Stress awareness and management is a huge topic today. Everything from corporate wellness to stress and sleep aids are creating a booming market for this area. This is especially relevant for people wondering if perhaps they are too stressed to lose weight.
Despite all of our awareness and foresight on how stress impacts our lives and our health, it is still a growing area of concern. With the economy today, many people not only have full-time jobs, they also have side hustles such as Uber driving and Etsy shops.
This has created an era where we are very aware of our mounting stress but we can’t afford to stop. Luckily, the emergence of Self Care has helped many people to stop and focus on maximizing the time they do have by taking care of some of their own needs. Self care also stems into setting up goals and boundaries in your life and at work so that you can limit the directions you are pulled in and how thin you are stretched in order to really focus on what is important.
(This post goes into deep detail about the types of self care, how to implement them and why they are important: Self Care: Practices to Reduce Stress, Accomplish Goals, and Benefit the Mind & Body)
Too Stressed to Lose Weight
Most people have heard about stress hormones, particularly cortisol, causing weight gain or preventing weight loss, especially around the midsection. While being overweight is of course not something people should judge each other or themselves on and “fat shaming” isn’t cool, as a health professional, I will not ever agree to say that overweight and obesity are not a health concern.
They absolutely are. And moreover, stress in and of itself, regardless of your weight, is very damaging to your health.
But we all know that! And despite the body positivity movement, we do know that being overweight and obese is not the ideal status for our bodies. There’s just an overwhelming amount of science that proves this.
How Stress is Interpreted by the Body
There are many ways that we experience stress. Mentally, we see these as necessary and separate things. Aspects of our lives like:
- Parenting (the ULTIMATE stressor sometimes!) 😅
- Our diets
- Exercise habits or lack thereof 😳
- Pregnancy & breastfeeding
- Sleep habits
- Life changes such as moving, divorce, new jobs, new relationships, new baby, etc.
You get the idea.
However, our bodies do NOT see these things as separate and necessary. Our bodies interpret all of these things as STRESS. Anything that activates the Fight or Flight response (ie. an acute stress response) is perceived and dealt with by the body in a very real physiological way.
Note: More recently, the powers that be have added the term Freeze onto the Fight or Flight. I wholeheartedly agree with this addition as someone who has experienced and witness people freezing in times of high stress. In fact, some anxiety attacks are simply becoming completely frozen and unable to respond or react. Check out Anxiety Canada for more on this.
I will keep this brief, but for those of you, like me, who enjoy learning the science behind these types of things, there are, of course hormones that come into play when stress is detected by the body.
The sympathetic nervous system stimulates your adrenal glads to release catecholamines, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure can all increase. You may feel tense and agitated. Some people walk around like this all the time (you know the ones!)
This response elevates the hormone cortisol. While cortisol has some beneficial effects, it also can cause a lot of damage if left unchecked. If our sympathetic nervous system is constantly stimulated and cortisol builds up, it can cause weight gain (along with lowered immune functioning, memory and learning impairment, loss of bone density, high cholesterol, heart disease and more).
What Causes You to be Too Stressed to Lose Weight
Like I already mentioned, there are SO many things in our lives that cause stress, even if they are rewarding and healthy things.
In fact, too much of a good thing, such as with dieting and exercise, can be a main contributor to stress overload which results in you becoming too stressed to lose weight.
Diet & Exercise
Of course, being physically active is one of the BEST ways to combat fatigue and release stress in our lives. It’s been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and help us keep fit and healthy.
Too much exercise, combined with a restricted diet (by calories or by specific macros), can do the very opposite of what you intend. Your body can become adapted in ways that are not beneficial to weight loss or health and can cause you to hold on to or even gain belly fat.
Make sure you are not eating too little to support your training. Especially if you are combining a low carb or keto diet with exercise, you can end up doing some real metabolic and hormonal damage to yourself.
