Did you know that too much stress can prevent healthy weight loss? Personal trainer and health expert, Nolan Sunnassee, creator of The FiTPLAN, looks at why it’s crucial to manage and reduce stress to reach your happy weight…
When it comes to weight loss advice, you’re probably most used to hearing or reading about what to eat and not eat, and what exercise to do.
Granted, these two things are crucial in your long-term success when it comes to finding your healthy, happy weight. So, you may stop eating a few too many treats, or start exercising more. But there’s another element of your lifestyle that needs addressing if you want long-term success – stress.
Stress is a natural physiological response in the body and it can be both good and bad. Sunlight, for example, can deliver a positive reaction in the body, providing many essential nutrients for health, however, too much can burn your skin and cause damage.
Not exercising enough won’t produce results, whereas too much can cause injury. When it comes to looking at stress as a barrier to weight loss, there is a balancing act between eustress (positive) and distress (negative).
Short term stress verses chronic stress
In the short term, your body can cope with a lot of stress as you have time to recover and recuperate. However, if the stress is ongoing over time, ie chronic, or there is an accumulation of different types of stressors, you can feel worn out and this affects numerous parts of your body.
Stress can come from anywhere, too: work, relationships, life, trauma, etc, and this pushes your body towards one of three actions: flight, fight or freeze, which are your emergency responses. If you are in emergency mode too often, eventually things will breakdown. Think of a car constantly travelling at 100mph – it would not last that long.
Why does stress prevent weight loss?
When stressed, you activate your adrenal glands. The adrenals secrete more than 50 hormones including cortisol, progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone. These hormones have a major influence on all physiological processes in the body, including blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function, reduction of inflammation, fat storage and sex drive.
High stress can increase inflammation in your body, affect your digestion, influence your choice of food away from healthy choices towards more unhealthy, instantly gratifying ones that are often high in fat and sugar, as well as make alcohol seem a good idea to dampen down any initial stressful feelings.
This is why it’s particularly crucial to address how you feel, and your levels of stress, when it comes to losing weight and how it might be hindering your progress. However, it’s also worth noting that some people with specific genotypes actually lose weight when stressed, rather than gain it. But the weight that’s lost tends to be muscle and is seldom a healthy type of weight loss.
9 ways to reduce stress and promote healthy weight loss
Support your healthy weight-loss journey with Nolan’s tips for reducing stress…
1. Be as organised as you can be
Use a diary, whether a hard copy one or an app-based journal, where you can bring structure and order to your day. Being disorganised and forgetting things definitely adds stress to your life, so having all important dates and events written down helps you stay on track.
2. Make time to journal
This is different from using a diary. Your journal should be where you write about how you feel. There, you can be honest about what is stressing you out. Try to use this information strategically, to identify things that cause most stress over time, and think about ways you could lessen or eliminate exposure to those stressors. Identify things you can change and then keep track of them in your journal.
3. Practise deep breathing
This is especially important during stressful periods. Long, slow, deep breaths right down into your diaphragm, as opposed to shallow, chest breathing, will help your body feel more relaxed, which in turn will help calm your mind.
4. Get a regular dose of sunshine
Though it’s winter, plan to go outside each day, even for 10 minutes, to be exposed to natural light. Even when it’s cloudy, the intensity of the light outdoors is always stronger than it is indoors and can help lift your mood.
5. Maximise your sleep
Aim to go to bed an hour earlier than usual, or at least begin winding down for bed and doing your skincare routine earlier so that when you do get into bed, you can drift off more easily. You could also try a calming tea, such as valerian or chamomile, before bed, but not right before or you might wake needing the loo! Also, avoid drinking caffeine after lunch as this can mess with sleep patterns.
6. Support yourself with supplements
Stress depletes your B vitamins, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Take a good magnesium supplement – I prefer magnesium threonate – as well as a broad spectrum B vitamin supplement, vitamin C, rhodiola, omega-3s and zinc to help counteract stress.
7. Take regular exercise
This is proven to help boost your mood thanks to the hit of endorphins. But even a non-aerobic workout, such as yoga or Pilates, can help you feel better in your body.
8. Watch fun films
One way to switch off is to enjoy a comedy or other uplifting film, such as a musical with songs you can sing along to. What you watch really can affect how you feel, so make any screen time a positive experience.
9. Try a therapy
If you just can’t stop feeling stressed, look into therapies such as emotional freedom technique (EFT), cognitive behavioural technique (CBT), and also havening technique, which is a form of self-soothing.