Stress and Weight Loss: 5 Facts You Need to Know

Would it surprise you to hear that only 17% of people say they rarely feel stress? You might be less surprised to hear that instead 8 out of 10 people feel regularly stressed over the course of their day.

While some stress in life is normal and even expected, too much stress can have a real impact on your weight and your overall health.

Stress and weight loss seem to be quite interconnected. Some people who experience chronic stress experience weight loss, while others gain weight, think stress eating.

Weight loss and hormones also seem to be quite interconnected.

Read on for 5 things to know about stress and weight loss.

1. Inflammation and the Vagal Nerve

Stress can have a real impact on the dietary choices a person makes. For many, that means they don’t eat well or they don’t eat at all, causing stress-related weight loss. This can also cause widespread inflammation in the body.

When your body experiences widespread inflammation, it can activate the vagus nerve. Your vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve leaving your brain and is often considered the most complex. This nerve is used to send information and messages from the brain to tissues and organs throughout the body.

Interestingly, the vagus nerve is involved in fear management. As the vagus nerve sends information from the brain to the gut it’s linked to dealing with fear, stress, and anxiety, hence the expression of a gut feeling.

When the vagus nerve gets activated at a higher level from inflammation, it can impact how the gut in your body processes and also metabolizes food. This is how the body’s weight can be impacted.

2. Fight or Flight Response

Your nervous system, acting sympathetically, triggers when you are facing large amounts of stress. When your body pulls this trigger, it releases epinephrine, also called adrenaline, from the adrenal glands. When you have a rush of epinephrine, your body goes into fight or flight mode as a reaction.

When your body is in fight or flight mode, your brain is telling you to run from danger or to be prepared to fight whatever the potential danger is.

People who face significant stress and have increased levels of epinephrine, have increased heart rates and even burn more calories. Epinephrine can also impact how the body digests food and has an impact on the body’s glucose levels.

3. HPA and the Cortisol Impact on Weight Loss

HPA or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis helps to control the body’s reaction to stress and then also the body’s cortisol levels. This is often like your body’s version of a chain reaction.

When faced with stress, the pituitary gland signals to the adrenal glands which then start to release elevated levels of cortisol. Cortisol does a few things in the body.

One thing cortisol does is create fuel for energy by releasing fatty acids and glucose from the liver. Cortisol also acts to regulate the body’s immune response and reduces inflammation.

Unfortunately, when the body faces chronic stress, it also impacts the HPA axis. When this happens the body’s metabolism and eating habits are impacted.

4. Gastrointestinal Problems

It’s likely you’ve heard someone opine that they’re so stressed out that their stomach hurts. The truth is that their stomach probably really does hurt as a result of the stress they’re experiencing.

Again stress impacts the communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal system. The stress exacerbates the symptoms felt in the stomach area. Although it’s important to note, the stress impacts all areas of the gastrointestinal system from the esophagus (food pipe) and stomach, to the bowel.

Symptoms from the GI system include:

  • Gas
  • Heartburn or reflux
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Muscle spasms

Obviously, this long list of potential symptoms can impact a person’s diet and eventually weight when faced with chronic stress.

5. Diet and Stress, Closely Related

When your diet is off, you can quickly develop a nutrient deficiency. Even the smaller nutrient deficiency can strain the metabolic processes that happen in the body.

For example, small amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin C will impact the body’s antioxidant defenses.

You’ve probably heard someone say to eat a good meal before a big event like a job interview. How well your body has nourishment before and during a stressful event can impact how well you handle the stress.

It stands to reason then that a person who is nourished well will handle stress more effectively than one who is not well nourished.

Stress and Your Diet, Things to Consider

All people handle stress differently. For some, they stop eating and want nothing to do with food. While others will eat more during times of stress. It’s important to know your reaction to stress as it relates to food. If you can raise your level of self-awareness, you can pay attention to your reaction to food during your times of increased stress.

Not all stress is bad, believe it or not. In some cases, it’s the thing that propels you to make a move, make a change, or tackle a problem. But some things like worry, anger, frustration, and fear are called stress when these are things that cause distress for humans. Distress items are what can be unhealthy for the body over time.

Several things happen in the body when those stress levels stay high. These include:

  • Hormones stay in the bloodstream
  • Blood cholesterol levels stay high
  • Sugar levels stay high
  • Nerve chemicals circulate in record numbers

Most people in today’s world sit with the stress, whereas they’d be so much better off to work out the stress with physical activity.

Stress and Weight Loss and How One Impacts the Other

There’s no doubt it’s hard to avoid stress in our lives. But too much stress can be bad for the body. Stress and weight loss are connected in so many ways.

If you’re interested in learning more about weight loss, visit our blog and contact us today with questions.

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