People are more and more stressed these days:
- Social Media
- Long Working Hours
- Lack of Physical Activity
- Family Issues
We know that stress can affect us emotionally, but we don’t always talk about how stress can affect our hormone levels and the ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Any source of stress placed upon the body, whether physical or emotional, triggers the production of the hormone cortisol. This is often referred to as the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is essential for our survival. When it spikes, during a fight-or-flight reaction, it’s what tells us to get out of danger. When we are in a state of constant stress, our cortisol levels stay elevated, which can impact several bodily processes. Chronic high cortisol production is tied to ailments such as anxiety, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances, fertility problems, and of course, weight gain.
How does Stress affect weight loss?
1. Stress makes it harder to get good sleep
Cortisol is a hormone related to alertness, so one of its most important jobs is to help keep us motivated, awake, and responsive. Cortisol levels are typically highest in the morning, decreasing throughout the day, and then dropping to their lowest at night, around bedtime. However, when abnormally elevated throughout the day, it can be difficult to fall or stay asleep or you may wake up early feeling wired, but still groggy. This lack of sleep, as we know, can directly impact weight loss.
2. Stress increases cravings
Stress makes it more likely that you will resort to your old behaviors related to food. Stress hormones can interfere with your mood, sleep, and digestion. So, high stress levels can commonly contribute to sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Also, people who are high cortisol reactors tend to consume more calories on days when they feel stressed.
3. Stress contributes to digestive disorders
Stress is one of the leading causes of digestive complaints and disorders, including constipation or diarrhea (both commonly associated with having IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome), acid reflux, and intolerances to certain foods. The reason for this is that stress causes inflammation, which can damage tissue in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can interfere with proper nutrient absorption and increasing many other symptoms tied to leaky gut syndrome. Not only will indigestion and other symptoms not make you feel your best, but it can make it tough to continue eating a variety of high-fiber, whole foods.
4. Cortisol causes increased inflammation
Because stress increases inflammation and weakens the immune system, it can also contribute to symptoms that interfere with sustaining an active lifestyle (lack of energy, slowed workout recovery, frequent illness, and the development of pain, soreness and/or stiffness in your muscles and joints).
Your body has different types of fat. The fat under your skin, the fat you can grab or pinch, is called subcutaneous fat. Another, more dangerous type of fat, called visceral fat, is deeper and surrounds your organs. If you have ever seen someone with a “beer belly”, then you have seen someone with a lot of visceral fat. The reason visceral fat is more dangerous is because visceral fat releases the same inflammatory signals that cortisol does. Also, it surrounds your organs, which increases the odds of organ damage.
So, stress signals increase your likelihood of storing more visceral fat, while having more visceral fat increases the release of inflammatory signals. This causes a cycle of inflammation and increased visceral fat storage, leading to more inflammation and so on.
5. Cortisol makes cells less receptive
Cortisol affects the receptor sites of other hormones, making the cells less responsive to their signals. One example would be with type II Diabetes. This is a disease where your body produces sufficient insulin, however, your body can’t read the insulin signal (insulin resistance). When insulin remains high, your body will not release fat from its fat cells.
Another example is in the case of the hormone Leptin. This is a hormone that plays a key role in losing weight. Leptin is a hormone released from your fat cells and acts as a thermostat to gauge how much fat you have and how fast you’re losing it. When leptin levels are high and your brain can read the signal, you feel full and don’t over-eat. If your brain can’t read the signal, you feel hungry all the time.
Excessive stress and its concurrent release of cortisol negatively effects the receptors for both insulin and leptin, making it harder for your body to read the signals of those hormones. If your body can’t read the signals for insulin, fat stays trapped in your cells. If you can’t read the signals for leptin, you’re hungry all the time. Both of these place you on an uphill battle when it comes to losing weight.
Cortisol’s main job is to provide energy when confronted with a stressor. In ancient times, stress was usually an acute situation. You were being chased by a predator and either fought it or ran away as fast as you could. After the stressor was gone, you went about your day. Today, stress is almost constant.
The problem is, our bodies don’t know the difference between a head cold, a verbal spat with a loved one, being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, or a death in the family.
Many of our Rebels have had major stressors occur during their weight loss journeys. We have had Rebels with serious medical emergencies with themselves or their family members. We have had Rebels who have gone through major break-ups or divorce. We have had Rebels with deaths in the family.
YOU HAVE TO TELL YOUR BODY THAT YOU’RE OK…EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT.
You have to fake it till you make it.
So, what are some things you can do to trick your body into thinking it’s ok?
You have to try and relax…and that doesn’t mean playing the victim and crying yourself to sleep.
What are some things you can do to help you relax?
- Take a bath
- Read a book
- Stay out of the kitchen
- Go for a walk
- Get a massage, manicure, pedicure
- Verbally tell yourself that you are going to be ok
- Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a sleeping pill and get some extra rest.
Once your body realizes that you are going to be ok, the weight will start dropping again.
Don’t use your stress as an excuse. Use it as fuel to keep going and following the program. That is the one constant in your life and the one thing you can control. Don’t fall back onto old habits. If you do that, then you will end up having to lose more weight, which causes more stress, and the cycle continues.