OK so there are a few really bad things for weight loss… The main ones being overeating and binge eating. Believe it or not, exercise isn’t as important because you can still lose weight without exercise.
But there is one other thing that prevents you from losing weight and that most people don’t even know about! And that is stress.
I’m sure you read that thinking yeah but everyone knows that. I myself have always known that stress is bad. I even used to write it in my blog posts, telling people to reduce stress to help with weight loss. I just didn’t really know how easy it was to put yourself under stress and the effects that it actually had.
One thing a lot of people assume is that stress is caused by having a stressful job. Yes this is one thing that puts stress on your body, but there are so many more things that you wouldn’t expect.
Being constantly busy, exercising too much, chronic illness or even just having a cold, not getting 8 hours of sleep, medication, being in a bad relationship, financial worries, travel, excessive alcohol, a poor diet, exposure to chemicals – anything that puts ANY stress on your body, either mentally, emotionally or physically.
When you are stressed, your body releases the stress hormone called cortisol. Constantly high levels of cortisol = fat storage (especially around the stomach).
When you see yourself gaining weight or getting a bit flabby around the stomach, a lot of us start to workout harder and are more strict with our diets. Sometimes this will make some improvements.
But if your high cortisol levels are caused by overtraining and having a busy lifestyle, training harder and dieting won’t fix the problem and will likely make it worse over the long term.
You will NEVER get rid of the excess fat (especially that dreaded muffin top) unless you sort out your stress and high cortisol levels. Fixing your stress levels should be your top priority, even higher than weight loss. When you reduce your stress, weight loss will happen (assuming you also have good eating habits).
I want to share a bit about my own story to help get my point across. I was leading a stressful lifestyle and I didn’t even know it! I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.
When I was working a full time job, I would wake up at 5am, go to the gym from 5.30-6.30am, come home and have a quick shower, leave for work at 7am, drive to work which took around 45 minutes. And then I would either eat breakfast at work or in the car.
I would work until 5pm, drive the 45 minutes home and then would cook dinner so it would be ready by 7pm, have a shower, and then have about 1 hour to chill with my husband (boyfriend at the time) before I went to sleep and did it all again. When I was in hardcore training mode, I would even hit the gym after work from 6-7pm, so had no time to relax at night.
My life was busy, but I didn’t even realise it because this was just how things had to be done. I didn’t realise that all of these things I was doing was putting stress on my body.
I undoubtedly had high cortisol levels, which caused problems with my sleep. I was always in a constant battle with my weight. I didn’t link these things together.
As I mentioned above, high cortisol levels cause your body to store fat. As long as your cortisol levels remain high, it will be very difficult for you to lose weight, especially in the stomach region.
If you are struggling to lose weight and are busy and stressed, please have a look at your lifestyle before going super hard with a workout program or diet. Do everything you can to reduce the stress on your body!
I will suggest some of my tips below.
This constantly high level of cortisol can be known as Adrenal Fatigue (stages 1 and 2), and it often takes years to develop. People can live in this state for 5-10 years and can move between normal and high levels of cortisol constantly. You may experience issues with weight gain and difficultly losing weight, trouble sleeping (falling asleep, staying asleep if you wake up in the middle of the night or waking up many times), and the need or reliance on caffeine.
If you don’t do anything about your stress levels and you undergo a stressful event such as death of a loved one, surgery, car crash, travel, etc, things progress to Adrenal Fatigue stages 3 and 4. This is my story on that.
When I went travelling for a year, my body was already in a pretty stressed out state due to my busy lifestyle, overtraining, chronic gut health issues (leaky gut syndrome) and bad sleeping habits. I had all of the symptoms I listed above.
While I loved travelling, it pushed my body to new levels. I experienced even more sleeping issues due to changing hotels/airbnbs almost every week, always sleeping in different beds, along with changing time zones all the time. I
had jet lag a lot. My diet wasn’t the best either. Overall, it put my body under a lot of stress.
After 6 months of constant travel, my body crashed. I became really tired all the time, I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings (even though I was sleeping 10-11 hours every night), I gained more weight, my face got really puffy, my acne got bad, I had low libido, just to name a few things.
For me, the worst thing was weight gain, struggling to lose weight, having absolutely no energy and just feeling unhappy in general.
The reason my body crashed was because your adrenal glands cannot produce constantly high cortisol levels forever. Eventually they will burn out.
This will in turn cause low cortisol levels as your adrenals struggle to function. If it gets to this stage, it will start affecting all of your other hormones including your thyroid hormones and reproductive hormones (estrogen, progestrone and testosterone).
All of these hormones are linked. When these hormones are not working properly, it will be almost impossible for you to lose weight.
Almost 1 year later and I am still struggling with adrenal fatigue stage 3, hypothyroidism and estrogen dominance although I am improving slowly. The vast majority of my issues are caused by putting myself under so much stress for such a long period of time.
I know my story was pretty long! Thanks for reading if you got through it all ;)
The first thing to do is to identify what the stressors in your life are. So example, for me, it was being constantly busy, overtraining, gut health and poor sleeping habits. Then you need to make a plan to tackle each of these issues.
If you are constantly busy, you need to slooooow down. I know sometimes it can’t be helped if you work long hours and/or commute to work. But there are always alternatives. Could you discuss working from home for a day or 2 per week? Could you cut back on hours? I know this sounds a bit crazy, but if you are unhappy in your job, why not quit and do something that makes you happy? I did, and it was the absolute best thing I ever did!
If these things aren’t an option, try to reduce stress during the rest of your day (when you’re not at work). Don’t do super hard strenuous workouts or wake up super early for a gym session. Sleep is a bigger priority than exercise, and doing too much exercise puts your body under more stress.
I know that doing less exercise sounds counterintuitive, but if you are trying to reduce stress, less is more for now. Use the time when you’re not at work to relax and just enjoy doing nothing or chilling out and watching TV.
The solution to manage your stress will very much depend on what the stressors in your life are. If being super busy isn’t your issue, then these solutions I mentioned above may not be suitable for you.
Here are some general suggestions to help manage stress levels:
I hope I have managed to convince you just how important reducing your stress is for weight loss but also for overall health. Even if you don’t think you have high levels of stress or cortisol, doing some of things I mentioned above will help improve your health anyway. So why not give it a try? :)
If anyone else has any experiences with stress and related issues, I would love to hear them! xx