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Can Stress Affect Weight Loss?
Can stress prevent weight loss?
It goes without saying that stress and weight loss are closely connected. Stress can have a significant impact on your ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
However, it’s also a reality of life that we absolutely cannot avoid stress. Everyone gets one of those days when things don’t go well at work or perhaps you’re facing a personal crisis… So what do we do?
Before we do a deep dive on this topic, let’s first explore the concept of stress. Is stress a completely negative thing? If we look at stress from an evolutionary perspective, we can see that humans have developed a stress response to make us aware of danger.
Back in our hunter and gatherer days, we lived in a daily battle for survival. If danger presented itself, we needed to be able to focus on that threat 100% to hopefully mitigate it.
In the modern world, we have the exact same reaction to stress that our hunter-gatherer forebears had albeit without the same danger – We’re far more likely to be stressed about being late with a deadline or rushing to pick the kids up. Granted, they’re not life or death but it can still feel like it and it still produces the exact same chemicals in the body.
Now, let’s take a look at this narrowed focus and how it affects you.
What Factors Prevent Weight Loss?
Endless de-prioritisation of healthy choices
Weight loss may be important to you but when you become stressed about another thing, say a report for work being late, it can be easy in that moment to forget just how important your weight loss really is to you.
It can feel secondary because we’re so caught up with the thing that stresses us. Because of this, bad food choices don’t seem so important. Maybe you’ll even think, “If I just get through this then I’ll concentrate on my diet”. And then when the report is finally in, there’s another report needed or something else to quickly take its place. When this is the way you deal with stress you’ll always find something new to stress about.
Deep stress, the stone in your shoe
Quite often when you drill down with people, what you find are deep stressors which we are often unaware of the hugely detrimental effect they are having on us.
A good example of this is being overweight. So somebody has been overweight for a long time and it’s taking a large toll on their happiness but because they’ve become used to it they move it to the back of their mind and focus on other more pressing issues. But it’s not gone away it’s just moved and it’s still slowly gnawing away at you making you feel stressed.
It’s like the mind is going, “You have a problem, it’s making us unhappy and you’re not doing anything about it.” It’s there with you constantly and it’s low level stress a little like what the Italians refer to as having a stone in your shoe, it’s not enough to stop you but is enough to make you uncomfortable. And then we create displaced stress where what we’re stressing about in the moment is not the real reason we’re feeling stressed.
The “monkey” off your back
Here at BodySlims, we always say the first weight you lose is the monkey off your back. And that relates directly to this low level stress or the “stone in your shoe.”
When you’re not dealing with something that’s really bothering you the mind is going to create stress chemicals around it. And when you’re not only not doing the right things but doing the wrong things this stress increases.
What we find in BodySlims is the biggest reduction in stress levels comes in the first week. People may still have a long way to go to reach their personal goal but just knowing they are now doing the right thing and moving in the right direction gives an immediate easing of the stress levels.
When some people feel stressed they reach for alcohol to try to take the edge off it. Now we’re engaging in chemical warfare in our bodies.
We’re trying to change our current stressed state with the alcohol and unlike food, alcohol triggers a larger chemical reaction in the body. So, yes, you may well feel less stressed after drinking. But if the original problem is that you’re overweight, the alcohol is like the excess food making you feel worse.
Alcohol is a poor crutch as while it may create a high it also will create a low on the way out. We all know alcohol is a depressant so keep trying to drink away your stressed state and you’ll probably end up dealing with being stressed and depressed.
Does Stress Slow Down Metabolism?
Stress can indeed slow down metabolism. When cortisol levels are elevated, your body's metabolism can slow down. This is because cortisol triggers the production of insulin, which can lead to an increase in appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods. Additionally, cortisol can also slow down your metabolism, making it harder for your body to burn calories.
A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine in 2019 found that stress may lead to weight gain by increasing cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods. The study found that individuals who reported higher levels of stress had a greater likelihood of consuming unhealthy foods.
When cortisol levels are elevated for extended periods of time, it can have negative effects on your body, including weight gain.
How Do You Lose Weight When You Are Stressed?
Losing weight when you are stressed can be challenging, but it is possible. Here are a few strategies that can help:
Practice stress-relieving activities
Finding ways to manage and reduce stress can be beneficial for weight loss. Activities such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can be helpful in reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
Adopt a healthy diet
Eating a balanced diet that is rich in whole foods can help support weight loss efforts. Be more mindful of what you eat and remember to pick good foods for weight loss when you’re at the shops! Avoid processed and high-fat foods, which can lead to weight gain.
And as previously mentioned, resist the temptation of alcohol and binge-eating food that you know are not good for you.
Know that food is not an antidote to stress
In relation to the point above, another thing we have to bear in mind is that food should not be considered an antidote to stress, no matter how comforting they are. Most people have triggers, cues that make us behave in a certain way. It’s part of the habit pattern.
Now if you’ve developed a habit of when you feel stressed you eat badly that’s what you’ll continue to do. But think for a moment if you’re in a highly stressed state and you eat that pizza do you then feel less stressed? No is the answer.
And if the underlying issue is being unhappy about your weight you’ll probably end up feeling even more stressed after you have it.
On BodySlims over the ten weeks we try to make people aware of their patterns or triggers so they can identify for themselves the processes or behaviours that have caused them to get into trouble in the first place but we don’t leave it at that. Along with trying to create awareness and removing these faulty behaviours, we try to introduce people to new behaviours which morph into new habits. 66 days is the average length of time it takes to install a new habit and the BodySlims programme is 70 days. It’s not coincidental.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. Incorporate regular physical activity
There is no debate about this. Exercise is the single best way to dissipate stress. For both body and mind. Regular exercise can help reduce stress, boost metabolism, and promote weight loss. Simply getting up and going for a walk everyday does wonders!
Get enough sleep
Adequate sleep is essential for weight loss. Lack of sleep can lead to an increase in cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain.
Consult a therapist or counselor
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself about the root of the stress. The mental is connected to the physical so by fixing your mental health issues, it will greatly affect your physical health as well.
So if stress is impacting your ability to lose weight, it may be beneficial to seek help from a mental health professional.
Join a weight loss programme with a great community
Is it easy to stay positive and stay motivated? We’d like to say yes but we know that it can’t be easy all the time! With the right mindset, the right coach or programme, and a supportive community, you can achieve your weight loss goals! This is exactly what we offer at BodySlims- with our ten-week weight loss programme – a unique combination of calorie management, daily walking and online motivational seminars with the Weight Whisperer!
On top of all of these, we also have a great online community that supports one another! So whatever stress you’re facing right now in your life, with enough motivation to lose weight, BodySlims has your back!
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