Stress: How it Impacts You and What to do About it

Stress: How it Impacts You and What to do About it

Pamela Pedrick, MS, RN is a Health Coach who helps women to be free from the chains of dieting and emotional eating.

Leslie: I know we have lots of really interesting topics to talk about, including stress, primarily stress, which I know we can all relate to. Stress and its impacts on us. But before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about your background, how you got working in this space, how you ended up here? 

Pamela: Sure, absolutely. So yes, I am Pamela Pedrick. I am a registered nurse and also a certified health coach. And I primarily work with women who work in healthcare to help them to go from burnt out, exhausted, unhealthily overweight and eating their feelings to rejuvenated, energized, at their optimal healthy weight for their unique body, and no longer eating their feelings. A lot of it stemmed from my own personal journey, because as a registered nurse, being overweight, being burnt out, being sleep deprived, I had huge bouts of insomnia back in my nursing days. But for me, it all started back in college, where instead of gaining a freshman 15, I gained like 25 pounds. During my freshman year, I kept gaining the weight. 

And so I officially started my first official D-I-E-T, my junior year of college, where I restricted my calories. I ate the diet type foods. I was eating Snackwell’s. I don't even know if they still have Snackwell’s out right now, the devil's food cake. I went to diet soda from regular soda. I went from regular ice cream to yogurt. And so I was making changes like that, really restricting my calories and moving more, which is what even now everyone says– to lose weight is to eat less and move more. Well, I had done that. Yes, I did see results. But I also ended up with poor health and gaining the weight fast. My migraines were out of control. I was exhausted. Fast forward now, I call myself a former professional dieter because I went from diet to diet to diet because when I inevitably gained the weight back, I thought it was the diet. Maybe I needed something else. Maybe I need this one. 

And it felt like there was a missing component. I later found out there's a lot of missing components to traditional diets. And it took me a while to acknowledge I was a binge eater because I just did it on the weekends. I didn't do it every day. I literally got my binge food on Thursday night, prepared for the weekend, and I had an unwritten rule that all my binge food had to be eaten by Monday, work day, because I didn't want to feel like crap during the work week. I intrinsically knew underlying what the food was doing to my body, but it took me time to acknowledge that I was a binge eater. I just thought I needed to lose some pounds and inches. And so I had a real big, what I call “my come to Jesus” moment. And it wasn't anything flashy other than I resonated with a movie I'd seen hundreds of times. But at this point in my life, I was just ready. Because I was literally sitting on my green couch at home, stuffing my face with leftover birthday cake. My one cat on one side, my gray cat on the other side of me, watching this video of this woman trying to lose weight. And as the whole video montage is going, where she's thrown away her food, where she's getting her healthy food. And I'm literally yelling with my forking hand, you go girl. 

And I literally paused and I thought, well, what about me? I'm in my 30s at this point. I'm heading into my 40s. And this had been my years of dieting. And so I just saw the time I just needed to lose weight. But I didn't want to go on another diet because for me at this point in my life, it was a four letter word I did not want to say again. So I did what I love to do, which is research. I'm a science geek. I looked at journal articles, nutrition articles, I looked at weight loss articles, I looked at what is this whole thing when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off because I never kept the weight off. And I found that it wasn't just one missing component, it was a whole host of things that traditional diets do not address because they're very cookie cutter. 

We have to find foods that work for our body, we have to sleep, we have to manage our stress. Well, we have to balance our hormones. So I actually paired up with a health coach myself, who was in alignment with what I had been learning. And I asked her, I said, so what foods am I to eat and what foods am I not to eat? And she goes, we're not gonna worry about that because we're gonna find what's gonna work for your personal body. Because I can give you an eating plan, but it might not work best for you. I'm like, are you kidding me? Like, what's this all about? We worked on my stress, we worked on my sleep, we worked on finding foods that my body thrives on. And yes, I lost the weight, but for me, I got my T-I-M-E back, my time, because I was losing time because my migraines were cycling and I was always in bed. And then that 24 hour recovery– migraine sufferers can resonate with this because we all go through the same thing– but I was losing time. I lost my joy during the dieting. And so I got my joy pack. Yes, I lost weight, but I was sleeping through the night. I was managing my stress better. And I felt like someone I had not felt like in quite some time. And I also learned to love my body in a way that I hadn't loved my body before. So as a result of my own journey, I thought, man, I'm a registered nurse. Even the medical field tells you to do this, right? I thought, there are many women out there. who are like me, who are working in healthcare and are hearing eat less and move more. 

