The Link Between Stress and Weight Gain

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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Have you ever been through times when it feels like no matter what you do, you just can't lose any weight? You are not alone. Sometimes, it doesn't seem to matter how many reps you put in, or the miles you run on the treadmill, your weight won't budge. But have you noticed how those times tend to coincide with episodes of stress in your life? If so, it's no surprise. Research shows that stress and weight gain are closely related and in this article, we’ll take a look at why. 

Whenever you experience anxiety, worry, or stress, your body reacts – and not in the best of ways. Stress leads to hormonal changes that influence the way you store and burn fat. 

The process is pretty straight-forward. When you feel stressed out, your level of cortisol surges. This hormone tells your body to not only hold on to any fat and sugar intake, but it also increases your appetite (hello, binge eating!). This inevitably causes eventual weight gain, crushing your fitness plans in the process. 

At the same time, stress also makes your body less capable of burning calories – again resulting in weight gain. Stress interacts with your metabolism (aka the way your body breaks down carbohydrates and uses energy). If your metabolism slows down, this makes it harder to lose weight, even with exercise.

There are thus two distinct reactions that lead stress and weight gain to feed into each other. When you become stressed out for prolonged periods, your body tends to go out of whack, which interacts with how you store and break down food, ultimately making it tougher to shed those extra pounds. Yikes!

Stress and weight gain: ancient instincts vs. modern lifestyles 

Why does this situation exist in the first place? It's actually just a result of evolution. When humans lived as hunters and gatherers, they constantly had to deal with threats (stress) from other humans, wild animals, and seasonal fluctuations. The body's mechanism to store fat was essentially a question of survival. 

Nowadays, our bodies haven't changed all that much and are still very much adapted for situations where predators are just around the corner, but reliable food supplies aren't. This has a few results that aren't exactly helpful in modern societies. Times have indeed changed, but many aspects of life can be interpreted by your body as "threats" – whether you are overworked, stressed out about your relationship or anxious about the future. As stress builds up, the body's ancient mechanisms kick in, and juggling stress and weight loss quickly becomes a nightmare. 

When we feel stressed, we tend to indulge in high-sugar snacks and other comfort foods. This leads to weight gain and triggers feelings of guilt, which again increases our stress levels and causes us to reach for more snacks. With the availability of processed and sugar-filled food around us, it's an easy spiral to go down.

Then there's the influence of sleep. When we experience stress, it's common to have difficulty sleeping. If we're poorly rested, we lean towards calorie-rich snacks to restore our energy. We also experience heightened irritability, which tends to make stress worse. 

It comes as no surprise, then, that stress and weight gain often go hand in hand. In a way, that's part of the human condition, but it doesn't have to cripple your health goals. Remedies exist that can break the cycle of stress and weight gain, helping you improve your mental health and BMI at the same time. 

How fitness can help with stress and health 

Is stress interfering with the efficiency of your workouts and diet? Don't panic; solutions exist. Most importantly, you need to understand the relationship between exercise, stress, and weight loss. Done properly, exercise can curb the link between stress and weight gain, helping to keep the body in balance, while resisting those damaging survival instincts. 

When you work out, your body produces hormones, including cortisol. Perhaps you’re wondering if that could potentially negate the beneficial effects of exercise. But not to worry, something important happens when you work out in short, intense bursts (such as during high-intensity interval training). Studies have found that HIIT can actually reduce cortisol levels. This means no increased fat storage or through the roof appetite following exercise: great stuff for maximizing weight loss. 

HIIT and similar high-intensity workouts boost your metabolism more than traditional forms of exercise like running or swimming, and they also boost beneficial weight loss hormones. During HIIT sessions, hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine are produced in high quantities, and these hormones promote lipolysis -- aka the breakdown of fat.  

Finally, exercise is simply a good way to relieve stress. When life feels overwhelming, a session at the gym, a game of touch football, or a run around your local neighborhood is usually the best short-term remedy. 

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Fitness training: your greatest ally when it comes to stress and weight loss 

We know that staying fit and active can help counteract the effects of stress. But where should you start? Here are some suggestions that should help you build a routine that works. 

  • Incorporate convenient HIIT sessions into your everyday life: Long working hours and frantic lifestyles are not only major contributors to stress, but they can also make it hard to set aside time for exercise. However, effective HIIT workouts can be squeezed into 25-45 minute breaks, so they are perfect for the time-poor. 

  • Combine cardio and muscle building: When you formulate a HIIT plan, mix up weights with cardio-based exercises like squats, burpees or sprints. While cardio is great for boosting your metabolism, toning your muscles and building strength also helps with self-image and confidence. 

  • Take a walk after eating: It's always a good idea to engage in moderate exercise following meals. The reason is simple: taking a 15-30 minute walk will kicks-start your metabolism and help digest the fats and sugars you've just eaten.

  • Use exercise to improve your sleep: If sleep is an issue, exercise can help. A short, intense workout shortly before sleep can lower your stress levels and relax your mind and body.

Your very own stress prevention routine 

While fitness is important when handling stress, it's not the only thing to think about if you want to lose weight and relax at the same time. Instead, it's best approached as part of a broader range of practices, which could include the following: 

  • Spend more time in nature: Evidence shows that exposure to the environment helps us relax and feel happier. Spending time outdoors and in nature is connected to sustained boosts in the mood. 

  • Fine-tune your diet: Diet is also a big player when it comes to stress and weight gain. Eat small healthy snacks at regular intervals to prevent crashes in blood sugar levels. It's worth adding chilies to your meals, as they are known to boost metabolism. 

  • Explore the potential of mindfulness: When discussing stress and weight gain, mental health should also be on the menu. Practices like mindfulness and meditation can encourage you to get back in the driving seat, by assessing why you are overeating, failing to exercise, or feeling depressed. 

  • Connect with others: Stress management groups can be incredibly effective. Social apps can let you interact with peers and compare notes, while yoga groups can help you ease stress and take control back over your body. Remember: stress and weight gain can affect anyone, so don't suffer alone. 

Conquer stress and curb weight gain with 8fit

No matter how hard you work out in the gym, stress and weight loss just don't go well together. At 8fit, we know how difficult it can be to find balance in stressful schedules while also focusing on your health and fitness goals. We've created a fitness and nutrition app that caters to individuals with busy and modern lifestyles. Using our app, you can access HIIT plans and dietary guidelines that can do anywhere, anytime you want. You get to choose what works for you. If you want to banish stress for good and lose weight effectively, subscribing to the 8fit app is a smart move. 

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