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Is Your Personality Making You Fat?

Almost every woman suffers from stress at some point in her life. Short bursts of stress are not necessarily a bad thing - some women even find it invigorating - but long term, it can be catastrophic for health.

Studies have shown that stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease - only last week, new research linked it to cancer.

But now experts are beginning to suspect that it might also be at the root of many other problems, including chronic pain, weight gain, allergies, diabetes and conditions affecting the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Women are particularly prone to the ill effects of stress - their bodies release more hormones than men, and these hormones stay in their bodies for longer.

But not all women respond to stress in the same way. Two leading American gynaecologists, Dr Stephanie McClellan and Dr Beth Hamilton, have spent many years studying the way women's stress hormones and nervous systems react.

Two major stress 'types' are Miss Franctic and Miss Detached.

Miss Frantic is always multitasking, chasing deadlines and anxious; and Miss Detached feels drained of all vitality and joy.

Each type is also particularly prone to specific illnesses. For instance, Miss Frantic tends to suffer from colds and cold sores, and is at greater risk of high blood pressure.

The good news is that you can protect yourself from these health problems - and tackle stress - with the help of these innovative diet and exercise plans designed by Dr McClellan and Dr Hamilton according to the specific needs of each stress type.

So whether you're a multitasker struggling to cope, or someone who collapses under pressure, there is a plan to help you feel your best, physically and emotionally.


You are the multitasking wonder woman, hyper-alert - and anxious. If you don't slow down and learn to relax occasionally, you are at risk of total burn-out and serious health problems.

Because you live with near-permanently high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you are more prone to stress-related diseases than other women.

Typical Health Problems:

Colds and cold sores; bladder and yeast infections; tension headaches and sinus infections; acne; nervous stomach/irregular bowel function; palpitations; reduced libido; changes in menstrual cycle; panic attacks; alcoholism; ulcers; depression; high blood pressure; heart disease; osteoporosis; type 2 diabetes; infertility.

The following programme is designed to help make the most of your energy in the morning, and calm you at the end of the day.


Make breakfast your largest meal and pack it with nutrients (such as eggs, fruit, dairy, wholegrain bread). For you, calories consumed in the morning will be metabolised more efficiently than late in the day (when your stress response starts to compromise the way your body processes fat and sugar).

• Eat a small lunch and dinner interspersed with two snacks to ease your nervous stomach.

• Avoid coffee - caffeine will arouse your already hyper-aroused nervous system. Tea is OK, preferably green.

• Drink no more than five units of alcohol a week. It dehydrates you and will disrupt your already problematic sleep.

• Choose low-GI foods that are absorbed slowly by the gut (to keep blood sugar levels stable).

• Reduce meat, sugar and fat consumption and eat more nuts, seeds, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables - alkaline-forming foods (stress tends to make your system too acidic, which is bad for bone health, leaching calcium from your bones; acid can boost your already high levels of the stress hormone cortisol).

• Choose foods rich in vitamin C (strawberries, oranges, peppers, spring greens, Brussels sprouts) and zinc (seafood, pine nuts, cashews) to ward off colds, sinus infections and cold sores.

• Opt for protein-heavy meals - meat, fish, milk, eggs, nuts or sunflower seeds - to boost levels of tryptophan, a nutrient needed to produce serotonin; this brain chemical improves sleep, reduces irritability, curbs cravings and increases tolerance to pain.

• Take a daily supplement of 1,000-3,000mg of Vitamin C and 10-30mg of zinc in situations of acute stress.


Your stress type means your fight-or-flight response is on permanent alert, and exercise is the best natural antidote.

Fat and sugars will be released into your blood stream to help your body contend with what it perceives to be a disaster, and if you don't use up that energy (through exercise), it will be stored as fat. Regular exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week also promotes the production of brain chemicals that protect learning and memory and can be knocked out by stress.

Exercise in the mornings to burn more fat. Include strength training two to three times a week.


Possibly your toughest task, but very important to lower levels of stress hormones, improve sleep, lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

• Spend 10-15 minutes each day using the ABCDE relaxation method (see

• Pick only the most important tasks from your 'to-do list'.

• Jot your anxieties in a notebook to stop you obsessing.

• Raise eyebrows as high as possible, hold for five seconds, then let tension go and breathe slowly for 30 seconds. Repeat by wrinkling and relaxing your nose, then squinting/relaxing your eyes, then clenching/relaxing your jaw. Apply this muscle relaxation technique to the rest of your body (starting with toes and working up) to release tension at the end of the day.

• Try diaphragmatic breathing before bed or whenever you feel your stress levels rising: expand the belly as you breathe in, then breathe out very slowly. This slows the heart rate by activating a specific nerve pathway called the 'vagal brake', which contributes to a feeling of calm.

• Have a regular deep-tissue massage to ease tension and stimulate the release of the hormone oxytocin and a cascade of feel-good brain chemicals.

• Try aromatherapy and reflexology.


The permanently exhausted type, you lack energy and drive. You tend to suffer from low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One of its jobs is to keep your immune function healthy - your low levels can lead to an overactive immune response, where your body's own immune cells attack it. This can cause arthritis, asthma, and pain sensitivity.

Typical Health Problems:

Aches and pains, often in back and pelvis; food allergies; delicate tummy (nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting) or irritable bowel syndrome; SAD (seasonal affective disorder); PMS; blood pressure fluctuations; postnatal depression; eczema; psoriasis; cystitis; asthma; heart disease; thyroid disorders; rheumatoid arthritis; osteoporosis.


Establish regular meal times to balance your cortisol levels.

• Make lunch your main meal of the day.

• Combine protein and carbohydrates with every meal to boost tryptophan and tyrosine (see Miss Frantic above) to calm your central nervous system.

• Treat yourself to sweet and creamy foods occasionally to stimulate your brain to produce more painkilling brain chemicals (endorphins) - one small piece of dark chocolate can stimulate enough endorphins to provide pain relief.

• Eat anti-inflammatory foods (those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, olive oil and walnuts) to reduce your tendency to develop allergies, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome.

• Drink plenty of water to avoid constipation and support your sensitive digestive tract.

• Take a multivitamin with extra vitamin D; this will help curb the aggressive behaviour of your immune system. Take vitamin A and E too if you suffer from inflammatory bowel issues, because your body may not be efficiently absorbing them from food. Vitamin A also helps maintain memory under stress, and vitamin E may prevent heart disease.

• Fruit and veg will support sensitive bowels and provide antioxidants to counter the damage caused by overactive nervous and immune systems.


Although your energy levels are low, exercise will ease aches and pains and lessen your brain's sensitivity to stress.

• Exercising in daylight and at the same time every day will help restore your natural biological rhythms.

• Consistency is more important than intensity. Start slowly and build to 30 minutes at least three days a week. Choose rhythmic, gentle, low-impact forms of exercise such as cycling, aquarobics, ballroom dancing or yoga. Also try regular aerobic activity to stimulate the production of feel-good brain chemicals.


Practice the ABCDE model for 10-15 minutes each day.

• Diaphragmatic breathing (see Miss Frantic) will give you calming energy.

• Try aromatherapy - particularly with lavender and rosemary (which has immune benefits).

• Have a go at mantra meditation (sit quietly and repeat a word or phrase over and over in your mind, bringing your focus back each time it wanders). Rhythmic repetition can act as a natural tranquilliser.

• Book a shiatsu massage (uses rhythmic pressures on the acupressure points of the body).

January 19, 2010

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