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).
MY OWN PERSONAL STORY
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.
ADRENAL FATIGUE STAGES 1 AND 2
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.
ADRENAL FATIGUE STAGE 3 – MY STORY CONTINUED
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 ;)
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR STRESS LEVELS
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:
- Take 30 minutes every single day to relax and do something that you enjoy such as reading, watching TV or just chatting with your partner or a friend or family member;
- Make sure you are getting 8 hours of sleep and quality sleep. Please have a read of this blog post on how to have a healthy sleep routine (talks more about adrenal fatigue so you can just skip over that stuff!);
- Keep your exercise light for now. Walking and gentler circuits are great and enough to keep you active without overdoing it;
- Distance yourself from negative people in your life!;
- Make sure you are eating healthy or as best as you can. Eating a diet high in sugar and saturated fat puts stress on your body, including your liver and digestive system. So try to eat well;
- If you have gut issues or any other health related issues, get to the bottom of it! I had gut issues for 4-5 years. I saw lots of doctors and gastroenterologists with no luck. I wish I had done better research myself and saw a naturopath sooner;
- Overall, make sure you are happy. Believe it or not, negative thoughts also put stress on your body, just like any other mental forms of stress. Be happy and be kind to yourself.
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
I completely agree with this. Cortisol can make it extremely difficult to lose weight. My question is when it does come to exercise, I’ve heard and Rachael has said herself, that running can create high cortisol levels. I’ve looked at the exercise plan for mesomorphs and it says to do high intensity cardio 3 times a week. (It especially mentions running) Why would suggest that to lose fat when it raises cortisol levels, and makes it harder?
Hi lovely! The key is to do it in moderation. That’s why in Rachael’s program, she recommends that you only run 2-3x a week in order to avoid overtraining and putting a lot of stress on your body. :)
Wow! This enlightened me,i’m eighteen going to nineteen in December,few weeks back I crave and feel stressed out as I would workout the 6 times a week but now after visiting Rachael’s blogs I’m going slow like working out 5 times a week. Is that OK for me (i’m mesomorph) I’m also following the 7 day cardioworkouts at home by Rachael cause presently I can’t hit gym or out but here’s a question;for a fresher in the university,how would you suggest I balance my studies with fitness routines so I won’t stress out cause definitely wanna reach for my lean leg goal?
Thanks for reaching out :)
Yes hun, working out 5 times a week is plenty, it is definitely good for you. But be sure to listen to your body and not push yourself, you are still very young and your body is still forming :)
As for balancing your studies and fitness, you can make your studies a priority and do fitness in your spare time or when you need to take a break and relax. Exercising helps a lot with stress, and that way your breaks will be both fun and healthy :)
Let me know if I can help you with anything else <3
Thank you for this truthful and interesting testimony
I am very young, 25 years old, but I have a stressful life. My job is hard, long hours and pressure all day long. I have a good career but it’s really hard to feel great and relax after a work day. I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well, because I am afraid to gain weight, and I have no pleasure at all to cook. I know I need to slow down, but I am following your Long Lean Program, and working out 6 times a week is pretty intense. I don’t want to feel guilty if I am skipping one day, but maybe it is the best thing to do…what do you think, can your program suit with a busy schedule ?
I’m so sorry to hear that! :( I would recommend working out and doing resistance training at least 3 days per week. On other days you could either go for a run or power walk. Walking throughout the day also counts!
For more helpful tips please have a read of these blog posts:
Wishing you all the best! xx
I am so glad I read this. I literally needed this so much. I thought I was gonna be this way forever. I just finished year 12 last year and crashed so bad I literally gave up in the end. I was so sick I ended up in hospital with adrenal fatigue. My body literally gave up on me. I gained sooo much weight and its legit not budging no matter how well I eat or exercise. I’ve learnt sooo much from this lil read and I’m excited to give some things a go. Thanks so much
I’m sorry to hear you’ve been going through a hard time, but I’m glad this post was helpful and motivating!
The best advice we can give is to keep going and be persistent till you reach your goals.
