Stress vs Hormones: Weight Loss Killers?

Most of us roll our eyes when it comes to stress: *sigh* “it’s a part of everyday life!” Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it! It’s one thing to accept that we will always be dealing with stress of some type or another but it’s another thing to do nothing about it.  How many times have we shown up at an office meeting or some luncheon only to find stacks of bagels, donuts or pizza being served? We don’t shrug and say “it’s what’s on the menu!” as we stuff it in our mouths, do we? We choose not to eat it or we choose to eat only a small amount of it. Just because it’s there, like stress, doesn’t mean we just accept it as part of our every day lives.

For a lot of us, it’s easier to deal with the bagels and cream cheese at the staff meeting than it is to deal with the stress that goes with that meeting.  We learn to say no thank you to the carbs and candy but stress? “Doesn’t that mean I need to meditate for an hour every day or listen to some kind of mellow harp music?” Most of us handle it by eating something comforting as a distraction or we wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares (that would be me!) or we lie awake until 4:00 a.m. unable to shut off our brains, feeling our adrenaline and heart rates rising as we go over and over everything we are stressing about in our lives.

We are taught that stress isn’t a real “issue” when it comes to weight loss or even every day living.  It’s like traffic or hay fever or the dirty laundry that keeps piling up: “It happens! Deal with it!” Even when we’ve been told that our body doesn’t distinguish between an over-budget project at work and an axe-wielding maniac, we still go right on ‘dealing’ with the stress by eating too many muffins, sleeping all weekend or spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor. The real issue isn’t that we still don’t take stress seriously.

Stress will kill your weight loss.  Our weight, for good or not-so-good, is dictated by our hormones.  Our bodies release hormones to make us hungry, to tell us to stop eating, to tell us to burn fat and when to store it.  No matter what we try to do either by cutting calories or exercising until we want to throw up, it all depends on our hormones! Until we learn how to manage our hormones, we aren’t going to win the weight loss war. What we don’t always understand or remember is that stress affects our hormones!

That surge of adrenaline or cortisol we feel when someone reminds us the balloon payment on the mortgage is coming due is a hormone.  You know how your Fitbit tells you your heart rate just spiked when your boss left you an angry voicemail? That sudden spike is the result of the hormones stress triggered in your body. Stress triggers the release of glucose into our blood stream.  It’s that Fight or Flight Response we’ve heard about so often, giving us the energy boost to run away from that axe-wielding maniac or fight him to the death. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, if you are running away from a crazed killer or trying to catch the bus so your boss won’t jump all over you for being late again. If your response to the angry voicemail or the budget crisis is to sit down and go over your work schedule or your bank statement, then it’s not such a great response. Sitting there or not doing anything active means that extra glucose in your blood stream needs to get picked up by insulin and packed away as fat. (Remember? Insulin is a storage hormone.)

That’s how stress kills your weight loss: constantly keeping your glucose elevated means that you are constantly releasing insulin so not only are you not losing weight, you are becoming more and more insulin resistant.  That means it’s harder for you to lose weight overall because you constantly have insulin in your blood stream.  FYI: this is how you can eat less and less and still gain weight!

Most of us get stuck in this vicious cycle: our family and/ or doctor keeps harping on us to lose weight; we aren’t losing weight because of the stress and insulin resistance, so we stress on what we’re ‘doing wrong’ and usually dealing with others accusing us of cheating on our diet, but we know we aren’t so we must be doing something wrong because we aren’t losing weight so we continue to stress over why not, dammit?!

The weight loss stress gets added to our work stress, our family stress, the traffic stress and all the other stress that comes with just living our lives and whenever some health guru mentions ‘managing our stress,’ we roll our eyes again and mumble something about meditating to zither music. Ignoring the stress isn’t going to make it go away or help you to deal with it any more than wolfing down Oreos while we’re driving home will help us to deal with it.  Both responses have the same result: no weight loss.

You don’t have to listen to zither music or meditate or journal over your stress unless you choose to handle it that way. For some of us, being told to journal or meditate is almost as stressful as whatever situation we are trying to defuse.  What does matter is that we find a way to handle our stress without eating, without burying it or engaging in another behavior that’s going to cause more stress.  Some situations (like a sick family member) are simply out of our control so minimizing the stress from those reactions we can control becomes more important.  For some of us, our stress reliever is a funny movie or a favorite playlist or some quiet time.  Some of us like to exercise to relieve stress and for others, it’s prayer or controlled breathing.  For me, it’s a playlist, an audiobook or if I am at home, it’s my pets.  The only criteria is that your stress reliever has to work for you and most importantly, don’t stress over fighting the stress!

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