Life’s stresses can have a huge impact on your health journey, if you are exercising hard and restricting your calories it can have a compounding effect on the stress you already have going on. But some stress is good for us, right? Yes, we do need some stress to grow, to adapt to exercises, our programme or to elicit a change in our body. We also need stress to become more resilient. Acute stress is good as long as we can down-regulate it and it doesn’t become chronic stress. In this day and age, it is becoming easier to become chronically stressed, never switching off, constant work or family demands, financial troubles and the current pandemic situation. A busy lifestyle disrupted sleep and chronic stress can all raise cortisol, our stress hormone. When cortisol is elevated to above normal levels it makes fat loss very difficult. This disruption of levels may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where we put on weight. Studies have shown that stress elevated cortisol tends to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area. Exercising is one of the fundamentals to getting fitter or losing fat but it is also an additional stressor on the body and therefore if there is not enough recovery from the exercise cortisol will continue to be elevated. Diet is also a key area that is focussed on when working towards health goals - I would even say it is more important than that hard training session. We should all hopefully now know that to sustainably achieve fat loss we need to consume fewer calories than we are using. However, all too often people approach fat loss with “work more, eat less”. The problem is that calories are often restricted too much, meals are missed and the body is not receiving enough energy to support lifestyle, workouts and recovery. The body needs balance and if it doesn’t have it, it will do what it can to achieve balance - which often means it holds onto the energy (weight) it has. Hormones are also a huge factor.
Leptin is our hormone that is associated with feelings of hunger and satiety, it prevents us from starving and also indirectly controls fat loss. If we undereat, the body will produce less leptin and therefore slow down fat loss. Insulin - the body produces insulin in response to a rise in blood sugar, if you are a regular at missing meals or being on restrictive diets you can throw your insulin response and balance out. Cortisol - As mentioned above this is our stress hormone, which is vital for us in small doses but is often mismanaged due to chronic stress. High levels of stress and cortisol can affect the metabolism and therefore hinder results. Therefore, if you think missing breakfast or lunch is ok because you’re not hungry or because you can’t get away from your desk will assist in your weight loss you are potentially encouraging weight gain through stress on your body. Look at your lifestyle and current demands, are they impacting your sleep routine? Are you eating enough energy to get through your day? Are you taking enough time out? Instead of that HIIT class what you really need is 7-9 hours sleep, regular meals full of minimally processed foods and some time out to bring your body back into balance.