Stress has a significant effect on your hormones. When you’re feeling anxious, your hormones go haywire, messing with how your body processes food, manages your sleeping patterns, regulates your immune system and handles almost every other bodily system.
Your body comes with a built-in ‘flight or flight’ response. This response has been honed over thousands of years and its purpose is to keep you alive in stressful situations. The problem is our ‘stressful situations’ look a lot different now. Instead of fleeing an angry predator, we are dealing with IT malfunctions and misdirected emails. Rather than escaping attack in the middle of the night, we’re hiring and firing employees. Contrary to making decisions that are literally between life and death, we are figuring out how much screen time is healthy.
You are having the same life or death response to situations which while stressful, are definitely not going to end in an untimely end to your life. But why is this stumping your weight loss efforts?
Because your body thinks that you’ve burnt calories to deal with stress, e.g. you’ve run from the predator. This means your body will want to replenish those ‘lost’ kilojoules, possibly leading to overeating.
So, now you know why stress makes you gain weight, what can you do about reducing your stress and getting back on track with your weight loss goals?
All the calories your body thinks you’ve been expending escaping the ‘tiger’? Actually, use them! Working out is a proven stress-reliever, even low impact options like taking a stroll have been determined to drop stress hormones.
2. Curb emotional eating
While it may make you feel better to eat a whole packet of Tim Tams when your crush starts dating another, or when your boss is breathing down your neck about KPIs or when your flight is delayed for three hours, in the long run, you’re going to feel worse. Sure, you’ll get a hit of happy-hormone serotonin immediately, dulling your emotional pain. But after that initial high, you’ll crash back down even lower than you were pre chocolate binge.
3. Cut down on caffeine
Stress + caffeine = raised cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Not a sum you want to be performing. Choose a low-caffeine or caffeine-free tea instead or pour yourself a decaf coffee.
4. Crack a smile
Or better yet, get a giggle on. While it might be the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed, smiling and laughing will instantly boost your mood. So open up some cat memes, watch a comedian perform stand up or get your kids to tell you a joke!
5. Get some shuteye
Sleep is your best friend if you’re looking to stress less. Not getting enough sleep signals to your body that it is in a high-stress situation (ugh, can’t that tiger just leave you alone?). When you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll find your cortisol levels and your appetite increase, leading to unwanted weight gain. Get your sleep on with a sleep schedule (waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, even the weekend) and a calming pre-bed ritual (a warm shower, meditation and soothing essential oils can feature).
Meditating, yoga or mindful breathing can help you to clear your mind and loosen the shackles of stress. If you’re feeling tense, take a few moments to close your eyes, focus on your breath and extend your inhales and exhales. This instantly signals to your body that it can de-stress.
7. Maintain a healthy diet
A balanced and healthy diet equals balanced and healthy hormones. You’ll want to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, sources of lean animal protein (plus plant-based protein), and plenty of whole grains and healthy fats.