Harkin’s Health Kick: Is stress slowing your weight loss?

Personal trainer, Kevin Harkin talks about how stress affects your diet.
Personal trainer, Kevin Harkin talks about how stress affects your diet.

More and more nowadays, we’ll hear about how stress can impact our health in many ways.

From stress related diseases, ulcers, right through to cancer – it’s been linked to so many major health related issues that we face, but – we do nothing about it.

We’ve really got to take more care of managing stress, and not just from a fat loss perspective – for our mental and physical health as a whole.

Kevin Harkin

Humans, out of all animals, are pretty unique. All animals will have a “stress response”, in that when they are met with a “stressor” – they get “stressed” and react accordingly.

Think of the case of the zebra running across the jungle from a lion. The zebra sees a stressor, and runs for its life. Once the coast is clear, the zebra gets back to eating grass and generally not being too bothered about much, and normality resumes.

As humans – we’re unique in that we’re the only animal capable of THINKING ourselves into this fight or flight state – and staying there. From an unexpected bill, to somebody cutting out in front of us in traffic, we let anything and everything into our heads, and obsess over it and stress about it.

It’s literally killing us, so many people are facing major health issues stemming from or being made worse by stress, and we’re doing nothing about it. As health and fitness is my strong point, I’m going to talk today about how stress affects weight gain and how better stress management can actually promote weight loss.

Now, this is going to get technical, but bear with me as the big words are not essential to know – I simply want you to understand why stress causes weight gain.

When we get stressed, our body releases a number of hormones, two of these being Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone (CRH) and glucocorticoids. Once we find ourselves in a stressful situation of any sort, both CRH and glucocorticoids are released, but at different rates. CRH is short term and immediate – we feel it right away, and once the stressful event is over it clears pretty quickly too. CRH supresses appetite – that’s why when we’re in the middle of a particularly stressful situation, eating is the last thing on our minds. Just like the zebra running from the lion – the last thing that zebra is going to do is stop for some lunch. CRH goes up, appetite drops, and our body wants to quickly get us away from whatever is stressing us out. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense. This enables us to get out of a stressful situation without taking the time and energy to eat and digest food.

Glucocorticoids, however, take a while to kick in, and can take hours to be cleared from our system. And, contrary to CRH – they put appetite through the roof. As far as your body is concerned, you’ve just been fighting for your life – refuelling is going to be essential. Say hello to cravings for sugar and fatty foods going through the roof.

Now, not many of you reading this will be getting chased by lions down Shipquay street, but even if it’s waiting in a particularly long queue in a supermarket getting on your nerves – the response internally is identical.

Bearing all of the above in mind – think now of the every day things we come across nowadays that stress us out. Bills, people, traffic, annoying posts on Facebook, junk emails, queues, running late for work, obsessing over what your boss said to you when you were late for work – we think ourselves into a highly stressed state every single day. I’m sure you can see what I’m getting at. All these frequent “stressors” are stimulating small bouts of CRH secretion and appetite being suppressed, but they’re bringing about elevated glucocorticoids for a prolonged period of time. Put simply – you’re going to crave bad food, and lots of it, all of the time.

To get to my point – being stressed all the time is not an ideal scenario for fat loss.

We’ve really got to take more care of managing stress, and not just from a fat loss perspective – for our mental and physical health as a whole. From depression and anxiety, to IBS and other gastrointestinal issues – stress really isn’t helping us.

If you’re reading this and noticing you tick some of the above boxes – good. You’re already a step ahead, next time you find yourself in that situation, you’ll remember reading this. I’ll cover more on stress management in the coming weeks, but meditation, going for walks etc. are all simple (and free) stress management tools that are incredibly effective. Not only will your fat loss efforts improve from controlling stress, but you’ll be in a much better position to just relax and enjoy life.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll find it and others on www.kevinharkin.com

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