Stress plays a significant role in fat loss. Unfortunately, most people fail to consider the influence of stress on fat loss to the full extent.
It’s possible to keep a strict and regular diet and workout routine while under stress and still see limited results. In the worst case, the results might be completely absent and more fat is gained instead of lost. And all of it could be solely due to stress.
Stress has an impact on every area of our lives, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it affects fat loss as well. But it might not be clear the ways stress makes fat loss harder.
This article aims to answer those questions and help you on your fat loss journey by eliminating or lessening the detrimental influence of stress.
- What Is Stress?
- Ways Stress Makes Fat Loss Harder
- Physical Factors
- How to Prevent Excessive Stress
- Alleviate Stress to Lose More Fat
What Is Stress?
The term “stress” can be extremely subjective. Some people might say they’re stressed when they experience any kind of discomfort, while others could refer to a particularly strong trauma. And you might’ve heard coaches and athletes talk about muscle stress.
There’s a connection between the different uses of the term. We can turn to the most relevant definition of stress for some clarification. This definition comes from the Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye. He defined stress as the body’s nonspecific response to any change or demand.
By dictionary definition, stress is any kind of tension or strain experienced on an emotional, physical, or mental level. Yet, that tension doesn’t necessarily have to result in a negative effect. Stress can raise environmental awareness and boost productivity. Positive emotions can also produce significant tension that would fall under the definition of stress.
For most people, stress represents a detriment, and this is the aspect we should take into account when talking about how stress makes fat loss harder.
For the sake of clarity, we should say that a stressful situation for you is the one that you perceive as stressful. Moving forward, we’ll be referring to chronic stress in particular rather than acute, one-time emotional disturbances.
Ways Stress Makes Fat Loss Harder
Stress can impede fat loss through two main venues: emotional or mental, and physical. In other words, stress can impact both how you feel about the fat loss process and how your body reacts to that process in combination with other external influences.
We’ll outline the emotional and mental impact first.
1. Stress Depletes Motivation
Motivation is a massive factor in your weight loss journey. Modifying your diet and exercising regularly isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially when you need to keep the routine up for months and years on end.
Chronic stress can make that journey even harder by depleting the capacity to motivate yourself.
When you’re constantly feeling stressed-out, many activities can start to seem more difficult than they really are. As a result, you might end up having to push yourself harder.
In that situation, your weight loss plan could look like an additional burden. If you find yourself struggling to wrap up your usual daily tasks, exercise might seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Even sticking to your diet may become difficult because it requires more effort than eating ready-made junk food.
This means you’ll need to motivate yourself even further to keep up with your routine. But your self-motivation reserves might already be depleted from the perceived stress.
2. Stress Lessens Willpower
This point is a continuation of the first one and functions alongside it.
Our willpower is what drives us to act on our decisions even when that seems challenging. Weight loss certainly counts among such decisions.
Even if you enjoy working out and dieting, there will be days when you won’t feel like doing either. Constant stress can make those days much more frequent.
In regular circumstances, you might be able to overcome those “lazy” days by relying on the sheer power of will. But when you’re stressed-out, most things will require willpower to do them. Similar to what happens with motivation, stress will make your willpower a limited resource quickly spent on day-to-day activities.
And when the day’s work is done, you won’t have any power left for that final push.
3. Stress Can Become a Distraction
You’re probably familiar with the scenario of a stressful work situation. It might be a complicated project, a tight deadline, or working under poor conditions and duress.
In either case, one symptom will likely appear every time: You won’t be able to take your mind off the ongoing issues.
This is a common reaction to prolonged stress. When we’re faced with stressful situations that never seem to end, our minds can start to obsess over them. In time, all other considerations can take a back seat while we keep thinking on a loop about the problem at hand.
To say that stress in these cases serves as a distraction would be an understatement. A more accurate description would be that nothing else seems important compared to whatever is bothering you.
Of course, the distraction will extend to your weight loss regimen as well. With the current stressor occupying your every thought, you might feel like spending time on exercise or meal preparation is a waste.
And even if you remember your routine, you might be too exhausted to do anything about it.
