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stress and weight gain

What’s Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain? Lower Stress Can Help You Lose More Weight

There’s a connection between stress and weight gain that can make your committed attempts to lose weight even harder than it already is. Here’s how stress and weight gain are connected and proven ways to relieve stress and reclaim your health.

More than 75% of Americans cite being stressed on a regular basis. And that number jumps to 80% when Americans are asked about whether they feel stress at work. 

Many of us experience fatigue, irritability, or aches and pains as a result of ongoing stress in our work or other parts of our lives. 

But did you know that stress also impacts your weight? Researchers find a clear link between weight gain and stress. 

The connection between stress and weight gain

When stressed, your body releases more of the hormone cortisol. 

Cortisol is the hormone that helps you respond to a threat. When you perceive a threat, your adrenal glands release cortisol and those hormone levels remain elevated until you no longer sense a threat is near. Then, the levels return to normal. 

But cortisol levels can be elevated for dangerous amounts of time. If you feel stress on a daily basis, for many hours throughout the day, your body produces an excess of cortisol and doesn’t spend enough time in a relaxed state. As a result, you can feel hungrier than you normally would throughout the day.

It’s why many of us want to reach for ice cream, cookies, or our favorite chips when we feel stressed. We feel hungrier and want to eat something that will give us a surge of happiness to counter our elevated stress. 

As if that’s not enough, stress can also lower your metabolism. The combination of slower metabolism with increased appetite is a recipe for unintended weight gain.

How to know if stress is impacting your weight loss

Stress is most often looked at as a cause of weight gain after other factors like diet or an underlying condition have been ruled out. This usually comes up in the course of conversations with your doctor or specialist you’re working with to lose weight.

These are some of the symptoms of stress to help determine if this is in fact a factor in your weight:

  • Regular trouble sleeping and exhaustion
  • Aches and pains that seem otherwise inexplicable  
  • Headaches and tension in your shoulders, neck, and jaw (maybe even clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth)
  • Irritability 
  • High blood pressure 

How to reduce stress and get back to a healthy weight

Fortunately, stress can be remedied by building some healthier habits and better routines. Plus, a few of the activities that help you relieve stress can also help you lose weight–getting you back on track for your weight loss goals even faster.

Below are 5 effective stress relievers to try if you think stress is impacting your weight loss journey:

1. Exercise

Exercise does more than help you get fit and lose weight—it helps you reduce stress in a few ways:

  • Helps you focus on the present when you get caught up in the activity or game you participate in  
  • Releases endorphins—the feel-good neurotransmitters  
  • Reduces cortisol levels 
  • Improves your mood and boosts self-confidence

The best part is you don’t have to be an athlete to reap these benefits. Just 30 minutes of movement like walking, hiking, or swimming can give you stress relieving benefits.

2. Sleep

Lack of sleep actually makes you more likely to be stressed. The reason is because of all the facets of our lives and health sleep impacts:

  • Mood regulation
  • Improved decision-making
  • Concentration

So, if you want to reduce stress, one of the ways to counteract feeling stressed is to get more sleep. 

Make sure you get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night—the average recommended amount for adults.

3. Make time for non-work related connections with others

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it turns out that laughter is a bit like medicine. 

Multiple studies now show the power of laughter to reduce stress and improve our overall well-being. One study found that people who laughed more had less stress and better immune function. 

By making more time for friends and family who you find fun to be around, you reduce your stress levels and by extension, improve your health. So whether it’s getting together with friends for an evening or going on a day trip with family, time spent with people you can relax and laugh around will reduce your stress.

4. Find a creative outlet

Creativity is one of the best options to get yourself out of the routine of worrying about daily responsibilities.

A 2016 study found that when participants engaged in any creative outlet of their choosing for 45 minutes, their cortisol levels dropped by 75%

And you don’t have to be a professional artist or writer to experience these benefits. Anyone can create for fun and get the stress relief benefits of being creative.

5. Schedule time just for yourself

When we have a lot going on between work, family obligations, and personal responsibilities, it’s hard to find time to relax. This is especially true if you are introverted or need time to recharge after social events. 

One way to help is to schedule time for yourself that is non-negotiable. Give yourself 30 minutes every day that is uninterrupted time for you to decompress from the responsibilities of your day. You can journal, read a book, go for a walk, or do anything else that makes you feel relaxed and refreshed. Whatever activity you enjoy, taking that time for yourself will help you reduce daily stress levels.

Get help overcoming stress and weight gain

At Valley Medical Weight Loss we help make weight loss a far less stressful challenge. 

Our patients get results because of the personalized support they get from our doctors. When you choose us, you get weekly check-ins, diet planning, and exercise strategy that’s tailored to your health history and goals. We also help you select supplements to support your weight loss goals if they’re appropriate for your goals.

We can help you figure out if stress is impacting your weight loss journey and help you get a plan to overcome it.

Visit your closest Valley Medical Weight Loss for your initial consult.


Is Stress Keeping you From Reaching Your Weight Loss Goals?

Last week, in honor of American Heart Month, we talked about how stress affects your heart health. This week, we want to break down how stress can prevent you from losing weight — or at least make it a lot harder.

We live in a time of stress. Whether this stress is real (a family trauma, for instance) or perceived (you just feel like you don’t have the time to do ANYTHING) is irrelevant – a chronic state of stress wreaks havoc on your body and can prevent you from losing weight (and even cause weight gain!). Most people know that eating right and exercising are key components of weight loss; but stress is an often overlooked factor. If you feel like you’re doing “everything right” yet you still can’t lose weight, consider your stress level. Is it controlled? Are you doing anything to manage it? If you answered no to these questions, read on.

Stress Hormones

When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which increases your body’s storage of fat. Cortisol has a particularly profound effect on the fat around your midsection, which is called visceral fat. Having extra fat around your midsection is not just a cosmetic issue, it actually increases your risk of developing insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart troubles. That’s why it’s especially important to lower your stress levels, which in turn, can lower your cortisol levels.

Managing Your Stress

There are several things you can do to get your stress under control. You may feel like you don’t have the time, but it’s important to MAKE the time.

  1. Do something you love every day. Taking a few minutes to really enjoy yourself every day is important to your health. It can be reading, writing, drawing, walking, playing with your pet, or just lying in the grass and looking at the sun. Whatever it is, just take some time to really wind down.
  2. Consider yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are both scientifically proven to help reduce your stress levels. If you think yoga and meditation “aren’t for you” give them a fighting chance. There is no right or wrong way to do either. It’s all a personal experience – one that can significantly lower your stress (and cortisol) levels.
  3. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep not only increases your stress levels, it can mess with your hunger hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, it disrupts the action of two hormones – ghrelin (which is responsible for telling your body you’re hungry) and leptin (which is responsible for telling your body you’re full). When these hormones are out of whack, you’re more likely to overeat. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night (8 to 9 is better).
  4. Exercise not only directly contributes to weight loss, it indirectly contributes by reducing your stress levels, so your body is better able to handle cortisol. Spend at least 30 minutes (60 to 90 is better) doing something active. You don’t have to walk on the treadmill inside the gym. You can join a kickboxing class or a work sports league.

Managing your stress levels is not just important for weight loss, it’s extremely important for your health. Take the time TODAY to incorporate one of these stress reduction techniques into your life. Eventually, you can work up to doing all of them.

Now we want to hear from you. What’s your favorite way to keep your stress levels in check?