Stress and Its Influence on Weight Loss


When people look for advice on how to lose weight, often the focus revolves around two primary components: diet and exercise. While diet and exercise should be considered as the main pillows of proper weight loss, other factors can play a role in how easily a person is able to both lose pounds and maintain dropped weight.

In the March edition of its online publication, the International Journal of Obesity published the results of a two-part study involving stress and weight loss. Researchers took 472 people classified as obese, and monitored the subjects' individual attempts to lose ten pounds over the course of six months. The findings of the study's first phase showed that stress in combination with weight loss standards like diet and exercise can influence an individual's ability to lose weight.

But how exactly does stress affect a person's ability to lose weight?

Psychological Impact of Stress

Although accurately describing stress with a singular definition can be difficult, stress is a feeling that is altogether universal. Coming from a seemingly unlimited number of sources, stress and the situations which cause stress can vary greatly from one person to another. Whether it be something as primal as the struggle to find clean water from which to drink, or something less survival-based like stress in the workplace, everyone can relate to the general feeling of being stressed out. When individuals feel stressed, their eating behaviors and habits can change. Often, people turn to snacking as a way to cope with the stress, rather than a method of battling hunger.

When people "stress-snack," they tend to eat foods which feature more sweets and higher fat content. The desire for less nutritional foods is not just a happy coincidence either. The human body actually provides a very solid reason for these specific cravings.

Physiological Impact of Stress

Stressful situations are well-known to invoke a primal fight-or-flight response in humans as well as other species. If you're unfamiliar with what a fight-or-flight response is, it can easily be summed up as when or not a person decides to stay and confront a stressful situation or try and run from it. Once the body initiates the fight-or-flight response, a flurry of events take place within the body. Here are just a few things which happen:

  • Heart rate increases
  • Digestion and metabolism slows down
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Blood sugar increases

As you can see, if a person is constantly involved in stressful situations, this could lead to long-term problems like obesity and high blood pressure. Having said that, those interested in losing weight should pay close attention to the fact the stress can extremely lead to a lower metabolism, which is the body's ability to burn calories by itself. A slower metabolism equates to a tougher road for people to travel on their way to meeting their weight goals.

During the fight-and-fight dilemma, the body prepares itself to take swift action. The body releases cortisol, a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands, as a way to slow down digestion and metabolism. However, the body does metabolize part of its fat and glucose stores in order to provide the immediate source of energy needed to either fight or run. Once the person either successfully handles the situation or safely flees, the body will start to crave fats and sugars to replace what it has just used. Consequently, this is where physiology and psychology intertwine. People crave sugary and fatty foods after a stressful day because it helps to restore resources the body used throughout the day, not to mention the pleasure food brings to a person's taste buds.

Final Thoughts

Stress-snacking every once in awhile is alright. But over time, stress can not only lead to weight problems and obesity, but also to serious diseases like diabetes. If you're committed to getting fit and looking your best, you have to not only eat healthy and exercise regularly, but you also have to make a conscious effort to remove stress from your life. Always try to be observant of what triggers your stress, and take the proper measures to remove as many of them as possible. Not only can this help you look and feel better in the short-term, but it can drastically provide you with a higher quality of life when you're older.