Stalled weight loss

by Khushboo on July 14, 2014

With weight loss being a focus of many, even more so during the summer months, this has been a post I’ve wanted to put up for a while.  Along with K Weigh clients, I’ve had various people ask me why they aren’t losing weight despite exercising & watching what they eat.  It’s especially frustrating when you’ve manipulated those 2 variables and the inches refuse to budge- trust me, I get it.  I went home to Nigeria in April 2008 for Easter break.  I deemed that as my ‘Revision/Detox Month’.  Along with studying for my upcoming final exams, my main goal was to maximise my weight loss.  That meant double workouts in the mornings and eating a set number of calories to ensure weight loss.  In theory I should have shed plenty of weight.  In reality I arrived back in London 6 lbs heavier.  After putting in all that effort, I was both mortified & disheartened- who wouldn’t be?

Lunch for 1

Lunch for 1

While a healthy diet and exercise are certainly key to weight loss, they aren’t the only contributors.   Looking back I realize what factor contributed to my stalled weight loss:

Stress

 

Aside from leading to emotional eating, stress’s influence on our hormones can bring about unwarranted weight gain.  When our bodies are faced with any kind of stressor, the adrenal glands release  the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response by flooding it with glucose as an immediate source of energy.  Cortisol also inhibits production of the hormone insulin as an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, favoring its immediate use.  When our bodies are constantly put under stress, it results in elevated cortisol levels.  This condition ultimately has a domino effect on our weight.

photo 1

Missing body pump!

As cortisol consistently produces glucose, it inevitably leads to consistently elevated blood sugar levels.  Subsequently unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat, particularly around the abdominal region.  As one of cortisol’s roles is to hinder the activity of insulin, consistently high levels of cortisol eventually lead to insulin resistance i.e. our cells remain starved of glucose as they become resistant to insulin & are no longer able to efficiently process energy supplied through food.  Along with insulin, elevated levels of cortisol also lead to shifts in activity of the appetite-controlling hormones ghrelin & leptin.  Despite eating enough food to meet your needs, your body is still left feeling fatigued, hungry and craving increasing amounts of high-fat, sugary carbs.

While stress is usually associated with school/work pressure, it can manifest in so many other forms that we tend to ignore.  Aside from emotional eating, stress in regards to weight loss can result from:

  • Poor sleep, both in terms of quality and/or quantity.  This could even happen when you’re skimping on sleep in order to hit the gym early in the morning
  • Overexercising without ample rest & recovery
  • Eating fewer calories than your body needs, which is why those 1,200 calorie diets only work for a limited amount of time
Leggera Range at Pizza Express

Leggera Range at Pizza Express

Although these act as physical stressors on the body, stress can also result mentally via the pressure to hit a certain caloric/macro goal.  Even the mere act of weighing yourself daily and the build-up of anxiety before stepping on the scales acts as a stressor.

Aside from exam stress, I am pretty sure I ate far too little to meet my caloric needs during that month.  Whether you are trying to lose 5 kgs or 20, don’t underestimate the importance of stress when it comes to weight loss.  It’s equally important as the food you eat and the exercise you do.  If you aren’t losing weight despite your best intentions, it might be time to work on reducing your stress levels.

No questions but would love to hear your thoughts…

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Shashi @ RunninSrilankan July 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Stress isn’t only a total buzzkill in the weight loss dept, but it can result in the breakdown of so many other areas. Finding ways to control stress can sometimes be hard – depending on what the stress is. For me, a run helps clear my mind off of everyday stresses, but, with 2 ill parents – a run doesn’t seem to do anything.
Just yesterday I was reading an article on how some folks supported cortisol-blockers as an aid to weight loss and the author was talking about how dangerous that is as cortisol plays a big role in regulating our immune system – so when we are more stressed and susceptible to illness, elevated levels of cortisol are what help our immune system fend off germs – I am not sure of the validity of this, but I found it fascinating! You are more o an expert in this than I am – any thoughts?

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 9:36 am

That’s interesting about elevated cortisol levels helping our immune system- it’s the first I’ve ever heard that. As harmful as elevated levels can be, there is danger in levels that are too low. Essentially releasing cortisol is our body’s way of coping with stressful situations and given the amount of stress we are exposed to daily, it’s safe to say that an ample amount of this hormone is needed to keep us alive 🙂

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Rukhsana July 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Hi Khushboo
I heard you speak at the Dr Feel Good Event at Flamboyante and was introduced to your wonderful blog by Urvashi – enjoying your writing and sensible advice 🙂
Was wondering if you could suggest a meal plan for Ramadan – the post above is pretty relevant to the stress our bodies go through in this fasting period. Though I am pretty careful in my choice of foods, I do tend to go for the sweets a lot . I try to work out in the gym 2-3 times a week , energy levels permitting 😉
Look forward to hearing from you.