But if that had worked, let's be honest, if it was really the answer, women would not struggle, would wait again, right? It'd be like, we're done. We’d just eat less and move more. And we all know we can work a diet, but it's not that. There's so much more underlying stress, being a huge thing, when it comes to not only weight, but health as well. So I got my certification in health coaching. I do have my master's in counseling. 

So when I work with my clients, I bring all aspects of my own experience and my personal journey into helping them not only lose weight, but giving them the tools for their toolkit so that they can keep the weight off for good. 

Leslie: That's awesome. I love that story. And I love the finding your joy and everything. Because in this whole summit, we've talked a lot about, “Food is health, food is medicine.” Like, you can actually have a better life when you're well nourished and healthy because you have energy and pursue your goals and all those things. So that's amazing. So tell us about stress, how the topic of stress. 

Pamela: So here's what stress does. And I've been in this industry for over 20 plus years as a nurse, as a health coach. And every year, I just confirm that stress is the number one thing that we women need to get a better handle on. Because we women are designed to keep going. We push through. We don't feel the stress, quote unquote, feel the stress. And we're living at a moderate level of stress. That's normal for a lot of women, especially for the women that I work with. And so it's not until a really emergent, huge stress event comes into our lives, like COVID or maybe the passing of a loved one, where we actually start to feel the stress. Where we say to ourselves, “Man, I'm really stressed right now.” And we kind of feel overwhelmed, but all along we had been working at a moderate level of stress. All we know is we're exhausted, we can't sleep. We're gaining some weight or we're not able to lose weight, maybe our hormones are starting to become a little bit unbalanced. And I'm not talking about just the female hormones. When we say hormones, most women think of those female hormones. I talk about the stress hormone called cortisol. So that goes high. 

And there's a reason why when we are in a stress response, things happen physiologically within our body. But women most often are working on a moderate level of stress. They just don't feel it, but all along their body is working in a state of stress response. We are now in a day and age where the original stressor is no longer is what is stressing. It's what I call the pre-stressor or the pre-trigger. I'll give an example: women in healthcare. Normally we have a stress response as soon as we get on the floor to work, right? Now, it seems we turn the parking lot, the parking garage at the hospital, wherever we work, now we're starting to be in a stress response. Maybe it's driving down the road, like now we're having these what I call pre-triggers of the original stressor. Now our body is in even a longer state of stress, potentially not even getting out of stress. To begin with, we're in stress all along. 

So why stress is so detrimental, to not only our health, but to our weight as well, is because in a state of stress, our body cannot digest our food at all. So even if you're eating the healthiest food on the planet, food that your body thrives on, your body loves, if you're eating while under stress, your body cannot properly digest it. Here's the reason why. Because a lot of women– you might've heard it, but not actually understand what goes on physiologically– our bodies were designed to put digestion off when we're in a state of stress. Why? Because back in the day, it used to be a physical stressor. Like we had to run away from a tiger or whatever, or we had to fight. So our blood is literally diverted from our stomach and our intestines to our arms and our legs. So we can either fight the stress or run away from it. Cortisol, that stress hormone, we actually want that it's good because it's also a sugar. Why do we want sugar? It's because we need energy to fight or to run. So that's why cortisol's increase gives us that immediate boost of energy. which is why after an immediate stress event, you feel like I'm exhausted because you've used up all that sugar and now your energy's plummeted. However, today's age and society we live in, it's not a physical stress. It is an emotional or a mental stress. So we're not utilizing the cortisol. We're not using that sugar. We're not running away. We're not fighting the stress. It's more of a mental game, so to speak. 

