Weight Loss and Stress

Weight loss can be a tricky thing! It very rarely works the same for any two people. Limiting carbs, going paleo, vegan, the medeteranian diet… they all work to a certain extent. They force you to focus more on what you are eating, which in turn makes most people focus more on how little they are moving. So, it’s not so much about the name of the diet you are on, it's more about being mindful.

I see a lot of people who have lost most of the weight, but are having a tough time losing the last 10lbs, typically around the midline or the hips. No matter how strict you make your nutrition or how hard you train in the gym, that last bit doesn’t seem to want to come off. I’ve learned that it is less about diet and exercise at this point, because you already have developed habits that are working for you. It’s more about stress and how you are managing it. I’ve seen hard-charging, Type-A clients who count carbs and train hard not be able to lose weight until they figure out how to have less stress. Once the stress is gone it seems like the final pounds just come off.

At issue is the release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol is necessary for survival. Think fight or flight. How it typically plays out though is if you have a big deadline or an important race or match your cortisol will spike. Your blood pressure goes up as a result and you will be able to make decisions faster. While this spike in cortisol can turn on certain functions, it can also inhibit others like immune function, digestion, and protein synthesis.

Chronic elevations in stress cause chronic elevations in cortisol. This is where weight loss becomes almost impossible. The longer term rise in cortisol means that our body learns to resist insulin which leads to weight loss resistance, inflammation, and the body’s urge to hold onto body fat. If you continue to have chronic stress eventually you will run out of cortisol and the body will continue to hold onto more fat and resist any urge to exercise. One way to know if you have taxed your system to the point that you are no longer producing cortisol is to be thoughtful about what your willingness to train is each day. If the desire to train is no longer there, it might be a sign that chronic stress has gone too long and cortisol is no longer available in the amount that you need.

If you are having a tough time losing the last 5-10lbs and it’s typically the weight that is around the belly and hips, it might be worth looking at what your stress load is like. Making changes in managing stress can be a process, but one that is similar to the skills that you learned to find a diet that helped in the first place.

Do you think stress is what’s causing you to hold onto those last few pounds? Maybe I can be helpful!