It’s All In Your Head: How Stress Is Affecting Your Weight Loss Plan

By Samantha Harrison

Stress is a difficult condition to treat because it manifests itself differently in everyone.  Some people may react to stress by spending more time alone, avoiding social interaction.  Others may react in the exact opposite by getting out and pursuing their goals more aggressively.

Regardless of the way you react to stress, chances are, it’s not helping your weight loss plans.  Stress has a number of effects on your emotions, hormones and well-being that makes fitness goals difficult to achieve.  If you’re set on losing weight but you feel like you’re falling behind, take a step back and acknowledge some of these facts about stress.

Stress Causes a “Fight or Flight” Response
Your body has a natural stress response that acts as an alarm system for your body.  When you encounter a stressful experience, your body reacts by releasing cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones from your adrenal glands.

Adrenaline increases your blood pressure, boosts your body’s energy supply and increases your heart rate while cortisol suppresses functions that are unessential in a fight-or-flight situation such as your digestive system and immune system.

You’ll experience a sudden burst of energy and alertness, but as the adrenaline subsides, you’ll crash.  When this happens, you’re more likely to feel fatigued, restless and hungry, causing you to fall back on your weight loss routine.

Fatty and Sugary Foods Reduce Stress 
“Stress eating” is not just something people have made up, it’s a scientific fact.  According to Harvard Health, high insulin levels combined with high cortisol in the body increases your appetite for fatty, sugary, and otherwise, unhealthy foods that lead to weight gain.  What’s more, high insulin levels are typically associated with obesity–meaning people who are already overweight are more likely to reach for sugary and fatty foods when they’re under stress.

Stress Affects Sleep Patterns
Restful and adequate sleep is essential if you want to achieve your weight loss goals.  When you wake up feeling alert and ready to take on the day, you’re more likely to follow through with your diet and make it to the gym for your workout.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million Americans have a sleep disorder and another 20 million experience other sleep problems.  Many of these are either caused by or exacerbated by stress, anxiety disorders and depression; most of which are preventable.

Sleep is one of the most important and complex functions of the body, so it’s important that you do everything you can to help it along.  When you get better sleep each night, your stress levels decrease and your fitness goals will become much more manageable. 

Weight loss shouldn’t be a difficult or frustrating experience.  If it is, you may be suffering from stress, high anxiety or depression.  If you want to accomplish your goals, it’s best to solve these issues before continuing your fitness routine.  If these problems persist, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or loved one.

People who spend more time preparing meals are more likely to have healthier diets, according to a study published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine.” They eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

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