Wishing you all the best hun! xx
Hi Rachael! I still eagerly await your more detailed post on all the things you did for your adrenals, esp supplements you took (what form, what dosage per day, any specific brands that actually worked) since I’m fairly sure I have adrenals totally out of whack and I don’t want to go overboard with your thyroid suggestions until I’ve addressed the adrenals. I think this is super duper important for me before being able to dive headfirst into the Lean Legs program (which I bought last year and think is totally badass) so would really appreciate your more detailed notes for what to do for this – there’s just such a plethora of info out there on the interwebs it’s hard to know where to start, so it’s good to have folks like you I trust to point me in the right direction with it all! I’ve reduced work to zero to focus on my emotional/spiritual wellbeing, meditate daily, journal, trying to go for slow walks a bit and socialise with friends, and some therapy, but still a bit panicky/generally anxious (type A / perfectionist personality dies hard!) which can lead to binge eating and haven’t gotten as far as properly sorting out the adrenals thing as it just becomes another ‘should’ I end up berating myself with…but keen to hear some more specific action steps I could take beyond obvious lifestyle changes. Hope to see an “Adrenals: Part II” article!!
Hi lovely, thank you for your suggestion :) I understand this situation you described very well!
We’re getting a lot of questions about this issue so Rachael might make another article or even a video too about it in the future.
Love, Lean Legs Club support
Absolutely brilliant article!! I did not realise all of the things you listed were forms of stress. It’s so popular these days to be “busy” all the time, and I often feel like a loser when I just want to do nothing or hang out at home alone and chill. Now I know that it’s actually not healthy to be trying to do so much all the time!
Hi lovely, so happy that you loved it! It’s so hard to convince people to slow down, so don’t feel guilty for doing it. Your body definitely needs it :) xx
Thank you for your advice. Last year was a very tough one for me, ruled by stress and turmoil. I fell ill and suffered from hyperthyroidism with all its symptoms but no weight loss. My medical treatment was very helpful but unfortunately made me put on 7 kg despite eating healthily and regular cardio. When my health got better,I got pregnant and had a good pregnancy where I ate well and exercised steadily till nearly the end . I put on 9 1/2 kg during pregnancy. I’ve had my baby since 2 1/2 weeks and targeting to lose all my weight till the end of the year . Any advice you could give me please to achieve my goal? Thanks x
Hi Kristell, I’m really sorry to hear you had such a tough year. I know how hard that can be with all the stress! I would make sure you’re still trying to reduce stress (which could be hard with a new bub) because high stress can really make a difference to your weight loss. So make that a priority and don’t over exercise which can make it worse! Other than that, diet is suuuuper important to really make sure you’re eating lots of fruit and veg and trying to cut out sugar. Also it’s really important to make sure you’re not overeating! And exercise wise, take it slow for now and just do lighter exercises and walking. And then you can eventually build up to do more high intensity exercise. I wish you all the best! And congrats on your new bub! xxx
Hey Rachael! :)
Thank you for your good advice!
Recently, I somehow figured out why I’ve been binge-eating all that time (and it’s not just from time to time, it’s almost everyday, like bulimia) and actually, it’s because I am an extreme perfectionnist and I have a high level of stress even if I don’t always feel like I have. I am a student and I definitely work EVERYTIME: including week ends, breaks and summer vacation (since I have homework) and it’s really hard to be balanced. I just hate this situation and that just makes me very unhappy and stressed out. I wish I could join a fitness club, hang out with friends, do the activities I enjoy but instead, I spend my whole time working.
I would love to find a solution to feel better on the inside/outside but I feel like I am trapped in a vicious circle. Even with the best will power, I can’t get out of it. So I’m asking you, who have been through a lot, some advice. How would you deal with my situation? :/
Hi Claire, I’m really sorry to hear of these issues. The best thing for you to do is just stop working so much. Is this a possibility? Stress and being the perfectionist personality type (they call this Type A personality which I also have) also contributes to your binge eating and probably high cortisol levels. Try to do everything you possibly can to reduce your workload. Your health is more important than work/study so it should be your top priority. If you are at university, perhaps you could drop 1 subject to reduce your workload? For me, I ended up quitting my job and then I stopped the travel (but I know that’s not possible for many people). I don’t know your situation but you definitely need to try and make some changes. I wish you all the best! xxx