Your only hope at ever losing weight (How stress affects your health and weight)

your only hope at ever losing weight

As you probably already know – diets don’t work! 99% of diets fail in the long run and even the people who “succeed” at keeping the weight off very likely suffer either from disordered eating or even an eating disorder.

Dieting is not a natural state of the body and goes against your body’s free will. It goes against our biology. And in the end, biology always wins.

Trying to intentionally lose weight already signals our body’s stress response that will start to fight against any weight loss – you will start to obsess about food, experience urges to binge, it lowers your metabolism, your body starts to prefer storing more fat (in case of future famine) and the list goes on.

Forcing your body to be at a lower weight than it naturally wants to be is the war you will never ever win! This is the reality of it. And fighting the reality doesn’t change reality.

This is the reality of it. And fighting the reality doesn’t change reality.

These things are not up to you or me or the society to decide, these things are only up to your body.

So what happens to your weight after recovery? The truth is that some people will gain weight, some people stay at the same weight, some people lose weight. And this is only up to your body to decide!

But what about the people who do end up losing weight (naturally, without effort, without dieting)? What about them? – In case you wonder about this I made a video where I will give my own take on “your only hope at ever losing weight” – If (and that is a BIG “if”) it happens after recovery, then it will only happen with this particular way.

See the full video here (or read below the full article):

 

The number one thing where many health problems often start.

Too often we blame the food or think we are simply “eating too much” or “eating the wrong things” or think we need to lose weight to become healthier – like food and weight could be the ONLY things to mess with our bodies!?

But we often overlook the number 1 thing where many health problems often start – and that is stress.

“It has been estimated that 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.” – The American Institute of Stress

So a lot of the health issues start with stress!

But firstly, not all stress is bad for us.

Our body is designed to respond with stress in some situations where it can actually protect us and keep us safe.

For example, if we are faced with an emergency situation our body’s fight or flight response kicks in. Our body produces stress hormones called cortisol and adrenaline so we can immediately deal with the situation. And as the threatening situation passes we feel normal again.

And stress doesn’t just help us in emergency situations but can also help us perform better.

For example, if we need to perform well on a job interview or we participate in competitive sports then some stress can actually enhance our performance.

Stress is bad for us when it becomes chronic.

But stress can really damage us if it becomes chronic and our body keeps producing those stress hormones.

Things like chronic stress from work, ongoing problems in your family, dealing with loss of a loved one, money problems, experiencing discrimination, bullying or abusive relationships, or even being chronically sleep-deprived. These are just some examples of chronic stress that will have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

Research shows that almost every system in the body can be influenced by chronic stress. When chronic stress goes unreleased, it suppresses the body’s immune system and ultimately manifests as illness.

How stress affects your health.

Many people are not aware that stress has a significant impact on our health. Stress is not just about feeling overly worried and anxious… but this state of the body has many more negative side-effects. For example, stress is linked to:

Physical problems:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Digestive issues (things like acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, IBS, stomach ulcers, etc)
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Joint pains
  • Missed periods (hormonal imbalances, increased PMS symptoms)
  • Fertility problems
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Sleeping problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Skin issues
  • Hair loss
  • Premature aging
  • Weight gain, weight loss

“If stress persists after the initial fight-or-flight reaction, the body’s reaction enters a second stage. During this stage, the activity if the sympathetic nervous system declines and adrenaline secretion is lessened, but cortisol secretion continues at above normal levels. Finally, if stress continues and the body is unable to cope, there is likely to be breakdown of bodily resources.” (source)

Chronic stress will lead to many physical health problems. But also mental health problems:

Mental problems:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability, mood swings
  • Anger, aggression
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • and also stress is a risk factor of many mental illnesses

Studies show that long-term stress can change the structure of the brain, especially in areas supporting learning and memory. It can affect both nerve cells (grey matter) and the connections between them (white matter). It is possible that these changes, along with other factors, can increase the likelihood of developing mental illness.

As you can see stress definitely impacts your health, physically and mentally.

But also, it affects our behavior. For example, stress can lead to:

Behavioral problems:

  • (unhealthy coping with) Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Disordered eating (overeating or not eating enough)
  • (I also want to mention) Dieting, (since for many people it can be almost like a coping mechanism to gain control)
  • Social withdrawal
  • A decline in job performance
  • Can lead to relationship issues
  • Declined self-care habits
  • Other harmful coping behaviors (things like self-harm, smoking, compulsive money spending and many others)

The more you are exposed to stress long term the more serious health issues you may start to experience.

