The weight loss formula is broken. Calories in versus calories out just doesn’t cut it anymore. Especially if you’re female and struggling with unexplained weight gain.
Yup, stress is quickly become the #1 reason why women struggle to lose weight AND why they continue to see their bellies get bigger no matter what they try.
And because stress is related to so many other health issues, it’s not something you can take a magic pill for either and expect quick weight loss.
Oh, and by the way…if you want long-term weight loss, you gotta look at your stress!
Let’s dig deeper, shall we?
What is Stress?
Stress is a natural thing. It’s your body’s way of protecting you from harm by initiating your “fight or flight” response. It’s there for survival.
There’s good stress and bad stress.
Good stress helps you stay focused and have energy when facing an immediate threat. This is typically short-term stress that is helpful for, say, when you need to run to your kid because (s)he’s hurt, or to avoid a car crash.
Good stress is helpful for when you need to meet a work deadline or get to an appointment on time.
These types of stress are also known as “acute” stress. With acute stress, your body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol to respond to the event, but once it’s over, your hormones return to normal.
Where stress becomes a bad thing is when this “fight or flight” response is always on. And this is so frequent and common among women in today’s society.
Otherwise known as “chronic” stress, this type of stress keeps your body in a constant state of alertness.
Sometimes this happens when we have to take care of someone long-term due to an illness or disability. Or we, ourselves, get sick. Or when you have a crappy job or an awful long commute to work each day.
Chronic stress also happens when we worry about things. Like our weight, our health, our families, money, relationships, etc.
And that chronic stress ends up negatively affecting your entire body, making weight loss and weight maintenance really difficult.
In fact, studies show that chronic stress is the #1 cause of major diseases (type II diabetes, heart disease) and obesity.
Unfortunately, women are at greater risk for stress-induced disease and obesity.
How Do You Know If You’re Stressed?
Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that you’re under a lot of stress.
You feel anxious, overwhelmed, confused and like you cannot catch up in life. Maybe you feel frustrated and defeated by a bad boss or a demanding family. Regardless of the reason, many women understand this type of stress.
The problems arise when women don’t realize just how many things in life trigger that stress response.
Poor diet, toxins, worry, fear, negative self-talk, poor self-care, too much exercise, not enough exercise, the wrong exercise, healthy foods your body doesn’t like…all of this (plus more) adds up to a chronic state of “fight or flight”.
And chronically high levels of cortisol and adrenaline lead to cravings for sugar or salt, aches and pain, bloating and constipation, poor sleep, and fatigue.
There are many other symptoms of chronic stress but let’s start there.
Your Nervous System on Stress
Stress seems kind of abstract…it’s not something you see or feel. But, with chronic stress, the effects are physical. Meaning, stress-related symptoms are very much tied to physiological symptoms.
When it comes to health of the human body, the two most critical systems for survival are your nervous system and your endocrine, or hormonal, system.
Everything that happens in your body is regulated by these two systems. Without them, you wouldn’t exist.
When that “fight or flight” response kicks in, it’s one part of your nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system – that’s triggered. Usually it’s on standby mode but it is very quick to respond in times of danger.
When life is stress-free, calm and happy, your parasympathetic nervous system is the star of the show. This is also known as your “rest and digest” nervous system.
What this means for your body is that, when you’re chronically stressed, that “rest and digest” doesn’t happen. Which triggers poor nutrient absorption, bloating, weight gain, toxicity, etc etc etc.
Your Stress Hormones
Your adrenals are two walnut-sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys and do a HUGE job for you. This is where your stress hormones are released from.
When you perceive danger (real or imagined), this starts a hormone cascade that moves from your brain to your adrenal glands. It’s basically like when a bunch of people are in a circle and they’re passing the ball to the person beside them. But with stress hormones.
First, a part in the brain called the hypothalamus gets your nervous system ready. It also releases a hormone that tells your pituitary gland to trigger the release of the next hormone. That signal tells your adrenals to then release stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline.
Next up, interesting things happen!
So, that triple play of hormones is called the HPA axis. And more and more research finds that a dysregulation of the HPA axis is highly related to both belly fat and insulin resistance. This is one reason why chronic stress is associated with uncontrollable sugar cravings. (Salt cravings happen because your adrenals become overtaxed and become deficient in sodium.)
On top of this, cortisol cues inflammation, hunger, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
And, you guessed it, all of these things boost fat storage!
What a nasty cycle, right?
Okay, How Does Stress Cause Weight Issues?
You should see that chronic stress is tied directly and indirectly to your weight, right? Specifically, chronic stress causes belly fat storage first, followed by back fat and hip and thigh fat.
(Another notable fact is that insulin resistance is tied to muffin top.)
But let’s dive a bit further into how stress messes up your body’s ability to lose weight and keep it off! Because, hey, knowledge is power!
Poor Digestion and Gut Health
Remember how I said stress turns off your “rest and digest” nervous system?
What this means is that, when you eat while under stress, food isn’t broken down properly, it’s not absorbed, it sits in your intestines too long, and leads to constipation, toxicity, leaky gut, inflammation, allergies and more.
