Stress Busting Strategies for Weight Loss Plateaus
Updated: May 31
Do you feel like you are doing ALL THE RIGHT THINGS, but are still STUCK with extra weight?
Here are 3 WAYS STRESS PREVENTS WEIGHT LOSS AND HOW TO FIX THEM
It's no secret that stress is a growing problem that directly affects our health. The pace of our work and lifestyles can be too much to manage for many of us. Daily responsibilities can become overwhelming when you look at all of the things you handle on a regular basis: your job, school, the home, kids, your relationships with your partner, friends, family, projects, appointments, not to mention errands, cleaning and cooking and volunteering! Add in those curveballs like sickness and home repairs, and I'm exhausted just writing about it! Stress isn't just limited to exterior influences, either. It can be felt in the pressure we put on ourselves, strain on relationships, and unmet expectations. We can feel it manifest through anxiety, depression, anger, poor libido, indigestion, lackluster workouts, and poor quality sleep, to name a few. SO, how does STRESS work AGAINST you when you are trying to lose weight? Here are some of the common answers, and how to solve them!
1. You are exhausted because you aren't recovering.
Being stressed doesn't just affect your mind. It drains your body. Our bodies and minds and souls are all intertwined, and you cannot separate one from the other. When our stress (whether external or internal) increases, our bodies pull the weight. This commonly plays out in fatigue, which may also be a symptom of poor sleep quality or quantity. If we struggle with a racing mind at night, kids who don't sleep through the night, or insomnia, the stress that causes on our physical body will force us to downregulate normal functions to make up for the lack of repair we should have received overnight. Instead of waking up refreshed, with a clear mind and recovered muscles, we feel achy, foggy, tight and heavy.
Addressing your sleep patterns is something that doesn't just cure itself overnight (especially if you have little kids), since there are usually many factors that go into a good night's rest. But taking a good hard look at your habits, beginning with your night time routine, is a great place to start. How do you (Or, DO YOU?) wind down at night? What rituals do you have in place to help your mind and body debrief from the day?
Sometimes physical cues taking a hot bath or shower, lighting a candle/diffusing lavender or another "sleep" blend of essential oils 30 minutes before bed, or drinking an herbal tea can help prep your body for the transition into deeper restorative rest. It has also been recommended to give yourself 2 hours prior to bedtime to finish up meals and exercise, so your body isn't still working on digestion or revved up from the adrenaline of a hard bike ride.
If your mind is busy, doing a "Brain Dump" in a journal can be an empowering tool to get all those worries or thoughts out on paper, either to let them go, or organize them into categories of what you can control/not control, or simply to look ahead and plan for the next day. It could be spending time listening to a guided meditation, praying, reading, or even just connecting with your partner about the day.
Trying to fall asleep after an hour of social media scrolling or an edge-of-your-seat thriller probably will not bode for the best night's sleep, as we are learning about all the effects of technology on the brain at night.
So try to finish up work related emails, online shopping, and the social networking before dark to give your brain that mental transition and time to diffuse.
For a FREE WORKSHEET to help you build a healthy sleep routine to maximize your recovery, click here.
2. You're eating too much OR too little.
The hormonal affect of too much stress on our bodies is an increase in cortisol-the stress hormone-that affects almost every organ in your body! It tells your body's parts what to do, and when. Cortisol levels directly affect how you metabolize macronutrients, your blood sugar levels, and your appetite, to name a few! So it's no wonder that we crave certain foods when tension is high, and that our body seems to hold onto every bite we eat during seasons of high stress, despite the amount we exercise.
Have you ever noticed how your appetite changes when your stress rises? Ironically, it can go both ways, and yet BOTH are culprits for weight gain/plateaus in weight loss. Some people find they lose their appetites completely, and eat next to nothing when they feel stressed out, maybe feeling nauseous or even having stomach pains. Others, (like me!) tend to feel ravenous, and can eat large amounts of food despite their body's needs. Hunger and fullness signals, from your trusty hormones ghrelin and leptin, get muddled in the body's attempt to numb out big emotions with physical reward, which comes from eating delicious foods. Overindulging in fatty, rich, sweet and salty options becomes a survival mechanism. Your body is actually trying to protect you by calming a sensed threat (the stress), but it is temporary and ultimately ineffective because the stress remains after the meal.
