Can Stress Slow Down my Weight Loss?
Can stress slow down my weight loss? Unfortunately, the simple answer to this question is: most definitely! Scientific research has shown that stress not only slows down weight loss, but can actually cause weight gain! It’s not surprising then, that so many people have come through the Covid pandemic sporting a few extra pounds around their waistline!
People often think of stress with negative connotations, but in reality, not all stress is bad. In fact, short bursts of stress are a perfectly normal, healthy, vital part of the way we function as human beings. Stress is our natural survival mechanism, and if it didn’t exist, we would probably have become extinct a long time ago.
When we’re stressed, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol. Also, glucose enters into our bloodstream, to give us extra energy. This is the fight or flight response. It’s an inbuilt, physical response that causes certain physiological changes in our body, such as speeding up our pulse rate and breathing, directing more oxygen to the brain, and tensing our muscles. This all means that we are more aware, and able to react quickly in difficult, or dangerous situations.
Good stress happens when we feel excited, but there isn’t any potential threat to your life, or fear involved. It can be a very motivating force when we want to do better and achieve more. Typical examples of this healthy level of stress are when you go on a first date, or get on a roller-coaster ride. Or, maybe you’re preparing to sit an exam, or have an interview for a new job. This sort of stress is short-lived, and makes us feel alive and excited about life.
However, when stress is chronic and more prolonged than the inevitable short bursts, that’s when it becomes detrimental to your health. Extensive studies have concluded that prolonged stress has been shown to cause physical, behavioural and psychological harm. For example headaches, constipation, smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet, sleep disturbances and obesity.
Also, in the 1990s, researchers from Yale University psychology department discovered that the “stress hormone” cortisol, triggers excessive abdominal fat deposits in the body. These findings showed, for the first time, that the secretion of cortisol was associated with both chronic stress, and an increase of abdominal “belly fat.” This abdominal, or visceral fat, is often referred to as toxic fat. This is because it surrounds the vital organs and increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Cortisol also causes you to crave highly palatable foods that have an addictive combination of sugar, fat and salt. Eating these foods stimulates the brain to release the feel-good hormone, dopamine. This temporarily reduces tension, and counteracts the negative feelings associated with stress. If you fancy a holiday, read How to Cruise and Not Gain Weight.
So, unfortunately, excess cortisol actually has a double whammy effect on your body! Firstly, by causing you to crave highly processed junk food. And secondly, by making it easier for the body to create extra fat in the abdominal area. And, just to add to this vicious cycle, a recent study found that our metabolism slows down when we are stressed! Over a period of 24 hours, women participants, who were experiencing one or more stressors, burned around 100 fewer calories than those who were non-stressed.
Studies show that stress affects the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for regulating thoughts, and goal-directed actions. It helps us to plan ahead, make good choices and exert willpower. However, the pre-frontal cortex doesn’t function properly when we are under stress!
Why is this? Well, it’s because the brain redirects all its resources away from conscious decision-making, and reverts to all of our well-established routines and habits. This is to save energy, while it’s dealing with the stressful situation. It takes less energy for us to function on autopilot. It also means that we are more likely to behave impulsively, and make poor food choices during these times, unfortunately.
Can Stress Slow Down my Weight Loss?
A group of obese adults took part in an 8-week long study to determine whether managing stress levels helps to improve weight loss. The results showed that the participants in the intervention group, who had attended a stress management programme that included breathing techniques, progressive relaxation and guided visualisation, achieved a significantly larger reduction in their BMI compared to the control group. The intervention group also had better depression and anxiety scores afterwards.
The clinical evidence is clear: chronic stress definitely leads to weight gain, and increased belly fat. It also makes it harder for overweight people to reduce their weight and fat stores. Hypnosis and meditation are widely accepted as a beneficial way to alleviate stress. So, if you manage your stress levels, and use techniques to reduce your stress as much as you possibly can, it will definitely help you to progress along your weight-loss journey more easily.
Can Stress Slow Down My Weight Loss?
We have also found similar results from our clients’ experiences regarding stress and their weight. When people are in the right frame of mind, their weight loss always seems to happen easily, but during particularly stressful times they often struggle to either keep losing, or maintaining their weight. Then, as soon as the stressful period has passed, the weight loss returns. Please also check out our page: “How you can be a weight-loss success story”
Good Stress and Bad Stress – The Bottom Line
In the pursuit of weight loss, it’s crucial to understand the intricate relationship between stress and our physical well-being. Research has unequivocally shown that stress, when chronic and prolonged, is a formidable obstacle to shedding unwanted pounds. It can not only impede weight loss but, alarmingly, contribute to weight gain. Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is a key player in this detrimental dance, promoting the accumulation of abdominal fat and encouraging the consumption of unhealthy, comfort foods.
Not all stress is harmful, though. Short bursts of stress are natural and even beneficial, keeping us alert and responsive in challenging situations. This “good stress” arises during exciting experiences and can be motivating. However, when stress becomes a constant companion, it takes a toll on our health, causing a cascade of issues, including obesity.
Understanding the detrimental impact of stress on both our physiological and psychological well-being is paramount. Stress affects the brain, reducing our ability to make sound decisions and causing impulsive choices, particularly regarding food. The solution lies in effective stress management techniques such as meditation and hypnosis, as demonstrated by research and the experiences of countless individuals. In conclusion, managing stress is not just about enhancing one’s quality of life; it is a pivotal component of any weight-loss journey. By tackling stress, individuals can pave the way to a healthier, slimmer future.
FAQs about Stress
ANSWER: Yes, chronic stress can significantly hinder weight loss and even lead to weight gain. The stress hormone cortisol can promote abdominal fat deposition and unhealthy food cravings, making it harder to lose weight.
ANSWER: Not all stress is harmful. Short bursts of stress, such as the excitement you feel on a roller-coaster ride or before a job interview, are a normal and healthy part of life. It’s chronic stress that poses the greatest threat to our well-being.
ANSWER: Stress can lead to impulsive food choices, often favouring unhealthy, processed, and calorie-rich foods. This behaviour is driven by the brain’s response to stress, which seeks temporary relief through comfort foods.
ANSWER: Yes, stress management techniques like meditation and hypnosis have been shown to improve weight-loss outcomes. They can help individuals cope with stress more effectively, making it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Studies have found that getting plenty of sleep, taking deep breaths and doing some enjoyable, gentle, physical activity are all helpful. Also, spending time talking and laughing with people you are close to is a great way to de-stress.
Research shows that stroking a cat, or dog, for just 10 minutes, significantly reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. Read the study results here from Washington State University.
ANSWER: Yes, stress can slow down metabolism. Studies have shown that stressed individuals burn fewer calories over a 24-hour period compared to non-stressed individuals, making it harder to lose weight.
ANSWER: Stress affects the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, responsible for rational decision-making. Under stress, the brain prioritises energy conservation, relying on established habits and routines, often leading to impulsive and unhealthy choices, including eating.
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Marion Shirran, as a director of Oxford Therapeutics Limited, is proud to be a registered Stakeholder in NICE – National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Additionally, she is involved in the government’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity.
We were proud to be nominated the ‘Most Innovative Obesity Psychological Therapy Service’ in the UK Mental Health Awards 2022.
We also appeared on the This Morning TV show, with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
In 2010 we travelled to New York to be interviewed on the Good Morning America TV Show.
We are also co-authors of two bestselling books on the topic of non-surgical weight loss, published by Hay House.
You can read a full breakdown of all the components included in the treatment package on the Course Details page. There is also an explanation of the treatment on the Does This Work? page. We look forward to working with you. Additionally, you can read reviews from medical and other professionals on the Medical Endorsement page.
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