Stress is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension”. It is a natural reaction to real or perceived threat, stimulating the flight-or-fight response. It also helps you stay alert, focused and energized – at least in the short term. However, long term stresses can start damaging your health and productivity. It could also sabotage your fitness and weight loss goals.
Cortisol is a hormone secreted during times of stress. This hormone regulates blood pressure, insulin release, sugar conversion and macronutrient use. Short-term, this is fine. Long-term? Not so much. During the course of a day, cortisol regulates energy by selecting the type of sugar, fat or protein the body needs at that time. It can also tap into the fat stores in the body and move the fat from one location to another or to other tissues, such as hard-working muscles.
According to Christine A. Maglione-Garves, Len Kravitz, Ph.D., and Suzanne Schneider, Ph.D., authors of Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight, “cortisol directly effects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals”.
And, lets face it, weight loss can cause stress. Many overweight people feel stressed when they consider or are actively modifying trying to lose weight. Kevin Laugero, a research nutritionist with the Western Human Nutrition Research Center and an adjunct professor with the UC Davis Department of Nutrition says, “Weight management is more than an energy-in, energy-out formula. And just because you understand dietary guidelines doesn’t mean you will follow them, especially when you’re under stress”.
So what can you do? Become more aware of your situation. Recognize the onset of stress and do something about it then. Relaxation techniques work for some people, as does exercise or removing yourself physically from the stressful situation. This is where having a set routine really helps. Even if the stressful event has disrupted that routine, get back to it as quickly as possible to get your mind and body back on track.