(Read this article on The Real Deal with Carbs for more info)
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Pregnancy and breasfeeding are also physical stressors that take a LOT out of a woman’s body. Not to mention the lack of sleep and relationship tension that can be caused by a new baby as well. Dieting is exrememly unadvised while pregant or breastfeeding as you will need a highly nutrient dense diet to support yourself and your little one during this time of life.
Psychological & Emotional
Do not under estimate the effects of relationship issues in your life either. Problems with your partner, parents, siblings, in-laws, etc. can really tear down our stress resiliance when piled on top of everything else.
In fact, if you live in a highly stressful home life situation, this alone could be enough to cause a lot of damage physically due to stress.
Similarily, if you have any kind of mental health issues like anxiety and rumination, depression or other issues, these can definitely contribute to or even be caused by increased stress hormones. Make sure to talk to a health care professional if these are real issues for you.
You can also check out this article about ways to Stop Anxiety & Rumination in its Tracks.
Managing Stress to Lose Weight
Now that you’ve been able to hopefully identify some areas of your life where stress is lurking, you can find ways to hopefully lessen the impact.
Diet & Exercise
It is important to take a real, honest look at your diet and exercise habits. If they are non-existent, then you should add physical activity to your day and nourishing foods that help your body properly function.
Physical activity is a known stress reliever, especially things like yoga and walking in nature. Don’t underestimate the cathartic effects of a good sweat session though! High intensity exercise can release stress hormones in amounts that are beneficial to your body and health without causing damage.
Just be sure not to go overboard. The typical path people go on when beginning a weight loss program is to eat less and exercise more. This combination can wreak havoc on your hormones, especially for women. Even worse is when that diet is low carbohydrate and you are training hard or a person who really functions best with moderate to high carbs. Please evaluate how YOU feel, not just the latest trends and what you have been told or what you think is best. And remember that men often tolerate things like fasting and low carbohydrate diets much better than women do. It may be a bad idea for you.
For tips on how to incorporate healthy, balanced changes to your diet that can create a huge lasting impact on your health and body composition see this article on Cleaning Up Your Diet.
Rest, Recovery, & Refuel
Similarly to making sure you do not eat too little and exercise too much, you must remember in general to take time to recover, rest, and refuel. Everything that you learn and do in your day is processed when you sleep and rest. Recovery from exercise or from learning and doing all happens during the rest and recovery phase.
Self care and healthy sleep habits will be paramount to reducing stress in your life. High stress contributes to insomnia and sleep disruption so it can feel like a no-way-out situation. You are stressed, so you don’t sleep well, the lack of sleep causes intolerance to stress. This is why managing stress in the other areas of your life is so important.
See this post on self care for much more information.
Some tips on creating healthy sleep habits:
- Avoid blue light or wear blue light blocking glasses
- Make sure your room is dark and cool with proper humidity
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Perform relaxing activities that calm the mind, avoid high drama or intense TV or conversations before bed
- Write out your to-do list or journal your day before bed
Emotional & Psychological
This is an area that is very personal but definitely a huge contributor to stress.
I recommend communication with all things. Always talk about what’s bothering you in your relationships. Real intimacy can only occur when you are open and honest with each other.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much my stress was reduced when I started practicing this. Deciding I deserved to have boundaries and have my needs known saved my relationship and my sanity. Read books on how to communicate and on discovering your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style.
If your partner is unwilling to do this work with you, I think a re-evaluation of how healthy the relationship is to stay in should be done. As always, I recommend speaking to a mental health specialist if you need help.
Final Thoughts on Being Too Stressed to Lose Weight
This post used weight loss as a way to draw in readers hoping to be healthier and wondering if stress was the reason they were having trouble reaching their goals.
However, I want to point out that my main goal here is to reveal the many ways that stress creeps in and takes over our lives. It doesn’t just effect our weight, but our enjoyment of life and our health in the long and short term. Our physical and mental health is greatly affected by the amount of stress burden we carry day in a day out.
I hope this article can go some way to helping you figure out areas you can work on to reduce this burden and get on with living a healthy life!