Is Stress Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?

by PaulaVargas 2772 views Weight Loss

Is Stress Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?

Stress is everywhere you look, waiting for an opportune time to pounce when you least suspect it – or at least it can feel like that! Unless you live in a bubble (and even then, I feel like that would be stressful), then stress is a constant companion. The difference, however, is your perception around that stressor.   

You might be one of many people that think you're 'too stressed' and therefore your hormones are 'messed up', and you can't get results. Though a small percentage of people do have severe hormonal issues that can prevent weight loss or gain, this is a minority. Nevertheless, it sucks when someone cuts you down by saying you're just eating too many calories. Especially when you swear you've been tracking every last bite, and you've been showing up to do your gym sessions. Can stress be a part of sub-par results?   

Eustress versus Distress:   

The first thing to note is that different types of stress have particular effects on your body. Eustress is a type of stress that is beneficial for your body. Coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, it uses the Greek prefix "eu"- "good", equalling "good stress". Eustress happens when you're attempting to lift a heavier weight, which is challenging, but you know you can do it. You'll feel it when you have a hard work presentation, but you're confident you have the skills and know-how to deliver. You might even feel it before going on a first date with someone! Here, you're able to embrace both support and challenge equally.   

Distress, on the other hand, can be very damaging. It happens when you try to lift a weight that is way too heavy for you and you get injured, or you're about to get fired, or perhaps even filing for divorce. These are the challenging events that seem overwhelming, and it's difficult for you to see the silver lining. It doesn't always have to be a significant event to cause distress, though – seemingly little stresses can build up over time. We are predisposed to see the negative, and when you try to push these small stresses to the side without dealing with them, they can pile up like a big pile of garbage and end up causing a ton of damage.   

Having a surge of cortisol is excellent if you're about to smash some heavy squats on a Monday morning. It's not so great if you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling trying to sleep when you're supposed to be recovering!  

Can it be Adrenal Fatigue? 

Though it can feel so real, the concept of adrenal fatigue is not supported in the scientific literature. Instead, it's suggested that 'HPA axis dysregulation (HPA-D)' is a more accurate term. HPA means the 'hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal' axis. Basically, the hypothalamus in your brain interprets stress and tells the pituitary gland to release a hormone that then tells the adrenal glands to make cortisol and adrenaline, your stress hormones. It is currently thought that when we are under chronic perceived stress, this unique system can be thrown off (and thus, you end up feeling wired yet tired a lot of the time).

There is much research to still be done in this field, but it's always wise to listen to your body to hear the messages it has for you. You don't always have to wait for a scientific paper to come out to tell you that your stress is impacting your life in negative ways – you may be aware of it already! 

Signs stress is holding your results back:  

  • Your body is always achy and sore, aside from exercise DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)   

  • You feel like your weight isn't budging (or on the flip side, you're unintentionally losing weight)   

man on weight scale looking upset

woman lying down with book over her face


  • Your workouts suck – you keep getting weaker, you feel like you're not recovering properly   

  • You struggle to get a restful sleep   

  • Chronic gut issues   

  • You wake up feeling like you've been hit by a Mack truck

  • You're constantly feeling worn out and getting sick 

  • Not in the mood for sex   

  • You're feeling forgetful and brain fog is taking over 

How does stress derail your weight loss goals?  

Stress can cause weight struggles – either shifting it to too high or too low (have you ever been so stressed you just couldn't eat?). If you're trying to lose weight, with the chronic stress that you're likely to suffer from, you may find metabolism slows down and ghrelin rises, while leptin drops. What does this mean in simple terms? Your hunger hormones get out of whack – leptin is supposed to help you put the fork down – but instead, it gets dumbed down, while ghrelin (think of it turning you into a hungry gremlin), is escalated. Unfair, right? On top of this, you're probably less likely to be reaching for a bowl of broccoli, as your brain looks for a quick energy hit it thinks you need to survive. This is why those hyper-palatable foods (cookies, cakes, chips... all the fun stuff) can pack a double whammy. 

Stress affects not only your food choices, but it also dials down your body's natural movements, so you're generating less output (sometimes without even noticing!). Also, when under chronic stress, your cortisol levels aren't where they should be, and your body becomes more insulin resistance. Therefore, weight gain and a predisposition to type 2 diabetes become more likely. It can also cause you to sleep less, once again reducing the already finite willpower you have and turning those hunger hormones on their head.   


What can you do to get back to balance?   

1. Balance your fitness Yin and Yang:   

woman meditating with her dog


The old-school fitness mentality was all about 'no pain, no gain', 'go hard or go home' and so on, but we're now starting to see a shift in culture because hey, you can't 'go hard' at the gym if you've got nothing left to give. It's time to balance that yin and yang in your fitness routine.

Dial down the heavy, intense lifting where you know you always push yourself to the point of exhaustion. What this means is to take a step back from the fierce training (yang) and let your body rest! Incorporate more Yin activities into your life, such as restorative yoga, seated meditation, sleep and stretching.

If you don't rest and recover, how do you expect to make those epic gains? 

2. Minimise stressors where you can:

Almost everything can be considered a stressor, depending on how you react to it. Whether it's money woes, caffeine-induced anxiety, long drives in heavy traffic or comparing yourself on social media, there are many potential sources of stress. Even factors that aren't immediately thought of as psychological, like food intolerances and intense training, are factors that add to overall stress.  

Take stock of what's affecting you the most, and take steps to alleviate it!  

  • Consider a social media detox.  
  • Keep a dedicated "worry time" to write down what is stressing you out.  
  • Have clear boundaries with work.  
  • Automate and delegate activities wherever you can.  
  • Reduce alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
  • Spend more time talking to friends and family (if they don't stress you out of course!)  
  • Eat healthier comfort foods (e.g. homemade protein pancakes) and keep a food journal to track your moods and what you eat to help you gain more control.
  • Consider putting the anxiety of weight loss results to the side while you get back into balance.  

3. Consider the help of supplements:   

Some natural supplements can be a great aid in managing mild anxiety symptoms and are gentle enough to take daily. You'll find a wide range of sleep support and stress support options at Nutrition Warehouse!  

4. When you're stuck, call in the experts:   

As some of the symptoms can mimic medical conditions, consider getting a check up by your medical practitioner. They can run a series of tests to make sure nothing else is happening. If it is stress, then they can also refer you to a psychologist with a mental health care plan. 

Ready to take a more 'zen' approach to results? 

This low-key anxiety that sneakily hides underneath your flood of busy days can chip away at you over time. If you're always in go-go-go mode, your brain is firing on all cylinders, and there's only one way it'll end up going, which is complete burnout. By taking the time to take a break when you need it, you can help your body to recover and switch off the constant tension. This way, not only will you be better able to manage your day to day stressors, but you'll be able to give your body longer lasting weight loss results in the long run. By starting today to incorporate more 'zen' activities in your life, you can build healthy habits that will be with you for life!

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Producer, Host, the Occasional Model

There's always time to be the person you want to be. 

Build your body, nourish your mind and always remember to go on new adventures!


  • Bachelor of Laws & Bachelor of Business (Marketing Major)
  • Precision Nutrition L1
  • Cert III & IV in Fitness
  • Others: EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Human Behavioural studies, Small Business Management

I train 5-6 x per week with a mix of weights & cardio and promote eating in moderation.
I love to connect with people to feel free to chat with me on IG @paulavargasduran


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