Stress is a funny thing. It enters our lives through difficult situations, and then it makes life even more difficult. When you’re on a weight loss journey, stress happens. You may struggle to keep up with your new healthy habits. Loved ones may criticize you for going about this the “wrong way.” You may even experience doubt or insecurity about the positive changes you’re seeing. Stress can come from anywhere, and when it does, it can make losing weight — which is already hard to do — even more challenging.
Cortisol is the stress hormone, and lately, it’s a trending topic due to the way it impacts weight loss efforts. When your body is under stress, you naturally crave comfort. High cortisol levels stimulate the release of insulin, which leads to cravings for fatty and sugary foods. Cortisol can also interfere with brain signals that regulate appetite, satiety and satisfaction, which can lead to overeating.
Eating whole foods, managing stress and doing low-impact exercise can all help you reduce your cortisol levels. Consider some small changes you can make to reduce the stress in your life.
When you’re under a great deal of stress, you can struggle to stick to a consistent eating routine. You might forget to eat at all. Skipping meals may feel like it can help you reach your weight loss goals, especially if your thought process is “calories in, calories out.” However, skipping one meal often leads to overeating or making unhealthy choices later in the day. It also hurts your metabolism. If you make a habit of skipping meals, your body will go into starvation mode, slowing your metabolism even more.
Remembering to eat can be difficult when you have a lot on your mind. If you struggle with a particular meal, like breakfast or lunch, consider setting a reminder in your phone. Set a schedule for meals that makes sense for the way you live and work.
Stress can sap your energy, especially if you find yourself in a constant stressed-out state. When your natural energy is reduced, getting motivated to exercise can be difficult. You may not want to get up out of bed, so getting out of your house, driving to the gym and then completing a workout can feel impossible.
When stress takes away your energy, you may benefit from getting back into exercise slowly. Getting up and walking around the block one day can lead to a longer walk the next, and so on until your energy levels are back to where they were. Going outside can also improve your circadian rhythm, which positively affects your energy levels during the day and your sleep at night.
Having a glass of wine with dinner won’t stop you from reaching your weight loss goals. However, binge drinking once or more a week means you’re consuming a large amount of calories with very few nutrients. Drinking to manage stress can also interfere with your overall emotional well-being, as well as your sleep.
If you find yourself in this cycle, consider alternate coping strategies like a mindfulness practice or exercise routine. When it feels like other coping mechanisms aren’t working, you may want to consider therapy to address the underlying issues that cause you to turn to alcohol.
Stress can interfere with weight loss in any number of ways, which is one reason why it’s so important to find ways to cope with stress. Change, even a positive change like taking steps toward better health, can be stressful. Consider ways you can manage stress in your daily life, as well as activities you can do for self care during your days off. Find what you love to do to de-stress, and make time for it! Eventually, managing your stress will become part of your daily routine.
Dr. Hodges highly recommends patients attend monthly support group meetings. The meetings are led by Dr. Collins Hodges, both a licensed clinical psychologist and someone who has had bariatric surgery himself. The support groups are offered on the first Monday of every month from 6:30pm – 7:15pm CST via an online GoToMeeting. The meetings are open to the public, and there is no charge to attend.