Your body will eventually burn out under stress and this can result in serious damage and illnesses such as heart attach, stroke, diabetes, emotional or psychological breakdown, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer.

According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. (source)

And one of the main links between stress and illnesses is the fact that stress increases inflammation in your body.

One of the main links between stress and illnesses is the fact that stress increases inflammation in your body.

“Researchers have found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. The research shows for the first time that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.” (source)

As you can see, stress definitely has some serious effects on your health.

Stress from dieting & from the pursuit of “health” and weight loss

A lot of stress comes from dieting and restriction. Yo-yo dieting is chronic stress for the body. Having to count calories and monitor your food intake is raising your cortisol levels.

The University of California, in San Francisco wanted to determine what effect calorie restriction had on woman’s stress levels. They divided woman into 4 groups:

Group #1: Restricted their calorie intake to 1,200/day and recorded their calorie consumption.

Group #2: Kept to 1,200 calories/day but didn’t keep a calorie record

Group #3: Wrote down the number of calories they consumed while continuing on their regular diets

Group #4: Didn’t track or restrict their calories

“This study found that monitoring one’s diet increased perceived psychological stress, and restricting one’s caloric intake increased total daily cortisol. These findings support the idea that stress may be a mechanism of diet failure.” (source)

Also, the diet culture that reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with our bodies causes stress.

“Poor body image, internalized weight bias, and body shame are major sources of stress,” (source)

“Research suggests that internalized weight bias increases stress, as well as contributes to other poor medical and mental health outcomes.” (source)

We need to start paying more attention to our stress levels causing health issues instead of automatically starting to blame food or our weight.

We need to start paying more attention to our stress levels causing health issues instead of automatically starting to blame food or our weight.

As you can see so many health issues come from stress. And in fact, starting to “eat healthily” and “lose weight for health” can actually make you more unhealthy because it just adds more stress!

It is really a paradox that trying to “get healthy” can often make us very unhealthy, because the usual way we go about it actually causes just more stress to our body, and therefore making us feel worse in the long run.

Losing weight with dieting is extremely stressful for the body. Your body doesn’t want to willingly lose weight but is FORCED into it. Dieting goes against your body’s free will. And this actually triggers your body’s starvation response that is a stress response.

Dieting and restriction cause your metabolism to slow down and your hunger to increase because your body thinks you are starving. And if your body thinks you are starving then your body senses you are in extreme stress and danger.

And many people diet many times in their lives, they yo-yo diet for years or even decades. And with each attempt, it just stresses out the body more and more, causes starvation symptoms, health problems and more future weight gain.

Dieting doesn’t cause just physical stress to the body, but also mental and emotional stress.

Dieting is related to lower self-esteem and body image issues. Restriction and dieting are even related to symptoms of body dysmorphia. (source)

Dieting diminishes your self-worth down to your body weight and size and makes you believe your value is in how thin you are. Dieting by itself can lead to symptoms of anxiety, mood disorders, and even depression.

Dieting is a form of self-abuse since you have to go against your own body, you use methods like fasting, restricting calories, fighting with cravings, purging… plus having to constantly use negative motivation such as weighing yourself, body checking, measuring your body fat, comparing your body to others – these are all torturous self-abusive methods that often accompany dieting and weight loss and there is nothing anti-stress or relaxing about it.

These are all torturous self-abusive methods that often accompany dieting and weight loss and there is nothing anti-stress or relaxing about it.

Also, just the pursuit of “health” can make your health worse.

It can have a good intention behind it but unfortunately, it can make you more unhealthy than you may think.

I developed orthorexia because I was trying to eat healthy for my health. I didn’t want to have an eating disorder but this “health journey” ended with a full-blown eating disorder. I started to eliminate and avoid certain foods. I started to have a “good and bad” foods mindset, I felt guilt and shame when I ate the “unhealthy foods”. I thought of myself as a failure when I overate and I blamed the food, not my restrictive habits for that. I also developed food obsession, intense cravings and urges to binge which eventually led me to bulimia.

And no matter how many healthy salads and smoothies I was drinking or eating my health just got worse because all of what I was doing was extreme stress for my body.

Wanting to “eat healthy” destroyed my health, both physically and mentally.

