Are you working out, eating all the right foods to nourish your body and even taking all those fancy supplements, yet you are still struggling to achieve your weight loss goal? Well, did you know that high levels of stress can actually inhibit weight loss. In this blog post I will explain to you the correlation between high levels of stress and weight gain/loss as well as what you can do about it.
Stress can be caused by many factors including both lifestyle and dietary. Stress is common and affects us all in very different ways. Some of us deal with stress better than others and while a little stress is okay (and in some cases can be beneficial by increasing productivity etc.) too much stress can be harmful to our health. The chronic impacts of high stress can cause obesity, mental health issues, gastrointestinal issues and can even cause our hair to fall out. Leaning how to manage your stress is a skill that will not just make your life far more peaceful, but will also support your health in the long-run.
Now lets's talk about the connection between stress and weight gain:
High levels of stress actually inhibit fat loss. When we are stressed, the Sympathetic Nervous System (our fight or flight response) is dominant and this raises the heart rate, respiratory rate, releases a higher amount of stress hormones, and impacts our digestive system and absorption of nutrients. When we have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, this will also mean a higher body fat percentage.
Not only does stress lead to a higher body fat percentage, but our sympathetic nervous system (which is dominant when stressed) is catabolic, meaning that is breaks down and decreases your muscle mass.
So as you can probably see, stress is very counterproductive when you are working towards a weight loss goal or simply trying to gain muscle mass.
HOW TO REDUCE STRESS LEVELS?
So now that you know the impacts a high stress lifestyle can have on your health goals, you are probably wondering what is the best way to address this and reduce stress? Here are my go-to tips:
Firstly, you need to address any lifestyle issues that you know are causing you stress and anxiety. This may be a situation at work, conflict with a friend or partner or a past issue that maybe still requires some healing. Do what needs to be done to get the support you need. That may be speaking to a boss or work-mate on how to better manage your workload, resolving an issue with a friend/partner by having an honest (and sometimes difficult) conversation and/or seeking support from a qualified psychologist.
Once you have done the above, here are my best tips on reducing stress:
A lack of sleep can create higher levels of stress. When we are sleep deprived, we are naturally more stressed and the connection between sleep (or lack thereof) and stress in interconnecting, meaning that both will be impacted simultaneously. If you want to fix one, you need to fix the other and vice versa. I actually wrote an entire blog post on how to improve your sleep which you can read by clicking HERE. Basically, you want to support the production of melatonin to assist with relaxation.
Not one that anyone really want's to hear, but all that coffee you drink is only making matters worse. Caffeine has a half-life of 9.5 hours meaning that the caffeine is present in our system for that long after we drink it. This means that a coffee in the afternoon will really be impacting your sleep. Not only does it impact your sleep but caffeine is a natural stimulant and naturally increases the levels of cortisol and epinephrine (stress hormones) in the body. So when you are already stressed and cortisol levels are high, adding in extra caffeine into your diet is not doing you any favours, it's actually making matters worse. I am not saying to cut it out completely, but try to only have 1 espresso style coffee a day in the morning and nothing after 11am. Instead try water, herbal teas, decaf coffee, chai tea etc.
Note: Alcohol has the same impact so do your best to avoid that too.
To calm the Sympathetic Nervous System (our fight or flight response) we need to activate our Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The PNS is our rest & digest branch of the nervous system and allows us to feel calm and peaceful. We can actually encourage the PNS by doing restorative practices and breathing exercises daily. The calm, fluid and relaxed movements that are done during a restorative practice allow us to breathe calmly, feel grounded and be present. The best practices for this include yoga, restorative pilates, tai chi and anything that involves slow movement. If you are someone that does constant high intensity workouts and is currently very stressed is is vital that you add in some restorative practices into your routine. You need to give your body time to be calm. You will get far better results with your HIT workouts if you actually mix it up with some restorative practices.
Increasing your levels of magnesium is important when managing high stress levels. Magnesium is known as the 'Miracle Mineral' because it assist with over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. In relation to stress, magnesium basically works to support the body's response to stress and lower the effects of anxiety. It is common to be deficient in magnesium but wth a few dietary and lifestyle changes, you can reach optimal levels with little effort. Here is how:
- Have an epsom salt bath once a week. This form of magnesium is readily absorbed through the skin and will help you to feel relaxed at the end of a busy day
- Increase the following foods: Dark leafy Greens, Cacao, Dark Chocolate, Avocado, Legumes, Whole-grains. Aim for a serving in each meal of the day.
- Supplement with a practitioner only Magnesium supplement. (always speak to a health care professional before starting any new supplements)
I saved the best until last. SELF-LOVE is a non-negotiable that we should all be making time for every single day! Not just once a month or once a fortnight, everyday. Learning to nourish our body and mind by taking the time to do the things that we love is so important in leading a healthy, happy and nourished life. Making the time for yourself and doing mindfulness practices is a form of care and stress relief like no other. Here is what you can start doing:
- Morning Gratitude Journal - Write down 3 things you are grateful for
- 10-15minutes of Meditation - Try a guided meditation of that is easier, if not just sit in silence and breathe.
- Journaling - At the end of the day instead of scrolling through social media, sit down and journal your thoughts and feelings.
- Do a face-mask, get a massage, go get your nails done. What do you love to do for your body that makes you feel good? Make time for yourself.
In summary, if you are truly stuck on your weight loss journey it may be beneficial to reflect on your levels of stress and what you are doing every single day to help manage that stress. These tips are a fabulous start! If you are seeking more personalised advice, please just reach out to me for a 1-1 consultation where we can dive right into your health and really get to the bottom of what may be standing in the way of you looking and feeling your absolute best.