I never knew this could make you fat

The other day my friend Geoff leant back in his chair, patted his considerable stomach and said 'this is all down to too much stress'.

I couldn't help laughing. I reminded him how he enjoyed his food, not to mention the odd pint, and asked him when was the last time he'd seen the inside of the gym.

I was surprised by his answer.

Since Christmas he's cut out the drink and snacking. He eats relatively healthy, and he leaves the car at home and walks near enough everywhere.

"And I haven't lost a pound!" he moaned.

Of course, some people find it harder to lose weight than others due to metabolism, and due to mistaking bad foods for good. I'm going to get to this point in a moment.

But Geoff is convinced that stress is helping him pile on the pounds. And it seems he may have a point...

How to lose weight without a Sabre Tooth Tiger

Now, I've always thought that, if anything, stress made you LOSE weight. I seem to remember cartoons of rake thin men still working at their desks at midnight, wasting away to nothing, gaunt and under pressure.

But it seems this image could be totally wrong - that stress really does contribute to weight gain. And as he's right, I owe Geoff a pint (or an orange juice).

I have discovered that when you're stressed, adrenaline pours into your system, sending a warning to your body that it's under attack.

This adrenaline causes fat cells to pump fatty acids into your bloodstream to give you extra emergency stores of energy.

It's one of the ways evolution kept us safe from Sabre Tooth Tigers and spear-wielding rivals. It helped us run, or fight, or scramble up a tree.

This may have been fine in prehistoric times. But these days, tigers are thin on the ground.

Stress is now triggered by hectic schedules, heavy workloads, money worries, illness and family crises. In these cases, adrenaline produces the same fatty acids...

...But you don't burn them off in a fight or a sudden 5-mile sprint.

Instead you're sat at your desk with a report to finish by Friday, or on the M25 in a traffic jam, banging your head against steering wheel.

Then, while the fat hangs around in your bloodstream ready for a non-existent fight, along comes a hormone to dump it all in your belly!

The culprit is Cortisol - a hormone that's produced to help your body process the fat released by adrenaline. This could be the reason why fat's sticking to your tummy like glue.

Cortisol mops up the unused fatty deposits (and that's pretty much all of them when you're sat on the sofa worrying over bills), and then packs them all away in your abdomen.

Not only is cortisol linked with fat, but also diabetes, heart disease and depression. This means that there's a chance that your health could be under threat every time you feel overworked or frazzled.

How to battle the bulge

Here are some ways you how can control cortisol - and battle the bulge:

Don't skimp on your sleep. A University of Chicago study published in the journal 'Sleep' showed that men who slept only 4 hours had 37% more cortisol in their blood than men who got a full 8 hours sleep.

Make sure you get 'good quality' sleep. Human growth hormone is essential to help prevent the loss of muscle mass, caused by cortisol. Another University of Chicago study showed that men who got plenty of deep sleep released almost 65% more human growth hormone (HGH) than men who slept lightly.

Up your laughs. In one study, a group who watched comedy for 60 minutes had less cortisol in their blood compared with a group that tried to relax without any special stimulus. So if you're feeling stressed and wound up after a day's work, try watching a funny film. (For me, it's The Marx Brothers every time!)

Get your vitamin C. For stress, take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C in small doses throughout the day

Don't booze or drink coffee three hours before you go to bed. This dehydrates you until your body thinks there's a water shortage. This will trigger a rush of cortisol.

So cortisol could be one hidden culprit behind getting fat. But there's another one that's even worse - because it's meant to be HELPING you stay slim!

The salads that could be making you ill

Cucumber... tomato... lettuce...

Could they be bad for you?

Well, yes, apparently.

The salads you buy from sandwich shops and fast food restaurants can be every bit as bad as a Big Mac and fries, because so many of them are loaded with fatty extras.

Take the D'Autunno chicken salad at Pizza Express. It contains 35% fat and 940 calories!

And it's not the only one that's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Salads from other high street chains are also packed with fat and calories. So be smart, and don't think that just by ordering a salad, you'll be eating well.

Instead, follow these simple guidelines:

Watch that dressing! - Never buy a salad pre-mixed in dressing. They're drowned in creamy sauces to keep people's taste buds happy. If you fancy something like this from time to time - fine. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's a healthy option.

No cheese, please! - If you must have high-fat ingredients like cheese and croutons, don't overdo it.

Hold the cream! - Try a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing instead of a cream-based dressing.

Ask for a cherry on top! - Try roasting some cherry tomatoes for just 10 minutes to break them down into a fat-free dressing.

Bon Apetit!