Understanding your body's responses is the key to overcoming this one. When we consistently eat too little, our bodies get used to running on less energy, and our metabolism downregulates. As in a chronic dieter, this can result in weight loss at first, and then a plateau. a loss of energy, a potential loss of a woman's cycle, lower libido and lower recovery after physical exertion.
For those who tend to crave food/drink when stress goes up, this can result in unwanted weight gain, guilt, disordered eating that feels overwhelming, and a disconnect between the body's hunger and fullness cues.
The solution in both cases is to go to the source of the problem: Find the cause of the stress. The way you are feeling and the response you are having is a SYMPTOM of the bigger issue. Although none of us can ever fully control or be void of the stressful things in our lives, there are TONS of tools available to manage them in healthy ways! **This is the crux of so much of my coaching, and I would love to share more resources with you! Check out this free worksheet to get started! It will help you reframe your perspective and gain control over what is in your power, while simultaneously letting go of what is not. Getting to know yourself through the process is a key factor in having victory over life's challenges. When you can give yourself permission to take care of YOU, set healthy boundaries, and release what you cannot control, your body will automatically and naturally respond with calm, and you can begin to find your way back to balance.
3. You are lacking nutrients.
As mentioned before, stress makes our bodies want certain things. In a perfect world, we would all exist in a state of homeostasis: the body's perfect balance of all systems working in harmony, humming along at top performance. In real life, we need to work to achieve this. Stress fights this process by causing our brain to receive the message of a threat, and then do what it remembers to soothe and calm the body, bringing it back to this balanced state. When we do this with food, it often looks like grabbing whatever is fast, easy, and satisfying as quickly as possible (think: fast food and packaged goods), because the threat feels urgent. These foods tend to be high in sodium (think=water retention and high blood pressure), animal and processed fats, and sugar. They also tend to be lower in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The more we understand the science behind how our body is protecting us, the less we feel the need to shame ourselves about it, and the better choices we can make in the future. In fact, we can even take a step back and THANK our bodies for working so hard to protect us!
Then, we can assess preventative ways to keep us on a healthy path. Meal planning and preparing your meals ahead of time is an excellent way to safeguard your body from a lot of damage. Think high fiber, high protein, healthy fat and slow-digesting carbs! These will keep your digestion happy and your blood sugar on point.
When building a healthy meal, aim to get 1-2 fist size servings of veggies, a palm size of lean protein, a cupped hand size of whole grains, beans/legumes or root vegetables, and a thumb or so size of fat. Using this template is a quick and convenient way to build a meal on the go or even at someone else's house or in a restaurant! Check out the infographic here! For a custom meal plan tailored to Your specific energy needs, contact me at email@example.com.
The Bottom Line:
Stress directly affects our body through our sleep, our hormones, and our food choices, to name just a few. The solution to overcoming these issues is to get to know your own body.
Start paying attention. Look for patterns, and write them down. Take a real look at how you wind down at night, and how you could improve your routine for a deeper, more restorative sleep.
Notice your urges and appetite as your stress rises. Can you pinpoint the source of your stress, and how it led you to those decisions? Practice the Spheres of Control exercise to take it down a notch and reassure your body that you are okay.
Spend some time building a list of helpful foods that are high in fiber and protein to have in the house and on the go, to give your body the best chance at staying level when life is unsteady. Having those protein, fiber and nutrients will safeguard you with a rock solid immunity, lasting energy and physical resilience to get through whatever life throws at you!
To learn more or if you have a specific question about stress management and your health, email me directly! I would love to chat more and support you on your route to wellness :) Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org