So now our cortisol is high. We're not using that sugar. Now we got blood sugar instability going on. Because what goes up must drop eventually. And then your body goes, Oh, wait, we're low on sugar, we need to cause cravings and make you eat, because we need more sugar since we just had a huge drop in sugar. And then our body is in a state of stress, in which we're not digesting our food. So what happens to the food that we eat when we're under stress? It goes through our system, we lose the proper nutrition, we're not uptaking the protein. The healthy fats we're eating are stored on our body as future fuel, aka fat on our body. We're not uptaking the vitamins and the minerals, and even if you're supplementing, if you're taking your supplements while under stress, you're still not getting 100% of what you're taking in. So we really need to be mindful of, are we under stress? Sometimes it's very hard to figure that out. 

Here's one way, if you're eating, how quickly do you eat? Are you shoveling in the food? If you’re eating very quickly, and you look at your plate, go, “Oh, my plate was just full, but now it's empty. Oh, let me go grab some more because I'm still hungry.” We haven't allowed our body to enjoy the food. So that's one way of knowing if you are under stress, if you're eating very quickly, because when we're not in a state of stress, everything slows down. Our heart rate slows down, our breathing slows down, and we can be more mindful with our eating. So that's the number one reason why. health and weight are impacted by stress is because we're not properly digesting our food. Healthy fat gets stored in our body as fat, that cortisol, that blood sugar instability, which also causes inflammation. Inflammation is a number one driver of disease and weight in the body. So you gotta really have a better handle on stress management, which I'm gonna go into some, some tools for you to take away today as well. 

Leslie: That's awesome, wow, that's incredible. I didn't know that I had so many different impacts. But what are some symptoms? So like if somebody is thinking, oh, wow, that sounds bad. How do I know if I'm under too much stress? What are some signs that people might see? 

Pamela: Yeah, this is where we, because I work with women. So I always say women– women and men– we need to have more awareness within our body. Are our fists clenched tightly? Are we breathing faster? Is our heart rate elevated? Or sometimes in our state of stress, we make a little sweaty, so to speak, because it's an emergent issue. But for women, more often than not, it's that exhaustion or “I'm not able to sleep”, we're tossing and turning or “Oh, I'm gaining weight and everything else is looking good, blood work wise. Like why am I gaining weight and not able to lose the weight?” So those are the top things that most women kind of see when it comes to health and weight, if it is a stress issue. Like they're eating properly, but they're not uptaking the protein, maybe they're losing muscle mass, which is why I'm not a good advocate for the scale. 

Scales tells us nothing, what's going on internally in the body. We don't know what your muscles are doing. We don't know what your fat percentage is doing. So there's other tools that you can utilize that will give you those numbers. With stress also, we will lose muscle mass when we're under stress. There are some things called an in-body where it looks at that, but also something that’s called your phase angle, which lets us know about our health.

How happy are yourselves? Well, if I start to see muscle go down and that go down, I always ask my clients the question, how's your stress been this month? And they'll know, oh yeah, very stressful– had COVID, someone else had COVID. I can always tell by the numbers because it's how impactful stress is on the body. 

Leslie: Wow, so it actually shows up in your physical numbers when you're stressed. And what about sleep? Is there an impact there? That's what I always think. 