Sometimes stress can speed up how quickly food goes through you too. Ever had diarrhea because you’re freaked out or nervous?
So, even if you are eating the BEST diet, you could still become deficient in nutrients AND spike fat storage.
Another problem with stress is its impact on our gut microbiome.
Slow transit time leads to an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria (and could turn into candidiasis) and fast transit time can flush out your good bacteria.
Why isn’t this good?
Well, a healthy gut microbiome is linked with strong immunity, stable mood, better sleep and weight loss.
Inflammation and immune system dysregulation
Yup, 70-80% of your immune system is located in your gut microbiome.
A microbiome imbalance along with poor digestion is linked to many chronic diseases because this increases overall chronic low-grade inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation triggers your immune system, which, over time, causes it to become either hypervigilant or less responsive.
Inflammation is the #1 cause of stubborn weight and, when combined with stress, leads to unexplained weight gain that no amount of healthy eating or exercise can fix (without help from a qualified professional, of course).
Cravings, increased appetite, and “stress eating”
This is probably what you were waiting for, right?
Chronic stress makes us want comfort food. Lots and lots of comfort food.
Which makes it so hard to stick to a healthy diet right?
So, you probably know all about this problem…
When faced with a very real threat, cortisol triggers an increase on blood sugar to make sure your muscles will have enough fuel (sugar) to fight or flee. With acute stress, this fuel comes from liver stores, which is the perfect amount for short-lived stress.
Unfortunately, in our crazy world today, chronic stress still triggers that need for fuel. Only liver stores are small so the body starts to take sugar from muscle cells. This leads to muscle wasting.
But, this increase in sugar all the time boosts insulin release, which causes insulin resistance and fat storage. Especially around the belly.
Mood-busting and demotivating
I kind of touched on this already but it’s so important that I want to bring it up again!
Stress reduces your body’s feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, causing anxiety and depression. On a smaller scale, this just makes you less motivated and moody. Sleep is negatively affected, and you get caught up in that cycle of “I know what I need to do but I’m too tired and have no motivation!”
And without motivation and energy, no one wants to cook healthy meals or exercise.
Negatively affects sleep
I should have made this #1 because, honestly, sleep (and energy) are the first things I help my clients improve.
So, with normal cortisol levels, you wake up feeling refreshed (after an awesome sleep) and you go to bed feeling tired, and fall asleep right away.
Cortisol should be at its highest first thing in the morning and slowly drop over the course of the day to prepare you for a good sleep.
Poor sleep is highly linked to obesity because it makes you hungrier, you have zero motivation, and your energy is in the toilet. That makes sense, right?
So How Do You Deal With This?
As someone who has lived through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Adrenal Fatigue / Burnout (which are both tightly linked to cortisol and stress), I can tell you that managing your stress and learning how to eat, exercise, self-care and live to balance cortisol and stay relaxed as much as possible is the most important thing you can do if you want to lose weight and keep it off.
And this is my expertise…I can help any women learn how to eat for cortisol balance so she can get more energy, improve sleep, balance blood sugar, and regulate cortisol for both weight loss and weight maintenance.
While balancing cortisol and helping you to regain control over your stress takes time (anywhere from 3-12 months to be honest), I do have some easy tips to share to get you started.
Now, here’s the biggie…it’s also probably the hardest for women to do:
Say “no” more often. This also goes hand-in-hand with “ask for help more often”. You are an amazing woman but you are not superwoman! #sorrynotsorry
Your health is equally as important (if not more considering your role in your family) as everyone else’s and if you’re sick, imagine the chaos that’ll happen! I mean, seriously, we women kinda rule the world, right?
A few other tips for you are:
- Delegating to someone else;
- Re-negotiating deadlines that seem unreasonable;
- When working, focus on just one thing at a time (don’t multi-task).
Or, perhaps you can’t remove all stress from your life (who can?)…use these ideas to calm your mind and regulate your stress:
- Have some fun and laugh;
- Make time for people (and pets) you love;
- Get more, better-quality sleep;
- Be mindful and live more “in the moment”;
- Have one or two cups of green tea (which has been shown to lower stress levels);
- Do light exercise most days per week (e.g. yoga, swimming, or tai chi);
- Go for a walk outside;
- Spend more time in nature;
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet;
- Meditate or deep breathing;
- Relax every evening (e.g. have a bath or read a book);
- Listen to soothing music;
- Do a “brain dump” every night before bed where you just make notes of things you’re keeping track of in your head so you can relax more;
- Treat yourself to a massage, nice meal, or pedicure.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing but too many women live with chronic stress.
And this makes us fat.
It also makes is very hard to lose weight and maintain our weight loss.
Not only that, stress impacts our digestion, increases inflammation, causes sugar and salt cravings, leads to burnout and fatigue, and makes us have zero motivation to be healthier.
So, if you want to lose weight or maintain your weight loss, let’s get your stress levels regulated. I can first help you with this be helping you clear up any confusion about stress and how it’s affecting you, and I do this with a free Weight Loss Review call. Just click the link below to sign up!
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