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Stress and Weight Loss Connection

Let's talk about stress for a moment. What actually is stress? Is it bad or good? What to do about it and how to cope? Which nutrients are needed during a longer period of stress?

Stress is a physiological reaction to life situations, and can be a real or imagined threat. We live in a world where stress is almost unavoidable. Whether it be getting the kids to school on time, dealing with unexpected events such as job loss or relationship issues, suffering injury or illness, navigating a conflict at work, the list is endless. 

Common life stressors and self chosen stress include: negative self talk, self harming thoughts, unfortunate life events. But not all stress is bad. In fact, a small amount of good stress serves to motivate us, for example, preparing for a speech at work. A bit of stress over producing a good speech will motivate us to create a quality result. However, our body's stress response is designed to only be active and present for 2-3 minutes. Anything longer and this stress response can negatively affect us. 

Stress starts to become an issue when it becomes chronic and we worry about everything all the time. Our body doesn’t have a chance to recover or return to a state of relaxation. When we are overstressed, we succumb to cravings for simple sugars, because our body thinks it needs to fight. And the fastest fuel to burn is sugar! Stress also negatively affects our sleep, immune system, digestion, metabolism, hormone production and appetite. 

If we are too stressed, our body is unable to digest food properly and this impacts our metabolism. Basically our body is shutting everything down to focus on surviving.

But we aren’t fighting tigers anymore, are we?

Why shouldn't we eat under stress?

Digestion occurs only in the relaxation response, a.k.a the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the state that turns on full healthy digestive and calorie burning power. The sympathetic nervous system is activated by stress, causing our digestion to turn off, and slow down our calorie burning ability. You can eat the healthiest food in the world, but if it’s eaten under stress, it won’t be digested properly, which in turn decreases the nutritional value of that meal.

There are many different types of stress that we can experience:


  • physical stress: giving birth, surgery, chronic disease, intense exercise 

  • emotional: death of a loved one, accident, divorce 

  • mental: school, work, financial situation, traumatic events, thoughts 

  • nutritional: nutrients deficiency, food allergies

Here’s a little bit of science behind stress: 

Stress increases insulin and cortisol, which not only leads to weight gain, but also makes it more difficult to lose weight. 

It can also contribute to fat deposits, especially around midsection, as well as a whole host of other problems, including: decreased calorie burning capacity, negatively impact gut microbiome, decrease hormone production, decreased muscle building, increased muscle atrophy, cravings, sleep issues, decreased oxygen uptake, which impacts just about every aspect of a healthy metabolism. 

Another negative consequence of stress on weight management is that it negatively impacts our sense of pleasure, meaning we need to eat more to experience the same amount of pleasure from food. This throws us into a vicious cycle of eating more and more to feel content….no wonder it’s so difficult to maintain your weight when you are stressed. 

Worst of all, stress will adversely impact the prefrontal cortex, our executive decision making portion of the brain, causing us to potentially make poor life choices.

How can we manage and control stress?

Some helpful tips: 

  • balanced diet (fresh fruit, veggies, fatty fish, seeds, regular meal plan schedule, macronutrients balance) 

  • mindful eating 

  • regular exercise or movement (yoga, weight lifting, meditation, breath work..)

  • sleep (regular schedule, good amount of sleep) 

  • spend time with important people (family and friends) 

  • spend time in nature 

  • find time to take care of yourself (hot Epsome salt bath…)


Nutrients needed during the longer periods of stress: 

  • All B vitamins 

  • magnesium 

  • calcium 

  • antioxidants (vitamin A, C and E) 

  • Omega 3 fatty acid 

  • potassium 

  • vitamin D


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