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Stress and Fat Loss —How It Affects Weight Loss Goals and How to Reduce It?

Stress and Fat Loss —How It Affects Weight Loss Goals and How to Reduce It?

Learn how your stress can make your weight loss goals difficult, and how can you manage it.

stress affects weight loss goals

Stress can have a direct impact on your weight. Photo via Shutterstock

About Stress

Stress is actually a reaction the body goes through in response to change. Our body can react in both a negative and positive manner.

Here’s how stress can affect weight loss goals and how you can reduce it.

When we experience too much stress, day after day, sometimes hour after hour, this is detrimental to our weight loss goals, as well as our overall health.

How Does Stress Affect Your Weight Loss

Excessive and chronic stress can cause an imbalance in hormones. Imbalances in hormones such as cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline can cause abnormal increases in blood sugar, weight gain and your chances for Type 2 diabetes.

What is Cortisol?

  • Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and can cause weight gain alone as well as predispose fat storage in the abdominal area. Abdominal fat storage has been labeled your biggest health risk overall.
  • Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy.
  • Cortisol stimulates insulin release and its normal release, it is associated in the maintenance of blood sugar levels.
  • With elevated cortisol levels, the body also produces less testosterone, leading to a decrease in muscle mass.
  • Cortisol is associated with cravings for sweet, high-fat, and salty foods.

What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?

  • High blood pressure
  • Flushed face
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increase thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Changes in mood
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Bruises or purple stretch marks
  • Decreased sex drive.

These signs and symptoms should not be used as an immediate indication of your possible hormone imbalance. Take these ideas to your physician and get a proper diagnosis.

How can I lower my cortisol levels to lose weight?

Lower cortisol levels by[12]

  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and diaphragmatic breathing techniques[1].
  • Doing things you enjoy that are fun.
  • Gather with friends who lift you up -be picky with your choice of close friends!.
  • Exercise or simply get active by taking a walk -it can naturally reduce cortisol as well as burn calories.
  • Get plenty of sleep -it may be good to get advice from your doctor on this one but most of us require 6-8 hours every night.
  • Choose healthy foods with lots of color.
  • Stay properly hydrated with water and produce that is high in water.

What other stress hormones are related to weight?

DHEA and adrenaline, previously mentioned, are other stress hormones that are directly and indirectly related to weight.

What is DHEA?

  • DHEA is dehydroepiandrosterone. It is a hormone that is converted into estrogen, testosterone and other hormones.
  • DHEA activates receptors that influence metabolism and the storage of fat.
  • DHEA levels are high in babies, and gradually lowers as we age.
  • DHEA is available as a supplement and may help in weight loss, bone density, sexual functions and hormonal balances. Consult your physician before use.
  • Studies could help us understand possible connections between our gradual decline in this hormone as it related to middle age weight gain. 

What is Adrenaline?

  • More commonly known as epinephrine, it is released when strong emotions are expressed and felt.
  • Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, muscle strength, blood pressure and sugar metabolism and prepares the body for strenuous activity.
  • Signals fat tissues to break down fats and release them into your blood.
  • Adrenaline/Epinephrine is used by the body to maintain cardiovascular homeostasis; causing the body to send blood to tissues under stress.
  • Epinephrine plays a role in glycogen breakdown. 

When these hormones are not in balance there are several possible cascading effects that could occur, essentially affecting your weight both positively and negatively.

Can Stress Slow Down Metabolism?

Stress releases cortisol and with increasing stress levels, even more cortisol is released. Too much cortisol can wreak havoc on our body’s metabolic processes and fat burning abilities[4]. This is your metabolism.

Increased stress levels can also increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes conditions you experience together that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes[2][3].

What Are The 5 Risk Factors For Metabolic Syndrome?

  • Increased blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Excess body fat in waist
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Low levels of HDL, good cholesterol

Although having one of these risk factors does not mean you are experiencing metabolic syndrome, it’s simply conditioned to be aware of when they occur together.

It is also important to be aware of metabolic syndrome since these risk factors are also associated with weight control and overall weight gain.

In addition, when these risk factors are present, other hormones such as DHEA and adrenaline, are going to be off-balance. 

Can You Lose Weight From Stress?

Yes, you can lose weight from stress but that weight loss is more likely going to come as unwanted weight loss. Here’s how:

  • It can lead to missed meals placing the body at risk for malnutrition and possibly muscle atrophy if prolonged.
  • Overwhelming stress can cause a loss of appetite
  • Gastrointestinal stress-related issues such as stomach pain, heartburn, constipation, and even diarrhea are such reasons for a loss in appetite.
  • Some people are more active during bouts of stress so this can burn more calories leading to weight loss.
  • Naturally, these are all ways of losing weight that we want to avoid.  It’s important to be aware of determining what our personal stress levels are doing to our health.

