The Effect of Stress on Weight Loss

Written by: Isabella Peters (Bach.Ex.Sci)

Stress can have a detrimental effect on the body as well as impair our ability to lose weight. When experiencing stressful conditions or when you are constantly battling with stress;  this can release hormones which inhibit us from losing weight; whilst increasing our risk factors for many chronic health conditions.

This is a summary of the physiological and biochemical effects of stress; which can impair your ability to lose weight.

Elevated cortisol levels: Cortisol is released in response to fear as well as stress. It also has the role of regulating immune function and increasing blood pressure. When cortisol is released constantly due to stress it can harm the body. Firstly it can lead to weight gain. This is because fat cells have four times more cortisol receptors compared to other cells. It also leads to an increase in grehlin signals which stimulates hunger and a decrease in leptin signals which regulates appetite. Therefore if there are disturbances with these hormones we are more likely to feel hungry all the time and crave foods high in sugar and fat as well as over eat.

Insulin resistance: when a stressor is present, non essential bodily functions are put on hold which means insulin is signalled to restrict glucose uptake to the cells because the body needs as much energy as possible until the stressor has passed. However the signalling process becomes impaired and cells begin to build a resistance to insulin. Insulin resilience then leads to decreased ability to lose weight, headaches, decreased sleep quality and an increased risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Thyroid down regulated: stress can cause the thyroid gland to become underactive. Your thyroid controls the hormones which regulate your metabolism and energy production. When your thyroid is under active there is a drop in hormone release and lowered energy levels. This can lead to feeling sluggish and lethargic. Decreasing energy levels and having no motivation to take part in physical activity is likely to lead to weight gain.

Therefore if we are stressed, it is our body fighting against us to lose weight. We must put into play coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with stress. This can include:

  • Taking part in physical activity everyday
  • Meditation/ yogaUnmotivated Fitness Girl
  • Eating wholesome and nutritious foods
  • Obtaining adequate sleep every night

The benefits of exercise on stress:

  • Participating in exercise decreases levels of cortisol
  • Stimulates the production of endorphins which makes us feel happy, liberated and positive
  • Improves mood- exercise can be used to let out anger and tension in a safe manner as well as taking your mind off the stress you are experiencing
  • Improves your sleep quality
  • Improves brain functioning and efficiency