I’m So Stressed! The Effect of Stress on Your Weight.
You’ve had an argument with your kids, boss, mother, husband, best friend. Car broke down on the way to an important meeting. Worried about money or job security. And probably trying to fit too much in too little time. We all know about stress and what it is. Unless you live in a Zen monastery at the top of a remote mountain with no internet and with crystal clear spring water and bountiful gardens you’ve probably experienced some stress from time to time.
The textbook definition of stress is “Any real or imagined threat and the body’s response to that threat.”
Stress is a necessary, important survival mechanism, part of our incredible evolutionary success. It alerts us to danger so we can respond in the appropriate way – fight, flight or freeze. However, this response is only supposed to last a few minutes at most – enough for us to escape the tiger – then we should let it go. Stress happens, it’s supposed to, it’s also supposed to stop.
Our body also experiences stress when it is fighting infections, is exposed to toxins, or is in pain. Smoking and alcohol create stress responses in the body. Chronic dieting, severe calorie deprivation, and excessive, punishing exercise regimes create stress chemistry in the body. Some stressors are out of our control; some are very much self-chosen stressors.
Stress chemistry in the body produces some very powerful changes which are beneficial in the short-term tiger situation – for just those few minutes our bodies turn into lean, mean machines fighting for survival. But those changes in the body are not so good for us when they are ongoing and the stress response is never turned off. We don’t meet many tigers on the Main Street these days but our lifestyles expose us to chronic, low-level, day-in-day-out stress.
But I want you to read that textbook definition of stress again – “Any real or imagined threat and the body’s response to that threat.”
You have been unfortunate enough to meet the hungry tiger wandering Main Street and it is chasing you, so now you go into normal stress response for fight or flight (one suspects that freeze is not a good option here).
Or, you imagine a tiger is chasing you – the body creates the same stress chemistry.
The mind can make physical things happen and create REAL chemistry in the body.
So let’s consider some imagined stressors you may not have thought of:
- Negative self-talk, self-attack, self-judgement, body hate. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not perfect”, “I’m not lovable the way I look”, “My health and diet aren’t good enough”.
- Perfectionism – the perfect diet contains some illusory promise that we will have perfect health and is a great distractor from real life. Ironically, the anxiety produced trying to maintain perfect eating is more damaging to the body than eating an imperfect food.
- Toxic dietary beliefs such as “Food makes me fat”, “Food is my enemy”, “Fat makes me fat”, “Less food + more exercise = weight loss”.
All of these things can create stress chemistry in the body. Food probably won’t make you fat, but thinking and worrying it will is likely to.
Stress chemistry signals your body to hold onto weight.
In the next part, Your Body on Stress, I’ll explain how that stress chemistry signals the body to hold onto weight.