How Do You Get Rid of Stress Weight Gain?

When weight gain is seemingly correlated to stress[6][7][8] , you will first want to address the sources of stress. Once you have made a point to reduce it, move on to these tips as well.

  • Eat foods that can naturally combat excess cortisol. Some foods to add to your meal plans include fatty fish, nuts, seeds and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Eat fiber rich foods, especially soluble fiberlike flaxseeds, avocados and legumes.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid simple sugars like desserts, fruit juices and candy.
  • Always include a lean source of protein at each meal.
  • Increase heart rate daily, by exercising. This can be aerobic exercise or resistance training.
  • Get to bed! Sleep is essential since that is our most natural healing time of the day.
  • Keep a journal. This can be used to track food, exercise, how much water you drink, how you are feeling at different times of the day, and more.

What Other Foods Can Help Combat Stress?

  • In general if you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies, you are on your way to a stress-busting diet.
  • Choose foods high in antioxidants like blueberries, produce that is the color orange, whole grains, asparagus, and dark chocolate for an occasional treat[5].
  • Eat foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids like avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds and salmon.
  • Warm oatmeal may boost serotonin which is a chemical that promotes a calm brain. It is also a slow-digesting food so there could essentially be a slow release of happy hormones.
  • A healthful diet will also arm the body with a strong immune system, essentially fighting back disease and illness that is caused by stress.

Are There Positive Ways Stress Can Affect Weight Loss Goals?

The physical stress placed on the body through exercise is good. It will increase blood volume, increase muscle mass and increase lung capacity.

Exercise can actually reduce stress since it boosts the happy hormones, endorphins[9] [10].

 

Conclusion

When you are faced with a stress or, the adrenals secrete cortisol. Your internal fight-or-flight response kicks in. Glucose is released as an energy source for muscles like your heart.

Cortisol will also trigger the arteries to contract and then epinephrine will increase your heart rate, causing more blood to circulate and the heart to work harder.

Whether or not this normal cascade resolves is up to you and your lifestyle. The aforementioned hormones and their respective effects on the body could potentially become dysfunctional, leading to weight gain, weight loss or other health ailments.

Should you strive for a life with no stress?

Absolutely not! We realize that stress is needed at individual levels in order to survive, grow and move throughout life.

Be mindful of the signs of too much stress, eat a diet of healthy fats, lots of fruits and veggies, get active on most days of the week, and take time out for yourself to relax, reflect and recharge. You’ll thank us later.

Stress can be bad and stress can be good. When on a weight loss journey, it can be positive but when it becomes overwhelming and continuous, it can negatively affect your weight loss goals.

Feedback:

References

[1] J Mol Biochem. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 Dec 17.Published in final edited form as:J Mol Biochem. 2018; 7(2): 78–84.Published online 2018 Oct 3.PMCID: PMC6296480 NIHMSID: NIHMS992063 PMID: 30568922. Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trial https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296480/
[2] Eline S. van der Valk, Mesut Savas, and Elisabeth F. C. van Rossumcorresponding author  2011 Sep;14(5):468-74. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.606341,Chronic stress, metabolism, and metabolic syndrome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21848434
[3] Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2005;3(1):8-13. doi: 10.1089/met.2005.3.8. Stress and metabolism https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18370704
[4] Cristina Rabasa, Suzanne LDickson, Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance Department of Physiology, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Medicinaregatan https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154616300183
[5] Cleveland Clinic | Stress Busting Foods Online Health Chat with Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/transcripts/1458_stress-busting-foods
[6] Medical News Today | Why does stress lead to weight gain? Study sheds light
[7] Cleveland Clinic | Can Long-Term Stress Make You Gain Weight? Study Finds a Link
[8] MedicineNet | Stress, Hormones, and Weight Gain https://www.medicinenet.com/can_stress_make_you_fat/views.htm
[9] Mayo Clinic | Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
[10] Curr Obes Rep. 2018; 7(2): 193–203.Published online 2018 Apr 16. doi: 10.1007/s13679-018-0306-yPMCID: PMC5958156PMID: 29663153 Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958156/
[11] Sleep Sci. 2015 Nov; 8(3): 143–152 Published online 2015 Sep 28. doi: 10.1016/j.slsci.2015.09.002 PMCID: PMC4688585 PMID: 26779321. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154616300183
[12] 11 Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels | Healthline https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-lower-cortisol
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Jackie Vega, RDN

Jackie Vega, RDN, is the owner of The Wellness Solution, a personal fitness and wellness practice in south Florida specializing in reci...

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