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Could Stress Be Derailing Your Weight Loss?

October 22, 2019 | Weight Loss

Stressed senior woman at home

If you’re someone who struggles with weight loss, you know that the causes of obesity are not simple. It’s easy for people to say “eat less and exercise more”, but when it comes down to reality, it’s often tough to shed those extra pounds. If you are having trouble meeting your weight loss goals, even though you watch what you eat and exercise regularly, have you considered that stress might be an underlying factor? Recent research indicates that this is a very real possibility.

Of course, weight is impacted by many factors. When people eat too much, ingest a lot of sugar, and lead sedentary lifestyles, it’s easy for them to become obese. There are other things at play, too, and some of them are beyond a person’s control. How long you were breastfed, for instance, may affect how easily you’re able to lose weight. Your genes may make you more susceptible to weight gain, certain disorders can cause you to gain weight, and medications can also play a role in your weight gain. On top of all that, your socioeconomic status, culture, and factors in your environment, along with hormones in the brain, the gastrointestinal tract, and even the fat cells themselves can all factor into your weight. When you take all of this into account, it’s clear that weight loss can be a complicated puzzle.

Stress is just another piece of that puzzle. Recent research has indicated that people with persistently high levels of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” for long stretches of time, had weight issues. Their BMI was higher, they weighed more, and they had a larger waist than people who had lower levels of this hormone. While past research has linked stress to obesity because of comfort eating, this study indicated that the stress experienced had an effect on the metabolism, increasing susceptibility to weight gain.

If you think about it, the stress/weight gain connection makes sense. Stress makes things seem harder and erodes the ability to cope. When you feel like you’re under too much pressure, you probably pay less attention to your diet, and you may skip some workouts. This leads to more stress because you feel anxiety and guilt over all the ways you’re not meeting your goals. Cortisol then triggers cravings for comfort foods, and stress increases your insulin levels, making it harder to burn off those calories. Your body gets the idea that you need to hold onto excess calories to deal with stress, while at the same time the stress is sapping your energy and self-control. The more out of control you feel, the higher your stress becomes.

What can you do to stop this cycle? Take a breath and assess the situation. Then take positive steps to alleviate your stress.

  • Acknowledge the stress. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge, so admitting that you’re stressed out is the first step toward a well-balanced life. Once your life feels more in balance, you’ll be better able to lose weight.
  • Shift your focus. Redirect your energies from weight loss to stress relief. Take a step back from trying to lose weight, slightly scaling back your workouts and dietary restrictions, just to allow yourself some breathing room. Find ways to ease your stress, whether that means sleeping more, making sure you’re drinking enough water, practicing relaxation techniques, or cutting out some stressors in your life. Look at your life objectively, to see if you need to realign yourself with your own core values. Once you’ve released some stress without trying so hard to lose weight, you might be surprised by weight loss that happens more easily.
  • Be kind to yourself. We often treat ourselves far less gently than we’d treat another person. Negative self-talk undermines your progress, so be as gentle and encouraging with yourself as you’d be with a struggling friend. Make time in your schedule for things you really enjoy, and surround yourself with people who are encouraging and uplifting.
  • Begin and end your day with calm. Take a few minutes for some form of relaxation first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This could be yoga, meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, or some other coping mechanism, as long as it helps you reduce your stress level. When you start your day this way, it makes the rest of the day go more smoothly. Ending your day, in the same way, can help your morning start out better the next day.

If you are struggling with your weight and would like to learn more about weight loss surgery, Garden State Bariatrics can help. An MBSAQIP accredited bariatric practice, we provide surgical and ongoing medical care to help patients reach their surgical, nutritional and lifelong goals. Passionate about our work and committed to our patients’ success, we will do everything possible to assist you in living your best life.

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