nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness and let us solve your sleep puzzle for you. You still have to do the work, but we can help guide you to better sleep habits that will positively impact your life.

LEAH: So lack of sleep is one major stressor. We've talked extensively about that now. But let's talk about skipping meals as being another major stressor. And thinking about this, Teresa, you know, a couple of months ago we were in a meeting and a question was posed to the group saying, “When you're under stress, are you the type of person that tends to eat more or are you the type of person that tends to eat less or to skip meals?” And everyone had a different response; kind of interesting to think about. So think about that for yourself now listeners. Do you tend to be the person that turns to food for comfort in those stressful times or do you tend to forget about food almost? And it's not until you're really in a low blood sugar state or very “hangry” or very emotional that you remember, “Oh, I need to eat.” And it's difficult for some people just to understand why like skipping a meal or a snack, even though they're eating fewer calories so that not calorie number goes down, they still gain weight though. I'm sure many of you are thinking exactly that. “So why do I gain weight when I eat less or eat fewer calories?” So let's solve that mystery. When you skip meals, you run the risk of having low blood sugar. And then I mentioned that just a moment ago: low blood sugar. And a low blood sugar biochemically is one of the most stressful things that you can do to your body and your brain. So this stressful event causes those adrenal glands to release more of that cortisol. And that excess cortisol leads to increased weight, especially that belly fat. So we really, I know I try to do a lot of education for my clients around staying ahead of that low blood sugar. So when I see a low blood sugar or see like “hangry” pop up in someone's day, you have to look upstream, look further up in that day and figure out, okay, how can we prevent that low blood sugar.

TERESA: Yeah. And I also think when we are cutting calories really low or we're forgetting to eat because we're stressed, when you do finally give in to eating or, or realize that you are really hungry, what foods are you choosing to eat in that moment because you're usually overly hungry and it's really hard to make good decisions in that moment.

LEAH: The chicken, the broccoli and the butter usually aren't the most appealing things at that point.

TERESA: No. And they take time. During the next few weeks as many of us are staying home, it should be easier to eat on a schedule and hopefully easier to prepare healthy meals.

LEAH: Yeah. And just to the that point also, Teresa, I spoke with a client last week who said, you know, it should be easier since you have more time at home, but she was finding it harder to be at home more just because, and I mentioned her earlier, that the call to go into the kitchen, there was no barrier to being in the kitchen for her. So she was finding it harder to actually be at home than it was to actually be going out to a job and having that structure out there. So I think people fall on two different spectrums there as well.

TERESA: Yeah, yeah. I know some people feel better when they're eating six times a day, while some of us are fine with four times a day, four meals per day. You know, and so if that's, I mean that's a lot of planning. And so this can really be, be more work for a lot of people. I know I'm feeding five people in my home several times a day, so I often double or triple recipes so that I can freeze extra portions and have them on hand for other meals so I don't have to put in all that work for it. And also I don't worry so much about lunch because basically when I make my dinners, I always plan for having extra so that the next day lunch is covered. So I don't have to think of a new idea. And if we do need new ideas, at least for my kids, I'm usually like, “Well, where is your protein?

Where are your plants?” And usually that covers, that gets most of it covered. And I tried to sneak in some fat on some of those plants or something.

LEAH: And that's simple enough for kids to understand too. They understand like, “Okay, I need some, maybe it's some meat or some protein, and then something that grows out of the ground.”

TERESA: Right.

LEAH: Easy enough.

TERESA: If you haven't tried the Curry Mango Chicken recipe on our website,, I encourage you to try it. As a shortcut, I use frozen mango cubes and sometimes I even just buy a roasted chicken from my local co-op so it saves me time there as well. As I mentioned, I have three young kids and so I also need to have quick snack ideas, you know, on hand too. So I like to make the healthy Banana Muffins that are on our website.

LEAH: I actually just made those yesterday.

TERESA: You did?!

LEAH: Yeah. I'm not a baker by any means, but I had some bananas that were just on the bad side of being ripe there so I quick turned them around and made that recipe.

TERESA: Yup. Mash them up and throw them in the recipe, right?

LEAH: Yup.

