There’s nothing worse than dieting and exercising your butt off and not seeing results. If you feel like you’re doing everything right, it might be time to learn how to reduce stress to lose weight.
It’s probably STRESS, that six letter word that causes so much drama in your life. We’ve all got it, so why do some people gain weight when they’re stressed, while others stay nice and slim while they lose their marbles?
Sometimes it’s genetics that keeps the weight on when we’re stressed. It can also depend on whether you have a nasty habit of stress-eating as well.
Regardless of why it’s happening, it’s not always the stress itself causing us to pack the weight on, but how we handle it that’s the problem.
Constant Stress Puts Your Body into Survival Mode
Screaming kids, traffic, deadlines, the news, and everything else that drives you crazy makes your adrenal glands create a stress hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol regulates how your body reacts to stress by igniting your “fight or flight” response.
It also causes you to hold on to fat and slow digestion, just in case you might need energy later. A study done in England found that people who had more cortisol in the hair sample they provided had larger waists and BMI than other participants. (1)
The study didn’t prove that cortisol is responsible for weight gain, but more cortisol usually equals more stress, so there’s definitely a connection.
Your body literally goes into to survival mode and becomes absolutely sure that you’re going to die a horrible death, probably from starvation, so it shuts down EVERYTHING but the basics.
Even after the threat is gone, these hormones keep working for 24 hours, so it takes a while to chill out. (2)
The problem is that your body can’t tell the difference between an unpleasant phone call from the bank and a man with a knife who jumps out at you from behind a bush.
Stress is stress, and unless you are a calm person who takes almost everything with a grain of salt, your body is always in survival mode.
Stress Keeps You Up at Night, Which is Bad for Your Belly
If you have a hard time hitting the sack and getting a good night’s sleep, chances are stress is keeping you up. Lack of sleep is bad for digestion, and it’s also linked to weight gain, especially around the middle.
A study found that people who average less than six hours of sleep a night experience 22% more abdominal weight gain than people who snooze for eight hours. (3)
If you’ve got a jiggly belly, getting proper rest will help you lose it.
Not only can insomnia keep you from losing weight, but it’s also bad for gut health. When you sleep, your body has plenty of energy to spare. It has the time and resources to digest and process all that yummy food you put into it during the day.
The less sleep you get, the less time your body has to let your digestive system break down food and extract nutrients.
People Who are Stressed Often Overeat
It’s official; science says that stress causes sugar cravings. There are too many studies to count that show anxiety makes your sweet tooth kick into high gear, causing you to make poor food choices. (4)
You also tend to eat more when you’re emotionally or physically uncomfortable.
Foods loaded with fat and sugar give the brain feedback and cause it to calm down a little in the short-term, so it really does give you comfort. The problem is that it doesn’t last very long, so you’ve got to grab another donut or five to keep the good feelings going.
Clearly, stress-eating and constantly being on high alert aren’t helping you lose weight, so what can you do about it?
Here are a few tips that will help you reduce the amount of stress you experience so you can shed those extra pesky pounds.
- Eat Foods That are Anti-Inflammatory
If you’re always mildly freaked out about things, your body is already in survival mode, which causes inflammation. On top of that, you’re probably giving yourself more cheat days than you should, or sneaking a little extra something-something here and there that isn’t helping.
Eating junk food will add to that inflammation, and studies show links between our emotional state and the quality of food we put in our bodies. (5)
Stress makes us want to eat foods that make us feel more stressed.
Eating foods that are anti-inflammatory and reducing foods that aren’t is going to give you tons of energy and help you feel better.
The first thing you should do is get rid of everything that’s processed, packaged, or has hidden sugars and fats. Replace those foods with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that promote alkalinity.
Veggies like asparagus, broccoli, and spinach might make your pee smell weird, but they’re loaded with folic acid, a B vitamin that has been clinically proven to chill you out. (6)
Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries also combat stress, plus, they’re a delish snack that you can eat as often as you want.
- Learn Healthy Self-Soothing Techniques
For many of us, food is love. We often use it for comfort, pleasure, and to alleviate the difficult emotions that we don’t know how to manage.
There really needs to be a class in school on handling emotions in a healthy manner because few of us do. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to comfort yourself that don’t include midnight trips to the store for ice cream.
Here are a few tips to help you self-soothe:
- Spend a few moments taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles, and telling yourself everything is okay.
- Practice mindfulness by focusing on what you’re doing in the moment.
- Move your body by exercising, dancing slowly, or taking a long walk.
- Practice self-compassion by speaking kindly to yourself.
- Do something funny that makes you laugh. Leave an amusing message on a friend’s voicemail, share a hilarious post on social media, or wear a funny t-shirt when you’re out and about. Smiling and having fun releases endorphins.
- Hang out in nature and literally go smell the roses.
- Start a Yoga Practice
No one ever makes it through life without wigging out every once in a while. It kind of goes with the territory of being a human.
The problem is that when you’re stressed out on a regular basis, you probably tend to pull away from your body because it’s so bogged down by tension. Yoga can help with that.
When you do yoga right, it’s amazing how effective it is for calming the mind, relieving tension, and getting you back to center. It’s also great for releasing emotions like guilt, anger, or fear, which contribute to stress.
One of the core principles of yoga is practicing non-judgment toward yourself and others. If you’re holding on to some weight, you’re probably pretty hard on yourself, so being judgment- free for a little while every day should feel like heaven.
Over the long-term, yoga trains your parasympathetic nervous system to tolerate any stressful situation that comes your way. (7)
Imagine being calm and relaxed in traffic, instead of leaning on the horn while stress-eating a large bag of cheesy puffs.
Not only is yoga great for relieving stress, but it also helps you lose weight by reconnecting you to the body. When you practice yoga, you feel better, which makes you want to take better care of yourself.
- Try Earthing
Who knew that walking barefoot in wet grass or soil could be good for your health? Science, that’s who.
Water and minerals in your body have a biological and electrical connection to the earth. Its surface pulls the positively charged ions that pollution and technology generate that cause us harm into the ground, and nullifies their charge.
Putting your feet directly into the soil, also called “earthing,” literally grounds your body and neutralizes free radicals. One study showed a vast improvement in cortisol levels when people grounded into the earth once a day. (8)
Swimming in a natural body of water is also considered earthing. Lakes, streams, waterfalls, and oceans all generate negative ions, which give you the following delightful benefits:
- increased oxygen flow
- protection against germs and allergens
- an increase in serotonin which alleviates depression
- obliteration of free radicals
- a general sense of well-being
- a boost to the immune system
Why are you still reading? Go outside and get dirty! If you enjoyed this article on how to reduce stress to lose weight or have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below!