The Most Effective Ways to Deal With Stress Weight Loss
Currently, three-quarters of Americans experience moderate to high levels of stress. In small doses, periodic stress can be good. Stress can improve motivation, resilience, and cognitive function.
Still, if you're among the three-quarters of Americans who have experienced it, you know that stress has a much darker side. Excessive and ongoing stress significantly and negatively impacts a person's physical and mental health.
Among the negative effects of excessive stress is stress weight loss. In fact, there is an unhealthy link between stress and weight loss.
If you're stressed and losing weight, however, there are steps you can take to improve your physical and mental health.
Does Stress Cause Weight Loss?
You've noticed that you're stressed, and you've noticed that you're losing weight. It's only natural to wonder, "Can stress cause weight loss?" For many people, the answer is a definitive yes.
Of course, people do respond to stress differently. Thus, some people gain weight while stressed. Others notice little change in their weight. Still others lose weight.
In a variety of ways, stress can contribute to each of these changes. In fact, stress can be linked to both weight loss and weight gain.
Why Does Stress Cause Weight Loss?
So there's a link between stress and weight loss, but how does stress affect weight loss? Several factors play a role.
Stress Can Reduce Your Appetite
You may have already noticed one of the most basic ways stress causes weight loss. When you're stressed, you just might not feel like eating. This is because stress affects communication between your brain and your digestive system.
When you're stressed, you're likely to be more sensitive to any symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) upset. These include:
- Acid reflux
- Gas and bloating
- Abdominal pain and stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Difficulty swallowing
Stress Can Affect Your Metabolism
Many people experience symptoms of GI upset and reduced appetite when they're stressed. However, many others find comfort in food. Stress eating is real and likewise problematic.
Perhaps you've noticed that, as your stress increased, so did your appetite. So you're eating more, but you're still losing weight? Is that possible? Again, the answer is yes.
Stress activates your body's fight-or-flight response. The adrenal glands are responsible for setting this process in motion. When you experience stress, the adrenal glands release epinephrine, or adrenaline. Adrenaline, in turn, makes your heart beat faster and your breathing quicken. Adrenaline also affects your digestive system and your body's glucose levels.
As a result of each of these processes, your body may burn more calories.
Besides adrenaline, the adrenal glands also respond to stressors by releasing cortisol. Cortisol is often described as the body's stress hormone. Like adrenaline, cortisol prepares your body for the fight-or-flight response. Also like adrenaline, cortisol can speed up your metabolism.
When you're stressed, you may also struggle to get a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, poor sleep can also impact cortisol production.
Another way that stress affects digestion and metabolism is related to the first. While the adrenal gland is responsible for the body's fight-or-flight response, the vagus nerve is responsible for its opposite. The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic system's rest-and-digest response.
When a person is not experiencing significant stress, the vagus nerve slows the heart rate and respiration. It also signals the GI tract to increase digestion. As the digestive system processes the food you eat, the vagus nerve, in turn, sends signals back to the brain.
Stress interferes with these signals, affecting your body's metabolism.
Why Is Stress Weight Loss Unhealthy?
So you're stressed, but at least you're losing weight? That's a bright spot, right? Wrong. In fact, stress-induced weight loss is unhealthy.
Proper digestion and metabolism are essential to ensuring that your body has the nutrients it needs. By interfering with digestion and metabolism, stress can deprive your body of these nutrients. As a result, other body systems struggle to function.
Besides your digestive system, chronic stress impacts the cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems. It also impacts your ability to sleep.
Over time, chronic stress can contribute to serious physical and mental illnesses, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
If your stress is significant enough to cause weight loss, the risk of these negative health effects is significant as well. Taking steps to reduce stress and its negative effects is, thus, essential to your overall health.
How Can You Tell That Your Weight Loss is Related to Stress?
Weight loss is a common symptom of many medical conditions. Only a doctor can definitively determine whether your weight loss is associated with stress or another cause.
If you are experiencing weight loss along with other symptoms of stress, however, there may be a link between the two. Other symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Muscle tension and achiness
- Upset stomach
- Changes in mood
- Difficulties with memory and/or concentration
- Sleep disturbances or excessive sleep
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced sex drive
How Can You Deal With Stress Weight Loss?
You're stressed, which means you're already dealing with more than it feels like you can handle. And now you have to deal with stress weight loss too?
At first, that might seem like an overwhelming burden. In reality, though, addressing stress weight loss is not only necessary but possible. Exploring ways to destress means taking control of your life and your physical and mental health.
Improve Your Diet
If stress is affecting your appetite, digestion, metabolism, and weight, it makes sense to start by looking at your diet. Improvements here can positively affect your overall physical and mental health.
Reflect on Your Eating Habits
First, take stock of your own eating habits. Think about whether you tend to eat more or less when you're stressed.
If you eat less, consider the reasons. Is it because you don't feel like eating? Or is it because you forget to eat or don't feel like you have time to eat?
Finally, think about the food choices you make. When you do eat, what kinds of food do you choose?
