You see, your body has two modes of operation: the parasympathetic (relaxed) nervous system and the sympathetic (stress, fight or flight response) nervous system.
Under the stress response (sympathetic nervous system) your body works on preparing for and fighting a life threatening stressor. This causes your body to re-direct energy from normal priorities (digestion, reproduction, vitality) to stress priorities (survival by any means). These changes include: turning proper digestion off, increasing heart rate, and dilating the bronchial tubes. For a visual representation please click here to watch a really short video (2 minute YouTube video, I promise)!
Your body is equipped to deal with short-term stress (ie. running away from a predator, etc), but it's CHRONIC STRESS that your body is unable to sustain over the long-term. Stress eats away at your nutrient stores, while you are often unable to assimilate as many nutrients from food coming in.
Now that you've got the basics, let's dive into the ways stress impacts your weight loss goals in a big way:
1. When stress is ON digestion is OFF.
When your body is focused on survival, digestion is down regulated to re-direct energy to other areas of your body since surviving stress is prioritized over digestion. This means less digestive juices to digest food properly, causing you to assimilate fewer nutrients. The decrease of digestive juices that happens during stress can also cause bloating, constipation, and other digestive distress.
2. Stress down regulates your appetite.
Because of what happens above (#1), you’re less likely to actually WANT to eat. This may appear like a good thing for weight loss, but it's quite the opposite! This means you are going to take in fewer nutrients during times of stress, and stress actually REQUIRES more nutrients from the body. Say goodbye to meeting those weight loss goals when your body feels like it’s being burned from both ends!
3. Stress triggers the release of stress hormones that protectively slow the metabolism.
Stress stimulates the use of glycogen (stored sugar in the liver) for energy. Once glycogen stores are depleted, tissue breakdown begins (the breakdown of proteins and fat to make glucose [sugar] for energy). This process releases amino acids that are anti-metabolic to your thyroid. “Muscle catabolism also releases a large amount of cysteine, and cysteine, methionine, and tryptophan suppress thyroid function,” Ray Peat, PhD.
4. Stress affects sleep quality and can contribute to insomnia.
Stress increases stress hormones (adrenaline & cortisol) and causes blood sugar swings, both which contribute to stress hormones being too high at night (a common denominator in insomnia). Numerous studies have shown lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, not weight loss.
5. Stress is stress is stress.
Work stress, parenting stress, lack of sleep stress, and life threatening stress all have the SAME response from your body—EMERGENCY, must MAKE and CONSERVE energy. This system is in place for a reason, to help you survive those quick instance of life threatening stress. But nowadays stress is around every corner increasing the body’s need for nutrients
Some questions to ask yourself to see if stress is getting the best of your health goals...
- Do you regularly eat when you are stressed? If so, how does that make you feel after a meal (bloated? gassy? unsatisfied?)
- What things in your life drive stress? What can you do lessen the occurrence or respond differently?
- What brings you joy? Are you able to increase these?
Finding ways to balance stress is a lifetime skill. For me, knowing the WHY behind its harmfulness has been a key to preventing it from eating away at my life!
Have you noticed stress affecting your digestion or weight loss goals? Please share in the comments!
Peat, Ray. Tryptophan, serotonin & aging. 2006. Retrieved July 10, 2013 from http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/tryptophan-serotonin-aging.shtml