Could stress be stalling your weight loss?

Could stress be the missing piece in your weight loss puzzle? Sam Wood believes it could be: here's why.

When people are sticking to my program closely with their nutrition and training but not losing weight at the rate they would like, I often ask them questions about their stress levels. This tends to come as a surprise, as very few people link stress to weight loss but there are several reasons the two are related.

You enter survival mode

When you are chronically stressed, the body triggers a fight or flight response, where your sympathetic nervous system is constantly switched ‘on’. This means your body is in survival mode and working hard to get you out of what it thinks is a dangerous situation.

Digestion is down regulated

While a whole heap of physiological changes take place here, one thing that happens is your body prioritises what is ‘needed’ most, meaning processes like your digestion take a back seat. So even though you might be eating a healthy and nutritious meal, you'll be unable to properly extract the nutrients from it. 

Cravings kick in

To make matters worse, experiencing continued stress releases cortisol, which can increase your appetite and motivation to eat. When you experience cortisol in your body, cravings kick in for 'comfort foods' containing fats and sugars – so those hot chips will look all the more tempting when you’re stressed to the max. Fighting these intense urges when you're trying to lose weight can feel like a next to impossible task.

The reality is, short-term stress is a natural part of everyday life and can actually act as a positive and motivating force. However, when stress becomes long-term and chronic, it's crucial to get on top of it.

Dealing with long-term stress is not something that can happen overnight, but something you can slowly but surely minimise. If you think stress might be holding you back from achieving your weight loss goals, take a look at these tips to address your stress and get your weight loss back on track.

1. Identify your stressors

Sometimes the source of long-term stress are things you have the power to change, and some are things that you can’t. Try to take a scan of your life to identify where your stress is stemming from and which stressors you have the power to change. Is it work, family, a friendship or an unresolved conflict in your life?

2. Put practices in place

These will be your go-to when you feel significantly under pressure. Whether it's exercise, goal-setting or reading, find something that helps you relax, unwind and get your mind off your stress. Remember to make sure that you do something every day for yourself that you actually enjoy.

3. It’s OK to be selfish

This is something that I have to remind Snez of all too often. Remember, losing weight will only happen if you look after number one. You cannot pour from an empty cup and it's ok to say ‘no’ when there is simply too much on your plate.

4. Mindfulness matters

When we’re under too much pressure, we can become overwhelmed by our endless thoughts and the chaos around us. The simple act of being mindful, slowing down and being totally present in the moment is a great way to refocus your mind on the task at hand.

Try to be particularly mindful at meal times and focus on what you’re eating, I always like to take three big belly breaths before I eat every meal.

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