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

Thanks so much for your kind words, Rukhsana! I could surely help you with a meal plan during Ramadan. Please email me at thekweigh@gmail.com and we can discuss further 🙂

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Arman @ thebigmansworld July 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Stress is without a doubt the biggest culprit in my opinion- my mum recently has gained abit of weight and trust me, she eats so sporadically- intuitively, but for the amount- she shouldn’t be. Saying that, she is the BIGGEST stress head I have ever come across- it affects her in so many other areas too. Argh damn stress!

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 9:56 am

Another problem with stress-related weight gain is that it tends to increase levels of stress..and then it just ends up being a vicious cycle!

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets July 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Stress is huge. It impacts us in ways we generally don’t even realize. Trouble sleeping, weird rash, headaches….they can all be due to stress. It’s actually why I work so hard to find ways to combat stress. I did a WIR post on it back in the day (i.e. How to relax) because managing stress is so important to our mental and physical health. Another big hindrance to weight loss is lack of or poor sleep. I just listened to a Jillian Michael’s podcast last night where she said she’ll chose extra sleep instead of going to the gym because if not, she’ll be miserable and eat all day and lose any benefits a workout would have brought her.

Here’s the post on how to chillax: http://cleaneatsfastfeets/2013/09/03/week-in-review-the-chillax-edition/

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

Annnnd that just gave me another reason to love Jillian Michaels. Aside from eating all day, working out in favor of needed sleep is just going to leave you feeling drained all day…which goes totally against the notion that exercise should leave you feeling energised!

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles July 14, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Stress is a funny thing, with how much it can affect us! I remember breaking out in a rash a few times last year – completely due to grad school-related stress. It’s so weird! And sleep – sleep is so underestimated when it comes to it’s role in weight loss/gain. As much as people would like to think that it’s simply calories in vs. calories out, there’s a lot more at play!

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

Wow that’s nuts about the rash- did it go away as soon as school was over?

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig July 14, 2014 at 6:22 pm

I commend you for trying to diet during an exam period – most people I knew during uni would just stuff themselves silly and live on processed food during exams haha!

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

Haha let’s just say that I never had a problem with the the ‘Freshman Fifteen’!

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Parita @ myinnershakti July 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

This post needs to be shared with…well, everyone! You have no idea how many of my gfs think that weight loss = less food and more exercise. And like you said, that may work in the short term, but in the longer term, you’re doing more harm than good. GREAT POST!

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:16 am

Ah thanks so much! It drives me nuts to see that this whole “eat less/move more to extreme limits” mindset is still being propagated…no wonder so many people try to starve themselves skinny!

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Lucie@FitSwissChick July 14, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Agree with everything!! I used to overexercise like crazy and forgot that THIS is stress for my body too! I didn’t lose weight at all, was constantly tired and depressed. Also, too little food is such a huge factor and still so many proclaim those 1200kcal diets – I don’t get it!!

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:18 am

I don’t get it! It’s sad that eating a 1,600 calorie diet as now become viewed as a high-calorie diet, when in fact it’s normal!

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Amanda @ .running with spoons. July 14, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Love, love, love this post, lady! I definitely don’t think enough people consider the huge role that stress plays in weight loss… and if they do, then a lot don’t realize that stress can come from so many different sources, with one of the biggest ones being added physical stress. The combination of overexercising and undereating is a recipe for disaster, but people get sucked in because, yes, it does work in the short run. In the long run, however, you can look forward to a shot metabolism and hormones that are all out of whack. Totally not worth it.

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:19 am

Thank you so much, Amanda..glad you enjoyed this post and can agree! Especially when it results in unbalanced hormones, quick-fix diets and overexercising are possibly the worst kinds of stressors we can put on our bodies!

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Chelsea @ Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen July 15, 2014 at 4:07 am

This is actually really interesting to me because we didn’t learn much about stress and cortisol in my nutrition program. Do you recommend any journal articles or textbooks where I could read up on it?

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Khushboo July 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

I bookmarked this study a while ago: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2895000/ …would love to know your thoughts 🙂

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Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health July 16, 2014 at 2:12 am

right on friend. Stress goes both ways I think. I will share a personal story that happened last month only. I was under a lot of stress, ate out ALOT and zero physical activity. I thought I would gain a lot of weight. It was just the opposite, I had no energy and lost at least 6-8#. But now things are slowly coming back to normal, my stress level is better and I have started eating normally. Even though I have gained back 2-4# back, I can tell its a good weight loss my body needs.

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Khushboo July 16, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Glad that your stress levels are getting under control & things are going back to normal 😀

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Nikhita July 17, 2014 at 2:40 am

I love this article! It’s so much more than calories in < calories out for weight loss. stress and even the types of calories make such a huge difference!

I especially love that you insist that we don't need to be miserable to lose weight!

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Khushboo July 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

While weight loss does take hard work & determination, I don’t think the journey needs to be hard..if that makes sense!!

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Cat July 20, 2014 at 6:34 pm

So very true! A truth I wish I had known years ago. Now I’m just glad to know the answer is often a matter of eating more, exercising less – it seems counterintuitive but it’s definitely the option I’d prefer!

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Khushboo July 21, 2014 at 8:21 am

You and me both- sometimes weight loss/management is easier than we think!

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