But one thing that they may overlook is stress.[tweet_box design=”default”]Stress can make us fat. [/tweet_box]
Okay, it's not the stress itself that makes you gain weight, it's the processes that happens to and with our bodies when we're constantly stressed. Getting rid of excess stress in your life is as important, if not even more important, than working out and dieting.
We Need Some Stress
However, stress is not only a bad thing. We need some stressful situations in our lives.
There has been a lot of comparison of the type of stress that cavemen experienced and the stress that us, modern human beings, experience.
The caveman's stress was the healthier type of stress. A bit of sweating, rising heart rate and an adrenalin rush once in a while (for example, when escaping from an enemy) was a good thing. Being ready to react in stressful situations like that helps us deal with unexpected situations that occur in our lives every now and then.
But… We Don't Need All of the Stress
Our modern day stress is different. Many of us are suffering from constant, chronic stress. During this type of stress, our cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) is high all the time. That's what's drains us and burns us out.
That's the kind of stress that contributes to making us fat.
If your job is stressful, if you don't get enough sleep, your relationships are messed up and you worry a lot (and often about things that you cannot help), you're constantly in the state of elevated stress.
If you want to lose fat, you have to address those problems. Fixing them will help you more than going to a 1200 calorie diet or working out two hours a day. Actually, the last two things may even add even more stress into your life and leave you with confusion: I'm doing everything right, how come I can't lose weight??
High Cortisol and Fat Loss
Cortisol is the hormone that plays they key role when talking about stress, and it also affects how well your weight and fat loss is going.
When we're constantly stressed, our cortisol levels are not changing throughout a day, they're too high all the time. Here are some things that happen as a result, and how those things inhibit fat loss:
Your blood cells become less sensitive to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that “opens up” our cells for glucose, so we can use it as an energy source. If a body is constantly stressed out, it produces a lot of glucose. That in turn requires a lot of insulin to handle that load. However, the body can't keep up with producing that big amount of insulin, so the rest of the glucose that can't enter the cells will keep rotating in the body and eventually, gets stored as fat.[tweet_box design=”default”]Constant stress inhibits fat loss. [/tweet_box]
You can make things even worse by eating tons of sugary foods, and that's exactly what we tend to do when we're stressed out (hello chocolate!). Which means even more demand for insulin… and more unused glucose stored as fat.
Your blood sugar is high. As a result of constantly high glucose levels that can never enter our muscles because there's not enough insulin, your blood sugar remains constantly high. That, as you know, makes you want to eat, even if you're not actually hungry. It's easy to over eat when you can't hear your body's actual signals.
You want to eat all the sugar. Allll of it. If you're really hungry and reach for something sweet, all you want is more of it as soon as you finish. You know the drill. Again, you're unable to understand that you don't really need food. It's just this sensation that asks for more sugar.
Your rate at which you burn fat slows down. When both insulin and cortisol are high at the same time, they send your brain a signal to hold on to fat. And your brain listens! It knows that something is going on, so keeping the fat where it is is body's natural protection mechanism.
How Else Stress Makes You Fat: Muscle Loss
High stress also makes harder to build muscle, and you should want some muscle! Muscle keeps the metabolic rate higher, makes you leaner and also look better.[tweet_box design=”default”]Stress makes it hard to build muscle. [/tweet_box]
Constant stress isn't going to help you to build muscle. Instead, it breaks down muscles, ligaments and tendons. You need protein to build muscle, but if you're stressed, the protein synthesis slows way down, and also the production of growth hormone suffers. Bye, muscles!
And finally, if you're stressed all the time, your basal metabolic rate drops too. Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy (=number if calories) that you burn during the day to keep your body functioning properly.
You probably want to get your cortisol levels back in check now. Here are things that may help you:
Exercise less, but smarter. You don't need to workout an hour everyday. In fact, you probably shouldn't, if you're dealing with a lot of stress and longer and longer workouts are not making any difference in your physique. Check out any of these workouts here to realize that you can get a great workout done in less than 30 minutes. Sometimes even 10 minutes is enough.
Drink less. Alcohol may be one of your go-to stress-reliever, but it only offers a short time solution. If you don't address the root cause of your stress, washing the problems down with booze won't help you in a long run.
Get your sleep in. This is where I struggle too, I admit. It's a vicious circle: If you don't sleep, you're stressed, and you're stressed because you don't sleep… But if you don't sleep enough just because you can't step away from doing nonsense things like watching reality shows, your problem is easy to fix.
Meditate. That may be hard at first, but with a little bit of training you learn to calm down the thoughts in your always racing mind and as a result, reduce your stress.
Do Things that You Like. Is there something that you used to do, that made you feel really good, helped you to think about your problems less and unplug from all the negative things? What was it? Can you pick it up again?
Stress can be much bigger factor that is stopping you from losing fat than you may even think. Don't underestimate it and find ways to reduce it.
Fat loss is much easier if you don't have to fight against your own body all the time by putting it through extremely long exercise, a very restrictive diet, tough relationships, constant worrying and sleep deprivation.
Address those things by creating small changes and new habits one at a time and make your fat loss much easier. The changes you actually do are the ones you will be more likely to stick with, as opposed to the grand plans that intimidate you, so you never get started.
Keep it simple.