Is stress affecting your weight loss goals?

This week we’re looking at the effects of stress on our appetite and new research that shows there is more to stress than we first thought…

Stress and our appetite

For almost all of us this is a simple yes answer, if we feel stressed we tend to find ourselves hitting the snacks and fatty foods in an attempt to feel better. Although this often leaves us feeling worse, there is science behind this. When your body feels stressed it releases Cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ – this hormone can stimulate our appetite for sugary, salty and fatty foods because your brain is preparing to fight the threat that is being caused by our stress.

In essence, if we can reduce our stress it will also reduce our cravings for the foods that convert directly into belly fat.

 The effects of Cortisol on the body

 Although it’s widely accepted that stress can stimulate our appetite, there is more to cortisol than you may think. Under chronic stress the release of cortisol can make weight loss very difficult. (1)

 Firstly, it is important to note that this chronic stress is a newer phenomenon that many of us experience in today’s world. Cortisol helps your body in becoming more effective in producing glucose (energy) from protein for those fight and flight moments such as being chased by a predator (something we no longer experience, hopefully!). These moments are not thought to cause weight gain since they are typically resolved quickly.

However, the issue arises from a chronic or near constant state of stress, which leads to excessive cortisol production. It is here that the cortisol does its damage by stimulating excess glucose production that is then converted into excess fat that is stored in the body.

In paleolithic times we would typically burn this excess glucose and our cortisol levels would subside. However, unfortunately, with chronic stress the glucose levels remain high with no physical exertion to burn it off. These levels can remain high for months, triggering the release of insulin – it is the spike in insulin that causes our cells to receive excess glucose, which then accumulates as fat.

To summarise, increased levels of cortisol results in excess glucose production resulting in more being stored and mostly in the abdominal area.

Coping with stress

So how do we avoid these chronically high levels of cortisol? ‘Relax’ is probably the worst advice someone can give to you when stressed but we all have to find a way to reduce our cortisol levels in order to reach our lean goals. We’ve detailed a number of ways you can reduce your cortisol levels but it’s worth remembering that everyone has their own way of dealing with stress. For some of us, a cup of tea may be enough to bring us some calm but we would typically recommend a blend of the below and some calming herbs such as Lavender, Lemon Balm and chamomile which are all helpful in relieving stress and anxiety.

Five ways to reduce cortisol levels

  1. Sleep is always a good way to reduce your cortisol levels. The deeper the better so get yourself to bed.
  2. Overtraining can have a negative effect on our stress levels, consider taking as rest or lightening the load
  3. Relaxation exercises such as Yoga, swimming, taking a walk are all beneficial to our stress levels.
  4. Try to minimise inflammatory foods such as processed foods, sugars, caffeine and alcohol
  5. Find something that consumes 100% of your attention such as a sport like tennis, football, and netball whatever it may be you will typically find this distracts you more than simply going for a run

In all, how do we stay on track for our lean and weight-loss goals? A balanced diet and working on our chemical imbalance appears to be the best approach. We can help you with the diet and we hope this article hasn’t contributed to your stress!