Pamela: Absolutely. So what happens with sleep is there are different stages of sleep. And the sleep stage that we really want to get into– a lot of people talk about REM– but it's actually the deep sleep that is where we rejuvenate the cells, where we actually release 75% of a very important hormone called human growth hormone. While that's necessary for growth in adulthood, it's necessary for it's an anti-aging hormone. It helps us to burn our fat more efficiently. And if we do not get into that deep sleep, which usually occurs about 90 minutes after we fall asleep, most of it's released between 10 PM and 2 AM in the morning. If we're not releasing human growth hormone, now we're not able to build muscle, because it helps us to build muscle as well. And also, human growth hormone, it's what's called inversely proportional cortisol. So if human growth hormone is high, cortisol naturally decreases. If cortisol is high, guess what? Human growth hormone naturally decreases. But if our sleep is also impacted and we're not releasing enough of human growth hormone that our body naturally creates for this, then cortisol is gonna be hanging even higher. Now we get blood sugar instability and also makes us not get that deep sleep. Have you ever woken up two, three o'clock in the morning? Right? And you're like, or you're tossing and turning not sleeping. It's because stress, that cortisol, remember that sugar? It wakes us up. Because insulin now has to put sugar into our cells. So that wakes us up. It's like, “Oh, it's almost as if we had a meal.” You know, if you ever had a heavy meal before going to bed, you're like waking up. Why? It's because insulin needs to put sugar into your cells. So that can naturally wake us up. And now we gotta go back to sleep. We've just missed an opportunity to get in deep sleep. Now we got to go back through the same phase of the sleep because our body doesn't remember that, “Oh, I was just literally almost in a deep sleep. I'm going to go right back into it.” No, the body has to go through all the stages of sleep again, which is why when we're under stress, we're kind of tossing and turning, we're waking up. And then you might not feel as refreshed in the morning.

Maybe you feel, oh man, I'm really tired. Oh, well, it's not that bad. You just thought, well, I was tossing and turning, but I was sleeping the other times, but you weren't getting into a deep enough sleep. So that's why you don't feel rejuvenated the next day. And I feel like you can get into a vicious cycle there. You're not sleeping. You're more stressed. You're not sleeping. 

Leslie: So tell us more about what you actually can do about this. What sort of recommendations do you make for your clients?

Pamela: One thing I didn't mention is that there's two branches of the nervous system. The sympathetic think stress and the parasympathetic think peace, rest and digest. They are not one at the same time, it's either one or the other. So if we're not in rest and digest, we're in stress. If we're not in stress mode, so if we can turn one off, guess what, the other one turns immediately on. So research shows deep diaphragmatic breathing will literally shut down the stress response. and decrease cortisol significantly in the body. And then because stress response is off, guess what naturally turns on? The parasympathetic: the peace, rest, and digest. 

So I teach a breathing technique called 557. For the first five, you’re inhaling for a count of five at deep breath. How you know you're breathing deeply is when someone next to you can hear you. Take a deep breath for five seconds. Hold it for five, that's the second five, and then exhale for a count of seven. When you make that sound like Darth Vader or the ocean, you have to use your diaphragm to get the air out, which is why it's called deep diaphragmatic breathing because you’re really getting the air in and then we're really getting it out. I recommend 10 repetitions. If you're really feeling the stress, that's 2 minutes. You literally can shut off the stress response in 2 minutes or less. You do 5 times, that's 1 minute. 

So I always recommend to do it before every meal. Why? Let's really make sure you're out of stress response so you can properly digest that food and get all the nutrition that is in the healthy meals you're eating, and/or the supplements that you were currently taking as well. Now, oftentimes we, if we can know we're in stress, rush our traffic, right? We all can feel it. Rush our traffic. We're on a road trip, whatnot, late to work, rush our traffic. You can do some deep breathing then. You can do some deep breathing if the kids are really bugging you and you really don't want to lash out at them. You can, you know, some me time in the bathroom. Sometimes that's the only time we have is just go take some time in the bathroom for ourselves. I as a nurse, I've done it while doing chest compressions. Like I've done it in the field. Yeah, you do some deep breathing. People can hear you. We can also do it at least. Get some deep breathing in without people necessarily hearing you as well. There's ways that you can tweak it in with that. But I use this almost every day. 

The main thing is making sure you're out of a state of stress response so you can properly digest your food so that it's not stored on your body as future fuel, aka fat. And then you can also balance hormones, cortisol and your human growth hormone as well. And I think even if people notice you deep breathing, sometimes that seems like it has a calming effect on everyone. And they will all slow down. Yeah, everybody's like, ah. OK, that really seems very easy. I mean, you can breathe. You're always breathing. You can do it anywhere. It doesn't cost the dime, right? No, that's great. 

