Why does stress prevent weight loss? And what can you do about it?
There is nothing more frustrating than hitting a plateau that never seems to end when you’re trying to reduce your weight. You try everything; eating less, exercising more, or eliminating whole food groups you heard the media say cause weight gain. Nothing. Zip. You’re stuck.
When you’ve tried everything, but nothing is working, there’s a good possibility stress is to blame.
Stress’s Impact on Digestion
When you have a stress reaction, your mind senses danger and signals your body to prepare to run or flight. Blood is directed toward your muscles and limbs and away from your digestive system.
Stress increases your metabolism, causing you to eat more. Unfortunately, because of the chemical reaction going on, you’re more likely to reach for comfort foods that are high fat, full of refined sugar, or salty.
One of the chemicals involved is cortisol, which has been given a bad rap of encouraging fat storage, especially visceral fat. Visceral fat is the most dangerous kind, because it wraps around your vital organs, causes increased release of fatty acids into the blood stream, and it raises cholesterol and insulin levels.
Your digestive system is impacted in other ways, too. When you’re stressed, saliva dries up. You need saliva to mix with your food as you chew in order to release necessary digestive enzymes before you swallow.
And if extra calories from bad food sources isn’t bad enough, waste products from this food can’t get back out too easily either. Stress shuts down the excretory system. The bowel and bladder sphincter close.
Indirect Impact on Digestion
Have you ever noticed that the more anxious you are, the faster you eat? You’re also more likely to be eating on the run and barely paying attention to what’s going into your mouth.
Your brain can take up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full. If you’re eating extra fast, you can take in an awful lot of extra calories before your brain gives you the signal you’re full. By that point, you’re overfull.
If you’re eating fast, you’re also not chewing your food as well as you should. Your teeth need to grind and break food down to increase surface area so saliva can mix with it before swallowing. This process is what allows nutrients to be pulled from the food further down the digestive tract.
Creating the Perfect Storm
When you are stressed, you breathe shallowly from your chest. Stale air full of carbon dioxide remains at the bottom of your lungs. This buildup makes it harder to cope with stressful situations.
That creates a cycle which can be very difficult to break. You’re stressed so you breathe improperly, but you’re breathing improperly so you stay stressed.
And if that isn’t bad enough, you’re now at increased risk for anxiety, panic attacks, depression, muscle tension and fatigue.
Fatigue means more poor food choices. But lack of oxygen reaching your bloodstream also means your digestive system can’t perform its job properly.
Get Rid of Stress to Improve Weight Loss
So how do you get rid of stress to improve weight loss?
There are three things you can do to drastically reduce stress’s affect on you and your digestion.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Conscious Breathing with Complete Breaths
- Mindful Eating
Progressive Muscle Relaxation involves paying attention to how each area of your body feels before you tense your muscles, while tensing your muscles, as you slowly release the tension, and after you completely release into full relaxation.
This tensing and releasing helps move cortisol out of your muscles so you can relax more fully. It’s been shown to be as effective as taking an anti-anxiety pill.
Conscious Breathing retrains your body to take full and complete breaths so as much carbon dioxide is expelled from the lungs as possible. This increased oxygenation improves energy, mood, digestion and aids every cell in your body to do its job.
Mindful Eating retrains you to slow down, chew properly and enjoy your food so you can start digestion where it needs to start; in your mouth.
Incorporating all three practices into your life at least three times per week (or daily if you suffer from chronic stress) can jump start your weight loss once again.