Stress: Why It’s Stopping Your Weight-loss Goals

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Nowadays, we are bombarded with diets, workouts, and supplements that all promise to be the secret to weight-loss.  If you just take this or do that, then fat will disappear, along with all your worries.  We have more “promising” solutions than ever before, yet we are the fattest our country has ever been… something doesn’t add up.  We have gotten so consumed with the idea that the solution has to be complicated or come in a secret magic pill, that we have forgotten about the basics of how our bodies actually work, and what things can prevent weight-loss from occurring in the first place.  One thing that is a huge fat loss blocker is stress.   The body’s reaction to stress is a primal one, one that worked great thousands of years ago, when stress only happened during times of real danger (a tiger chasing you).  In today’s world, that is no longer the case.  You can be sitting on a couch, watching Bravo with a comfy blanket and be stressed to the max.  Nothing has told our bodies that animal attacks have been replaced with non-life threatening things like sitting in traffic or dealing with a dramatic friend (we all have them).  We no longer need the energy and concentration to run or fight for our lives every time stress creeps up.

What exactly happens in our bodies during stress?


When stress initially happens, like when you step foot in a sample sale (women will fight to the death at those things), the body signals the release of cortisol by the adrenals.  Cortisol is a hormone that releases glucose into our blood, so we have the energy needed to handle the dangerous situation.  Your adrenals also prompt the release of adrenaline.  This is great when the stress is short lived, like when you leave the sample sale and go grab lunch.  You are given what you need to get through the stress, and your body has a system in place that brings the body back down to normal, and all is well.  What happens when that stress is either repeating or chronic, so instead of going to lunch after the sale, you rush in traffic back to work to meet a tight deadline, deal with a bad boss, then rush home to do an intense gym session?  That’s when things start to break down and the stress response is no longer beneficial…
You see a few other things happen when we become stressed, especially when we are chronically stressed.  Your body gets prepared to need a lot of energy, so anything that is non-essential to live and takes up a lot of energy will be either slowed or suppressed.  Unfortunately, a majority of these things can have a significant effect on your waistline.  These things include:
  • Food Issues:  Adrenaline spikes cause digestion to slow down, causing potential harm to our gut lining. Slowed digestion (and suppressed immune system, see below) allows for harmful bacteria, yeast and parasites to grow (gross!).  When that happens, our gut lining can get irritated, causing tears in it, setting up a great environment for food issues to develop.  This in turn will lead to chronic inflammation when you eat those foods.
  • Low Thyroid: The thyroid plays a huge role in metabolism.  When you want to lose weight, you want this gland working as well as possible.  Unfortunately, when your body senses high levels of cortisol, thyroid hormone gets suppressed, leading to weight gain.
  • Getting Sick:  Your immune system actuals gets suppressed after a release of cortisol.  Ever notice how you can get sick after a busy week at work?  This can stall weight-loss because who wants to go lift weights or run around when they feel like death?
  • Water Retention:  It just so happens that the receptors for aldosterone (the hormone that controls water balance in the body), also match with cortisol.  So the more cortisol you have, the more your water regulating receptors are blocked, leading to water retention.
  • Hormone Imbalances:  When our bodies think there is danger, the last thing it wants you to do is reproduce.  It’s way of preventing that is to lower sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone).  Just one of these being lowered can cause a domino effect on the others, which can lead to things like water retention and fatigue.
  • Sleep Disruption:  Cortisol levels are supposed to be highest in the morning (its what helps get you out of bed), and lowest at night (allows you to fall asleep).  Being chronically stressed can disrupt your natural cycles, causing insomnia or other sleep issues.  This can leave you feeling tired throughout the day, causing you to skip the gym and being more stressed.
  • Fat Redeposited in your Middle:  Your stored fat gets broken down by the liver and released into your blood to provide energy during stress.  Since more times than not, you aren’t using that energy because you are stressed sitting at a desk and not sprint from a lion, the fat gets restored.  Unfortunately, the fat does not have to go back to where it came from.  Your body is SUPER smart.  If it constantly needs to convert fat in your liver everyday because you are constantly stressed, it won’t put the fat back in your thigh that’s far from the liver.  Instead, it will redeposit it in your waist so it is closer and more quickly available for the liver to convert.
  • Weight Gain from Overeating:  Ever notice how you want carbs when your stressed?  Carbs will actually help bring cortisol levels down, so that is why you crave them.  This can lead to overeating of sugary, high carb foods, which obviously can lead to weight gain.
  • Muscle Wasting:  Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it eats away at muscle.  The less muscle you have, the lower your metabolism is.  Since we don’t want our hard work at the gym eaten up, we need to keep high levels of cortisol away.
With all that, it is pretty clear that if you want to lose weight, stress has got to go (or at least be minimized). So what can you do to bring your levels down a bit?  Here’s a list of a few of my favorites:
  • Yoga-I would go with the more relaxing yogas, as opposed to the power yogas here.  The goal is to unwind and relax, not challenge your body.
  • Adaptogenic Herbs- Rhodiola and Ashwagandha are my two favorites.
  • Meditation-Take a few minutes and just zone out.  It’s amazing what just five minutes can do.
  • Going for a Walk-Listen to music or a podcast.  Do not spend the walk scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.  A quick “walk selfie” is ok, but wait until after you are done to post it.  You don’t want your walk interrupted by like notifications.
  • Taking a Rest Day from the Gym-Give your body a break, and allow it to rest at least once a week.
  • Putting Your Phone Away-Getting bombarded with notifications can be a stress in itself.  You need to take time and fully unplug.
  • Being Present During a Fun Activity-If you are on your phone replying to text/emails, it doesn’t count.  Be fully present and forget about things like work and just have fun!
I cannot tell you how many times I have lost a few pounds during prep for a bikini show by just taking a day to relax and staying out of the gym.  So the next time you feel hopeless and nothing is working, take a step back and take an inventory of your stress levels (Click Here to read what stress to look out for).  Instead of resorting to a fat burner, you may just need to take a chill pill 🙂

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