Leslie: Tell us about a case study. I was thinking if you could just paint a picture for us, what sorts of changes are possible when you start to embrace ways to manage your stress?

Pamela: So I have a client of mine, Suzy. When she came to me, she's like, I have such cravings for sugar. And she worked in a stressful job. She worked with little ones in a preschool. And she's like, “I always go at 10 o'clock in the morning, go to the vending machine for a Snickers bar.” She goes, “I know that's not the best option, but I have such a sweet tooth.” I said, “Ok, let's talk about your stress. So I gave her different stress management techniques to get herself out of the state of stress. One of them being that breathing technique we just went over. And then by the end of the week, she's like, “You know what? I haven't gone to the Vending Machine at all this week. I just realized that. Just I didn't need it. I haven't needed that Snickers bar. And I don't feel like I'm deprived.” That’s because the breathing technique really turned off her stress response, which decreased her cravings for sugar because stress can cause cravings. And then she's like, I didn't need that. I didn't need that Snickers bar. And she actually ended up losing about seven pounds in about a two-month time span. She said she didn't realize what she had lost until she got on the scale at her doctor's office. She didn't realize what she had lost. She said, all you do is breathe in, right? She goes, yeah. That's amazing. And it's nice to not be so focused on the scale. You're just trying to feel better, and then you get other benefits as well. 

Leslie: Yeah, absolutely. So do you have any other top tips, like recommendations that you would throw out there? The breathing is a great one. I'm definitely going to do that. 

Pamela: Yeah, that's always my number one thing. But you also, let's face it, we're going to be dealing with stress every day, right? In some way, shape, or form, whether it be a text, an email, a phone call, driving down the road. Maybe you're late for an appointment or they're late on their end. We're always going to be faced with some stressors in our lives. So. The deep breathing technique absolutely is always my number one go-to for anyone at any age. And then also making sure that you are properly fueled to begin with. We have to have some protein in our system to increase our energy so that we have energy to face the stress because stress will plummet our energy. So if you're already starting from a low energy point, you're faced with stress, guess what? your energy is going to plummet even more, which is why women are so exhausted, because they start with low energy, and they're not properly fueling their bodies with protein in the morning, or they're fueling their bodies with junky food, all the carbs, all the sugar, and then they drop in their energy level, and then they're faced with stress at work or in the home, wherever it might be. Now their energy is dropping even more, because stress depletes your energy– it takes a lot of energy to deal with stress. So protein first thing in the morning within 30 to 60 minutes is what I always teach my clients, to fuel your body properly because you haven't had anything to eat for eight plus hours. Maybe not as long as that, but you haven't had anything to eat, so now we've got to stoke the fire of your metabolism with some proper protein so you have energy to face the day. So within 30 to 60 minutes of waking up. 

Leslie: Yes. Ok, so you're not a big fan of the intermittent fasting. 

Pamela: I am, but it doesn't work for everyone. That's the thing. Everything's customized and individualized in my programs. So some women can do really well with fasting. But what I find for most women, because they're so nutritionally deprived, we have to start them off with at least trying the protein first thing in the morning. It doesn't need to be a big meal. I am not a big meal person for breakfast. A protein shake does me well because my body can absorb it properly. I don't feel like I've eaten so much protein, even though I do have high protein mornings. So you've got to find the foods that work best for you. But we do find overall for most women, once they get that protein first thing in the morning, they find a huge difference in their energy right away. 

Leslie: Ok, great. Super helpful. So I know a lot of people are probably thinking, I could really talk to Pamela about my issues and situations. So where can people find you if they want to learn more? 

Pamela: Absolutely. So I have my website, I'm also on Facebook as Coach Pamela Pedrick, or you can find me on my profile, Pamela Pedrick. I'm on Instagram, same thing, LinkedIn. So basically all social media, even TikTok and Pinterest, you can find me as one. I do have a private Facebook group called Healthy Weight Loss for the Busy Woman. I give you tips, trainings, techniques, and also I do run free challenges every quarter, just about. 

Leslie: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your point of view and I'm sure everyone will be all over your website to check it out. 

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