Weight Loss Trouble Part One: Stress

For some people, cleaning up their diet, reducing alcohol intake and exercising regularly are the key to maintaining a healthy weight. Others seem to do everything perfectly, yet the scale won’t budge. There are numerous factors that affect metabolism, fat storage and weight. Without going into all possibilities, a couple common issues that inhibit weight loss are stress and poor sleep. In the first part of this "Weight Loss Trouble" series we will focus on stress and its impact on weight loss.

Individuals who eat well and stay active can actually gain weight from being under chronic stress. Meaning even if you eliminate all processed foods, eat a ton of vegetables and spend hours in the gym each week, you still won’t lose weight because of the effects of stress. Stress comes in many forms, but for many people it is related to work, relationships and finances. There is no magic wand to make your problems disappear, but how you perceive them and how you handle normal stress can have a huge impact on your health, wellbeing and waistline.

Stress leads to increased hunger because evolutionarily stress was caused by a physical threat, so our body thinks it burned calories dealing with the event. We have more of a craving for fat, salty and sweet foods when we are stressed and our blood sugar becomes unstable due to insulin spikes. Giving into these cravings can mentally reduce stress, but of course this is only temporary and can actually increase physical stress.

The increase in cortisol from chronic stress also leads to an increase in fat storage, especially the bad adipose fat around your stomach that increases risks for most health conditions. Elevated cortisol also lowers testosterone which can make it harder to gain or maintain healthy lean body mass.

There is no one size fits all approach to manage stress and each person needs to find what works best for them in different situations. You may find one thing that helps with your worrying at work is not as useful with the anxiety your family brings you. Below are several options that work well for a lot of people and are worth trying to see if they alleviate stress in your life and help bring you back into mental and physical well-being.

Tips to Manage Stress

  • Change your perspective. Inquire as to why you are feeling so stressed and what the root cause is. Stress is an emotional response and merely a signal that we need to look below the surface. Maybe you have unrealistic expectations of your spouse or have an unrealistic fear of losing your job. Find things to be grateful for about your spouse or job and you’ll often see as you focus on the positive the stress will lessen and you’ll actually find more and more feel gratitude towards.
  • Make a list of everything you do in your work and personal life and assess what is draining energy and what you enjoy. Allocate your time to what’s most important and cut things out or find ways to delegate them to someone else. Maybe you can utilize a grocery delivery service, hire a housekeeper once a month, or give away some clerical duties at work.
  • Meditation, yoga, reading, praying, a warm bath and walking in nature are all useful approaches to become more present and let go of mental tension.
  • Have fun! Most of us don’t set aside enough time to do things that really bring us joy. Listen to music that makes you happy, watch a funny show or movie, or spend time with people who make you feel better. The goal isn’t just to distract you from life, but to enjoy it more and fill it with more happiness rather than another to do list.
  • Move, but don’t overdo it. Exercise is a wonderful way to alleviate stress. Daily activity is important mentally and physically. However, very high intensity exercise or if it’s too prolonged can actually add stress, so check in and ensure your activities make you feel more energized, not drained.
  • Sleep is essential for healthy hormone balance which can ease stress. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.

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