I am beyond thrilled you reading this, and I hope it all makes sense once you done reading.
Here’s the thing – I learned that there is a strong connection between stress and the inability to lose weight. This isn’t new information but are we actually processing this? While stress seems to be one of the biggest factors that influences what, when, how and how much we eat, science shows that weight loss and weight gain is more than a calories in and calories out game.
A report in the International Journal of Obesity  found a relationship between job stress and body mass. Similar results were reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology  where a significant relationship between job-related demands and body mass was reported in women and men.
Other contributing stress factors included:
Lack of decision authority
Difficulty paying bills
Lack of job skills
Perceived constraints in life
Family and relationship strain
I am sharing what I learned about why stress is an issue, how it effects your weight and what you can do about it.
Why does stress effect weight ?
Stress can change your hunger and satiety cues. Sometimes, stress will make you feel hungry more often. Other times, stress can completely squash your appetite. Either way, this can lead to dysregulated eating patterns that can create a weight imbalance and/or an inability to lose or gain weight.
Stress can have a negative effect on the way the Hypothalamic Pituitary–drenal (HPA) axis effects appetite .
When stressed, your body triggers a cascade of chemical and hormonal changes designed to help you remain alive and safe. You pump more epinephrine into your bloodstream and levels of cortisol rise. This action drives the fight or flight response. When you have chronic stress or repeated stress, the consistent increase of cortisol affects a very important hunger hormone called leptin. Leptin regulates your appetite, so when cortisol knocks it out of whack, you feel more hungry more often. This can trick your brain into thinking you need more calories when you don’t AND make it more difficult to feel satisfied. .
When you’re stressed your body seeks foods that give the most ‘bang for your buck.’ One study found that in times of stress, “humans turn to hyperpalatable comfort foods such as fast food, snacks, and calorie-dense foods even in the absence of hunger” .
Another part of craving higher fat foods may have to do with ghrelin’s role in insulin regulation. Higher fat foods can help keep blood sugar stable when eaten with other foods. They slow absorption and digestion so there is not a huge spike in blood sugar.
Stress, Sleep and Cortisol
One of the most common challenges when dealing with stress are changes in sleep quality and sleep pattern. Insomnia plaques millions every night, and while you might not make an immediate connection between sleep issues and weight issues, it’s there!
A lack of sleep can spike your cortisol. Studies show that even short-term disrupted sleep can cause metabolic and endocrine dysregulation including:
decreased glucose tolerance,
decreased insulin sensitivity,
increased evening concentrations of cortisol,
increased levels of ghrelin,
decreased levels of leptin and
increased hunger and appetite [7
Fat Storage and Inability to Lose Weight
When cortisol is elevated, it effects where excess body fat as stored; in fact the science shows that cortisol makes the body favor abdominal fat storage.
This is what it looks like:
Stress increases cortisol
Cortisol makes you hungry
Hunger causes overeating
Overeating increases fat storage
Cortisol pushes excess calories towards belly fat
Belly fat increase stress (fat is hormonally active!)
And the loop starts again. So, the longer you are stressed, the more challenging it becomes to break the cycle. Also, stress alone is enough to hinder weight loss because of the way the body is pushed to store fat rather than burn it.
How Can You Lose Weight When You are Stressed?
Truth? It is difficult to release weight without addressing stress. So, part of the solution and plan MUST include addressing and relieving stress.
A STRESS-RELIEF AND WEIGHT RELEASE ACTION PLAN
Exercise (but don’t over do it!)
Many studies show that exercise is key not only for health, but for stress relief. You might think that you have to train hard or push yourself to a certain level of fitness to get benefits, but in fact, what we know is that exercising to excess can ADD to the stress burden. So, when you are choosing your exercise approach, match it to your fitness level and keep it fun and interesting. As your fitness improves, adjust your activities to build strength or to improve your overall health. The simple act of moving your body for 20-30 minutes daily, walking or dancing or weight training – that is enough to help with your stress response. Yoga, swimming, walking in nature – may not burn the most calories, but will help you relax and normalize cortisol levels.