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Besides these three mental and emotional factors, chronic stress can also present a physical detriment. The following is a list of ways stress makes fat loss harder by affecting you physically.
1. Continuous Stress Impedes Fat Burning
Our body produces a hormone named betatrophin in response to stress. Betatrophin is significant because it reduces the body’s ability to break down fat cells.
Our bodies can turn stored fat into useful fatty acids. This happens in large part thanks to an enzyme called adipose triglyceride lipase, which serves as a catalyst for the process.
When we’re stressed-out for a longer period, the body produces larger quantities of betatrophin which, in turn, impedes the enzyme from performing its function. As a result, the body keeps accumulating fat, since the current deposits aren’t being depleted.
2. Stress Slows Down Your Metabolism
Stress can impede weight and fat loss by influencing metabolism. This can happen due to the way stress influences the function of thyroid hormones.
In particular, certain enzymes and transporters that interact with the thyroid hormone can become altered. Particularly important are enzymes called deiodinases that are directly responsible for the level of thyroid activity.
Deiodinases come in three types: D1, D2, and D3, each type playing a key role in thyroid hormone conversion. Chronic stress disrupts the normal production of deiodinases, lowering the activity of the thyroid hormone. In extreme cases, this can ultimately lead to hypothyroidism.
This mechanism is particularly dangerous because it can create a cycle of stress leading to weight gain, then fatigue, and finally, depression. Depression can put the thyroid hormones in further disbalance, worsening symptoms, which then jeopardize the thyroid function even more.
3. Chronic Stress Can Increase Appetite
In a mechanism that functions in opposition to thyroid enzyme suppression, stress makes the body produce another enzyme, cortisol.
Rather than slowing down the metabolism, cortisol can actually speed it up. This is a stress response enzyme that can boost our readiness in stressful situations. But in chronic stress conditions, cortisol production goes into overdrive.
Cortisol increases blood sugar levels and stimulates appetite. This can lead to strong cravings, usually directed toward sugar and fat-saturated foods. These particular cravings don’t show up by accident: foods with high sugar and fat content can influence the brain centers that process emotion and stress.
Simply put, excessive cortisol production can lead you to crave comfort foods. These can make you feel somewhat better in the short run, but slow down weight loss at best, or lead to weight gain at worst.
4. Stress and Body Fat Create a Cycle
Fat cell growth induced by chronic stress can create a feedback loop, causing the situation to spiral out of control.
Body fat is capable of sending signals to the brain, affecting its ability to handle stress properly. As other facets of stress contribute to fat gain, these signals become more frequent, exerting even more influence on the brain.
This mechanism also impedes metabolism, leading to even more fat buildup. Even worse, the signals the brain receives prevent the entire body from shutting off its stress response.
While the way fat and the brain interact in stressful situations can be useful, prolonged exposure to stress may turn this function against us.
How to Prevent Excessive Stress
It’s clear that chronic stress is detrimental to fat loss. This doesn’t mean you’re helpless against stress.
The first step toward lessening stress would be to introduce a certain rhythm to your daily life. Make your important daily activities regular and orderly.
Eating, going to sleep, and waking up at the same time can do wonders for your psychological wellbeing, helping your body and mind deal with stress. Try to give yourself at least an hour of peace and relaxation before going to bed and after getting up.
Regular, low-impact exercises can balance the body’s vital systems and help clear your mind.
In terms of work, try to incorporate regular breaks. Deep breathing exercises and brief meditations can be done right at your desk.
Therapy can prove very useful, especially if the above-mentioned steps don’t produce sufficient results. As a solution to a rampant issue of the modern world, stress relief therapy has come a long way, developing better and better techniques.
Alleviate Stress to Lose More Fat
Our bodies aren’t well equipped for handling long-term stress. In prolonged stressful situations, many of our natural coping mechanisms can turn against us, producing adverse results.
That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about chronic stress. It means we must put in additional effort to combat it. Once you get the stress under control, you’ll likely see improvements in fat loss.
Instead of a damaging cycle, you could enter a positive loop of stress management fueled by the satisfaction and accomplishment of successful fat loss. Keeping this goal in mind can be a powerful influence, motivating you to make positive lifestyle changes that could affect other areas of your life as well.