Controlling the Stress Response: The SENSE Lifestyle Program
Some of the best news contained in this book is the fact that there are almost as many different ways to deal with stress as there are things that cause stress. We all know the basics for coping with stress (Grandma has been telling us for years), but we often forget just how effective some of those simple remedies really can be. Perhaps the most effective antistress activities are also the easiest to accomplish. Practices such as eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, and performing some regular exercise can do wonders for helping the body adapt and respond to stressful events. Unfortunately, stress often causes us to do just the opposite: We eat junk food, we can't seem to relax, and we have no time for exercise, each of which only serves to compound the problem and exacerbate the detrimental effects of stress on our bodies. Controlling your individual stress response with various relaxation techniques can help to modulate cortisol secretion and normalize metabolism, but for many people such techniques simply are unrealistic in the face of their hectic lifestyles. So what to do?
We already know from the preceding chapters that controlling cortisol levels will yield all sorts of wonderful health benefits. Returning cortisol to an optimal range will return caloric expenditure back to normal, reduce body fat, preserve muscle mass, decrease appetite, and increase energy levels—and these are just some of the effects you'll be able to feel. Other benefits of controlling cortisol levels—such as reducing cholesterol and blood sugar, maintaining brain power, reducing bone loss, and strengthening immune function—will occur more "silently," meaning you're still reaping the benefits but you won't necessarily notice them in the same way as you will an increased energy level or a slimmer waistline.
To reduce the incidence of certain diseases, the use of behavioral interventions that decrease stress can be just as beneficial for long-term health as quitting smoking, losing weight, reducing cholesterol levels, eating well, or exercising. In other words, if it's possible to avoid stressful situations, then that is the obvious first course of action. Unfortunately, avoiding stress is not always possible or realistic for most of us. Therefore, either you need to learn how to deal with stress as effectively as possible—often referred to as stress management—or you need to find a way to reduce the effects of stress on your body.
The hard part, of course, is deciding on the best approach to controlling cortisol levels for you. For some people, a stress-management approach, such as practicing relaxation techniques, is the most appropriate method for controlling cortisol, while others may prefer to exercise their cortisol levels into normal ranges, and still others may turn to dietary supplements as a convenient way to get cortisol levels under control.
S = Stress management
E = Exercise
N = Nutrition
S = Supplements
E = Evaluation
The sections that follow summarize a program of general recommendations for controlling cortisol levels. This approach is called the SENSE program. SENSE stands for Stress management, Exercise, Nutrition, Supplements, and Evaluation —the five key areas that can be readily acted upon by anyone to control cortisol levels. (This chapter summarizes the first four parts of the program, S, E, N, and S. Evaluation, the second "E" in SENSE, is covered in Chapter 9.) As you read through the rest of this chapter and the chapters to come, keep in mind that the SENSE Lifestyle Program is a research-proven approach to controlling your body's stress response to help you lose weight and feel a whole lot better. SENSE has been conducted and studied for more than five years and has been presented at some of the top nutrition-science conferences in the world, including the American College of Nutrition, Experimental Biology, the American College of Sports Medicine, the International Society for Sports Nutrition, and the North American Society for the Study of Obesity. Across these presentations, the average results for participants just like you have shown significant drops in body-fat levels, maintenance of hormone profiles, control of cholesterol, and dramatic improvements in mood and energy levels—and we do all of this with a phenomenally high completion rate (90 percent of our participants complete the SENSE program, compared to the typical 50 percent completion rate for many commercial and diet-book programs). For more detailed coverage of the topics of diet, exercise, relaxation, and other stress-management techniques, numerous excellent books are available; see the Resources section in the back of this book for some recommendations. See also Chapter 9, devoted entirely to the SENSE program.