Nourish yourself deeply.
Nourishment comes in many forms. Nutrition is one piece of it. Feeding your spirit and giving your soul some space matter too! So, think about the ways you need nourishment:
Healing emotional stuff
Think about nourishment in terms of good, better, best --- if you know there are opportunities to up your support in areas where you feel stressed, do it in small steps. If your diet lacks fruits, veg and greens, start by adding a smoothie with a ready made blend of frozen berries and greens. You don’t need to start organic gardening or growing sprouts.
Think about flexibility and progress rather than absolutes or perfection. As you make choices about what nourishes you, ask yourself, “what do I need?” If you are eating, ask, “What am I really feeding?” Adjust your actions based on your response. If you are feeding sadness or grief, try seeking a non-food support. If you are needing more sweetness or needing to feel whole, full, satisfied, look at hobbies, connections in your community or connections with your creativity. With food, look to eat things that are whole, seasonal and simply prepared. Your body knows what to do with whole foods. Processed foods are complicated and often so full of chemicals and ingredients that your liver ends up with a big job just to process and your gut struggles to digest and absorb everything.
Balance Blood Sugar
Blood sugar spikes and dips are a natural part of your metabolic process. You eat, you exercise, you do everyday things and your body responds by adjusting insulin levels to keep your blood sugar stable. When you eat, carbohydrates are converted to blood sugar/glucose. Glucose is used by your cells as a source of energy. For the body to use glucose and absorb it, your pancreas secretes insulin. Excess glucose/sugar that your body can’t use as an immediate source of fuel, is stored in the form of glycogen. However, your body can only store so much glycogen. When it cannot store any more, excess glucose gets stored as fat. By not eating too much carb rich food and by balancing your meals with protein, fat and fiber so your blood sugar spike isn’t as pronounced after meals will help your body maintain a healthy insulin response.
Stress can change the way that your brain perceives hunger and fullness, cravings and satisfaction. Stress can trigger inflammation, change sleep habits and change the way your body holds on to fat. Physiology is not absolute destiny. You can use strategies to reduce stress and change the way your body responds to stress. Doing so can only benefit your health and well-being while setting you up for success with the scale.
By following the three steps provided above, you will be able to gently ease stress and support your body.
Do what you can.
Start where you can.
You didn’t gain weight overnight and you won’t release it overnight either. But, small actions add up and can make a big difference. Good luck for your journey towards a new and healthy body and a number on the scale that makes you feel good.
Ready to Take Your Stress Reduction to the Next Level?
Think about how amazing you could feel with even more nourishing food and healthy habits. If you’re ready to decrease your stress levels and feel better than you have in years, it’s time to try my proven system. It’s worked for me and countless clients, and I know it will work for you, too.
Are you ready to dive deeper into a clean eating program that to take your health, life, and energy to the next level then join me for STRESS RESET & 3 Month Make over program - You’ll receive an in-depth guide, 2 months of mouthwatering, allergy-friendly, easy-to-make recipes, and a step-by-step plan of action with suggested whole foods meals that will help you cleanse your body naturally. Most importantly, you’ll get access to me to address any questions, concerns or struggles coming up for you.
Drop me a mail and let me guide you on this new, stress free journey to wellness.
Kivimäki, M et al. Work stress, weight gain and weight loss: evidence for bidirectional effects of job strain on body mass index in the Whitehall II study. Int J Obesity. 2006; 30: 982-987.
Block, JP et al. Psychosocial Stress and Change in Weight Among US Adults. Am J Epidemiol. 2009; 170(2):181-192.
Bose, M et al. Stress and obesity: the role of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in metabolic disease. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2009; 16(5): 340-346.
Leal-Cerro, A et al. Influence of corticol status on leptin secretion. Pituitary. 2001; 4(1-2): 111-6.
Ya, YHC et al. Stress and eating behaviours. Minerva endocrinol. 2013; 38(3): 255-267.
Leproult, R et al. Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss in Hormonal Release and Metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010; 17: 11–21.
Moyer, AE et al. Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obes Res. 1994; 2(3): 255-62.