Stress and Weight Loss: What You Need to Know

A stressed man holding his head while working late at his office computer

There are many factors that play a role in weight loss, including one that’s often overlooked: stress.

To understand how stress can slow down weight loss — or even lead to weight gain — it is important to understand the role stress plays in your body. Since the beginning of human history, stress was a tool that alerted us to dangerous situations. It kept humans safe from possible predators and other harmful situations by preparing them to either run away or fight in the face of danger. This is known as the fight or flight response.

Now, stress has become part of humans’ daily lives. It is a natural response to worry, pressure, and fear. With stress an ever-present factor in life, what steps can you take to  continue to achieve your weight loss goals?

Stress, sleep and hormones

It’s not unusual to have trouble sleeping while dealing with stress.

This poses a problem for weight loss, because a lack of a good night’s sleep affects the hormones that let us know when we are hungry or full. 

Studies have also shown that when people don't get enough sleep, their bodies have an increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage, while leptin is a hormone that regulates hunger and fat storage. An imbalance of these hormones can lead to overeating, feeling hungrier than usual, and not feeling satisfied even after eating a large meal.

Storing calories (energy) to deal with stress

Your body does not know when a stressful situation will end.

To prepare, it saves energy by not burning as many calories, which can lead to weight gain.

More commonly, people turn to — or away from — food as a way to help deal with stress. Your metabolism can change if you regularly eat large amounts of food or don’t eat enough or at all.

Seven tips for dealing with stress

On a positive note, stress is reversible.

When you’re stressed, it is important to acknowledge it and find ways to cope with it. Here are seven methods that can help you deal with stress:

  • Mediate
  • Make time for sleep
  • Be physically active: go for a walk/run, practice yoga or join a martial arts class
  • Talk to a friend
  • Keep a journal
  • Read a book
  • Get in touch with your creative side: use coloring books, knit, crochet, scrap-book, or paint

Set yourself up for success by being realistic about your stress levels.

If you have a stressful life, set small, specific and reachable goals. And don’t overwhelm yourself throughout your weight loss journey: long-term, sustainable changes happen gradually.

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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