Stress is sadly a normal part of life these days, weaving in through work, relationships, internal battles. As if stress isn’t bad enough, it can massively affect your weight loss in several ways.
Adrenaline and Cortisol
When you’re stressed your body releases hormones resulting in getting a burst of adrenaline. This prepares your body to go in to ‘fight or flight’ mode and activates glycogen in the liver and your muscle tissue. This stems from our cavemen ancestors who would use this to literally run away or fight – for example when being chased by a large animal or fighting with a competitor for authority.
Now days we don’t usually end up in many situations when we need to physically react to a situation, rather it’s an internal stress about work loads, financial situations, relationship issues etc. This means that your body is triggering the actions which result in a loss in muscle mass and storage of fat whilst you’re not actually exerting any more energy.
Additionally, your body then releases a surge of cortisol which tells your body that it needs to replenish the energy that it has prepared itself to use which makes you hungry and thus increases your calorie intake for the day. Cortisol will continue to be released until your stress levels drop back down and are under control.
When we’re under high levels of stress we rarely choose healthy food. Instead we choose food which will quickly boost our energy levels (this energy boost needed thanks to the cortisol) and food which will release the pleasure chemicals in the brain as we feel that this will make us feel good so will help to ease the stress. These are high sugar, high salt and high fat foods such as chocolate, crisps, doughnuts etc.
This is the big killer for our diets as sleep deprivation causes a huge amount of stress for the body so cortisol is released. Additionally, when you’re tired you’re less likely to prepare your food whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner so you end up buying food such as a pastry for breakfast or a take away or ready meal for dinner. Your body running will also be running low on energy so you’ll feel the need to eat more food throughout the day to make up for this. The last nail in the coffin is that your metabolism will slow down to try to maintain it’s resources whilst wanting more fuel, so you’ll be burning less calories througout the day.
Quick eating and portion size
When stressed we usually eat our food quicker for several reasons: the larger appetite caused by cortisol, time restraints such as pressure to get back to work, enjoying what we’re eating and the pleasure chemicals that are released. Eating quickly results in eating more food than necessary as our stomach doesn’t have enough time to tell our brains that it’s full. Our larger appetites mean that we often prepare a bigger feel as we feel that much hungrier. If the extra food is on the plate you are much more likely to eat it – even if you’re no longer hungry! This means that we usually end up eating far more than we usually would, leading us to pile on the pounds
Small differences you can make to lower your stress levels
Identify your stress triggers – finding the causes gives you a starting place to tackle it
Write down what is causing you stress (debt, living arrangements etc) and come up with a strategy to overcome it – sometimes just writing it down and seeing it in front of you can help you feeling more in control of a situation and thus lower your stress levels
Take up a hobby – finding something that you enjoy can help to ease stress levels – knitting and crochet have become increasingly popular for this reason!
Meditate/yoga – take a few minutes out of your day to gather your thoughts, calm your body and refresh your mind
Exercise – if you’re feeling stressed, do a short burst of exercise. A few push ups will get your muscles moving, help to flush out the cortisol hormones causing those hunger pangs as well as giving a much needed mood lift
Get enough sleep – sleeping enough helps to reduce the release of cortisol and ensure that you have the necessary energy for the day ahead
Book a holiday – sometimes getting away is just what you need! You’ll also feel happy in the weeks running up to it as your excitement grows
I hope this helps in some way, let me know!
Zoë Louise Mason x