Updated: Dec 25, 2022
There are five main ways stress can have an effect on our weight and any attempts to lose weight. I often refer to my clients as being on a hamster wheel and not being able to get off. Stress often results in eating more and often bad foods. Then feeling even more stressed and guilty, only to eat and repeat.
What is stress?
Stress is a primitive defence mechanism. When the brain receives that danger, it activates chemical responses in order for the body to react to whatever danger it perceives. When stressed, you may feel your heart races, thinking may become a bit erratic, and we could get sweaty. Breathing becomes faster, and you may even get stomach pains, have an urge to go to the toilet, or feel sick. This is our body reacting as a result of the brain flooding us with stress chemicals—adrenaline, cortisol and net adrenaline. Which is fantastic in primitive times when we needed energy to go hunting, fight off wild animals, or tribesmen. Unfortunately, we are taking this into modern day life and often can be stressed by queueing up in the bank, sitting in a traffic jam, running late for a new job interview, taking exams, or even just by the gas bill arriving. The body perceives these as threats and the body reacts the same.
What makes our stress levels increase?
Often when we are stressed, we start to think negatively. This can often mean negative thinking about our self-perception. With negative body image, we can become obsessed with body perfection, idolising the perfect waist, bum, breasts and thighs, as well as the day-to-day worries that contribute to our stressful lives. In your neurology terms, the primitive brain cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. This can be problematic for us as the way we think plays a significant part in our levels of stress. The more we think negatively, the more our anxiety levels are raised, and this becomes a vicious cycle.
So if we think we can never have the perfect body or that we won’t lose weight, then the more stressed we will become, and we are back on the hamster wheel negative thinking eight and repeat.
This can often then spiral into other areas of our life, causing problems with relationships, fertility, sexual dysfunction, loss of libido, high blood pressure, blood clots, heart problems, sleep issues, and many other health problems.
Is our attempt at weight loss causing more stress?
Whenever we attempt to lose weight, we often have unrealistic ideas of the speed we should do this. We can say to ourselves that we want to lose X amount of stones and get extremely disillusioned when it’s not happening at the pace we want it. Instead of looking at the small steps and the small changes, we take it to heart too fast, resulting in short-term weight loss. I need to put it all back on, plus more.
Once you make that decision and say to yourself, “I must lose weight,” you start thinking of ways to do it. We may look to fashion magazines for new diet trends or go to the gym or maybe follow someone on social media for their healthy eating and diet tips. Whatever it is, it often means making a change, but when we do this, sometimes life can get in the way, and for one reason or another we may miss a day or two. This can result in us feeling bad or guilty that we’ve missed a day, resulting in more stress and anxiety.
This makes us revert back to previous patterns of behaviour and feeling unhappy with ourselves, so we look for that dopamine fix of food.
Why do we continue to eat too much or the wrong things?
Consciously, our intelligent mind knows if we eat too much or wrong foods, we will put on weight. However our hippocampus, located in the primitive mind of the limbic system, will always revert back to previous patterns of behaviour. So whenever we feel unhappy, we often look for something that releases the chemical dopamine in the brain. Food, sex, physical exercise, and socialis
ing are all natural ways of releasing dopamine. Now, whenever we’re feeling down, we look for something that’s going to make us feel good.
Do you want that shot of dopamine? The more we do something, the more we have to do it in order to increase the dopamine levels. If you think about it, you put the cream cake in your mouth and it feels good for a short period of time as all the wonderful dopamine flows through your body, making you feel amazing. When you have that realisation, guilt, and frustration, you need another shot of dopamine. It might be great when exercising or even having sex, but it is not so great when it becomes an addiction to sex or food.
5 Reasons Stress Affects Our Weight
1. When stress levels increase, so can our appetite.
2. Stress chemicals are providing the body of the energy it will need to deal with danger or threatening situations. Once we have calmed down from this situation, the body is now looking for fuel to re-energise.
3. The production of cortisol can remain in the body for some time after a stressful event to encourage refuelling in order to replenish the energy levels.
4. Long-term storage of cortisol promotes fat storage on the body. The fatty deposits or macrophages,causing inflammation and killing off cells in the body, resulting in ill-health.
5. Stress leads to eating which leads to more stress.
Is it time to get off your hamster wheel and get some control back in your life? Work on your mind, and your body will follow.