Stress and Weight Gain

Ok so here’s the deal, we’ve all heard “Stress makes you fat”, “You’ll never lose weight if you’re so stressed” or “Cortisol [stress hormone] leads to belly fat” and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was really that serious. Sure I had a basic understanding of the science and understood that there was a correlation between stress and weight gain, but I never really thought it would make a big difference. Yes I preached stress management to my clients under the umbrella of weight loss but I honestly just wanted them to relax so they’d feel better, I never thought it would make any life altering changes. Then I experienced it for myself and discovered it did, like 27lbs worth of a difference!

Can stress really delay weight loss?

Well let’s back up about 3 years. I’ll give you the abridged version: Emotionally abusive ex-husband > divorce > Personal trainers in Augusta make NO $ > ran away to Miami to “start over” > holy shit Miami is expensive > still not enough $ >work/life/education balance sucks > no friends to ease the stress > gained 25lbs….THE END Now that you’ve skimmed the cliff notes of my little melodrama, the question is how the hell did I get back to normal? Well first, I tried all the things, like seriously ALL of them.
First I tried going back to my bodybuilder self and started tracking macros
….gained 2lbs….
Then I decided I was still being too flexible with myself and started meal prepping everything, if I didn’t make it measure it and count it I didn’t eat it. That meant no soda, no eating out, not fun.
…gained 1lb…
Then I tried to ease up and just track measurements and implement some intuitive eating habits.
…experienced true binge eating for the first time…gained 3lbs

Right now we’re looking at a timeline of about 1.5 years after moving to Miami and my weight went from 130 to 161. I started verbally but not emotionally giving up. That basically looked like me saying “F*** it” a lot and professing to be happily strong and chubby, while being terrified of mirrors and crying every time I got dressed to go out. Yea, fun stuff. I then finally started moving in the right direction. I started listening to my body. Oh did I mention that all this time I was experiencing extreme and painful bloating after eating and drinking literally everything including water plus some serious fatigue. Yea, so I finally got my head out of my own @$$ and thought “huh, you know that might not be normal” 🙄

I started actually doing some research on my symptoms and discovered the FODMAP diet. Essentially this is an elimination diet used to figure out food intolerances when allergy tests don’t register any issue. Unfortunately this was yet another strict diet which still equated to added stress so….
…gained 1lb…
…but also discovered I have low tolerance to garlic and onion and the symptoms all but disappeared!

So things were looking up, sorta. Along this path I was delving more and more into the study of behavior change as it pertained to nutrition, weight loss and general fitness. That’s when I finally saw the pattern!

Weight loss is mental!

Stress and weight gain

I had always been what I call a “stress starver” someone who handles stress by hyper focusing and diving so far into their parasympathetic nervous system that they lose their appetite. Still not good thing by the way. But after endless research I finally saw something that clicked, being in one or the other for too long can cause your body to completely switch gears in an attempt to adapt and find a way to manage the stress. So I went through a mountain of life altering stress in a few months, which sent my cortisol levels through roof and then eventually changed my body’s entire blueprint for processing food, storing food & craving food. Everything changed & I was left dealing a completely different body which meant a different strategy. And this magic strategy my friends is……

……

…………

Calm the f*** down!

It sounds simple and unrealistic I know but it’s true. I went from strictly eating the appropriate healthy calorie deficit for my weight (at the time 1900 calories) and eating more cleanly than I ever had in my life to seriously and genuinely saying “f*** it”. I just want to enjoy my life, enjoy my food and if I lost weight great, if not I still wasn’t really unhealthy so that’s fine. I ate my tofu and veggie lunch with some hummus that I genuinely enjoyed sometimes & I meal prepped if it seemed like fun. But I also ate entire pizzas, fast food, french fries, drank beer, liquor, ate candy when I felt like it and you want to know what happened? After a month of not stepping on the scale I was feeling better so I got a little curious. I got up walked into the bathroom, stepped on and…down to 160! Now this isn’t record breaking weight loss, but it was the first time I saw the scale move in that direction in over a year.
I happily stepped off the scale, got dressed and went out to grab a burger and few beers with friends.
1 month later….down 4lbs!

Things kept moving in that direction until I was at 135, about 5lbs more than the whole fiasco began and much leaner (I never stopped working out so I’d managed to gain a bit of muscle among the fat).

Today I occasionaly check a nutrition label or count calories, but I treat it more as a check up to make sure I’m giving my body what it needs to function happily. No guilt. No Stress.

Why Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

I know this sounds like fiction, or like I got lucky or have good genetics but it’s not. It’s science. Science that I’ve applied to my clients male and female, ages 16-67, of all fitness levels. For those that manage to genuinely stop stressing, stop obsessing over food, stop counting and just honestly aim to take care of their bodies, it has worked without fail ever time.

It really does come down to the science of it, like I said, cortisol is a hormone. As are Ghrelin (hunger hormone) and Leptin (satiety hormone). Things like stress and sleep deprivation, which could be either too little or poor quality sleep, can seriously disrupt these hormones. Any stressor or sleep disruption can either increase the function of Ghrelin and/or suppress Leptin. And if that weren’t enough, hormones talk to each and sometimes, conspire against us. So if there’s a ton of cortisol in our system it might decide to make it’s way over to hang out with Ghrelin and help it’s new friend stay busy which translates to a serious spike in appetite for us. Often times a spike that looks like a craving for sweet or fatty food, thanks to Cortisol’s affect on insulin production.

So bottom line, all that stress or sleep deprivation you’re powering through could look more like an extra 20, 30 or 40lbs not just an extra 3 or 4 (like I previously assumed). So take a breath, enjoy your food, enjoy your life, find an activity that you want to do because it’s fun and it feels good not because it’s just a way to lose weight. And if can get a massage, learn to meditate or read a good book! But for the love of God stop worrying about the numbers, the scale and the “good” or “bad” food because guess what, there’s no such thing as good food or bad food (that’s a topic for another day).

How to Lose Stress Weight

Here’s a few examples of activities to try or apps that might help you find the fun in fitness:
Learn a Martial Art
Take up rock climbing
Join a pole dancing class
Join an aerial silks or aerial yoga class
Learn to play tennis, golf, volleyball, etc.
Learn a new style of dance
Meditate at home with apps like HeadSpace or Calm
There’s even this amazing guide to meditation from HeadSpace, which is my personal favorite 🙂

Learn to enjoy running, walking, cycling or just cardio in general with the Aaptiv app (If you have an Audible account you can use Aaptiv for free!)

**Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post, I have not been asked to write this post. I have personally used these apps, attended these types of classes and suggest them to my clients often to help them reach their goals.

Now. Go forth and chill the F*** out my friend!

Online Personal Trainer
Cassie Therrien | Certified PT Nutrition & Life Coach

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” – Rikki Rogers If you enjoyed this post about stress and weight gain provide your email below for exclusive resources to help you get on track
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