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The Stress and Weight Loss Connection

The Stress and Weight Loss Connection

Life is stressful on this spinning blue planet.

There’s no avoiding it. In this modern age, “adulting” means navigating career and financial pressures, family responsibilities, mental and physical health concerns, relationships, aging, work-life balance, technology overload, and so much more. The pressure can be overwhelming and unrelenting.

No matter who you are, stress is a part of life.

For so many reasons, it’s critically important for your overall health and well-being to find ways to manage stress that work for your body and your lifestyle.

And one of those reasons is maintaining a healthy weight.

If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know that stress and weight loss are interconnected in complex ways.

Gaining an understanding of these interconnections can be beneficial if you’re seeking support with body image, nutrition, or weight loss—or if you simply have a curiosity about how stress impacts this one health metric in particular. Some of the ways may surprise you!

Emotional eating and reduction in exercise

When you consider the connection between stress and weight loss, one of the first things that comes to mind is emotional eating.

For many people (all people?), emotional eating is a coping mechanism for stress. In moments when stress becomes overwhelming, they may turn to comfort foods that are high in calories in particular, and eat portions that go beyond what their body needs. These are temporary ways of self-soothing negative emotions, and many are connected to self-soothing techniques from childhood.

Combine this with sleep disturbances, and you see how easily stress can tip the balance.

Stress can interrupt our sleep, leaving us fatigued and less likely to pursue physical activities. When our bodies are less active, we’re also burning fewer calories, which can result in an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure that can lead to weight gain over time.

Cortisol and its impact on weight

When faced with stressful situations, the body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, triggering the “fight or flight” response.

While the stress response was vital for early humans running from predators, it’s become somewhat of a liability for modern people living with elevated cortisol all day, every day.

Cortisol helps to regulate metabolism, inflammation, and energy at healthy levels. But when it’s elevated over long periods, it can contribute to:

  • Increased appetite: Particularly cravings for sugary or fatty foods, which can lead to overeating.
  • Fat storage: Cortisol promotes the storage of fat, especially visceral fat (in the abdominal area), a condition associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes and heart disease.
  • Metabolic slowdown: Prolonged stress can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.

Stress and weight loss: considerations with aging

Middle age is often accompanied by hormonal fluctuations, particularly during perimenopause and menopause for women. Stress can exacerbate these hormonal shifts, leading to changes in appetite, metabolism, and fat distribution.

As we age, our physical activity tends to decline. It may become difficult to prioritize exercise time, or maybe we’re dealing with the aches and pains of an aging body. Stress can sap our energy even more.

A decrease in physical activity can contribute to weight gain and loss of muscle mass, which can lead to metabolic changes that lead to more dysfunction.

Clearly, stress is a slippery slope when it comes to your health.

Breaking the cycle: strategies for stress management and weight control

Luckily, we know a lot about how to manage stress in a healthy and long-term way that supports your weight goals as well.

Here are some stress reduction strategies to help keep stress in check while pursuing or maintaining a healthy weight:

  1. Soothing Techniques: Everyone is soothed differently, so it might take a little experimentation to discover what works best for you. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and spending time in nature are strategies that work to help lower cortisol levels and promote relaxation.
  2. Healthy Coping Mechanisms: When you are aware of turning to food for comfort, you have an opportunity to explore alternative coping mechanisms, such as journaling, hobbies, or spending time with friends and family.
  3. Balanced Nutrition: Focus on consuming a diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Keep processed and high-sugar foods out of the house as much as possible.
  4. Regular Exercise: Physical activity not only helps you burn calories but is also a stress reliever. Aim for a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
  5. Adequate Sleep: Get quality sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing your sleep environment.

Disclaimer: This isn’t easy. So many of these behaviors are deeply ingrained, so if you’re trying to make too many sweeping changes at once, you may find it difficult to be consistent. However it is possible to shift behaviors over time to those that support your well-being—particularly with the help of a professional team.

Every body is different

The number on the scale is not what determines your self-worth—and we don’t want to oversimplify the challenges presented by stress and weight loss.

Genetic predispositions and environmental factors vary widely, so keep in mind that everyone is different. Some people are more resilient to the effects of stress, while others are more susceptible.

Ultimately, stress management and weight loss should always be personalized.

Most importantly, in the midst of life’s demands and transitions, let’s prioritize cultivating resilience and self-compassion.

At Synergy, we’re here to help. We offer nutritional counseling, holistic health coaching, and weight loss packages that support the mind, body, and spirit—and our team would love to develop a personalized plan for you.

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Synergy’s “Boost Your Wellness Toolkit”

Find equilibrium and balance again with our holistic tools! Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get our downloadable toolkit PDF, including

  • Stress reduction strategies
  • 30 days of healthy snack ideas
  • A healthy sleep checklist
  • Steps to starting a home meditation practice