The physical act of restriction is a source of stress but also the restrictive mindset is causing you stress.

There is something called cognitive dietary restraint which means that stress hormones are released by your body just by your thoughts about restriction. Your body and mind are extremely connected.

Even if you are not actively dieting but constantly thinking about restriction you are already causing stress for your body.

This is why it’s so important in recovery to not just physically eat, but mentally also give yourself unconditional permission to eat without guilt, shame, and judgment and stop the diet mentality.

You will never EVER be healthy if you don’t eliminate the act of eating as a source of stress.

You will never EVER be healthy if you don’t eliminate the act of eating as a source of stress.

This is why you can eat all the healthy foods on the planed but if it’s causing you stress, obsession, keeps you in disordered eating or in an eating disorder then this food is not making you healthy but actually is just making your health worse.

Mental health is a huge part of our overall health. Your mindset plays a huge role in your health. Your mindset can either be stress-inducing or stress-reducing.

Another form of stress besides the basic calorie restriction is other practices we often engage in in the pursuit of “health”. Things like:

  • overexercising
  • over-hydrating 
  • intermittent fasting
  • doing cleanses and detoxes

Basically forcing ourselves to do anything that is not natural or sustainable long term is very stressful.

The more obsessed we are with our health and weight, the worse our health and weight become.

The more obsessed we are with our health and weight, the worse our health and weight become.

Stress and weight gain

Before I talk about weight gain I want to say that stress can also cause weight loss. Because some people can actually lose their normal appetite when stressed. Stress can make us more prone to skipping meals, working longer hours, or have increased activity and not enough food to fuel those activities.

And as we talked about, stress can lead to unhealthy coping behaviors such as drug abuse, dieting or eating disorders that can make us lose weight in a very unhealthy way.

So some people gain weight and some people lose weight when under stress.

And before I start talking about weight, I want to say that I am not saying that you should focus on your weight or feel bad about weight gain or worry about it. Actually, as you will soon discover I am saying the exact opposite to it.

But I am just want to address stress and weight because, again, very often we blame food for weight gain, or thinking that weight loss is the only solution to become healthier – it definitely isn’t.

And I want to talk about stress effects on your health and weight because dealing with stress, eliminating stress doesn’t have negative consequences. Reducing stress is actually a much better long term approach to health, rather than, for example, starting to restrict food or focusing on “losing weight for health” which ultimately only causes more stress for your body.

So lets talk about how stress affects your weight:

1) Stress affects your metabolism.

“Longitudinal studies suggest that chronic stress and stressful life events enhance the development of the metabolic syndrome” (source)

“Depression and stressful events can alter neurochemistry, neurobiology, and behavior, providing multiple pathways for metabolic alterations.” (source)

And stress can lead to hypothyroid symptoms. (source)

When I was in my eating disorder and also in recovery I remember googling my symptoms and constantly finding that I might be hypothyroid. I had most of the symptoms. Things like weight gain, feeling cold, constipation, fatigue, insomnia, feeling puffy, aches and pains, hair loss and so on.

BUT what I didn’t know was that restriction that I had been through and the stress from it was actually the cause of these symptoms that affected my hormones.

And I needed to recover, stop restriction, start to eat enough, rest, sleep, eliminate stress…and eventually, all those symptoms passed!

“Weak adrenals can cause hypothyroid symptoms without any problem in the thyroid gland itself. In such cases, treating the thyroid is both unnecessary and ineffective, and addressing the adrenals themselves is the key to improving thyroid function.” (source)

These days everybody is diagnosing themselves with adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism but what they fail to realize is that these symptoms can be symptoms of starvation, that are stressing your body and your adrenals and affect your thyroid hormones.

And as we talked about, the stress caused by dieting and restriction takes a huge toll on your hormones and metabolism.

When you restrict food or calories your stress hormones will go up automatically. And it means dialing down your thyroid which dictates your metabolic rate.

If stress rates go up, your thyroid goes down. They act as opposites.

And many people who diet panic when they see themselves gaining the weight back because of this body’s stress response. And they start to diet and restrict even more. But this, however, just adds to the stress levels and will make things even worse.

And this is why losing weight with dieting is impossible to achieve long term.

2) Stress affects blood sugar levels

Many people think or assume that elevated blood sugar is only to do with…how much sugar or carbs we consume each day or only to do with our eating.

But blood sugar fluctuations can also be caused by many other factors.