Make Changes to Your Diet
Your answers to these questions, in turn, can help you make positive changes in your diet.
Maybe you notice that you're eating less because you forget to eat. If so, set a timer on your phone to remind you about mealtimes.
Perhaps you simply don't feel like you have the time to eat. Of course, there is something to be said for the stress-reducing powers of a relaxing meal. Furthermore, it is important to take care of yourself. Self-care, including nutrition, is not selfish. Rather, it is a priority and, in fact, a non-negotiable necessity.
With that said, adequate nutrition need not consume excessive amounts of your time. No one said that a healthy meal needs to be a long meal. With the right choices, you can properly fuel your body on the go. Stock up on healthy and portable snacks, and train yourself to reach for them at regular intervals.
Small, healthy meals throughout the day can be just as healthy as the traditional three-meal-a-day plan.
Convenient and health options include:
- Granola bars
- Fresh fruit, like apples, bananas, and oranges
- Raw vegetables, like carrots and celery
- String cheese
- Nuts and nut butters
- Whole grain bagels and breads
As you reflect on your eating habits, consider whether the foods you eat ultimately make you feel better or worse. Whole foods, like the snack options above, are best for improving mood and overall health. In contrast, foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium can worsen symptoms of stress. It's worth avoiding these options as much as possible.
Physical exercise is a natural antidote to stress and an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day.
Exercise can improve your mood and reduce stress in a few ways.
First, when you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Unlike cortisol, which is a stress hormone, endorphins are "feel good" hormones. They reduce pain and increase pleasure.
When your body is engaged in physical activity, it's also more difficult for your mind to be elsewhere. Thus, exercise can counter stress by keeping you in the present moment.
Of course, physical activity also increases your body's energy needs. If you're struggling with stress and weight loss, therefore, it's especially important to make healthy food choices. As you plan small meals throughout the day, be sure to plan for a post-workout snack.
Get Your Rest
Improving your diet and increasing your activity level can help you get better sleep. Sleeping better, in turn, can help you destress.
Once again, though, the relationship between stress and sleep is a two-way street. Sleeping better decreases stress. However, stress can make it difficult to sleep. Still, there are steps you can take to get a good night's rest even when you're stressed.
First, establish a bedtime routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can improve sleep quality and overall health.
In the hours before your bedtime, avoid stimuli that make it difficult to relax. These include large meals, strenuous exercise, and screentime. Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption throughout the day can also improve sleep quality.
Finally, certain supplements can increase serotonin levels, which can decrease stress and sleeplessness.
Practice Relaxation Techniques and Other Self-Care Practices
Whether before bedtime or throughout the day, relaxation techniques can calm your body's fight-or-flight response. Many people dealing with stress find relief by practicing yoga or meditation.
However, relaxation techniques don't require a formal practice or significant time commitment. Even a few minutes a day of breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques can reduce stress and improve overall health.
Journaling and other self-care practices have similar benefits. The important thing is to find-and make time for-activities that you enjoy. Caring for yourself must be your priority.
Lose the Stress, Not the Weight
Stress and stress weight loss are serious concerns, impacting your physical and mental health. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce stress and deal with stress-induced weight loss.
As you work to implement these and other tips into your daily routine of healthy living, count on Your Healthy Life Concierge blog for the best advice.
Campbell, Leah. "Regular Bedtime Healthy for Adults." Healthline, Healthline Media, 16 Oct. 2018, www.healthline.com/health-news/its-not-just-for-kids-even-adults-appear-to-benefit-from-a-regular-bedtime.
Drayer, Lisa. "Should You Eat Three Big Meals or Many Mini-Meals?" CNN, Cable News Network, 2 June 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/health/mini-meals-food-drayer/index.html.
Higuera, Valencia. "4 Benefits of Stress You Didn't Know About." Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 Aug. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stress-you-didnt-know-about.
"Losing Weight Because of Stress? What to Know." Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stress-weight-loss.
"Physical Activity Reduces Stress." Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st.
Publishing, Harvard Health. "Six Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress." Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/six-relaxation-techniques-to-reduce-stress.
"Stress Facts." Global Organization for Stress RSS, www.gostress.com/stress-facts/.
Todtenbier, Jay. "SupplementRelief.com." Tips for Managing Stress, 15 June 2020, supplementrelief.com/5-ways-to-destress-and-improve-overall-health/.
Wright, Libby. "SupplementRelief.com." Keep Your Body Moving, 15 Sept. 2016, supplementrelief.com/tip-7-lets-get-physical/.
Wright, Libby. "SupplementRelief.com." Your Evening Rituals May Be Causing Insomnia, 15 July 2016, supplementrelief.com/sleep-like-a-baby/.
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle, after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges, including auto-immune diseases, and being overweight, that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
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Webinar: Eight and One Half Steps to Relieve Stress
Facilitator Libby Wright discusses the physiological effects of stress and how we perceive situations with participants of the Your Best Weight program. She provides practical tips for managing stress that everyone can do. The webinar last for 17 minutes and addresses questions submitted by the program participants.
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