How does stress keep you from losing fat?



Made our way to Long Beach Island, NJ today for vacation!


I was born and raised in Boston, and I love the Cape, but the beaches of the Jersey shore are so beautiful, and you can actually go in the water without hyperventilating and going numb. It was actually warmer IN the water than out of it. And I don’t think there are many things better than taking an outdoor shower after a day at the beach…just sayin.


Have you guys ever gone away for a week’s vacation and come back a few pounds lighter, despite not working out as much, eating carbs and drinking alcohol? You feel like you work your ass off trying to lose those last 5 pounds and then when you least expect it, they finally fall off?


Maybe this hasn’t happened to you after a vacation, but what about an injury? You have to take a few weeks off from exercise due to injury and it’s during that down time that you lose those extra few pounds.


What’s that all about?


It probably has to do with stress.


What’s stress?


It doesn’t have to be just emotional stress, it can also be a type of metabolic stress. For example, not enough sleep, going too long between meals without food, or exercising too long.


Did you know that over-exercising has the exact same hormonal effect as sleep deprivation. Crazy right?


Higher levels of cortisol around (from stress or exercise) can cause us to be more insulin resistant. It can also cause insatiable hunger and cravings making it REALLY hard to rely on our willpower to stick to our diets.


Chronic stress, over time, just beats down the body.


So, let’s go through an example. Let’s say you’re a nurse who works the 12 -hour overnight shift. You have no idea why you are gaining weight because you hardly eat you’re always so busy. You don’t sleep great because you come home at 7am and start the day with your kids. You survive on coffee. Maybe you even exercise on your off days. You go to the gym and jump on the elliptical for an hour or take a class.


Do you see where I’m going with this? THIS is why it’s not ONLY about calories. I see this all the time. Women come to me at their wits end because they CAN’T eat any less, the CAN’T exercise any more, yet they are GAINING weight!


When I tell them that I recommend eating MORE and exercise LESS, they kind of look at me like I’m crazy.


If we eat every few hours, we keep our blood sugar more stable. When we go too long without food, our blood sugar drops which leads to the secretion of cortisol to RAISE blood sugar, only to need insulin to lower it again. There is a constant battle between the hormones that raise blood sugar (cortisol being one of them) and Insulin, which lowers it.


Eating a higher protein diet every few hours will not only keep the hormones balanced, it will also keep you from getting cravings and getting super hungry.


When it comes to exercise, short intense exercise, lasting less than 40 minutes (more like 20 minutes) doesn’t seem to have the same effect on cortisol levels as longer duration cardio does.


Think about watching the Boston Marathon. After all the elite runners finish, there are a lot of people crossing the finish line who are far from “lean”. I personally know a lot more people that GAIN weight while training for a marathon than lose.


How the hell can you GAIN weight when you run so much? Probably because it leads to wanting to do nothing but eat bagels and cream cheese while lying on the couch for the rest of the day! And running for 2 – 4 hours straight? Can we talk about the stress your body is under?


Limiting longer duration cardio work to 1-2 times per week, focusing on leisure walking (or tai chi, meditation, naps, massages) to take the cortisol levels down, and doing exercises such as strength training and sprinting, are all good ways to balance stress from an exercise stand-point.


Supplementing with Branch Chain Amino Acids is also a great idea. BCAA’s can suppress stress hormones and balance hunger and cravings. My clients who have added BCAA’s into their diets have noticed major changes. I highly recommend them if you struggle with hunger and cravings.


The bottom line is that sometimes gaining weight, or inability to lose it, has just as much to do with hormones as calories. Jade Teta of Metabolic Effect says that we can get ourselves fat by stressing ourselves there, or by eating ourselves there. We not only have to think about what we put in our mouths, but also what we are doing to our bodies.


Think about it, you go on vacation, you sleep in, you eat every few hours, you rest, relax and you lower those stress hormones! In the case of the injured exerciser, maybe that is exactly what they needed – downtime. A break from the endless hours at the gym with no days off.


I don’t think that this is the case with everyone who has an extra 5 pounds to lose, but it’s important to note that hormones play a huge role in fat loss and exercising more, and eating less, can do a lot more harm than good in the long-run.


Exercise efficiently, eat wholesome foods periodically throughout the day, and take the time to rest and recover. Your body will thank you for it 🙂

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you? Let me know on my Facebook page 🙂

Interested in learning more about how to eat and exercise in a way that will not only create a hormonal balance, but create a caloric deficit? Join my Lean in ’14 coaching group, and you will have instant access to videos, sample meal plans and individualized coaching through the closed Facebook page. Registration closes for the summer in 5 days, but why wait? Join today!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.