Things like lack of sleep, illnesses or even from a monthly menstrual cycle for females.

And blood sugar can also be affected by stress.

When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands trigger the release of glucose stored in various organs, which often leads to elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

And raising blood sugar is important in stressful situations because the body senses that in a stressful situation we need a lot of fuel to deal with the situation, whether we need it to deal with any physical or mental activity.

And this response from our body is very natural. And normally our body can deal with the stress and raising glucose levels because it has its own ways to keep the balance. For example, it releases a hormone called insulin that helps regulate our blood sugar.

But of course, this can become problematic when we are experiencing chronic stress. Because in chronic stress insulin can’t properly do it’s job and balance our blood sugar.

And since insulin is one of the main hormones responsible for lowering your blood sugar levels it can lead to insulin resistance, which means that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. In addition, it also means that you store fat a lot more easily because insulin promotes fat storage.

And stress can cause insulin resistance!

One study on Chinese people found that “chronic stress was associated with IR [insulin resistance] and may contribute to the development of IR. Chronic stress may emerge as a new target for prevention of IR.”

And quote from the same study about stress and insulin resistance: “repeated or chronic stress plays a potential role in the development of overweight and obesity.”

Also, we worry too much about carbs raising our blood sugar levels, but as we have talked about stress also has a huge role in elevated blood sugar levels!

And eliminating carbs is actually a source of stress for the body! Carb restriction is known for causing a stress response in our bodies. Eating enough carbs is essential for our body. Glucose from carbs is a primary source of fuel for us and our brain runs exclusively on glucose. If we dont get enough of it, its already a source of stress.

“Glucose is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain, except during prolonged starvation.” (source)

“Carbohydrates are the main energy source of the human diet.” (source)

Because in terms of eating disorder recovery starting to eliminate or restrict carbs can just create more problems in the long run.

3) Stress affects your hunger hormones.

Firstly, when we are in short term stress it can cause us to lose our appetite.

For example, when you are about to give an important speech or when you need to deal with a dangerous situation then the immediate stress response can suppress our appetite short term.

But chronic stress can actually increase our appetite. (source)

Our body needs fuel in stressful events so it senses that you need plenty of energy to deal with the stressful situation. But if this stressful situation persists a long time our body is not getting a signal to lower the hunger hormones.

Also, some studies show that in prolonged stress we actually start to crave more high fat and high sugar foods.

Or, for example, if people experience stress they can initially lose their appetite and this can result in eating less or skipping meals for a while. But then the appetite will eventually catch up and may result in a period of overeating when the body is just catching up with all the lost energy.

And because of our fear of weight gain or our diet mindset that says “eating less is better,” people may misidentify this as “bingeing” but actually it happens because you didn’t eat enough for a while and the body is now just catching up with energy.

And when the stress passes the appetite will eventually return back to normal. But many people panic before this can happen and they start to restrict that, of course, makes it worse and further messes up our hunger cues.

Plus, when you are a dieter and already restricting food, then when having to deal with stressful situations people who restrict are much more likely to overeat.

Researcher Janet Tomiyama has found that dieters tend to be more emotional and react more strongly than non-dieters to upsetting events, maybe because dieting itself creates so much stress.

So when you are a dieter, you are already in stress, and this makes you more sensitive to any added stress.

4) Stress changes our behavior and habits

Stress also affects our behaviors and habits.

For example, in stressful times we may be more prone to skipping meals which may lead to overeating urges and increased cravings afterward.

Also, while we are stressed we don’t have enough time to prepare normal home-cooked meals and we may opt more often for convenience foods.

We also may not have enough time for enjoyable activities, moderate exercise or body movement.

And we have less time for positive self-care habits or be more prone to use more harmful coping behaviors to deal with stress.

Stress can also lead to a disrupted sleep cycle that messes up your circadian rhythm which is another body’s biological system that is strongly related to our hormones, metabolism and even our hunger cues.

Your only hope at ever losing weight

As you can see based on everything we have talked about there are so many ways stress is affecting your health and also your weight.

Even if you “overeat”, let’s say, then this is still just a symptom, it can be a symptom of stress that messes up your hunger hormones.

The best thing you can do is to not start restricting, but start reducing your stress levels.

Or if you are in stress that affects your thyroid and metabolism you can gain weight. And here the solution is to not start restricting but to start reducing stress. Trying to lose weight by restricting will only make things worse.

