How Stress Affects Weight Loss
There are a lot of factors at play when you are trying to lose weight ( body fat).
The old saw of “diet and exercise” is true for all of us – if we eat right and exercise we will burn body fat and lose weight. At least that is what the vast majority of trainers and fitness industry types will have you believe.
Unfortunately, it gets a lot more complex than that. You may have suffered defeat in the past because you or your fitness professional didn’t understand other reasons why your body wants to hang onto fat. You just exercised harder and ate less for meager or no results …
A lot of us reach a sticking point at some time, and if we don’t understand what is happening and why, we may become discouraged about weight loss and give up, rather than finding out what is going on and doing something positive about it.
So I think a small lesson in how and why we accumulate fat, get type II diabetes and so on is in order here.
First, we need to understand that the body is an intricately balanced mechanism with hundreds of chemicals, hormones and cellular structures all “talking” to each other in various ways.
For instance, have you ever wondered what the connection between insulin and blood sugar (glucose) is? With all the talk of obesity and type II diabetes, do you ever question what is really going on?
Here is the simple answer. All body cells require glucose for energy. No glucose and the cell basically starve.
Glucose is carried in the blood. But it can’t get into a cell by itself. So how does it get into the cell?
Important – this process is the beginning of all obesity, weight loss and type II diabetes problems – the transport of sugar into the cells …
On each cell is a “receptor” which is kinda like a lock. And that receptor is designed to have a molecule of insulin attached to it.
There is another compound produced by the liver called GLUT. This attaches to a glucose molecule and effectively transports the glucose around the bloodstream until it finds a likely cell with an insulin key in place. The GLUT and insulin recognize each other and the insulin allows the GLUT to pass into the cell. This takes the glucose in with it and the glucose is then burned.
Now here is what goes wrong in this little scenario.
If not enough insulin is produced, the cells literally starve. There is not enough insulin for every cell that needs it because cells are continually being renewed. So an overworked or exhausted pancreas is a cause of insulin deficiency in this scenario.
If not enough GLUT is produced by the liver, the cells starve because they can’t get the glucose that way either. Not enough to go around again. So an overworked or dysfunctional liver is a cause too.
The cells become insulin resistant – for some reason, they won’t let the insulin molecule attach to the receptor. Thus the cell starves.
(This signals the pancreas to produce more insulin, which can’t attach, which signals it to create more insulin again etc. etc. A reason why insulin resistance leads to pancreas dysfunction and type II diabetes)
What causes this cascading process of dysfunction to take place and how does it affect your weight loss efforts?
There is a group of glands called the hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal axis (HPA for short).
Years of research indicate that people with excess abdominal body fat have a malfunction in this group of glands.
For example, the hormones (produced by the stomach and upper intestines) that signal the brain the stomach is full, and thus to stop eating, act on the hypothalamus.
If this hormone signal is interrupted you keep eating instead of stopping with an adequate sufficiency in your gut. There are a large number of satiety signals and hormones, any one of which can malfunction and so it gets very complicated.
This next part of this essay is most important and one of the major keys to permanent weight loss.
The HPA is also responsible for the hormones released during stress – main cortisol from the adrenals.
How does stress affect weight loss?
Well, the theory is that when cortisol is released, we store extra energy in fat cells nearest the liver. Hence the pot belly in overweight men and women. Here it can be quickly released and converted by the liver into the glucose we need to “run away” or “fight”.
Except the stressful situation doesn’t go away like it did in the old days when we were hunter-gatherers. It stays, and so does the fat. In fact, the fat accumulates over time. The higher the never-ending stress, the more cortisol is produced and the more fat stored. So the harder it is to lose weight by burning fat with “exercise”.
Under this circumstance, the liver tends to become fatty too, and thus its function becomes impaired. It doesn’t produce as much GLUT as you might need (see the glucose transport explanation above). So your cells become set for more starvation despite all the energy stored as fat in your body.
Now, do you see how this interconnection between your body’s systems compounds the problem?
An interesting difference between individuals and the way they react to stress is this. Some burn extra energy in a process called thermogenesis. They have little or low stress or manage it well. Others store it as fat because of their raised cortisol levels as explained above. They manage stress poorly or not at all. Hence the “comfort eating” behavior.
This finding counters the usual weight loss mantra of “energy must be less than energy out” for you to lose weight via “diet and exercise”. It is more complex than that when stress is involved.
Now I hope you can see that stress management is very important in losing excess body fat (weight loss). Studies show that constant low or high levels of unending stress may be the actual cause of the obesity epidemic (coupled with poor nutrition). Most fat people are literally starving at a cellular level.
Another factor which the body uses to defeat your fat burning/weight loss efforts is this.
You may know that if dietary levels of all types of cholesterol are inadequate the liver produces extra to make up the balance.
Great multifunction organ the liver. Now it seems that an excess intake of saturated fats, without balancing intakes of mono-saturated fats causes a higher production of cholesterol. The theory is this causes a lack of communication between cells and has an adverse effect on the relocation of the GLUT receptors. So once again glucose is not able to get into cells where it is needed. Plus the creation of artery plaque which is one of the side effects of too much cholesterol.
What does all this mean to you when you want to lose weight?
Under the above scenario getting fat and staying that way seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy which you can’t control. Unless you control your stress.
Simple really. Stress is the major key – find ways to manage stress, without sticking something nice to eat into your mouth to control it. And yes, diet and exercise too. You can be guaranteed to lose weight if you do that.
In the next article, I will explain recent findings of fat itself, and the way fat cells are now considered a “gland” same as any other gland. It seems the more fat you have, the more fat your body wants to accumulate! Ouch.