Stress levels and weight loss are intricately linked; stress-filled life events can cause rapid loss, which can be detrimental to health.
Stress affects individuals differently, In some cases, stress could lead to skipped meals or completely lose the desire to eat. Often, this change is only temporary and regular eating habits may return once the stressor has passed. Read on to find out how stress can impair your body’s normal functioning and what you can do to manage stress-related weight loss.
Besides weight loss, stress can cause other symptoms, including headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, mood changes, fatigue, difficulty falling or staying asleep and memory issues. Chronic stress can lead to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and obesity.
Under stress, you may participate in unusual behaviors and activities, such as skipping meals and doing something that requires attention as a source of distraction, or staying up late watching TV. Disruptions like these can increase reactions to stress. Stress can impair sleep; not only does it make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, but also affects the quality of stress, making you feel achy and fatigued. Drastic weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition, and individuals experiencing this should seek professional healthcare immediately.
When you are stressed, your body naturally goes into the acute stress response (flight or fight). This physiological mechanism signals the body to prepare itself for a threat and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline lets your body get ready for strenuous activity and also decreases appetite. Cortisol signals your body to temporarily suppress functions that are not required during ‘stress’ this includes digestive and immune system responses.
When digestion is slowed down, an individual under the fight or flight response can experience stomach pain, heartburn, and either diarrhoea or constipation. Apart from a loss of appetite, stress can affect how your body processes food; as the vagus nerve is affected, digestion is slower, therefore the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes are not as effective. This leads to poor breakdown and nutrient absorption, resulting in inflammation in the gut, and potential gastrointestinal conditions. Peptic ulcer is a digestive tract disorder caused by stress.
Another hormone produced during stressful-periods is corticotropin-releasing hormone. Studies show that the hormone is an appetite suppressor; high levels of increases the amount of this hormone produced and lowers appetite resulting in poor eating habits. Poor eating habits lead to the breakdown of fats in the body. The depletion of fat stores leads to a reduction in body weight.
Corticotropin-releasing hormone also increases your body’s metabolism, and this can enhance the rate of nutrients burned, leading to weight loss.
Below are tips that can be implemented to manage stress-related weight loss:
- Reduce stress altogether – this is easier said than done, but try meditation or practice mindfulness, regulating breathing can lower levels of stress and promote relaxation.
- Get to the root cause of the stress – toxicity, magnesium vitamin B12 deficiencies, and gluten allergies could be changing your brain.
- Supplement – take a multivitamin and nutrients to help balance the stress response; vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, zinc and magnesium.
- Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, cordyceps, and ashwagandha are known to have relaxing compounds.
- Eat small meals often – during high-stress, you may forget or avoid eating so set an alarm on your phone to remind you.
- Eat foods like oranges, carrots, leafy greens, salmon and nuts packed with nutrients that boost the immune system and also regulate the nerves.
- Increase healthy carbohydrates, like wholegrains to enhance the hormone serotonin (mood booster).
- Avoid foods high in sugar and processed fat; although foods high in sugar can provide a quick boost of energy, when sugar leaves your bloodstream, it can make you feel worse.
- Exercise regularly – produces endorphins (feel good hormones)
- Slow down metabolism – this can be achieved with rest, relaxation and sleep.
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