I've talked about digestion, stress and weight gain and the connection before. There is so much more that stress does to keep us from our weight loss goals.
Stress is also linked with tiny holes or “leaks” in your digestive tract. This means that incompletely digested food particles can get into your body through these leaks. This can cause inflammation.
Which leads us to a major way stress keeps you from your weight loss goals.
Inflammation and immune system dysregulation
Guess where 80% of your immune system is located?
Right around your digestive tract!
So, you can imagine if chronic stress is messing with your digestion, it’s going to also mess with your immune system.
More and more research is suggesting that inflammation is part of many chronic diseases. When you’re chronically stressed, this affects your immune system which is supposed to control inflammation. It can make your immune system either hypervigilant, or less-responsive. And both of these can keep you from reaching your weight loss goals.
If your immune system is hypervigilant, you can develop high inflammatory levels.
If your immune system is less-responsive, it can allow your body to get sick more often, and stay sick longer.
For optimal health, and the ability to lose weight, you want your immune system to work properly (not too high, nor too low).
Cravings, increased appetite, and “stress eating”
When you’re stressed do you reach for celery? Or do you prefer fatty or sugary snacks?
(I know the answer.)
People tend to eat more junk food, particularly comfort food. Things that tend to be fatty and sugary. And there is science to back this up. Scientists are now looking at interactions between stress hormones and the “hunger” and “fullness” hormones.
I don’t even have to tell you how this is going to keep you from your weight loss goals.
Stress also increases your blood sugar, to make sure that your muscles have the fuel (sugar) they need to “fight” or “flee.” And if your muscles are not working and using up that excess blood sugar (i.e. you’re not running for your life), your body secretes insulin to re-absorb that sugar into your cells.
This increase in both cortisol and insulin promote both insulin resistance and fat storage. Especially around the middle. Yipes.
Mood-busting and demotivating
Stress can not only bring down your mood, but that can also be terribly demotivating. When you’re feeling stressed, you may start feeling moody. You may also have less motivation to do the healthy weight loss activities that you really want to do.
If you’re down in the dumps and not motivated to prepare healthy meals or snacks, or get some exercise, then you’re less likely to do those things.
And we all know how important they are for weight loss.
Negatively affects sleep
Cortisol is part of your natural sleep-wake cycle. Under normal (non-stressed) conditions, cortisol levels would increase before waking, and slowly drop during the day.
And this makes sense, because we know that it helps increase mental clarity as well as blood sugar to fuel your muscles. And we need mental clarity and to move our muscles, especially when we are awake.
But we also need this effect to “wear off” by the end of the day so we can start getting tired and relaxed enough to get a good night’s sleep. In other words, in the evenings, we want to start more resting and digesting.
And getting enough sleep is probably a more common reason why people don’t reach weight loss goals than most people think. Science is showing the links between not getting enough quality sleep and obesity.
Now that we’ve gone through five major reasons how stress hormones keep you from your weight loss goals, let’s talk about what the heck you can do about it.
(Pssst, I’d love to help you manage your stress better so that you can meet your weight loss goals.)
But, there are really two main strategies to go about reducing your stress.
First off, you can reduce the amount of stress put on you by re-balancing some demands. Try:
--Getting more support;
--Delegating to someone else;
--Re-negotiating deadlines that seem unreasonable;
--When working, focus on just one thing at a time (don’t multi-task).
Deal with it
Secondly, since you can’t (and maybe don’t want to) completely remove stress from your life, you want to learn to deal with it better. You can improve your personal stress tolerance by trying to:
--Have some fun and laugh;
--Make time for people (and pets) you love;
--Get more better-quality sleep;
--Be mindful and live more “in the moment”;
--Have one or two cups of green tea in the daytime (which has been shown to lower stress levels);
--Do light exercise most days per week (e.g. yoga, swimming, or tai chi);
--Eat a nutrient-rich diet;
--Meditate or deep breathing;
--Relax every evening (e.g. have a bath or read a book);
--Listen to soothing music;
--Do a “brain dump” every night before bed where you just make notes of things you’re keeping track of in your head so you can relax more;
--Treat yourself to classic self-care practices like a massage, a nice (healthy!) meal, or pedicure.
Stress has major effects that can keep you from your weight loss goals. It affects inflammation and the immune system.
Stress can cause cravings, increased appetite, and “stress eating.” It can promote fat storage around the waist with its effect on insulin sensitivity. Stress can be mood-busting and demotivating, not to mention how it worsens sleep.
All of these effects can keep you from your weight loss goals. If you're still reading this, you need to try some of the many ways to deal with stress, but also try to reduce some of the causes of stress in your life. I know it's hard (trust me, I know) but you have to find a way to prioritize it.
I'd love to help you make real lasting change in your nutrition. Write me and let's get chatting about it for you!
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