So much more important than the food you eat is the hormonal and metabolic environment the food enters.

When looking at the bigger picture, a calorie is not a calorie. “Instead, what really matters is the metabolic and hormonal environment of the body within which calories enter.” – Scott Abel, “Understanding Metabolism”

So there is a HUGE difference if the calories enter into a stressed-out body environment where your hormones and metabolism are already messed up with restriction and chronic stress it creates.

Or if the calories enter into a low stress, normal body environment with normal metabolism and hormonal functioning. Because the response to food or calories will be entirely different.

You can’t blame the food or calories for the weight gain if your body is in a chronic stress environment that downregulates your whole system and also if you come from a background of dieting and eating disorders. The context is what matters!

And talking about weight or weight loss – based on all that we talked about you can see that trying to intentionally lose weight doesn’t work because it creates a stress response and your body will literally start to fight against any weight loss.

So there is a huge difference between “intentional weight loss” that happens through you controlling it, with some form of dieting and restriction that only causes more stress for your body.

Or with “unintentional weight loss” where you actually stop focusing on your weight, heal your relationship with food, start to live your life, focus on doing the things you love, manage your stress levels and then IF your body chooses to it can lose weight because your hormonal and metabolic environment is finally normalized and healthy.

So if the weight loss is gonna happen, it will only be unintentional with you not focusing on it and becoming good at managing your stress levels.

If the weight loss is gonna happen, it will only be unintentional with you not focusing on it and becoming good at managing your stress levels.

Your weight is determined by the factors beyond your control. When you are trying to fight with your body’s biology then it’s a fight you will never win.

And if you ever gonna lose weight long term it will be unintentional and by you reducing stress on all levels so the body can be in an environment that supports your health rather than making it worse.

So how to manage and deal with stress?

We talked about the negative effects stress has on your body so from now on with any changes you make you must make sure it doesn’t add more stress and helps with actually reducing it.

What you can do is ask yourself: “Does this lifestyle change adds to my long term stress levels, or reduces my long term stress levels?”

What you can do is ask yourself: “Does this lifestyle change adds to my long term stress levels, or reduces my long term stress levels?”

This is the question you can ask yourself whenever you decide if something is truly good for you long term or not.

For example, if you think about dieting. Then maybe short term it may seem that it will reduce stress. You can lose some weight and “feel healthier” by “eating clean”. At least this is the illusion we are sold by the diet culture. But long term dieting doesn’t work and all this food and weight control will actually add more stress into your life long term. And it will never end.

Or for example, you may think about recovery. Yes, short term it can increase some stress because recovery is scary and you must step out of your comfort zone in order to get better. But recovery is also temporary and in long term, it will take you to full recovery, where your body can recover, your mental health can get better, you will be a normal eater, no more weight fluctuations, no more restriction, binge cycles, or unhealthy ED behaviors. So long term recovery is big stress relief.

So, start to ask yourself – what will reduce my stress levels long term? And those are good practices to choose from.

For example, things like meditation obviously won’t cause more stress but help to eliminate stress. Or self-care practices like having enough sleep, making sure you eat regularly, doing the things you love, spending time with loved ones, reading, journaling, taking regular breaks from work, seeing a therapist, deep breathing exercises, learning to accept your body the way it is, making peace with yourself, growing your spiritual practices, feeling your feelings and learning to cope with your emotions in healthy ways…

those are all things that reduce stress levels long term and are good for your health. And they have nothing to do with “clean eating” or “losing weight” but can actually increase your awareness and connection with yourself and your body. And if you are at peace with yourself then it will also reflect in your health and your behaviors.

Conclusion

As you can see there is way more to health and wellbeing than just “eating clean” and “losing weight”. Rather, focusing on those things only adds more stress to our system.

Start to think in terms of what lifestyle changes, behavioral changes or mental attitude changes will reduce my stress long term?

And everything that only increases stress, you must reduce or eliminate completely from your life.

And if you want to know more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read m book “BrainwashED”

And I also recommend you to read a book “Wrecked: Why Your Quest For Health And Weight Loss Has Failed. And What You Can Do About It”.This book was the inspiration behind this post as this book talks about stress and how it affects your health and weight.

If you wish to work with me one one one, then I offer 12-Week Recovery Coaching where I can help you go through your recovery step by step and offer support and accountability. Read more and apply HERE.

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