Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds.
— Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women
The science is in: stress causes weight gain.
But stress will always be a part of our lives. It’s the human condition. Some stress is good and other stress is bad.
And how stress affects your body is entirely up to you and how you perceive it.
We can lift weights, build muscle and improve our metabolism. Weight lifting is stress but in this case it’s called eustress.
Distress is “bad” stress. Whenever we have a difficult event our brain instructs our cells to release hormones that increase adrenaline that taps into stored energy so we can fight the stress or run away from it.
This was useful for back in the days when we were being chased by dinosaurs but in our modern world it’s being released when the photocopier breaks down or when we are trapped at a traffic light.
Stress causes weight gain!
This surge of stress hormones requires energy and that eventually causes us to get hungry and overeat on the kinds of foods that replenish that energy as quickly as possible.
Those foods often contain large amounts of fat and sugar. That is why people binge on chocolate and rarely on broccoli.
On top of that, the increased stress keeps our nervous system overactive and that means that the “rest and digest” actions of our body don’t get their full run which causes metabolic issues that prevent burning of stored fat.
Stress hormones are produced by the adrenals – two endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. When they are continuously pumping out the stress hormone cortisol this causes your body to slow production of testosterone which causes a decrease in muscle mass.
And yes, testosterone (called the “male hormone”) is produced (and needed!) by women as well to maintain muscle.
Decreased muscle means a drop in the metabolism. Cortisol also promotes the storage of body fat in the event of future emergencies.
Not a good situation!
Reduce stress, build muscle and stop weight gain
The object of the game here is to decrease the effect of stress on our endocrine system so we can restore hormone balance and improve body composition.
Here are some initial steps you can take to reduce stress and restore hormone balance…without changing your diet (yet!):
(1) Reduce stress from social media
Every time I log into Facebook I see all the worst events going on the world mixed in with some people taking a beach holiday or showing pictures of their dog.
I know we have difficulties in our world. We always have had problems. This is never going to change. But do I need to see repeats in my news feed about bombs going off?
For me, those social media posts are like death by a thousand cuts.
Is it necessary to always view these posts in my news feed? Since I must log into Facebook for business purposes throughout the day should I obligate myself to be “informed” about these events all day long?
I don’t think so. That’s why I have disabled posts from people that share that information, including my dearest friends and family members. My head space is important!
The posts about dogs, cats, people on beach holiday and anything else that brings a smile to my face have remained and if I really need an update on the tragic events of the world I can watch the news.
(2) Drop the caffeine
I love the effects of coffee: it’s delicious and gives my brain a boost but at the same time it’s a chemical cocktail that spikes my stress hormones and makes me super hungry later on.
In a study conducted by the University of Oklahoma(1), consuming a couple of cups of coffee while under mild stress (like at work) increased cortisol by about 25%.
So what does that mean? For me it meant hunger all day and overeating at night. So that’s why I’m against coffee because for me coffee increases stress and stress causes weight gain I don’t need.
But I loved the sweet taste and warmth of coffee in the morning so I chose to substitute it with a chocolate herbal tea.
Some people have issues with headaches when they stop coffee and I was no different.
I simply could not afford to go through caffeine withdrawal so what I did was taper down with caffeine pills, starting with one 200mg pill for a couple days, then taking half for a couple days, then a quarter. After a week I was able to stop them and my dependency on caffeine disappeared.
My energy throughout the day improved, I slept better and my anxiety diminished. My teeth also got whiter.
I totally recommend ditching the coffee for all these reasons and more!
(3) Stop Restrictive Dieting!
Skipping meals to lose weight works GREAT when you’re younger because your face isn’t falling and your skin is still elastic but it is the WORST thing for women to do as they get older.
Restrictive dieting that makes a person uncomfortable and unhappy increases stress hormones.
Cortisol levels spike, which, as we learned earlier, will eat away at our muscle mass and cause a metabolic slowdown.
When we are young we are full of collagen (the stuff that keeps our skin firm) and muscle but as we get older we lose it unless it is replenished. Chronic dieting will eat away at it and make us look older than we are.
Get a handle on your eating by choosing “normal” unprocessed foods and avoiding processed stuff in packages.
If it can last a year on your shelf without spoiling, it’s not real food!
And if you get a chance, read this article: Practice Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss Success
Make stress work for you!
I mentioned eustress vs. distress earlier. Eustress is “positive” stress while distress is “negative” and destructive.
So I’d like to challenge you to make all stress positive by changing your perception.
Try the following statements:
“Stress causes weight gain” vs. “Stress makes me more resilient”
“This cold weather is killing me” vs. “Cold weather makes me stronger”
“This job is sucking my soul” vs. “This job is teaching me skills for when I have my own business”
“That guy drives me mad” vs. “I’m glad I’m dealing with him because this experience is giving me the skills to deal with difficult people”
“Traffic is such a pain” vs. “Grateful to get little breaks to do some breathing and calm my nervous system”
“Loneliness is so painful” vs. “I’m going to miss this time of solitude when I have a family”
By re-framing stressful events we can allow them to transform us and make us stronger. Just like lifting weights…we stress the muscles out but in the end reap many rewards!
So TAKE ACTION!
- Please share this article with a friend that can’t lose weight no matter what. This could be the information she needs!
- Find a super delicious morning drink as part of your plan to cut down caffeine
- Re-frame any stressful events and turn distress into eustress
And take some time to relax today and beautify yourself. Your nervous system will thank you!