We often don’t connect emotions with fat loss. After all, what do feelings have to do with it?
Oddly enough, a lot.
Tons of research shows that stress, anxiety, and negative emotions associated with them like anger or sadness, can create a huge roadblock to your fat loss goals.
How Stress Halts Fat Loss
The main issue with stress is the cascade of hormones it releases, with the major problem player being cortisol: aka, the “stress hormone.”
On a normal day and in a healthy person, cortisol plays many valuable roles in our body, such as regulating our sleep and waking cycles, regulating immunity, and maintaining blood pressure. Cortisol is also nicknamed the “stress hormone,” as it’s released in large amounts in response to perceived stress. It helps stimulate glucose production in order to provide us with more energy in order to “fight” or “flee” from the stressor.
However, cortisol has a huge downside, especially when stress becomes chronic. Our bodies are meant to handle cortisol in small, intermittent doses – say, when our ancestors were fighting for their lives, or running from an animal. Unfortunately in the modern world, our stressors have become more psychological: dealing with problems at work, financial problems, family, etc …
Our bodies are unable to distinguish between this psychological stress and physical stress, so they respond by releasing a steady stream of cortisol daily. This creates a shift in our normal hormone responses that research shows makes it hard to lose fat, and may even cause you to gain weight.
Let’s take a look at how this works, and also some tips to help you reduce stress so you can start seeing results again.
Stress Slows Fat Metabolism
In essence, stress sets of a chain reaction of hormone release that stops your body from burning fat. Researchers have found that chronic stress stimulates the production of a peptide hormone called betatrophin, which inhibits an enzyme required for fat metabolism. In one study, stress caused an increase of betatrophin production in rat livers that significantly slowed down their ability to burn fat [*]
It Could Cause You to Burn Less Calories
Other research backs up the idea that stress can kill your metabolism. Studies show it has a direct effect on the amount of calories you burn. In one study, married couples who experienced anger and “hostile feelings” when they were having dinner together after an argument burned roughly 128 calories less following the meal than normal. [*] In another, women who experienced just one stressor the previous day burned 104 less calories following a meal. [*]
The theory behind why this happens is that stress (especially chronic stress) not only creates adaptations in your metabolism that slow down your metabolic rate, but also throws off your ability to regulate blood sugar and use glucose for energy efficiently. Remember that cortisol helps your body release more glucose into your blood stream in order to “fight” or “flee.” When this glucose isn’t used, your body could store it as fat to remove the excess sugar from your blood stream, leading to fat gain. [*]
It Causes Cravings for High-Calorie Foods
To add another layer to this, stress may also trigger cravings for high-carb, high-fat “comfort” foods (yes, there’s a reason we binge on ice cream, chips, or chocolate when we’re overwhelmed or depressed). These foods trigger the release of reward and pleasure chemicals like serotonin, which help ease tension. Unfortunately, this effect is short-lived, so we have to eat more of these foods to get another release of feel-good chemicals. This could easily lead to stalled weight loss just due to eating more calories than normal.
Tips for Reducing Stress
Dropping all stress can be difficult, especially with most of us living such a fast-paced life. After a while constant stress can actually start to seem like the norm, making it even more difficult to see how it’s actually affecting us.
Really tap in to how much stress you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis, and if you find you’re stressed more than a couple days a week and your fat loss has stalled, try to incorporate one or more of these tips to help reduce it.
Studies show not getting a god 7-8 hours of sleep can decrease fat loss by up to 55 percent. [*] Yeah, yikes. If you’re having trouble knocking out, try valerian or chamomile tea, which have been shown to help improve insomnia and act as mild sedatives. [*] Also try to limit screen usage, such as using your phone, watching tv, or being on a laptop an hour before you go to bed, as the blue light can disrupt your waking and sleeping cycles. [*]
Adaptogens like Ashwaganda and Ginseng help your body adapt to stress so that it reduces the negative impact on your body. Studies show adaptogens can help protect your immune system from stress, while also reducing fatigue and cortisol. [*]
Meditation and yoga
Both meditation and yoga are able to reduce stress levels. And the best part? You don’t have to do them for hours a day to reap the benefits. Studies have shown as little as 11 minutes a day of meditation can improve symptoms of stress, depression, mood, and even reduce blood pressure. [*]
Not giving your system a day or two to recharge every week can keep your cortisol levels elevated. Aim for 1-2 days of recovery, even if it’s active recovery like walking or doing yoga.