TERESA: I use almond flour, so it's gluten-free and there's only two tablespoons of maple syrup for the whole recipe because it gets a lot of that sweetness from those bananas; and particularly if those bananas are ripe, it's really going to add that sweetness. And my kids are happy, you know, honestly, I'm happy with one muffin, you know, as far as a snack is concerned. And it fills them up and then they can move on with their day. There are many great recipes on our website. The website is so I encourage you to take a look there if you are running out of ideas, because like we were saying earlier, we've got a lot of cooking to do and we might be getting a little stale on some of the same tried and true recipes.

LEAH: Yup.

TERESA: All of our recipes on our website are made with real food. They're very low in sugar and many of them are gluten-free.

LEAH: Yeah. So, so let's take onto the sugar idea then. When we initially look at our client's food habits, many of them don't necessarily realize that their food choices are actually stressful on their body and their brain. And Teresa, you mentioned it earlier: it's not even just those added sugars that we're watching out for, but it is those foods that just, they turn into a lot of that glucose or sugar in our bodies very quickly. So some of our clients, they are eating too much, we call that hidden sugar or they're drinking too much alcohol, which turns into sugar and has some other effects as well; or even eating gluten if they're gluten sensitive.

TERESA: It is estimated that 75 to 90% of all visits to the primary care doctors are stressed related. Most of these stressors are from poor food choices such as soda, cookies, wine, pizza, chips, fancy coffees with high amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners. And the list goes on and on. All of these foods stress our body and our brain creating inflammation and then causing chronic disease.

LEAH: Okay, well, so Teresa, let's, let's put a pause on that really quick. We do have to take a break.

TERESA: You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. Next Saturday join us on Dishing Up Nutrition as Dar, Kara and special guest, Nancy Lindgren, discuss Food to Support Sobriety.

LEAH: All right, very good. We'll be right back.


LEAH: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Here's an interesting fact: over 70% of our immune function comes from our intestinal tract. With that understanding we are offering these two key probiotics, Bifido Balance and Biotic 7 at a 15% discount plus we're giving free shipping during this time. So if you have any questions about these supplements or anything that we've really discussed today, give us a call at (651) 699-3438 and we will be happy to help you or point you in the right direction. And Teresa left us off with saying that I found, I find this stat just staggering that “75 to 90% of all visits to primary care doctors are stress-related.”

TERESA: Yeah, it's incredible.

LEAH: Yeah. And so thinking too about that common complaint of low energy, like how much of that could just be related to stress and some of the things that we have control over. And Teresa, you mentioned some of the stressors that we get from food are there; there are those damaged fats, the sugar, the chemicals that go into these processed foods. And some of those examples are the pizza or the spaghetti dinners that are a lot more common right now. The chips or the coffee mocha is where some of these things linger. So we believe here at Nutritional Weight and Wellness that to manage stress, particularly during this Coronavirus health crisis, that we really need to be very mindful and if we can really eliminate as many of these processed foods and all of these chemicals as we possibly can. So making that switch over to cooking real food at home fits that bill. Real food does not contain added chemicals, added sugars, unless you put it there, no bad fats, no food chemicals that will decrease your biochemical stress, which then again drives those cortisol levels up to a degree. And then it results in less belly fat and when we switch over to that real food.

TERESA: If you take our advice and switch to cooking real food at home in the next month to 12 weeks, I'm sure you will see your belly getting smaller and your clothes fitting better; or being able to fit into some of those clothes that, you know, got too snug. You know the clothes: the ones that are in the back of the closet and the bottom of the drawer that you just can't bear to part with. Our Nutrition for Weight Loss eating plan is designed to help reduce your cortisol level. Today, as we near the end of this show, Leah and I would like to suggest some habits that will support your immune system and your brain so you can manage the stress that we are all currently experiencing. The first suggestion is to drink eight to 10 glasses of filtered water daily and avoid alcohol and all soda. That means both soda with sugar and soda with artificial sweeteners; and not just sodas but sports drinks, energy drinks, you know, flip your can or bottle around. Look at the ingredient list. If it has high fructose corn syrup or any form of sugar listed, then it lowers your immune function. This lowering starts within 30 minutes of drinking it or eating a high sugar food if it's food instead of that beverage, and it lasts for two hours. So your immune function is dampened because of those high sugar foods or beverages.

LEAH: And at this point in the game, can we really afford to take that risk at this point? So that's a question to ask yourself. So our second strategy is to eat real protein, real carbohydrates, and real, natural fats. And when we talk about carbohydrates, again, most people's minds go to things like pasta and goes to breads and, and cookies and crackers and things like that. But real carbs are very colorful. They are our fruits and our vegetables. The plant foods, like you tell your kids, Teresa. It's critical at this time to avoid processed foods that are full of the damaged fats, just sugars, the food chemicals; and eating processed foods results in inflammation and lowers the immune function, which can be really risky at this time where stress levels are already running high and so our anxiety levels.

TERESA: Tip number three: sleep at least seven and a half to nine hours every night. And maybe now that we have some time on our hands at home, read the book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

LEAH: I love that book.

TERESA: I do too. It's one of my favorites.

LEAH: Yeah.

TERESA: Or if you want more information; you don't want to commit to reading a whole book, you can listen to our podcast where he was interviewed. That is episode 120 if you want to look it up on Dishing Up Nutrition in your podcasts.

LEAH: Yeah, I've heard him on several other podcasts too. I think he's just, he's a really great speaker and communicator overall, so it was really fun to have him on our show. Tip number four is eat four to five times daily to avoid undue stress on your body and your brain and increased cortisol from those low blood sugars. So don't skip meals; that leads to that low blood sugar, that “hangry”, and it increases the release of that cortisol and causes weight gain.

TERESA: Tip number five is to keep your sugar consumption very low. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day. And that's for women and children, which I think is also a great recommendation for men too; keep it to six or less. And that's not a requirement. We don't need sugar. That's the upper limit of you know, what we should have if we're going to have it.

LEAH: Yeah. So kind of thinking over the course of a day and I think a good blanket recommendation for anyone like you said. And this is your…

TERESA: Oh and lastly, yeah, here I thought I was trying to pass it off to Leah. Lastly, you may want to join the Nutrition for Weight Loss program online at While you're at home and throughout this uncertain time of our lives take advantage of this special offer. We have three individual one-hour nutrition consultations with a dietitian or nutritionist when you take it online: this Nutrition for Weight Loss online; which is different. Before it included two, one-hour sessions with a dietician. So we're giving you a bonus hour. Follow these simple nutrition practices and lifestyle habits and plan to lose 10 to 12 pounds over the next 12 weeks, which I think, you know, I think coming up here with whatever happens post, whenever we're post this situation, we're going to have a lot of people potentially saying during this time, “I really went off the rails and there is a lot of things that I wish I would've have done.” So instead of that being your story, this could be your story: sign up for Nutrition for Weight Loss online and really educate yourself and learn how to, how to eat real food.

LEAH: You mentioned it earlier, Teresa, but use this time as an opportunity and not as a time necessarily of fear or punishment or regret or anything like that. And we also just wanted to, as we're wrapping up with our show, just leave you with our views about a few key supplements that support our immune system. So we mentioned just a couple of minutes ago about the importance of intestinal health because the majority of our intestinal health or the majority of our immune system is actually in our intestines, in our gut, so that Bifido Balance and Biotic 7; these are two really important probiotics that support good intestinal health. They support that immune function and the Bifido, you would probably take that two to three capsules before every meal or so, and the Biotic 7, you get a multi-strain probiotic; you get lots of different strains of good bacteria there.

You may take one of those capsules at night.

TERESA: Yeah, I know I've been very regimented about probiotics for me and my family.

LEAH: Absolutely, no time like the present. And vitamin D; so this is one we talk about all the time, especially for those of us that live in Minnesota. Vitamin D: you might want to go higher during this time. Vitamin D, somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 IU’s of vitamin D3 every day. If you can get your blood level checked, it might not be for a little while, and we want that blood level to be somewhere between 50 to 80. Then vitamin C is another really great immune-supporting supplement or vitamin. 4,000 to 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C is really awesome. And then just for the sleep piece or for managing some of that anxiety or just some of the stress…

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