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Our Innate Stress Response and How to Manage It to Achieve Weight Loss

Our Innate Stress Response and How to Manage It to Achieve Weight Loss

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Man sitting at desk with laptop open holding between eyes, stressed out

If you’ve researched how stress affects weight, you may have seen plenty of research and discussion on the fight-or-flight response our bodies are programmed to experience during times of significant danger. This protection response was critical to humans’ survival until quite recently, historically speaking, as these dangers have largely subsided. That said, chronic stress has become a big part of our daily lives and may be partially responsible for the weight gain or lack of weight loss that some of us experience after bariatric surgery.

Some of the most common signs of a stress response include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Flushing of the cheeks
  • Paresthesia or tingling in the extremities
  • Heightened awareness and focus
  • Tunnel vision

All of this can be followed by the effects of coming down from this enhanced response, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Searching for food
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • And much more…

Unfortunately, this stress response has a chemical and hormonal ramification such that it can derail a weight loss program and may even work against us. This is the reason why many people gain weight in very stressful situations.

The body tends to retain additional fat during times of stress. This is triggered by releasing cortisol and adrenaline, which help regulate several functions. Constant cortisol inputs caused by chronic stress can cause significant concerns, including excess weight gain or weight regaining even after bariatric surgery.

How Do I Know if I’m Chronically Stressed?

To find out if you are chronically stressed, you need to understand your body. First, chronic stress often manifests in body tension. If you find yourself tensing up throughout the day, especially when you are experiencing stressful moments, you may have chronic stress. Weight gain is another common side effect of stress and excess cortisol production. You may find that you are eating more than you would otherwise or gaining weight even if you aren’t taking in more calories.

If you start grinding or clenching your teeth at night, this is another telltale sign of added stress. You may not actively hear or feel it, but if your jaw is tight or sore in the morning or if you notice that your teeth have changed shape and are somewhat flatter, be sure to see an appropriate specialist.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is your general mood and demeanor. Mood can be significantly affected by stress. Many of us who experience chronic stress cannot enjoy the good parts of the day and may become testy or annoyed at the ones we love because of relatively minor concerns. Further, those who experience stress often find themselves chronically fatigued and sleeping quite a bit when they otherwise would not.

Managing Chronic Stress

If you have the good fortune of identifying your chronic stress and are ready to manage it appropriately, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure it does not spill over into other parts of your life, like your relationships or your physical well-being.

First, discuss your concerns with your primary care physician or bariatric surgeon. They will likely refer you to bloodwork, which can determine if you have any hormonal, nutritional or vitamin deficiencies. As an example, vitamin D is very important and relate in regulating food and many Americans are deficient in it.

This is also an excellent time to start your exercise plan. Exercise is a well-known and very effective stress-busting tool. And your exercise does not necessarily need to be vigorous every day. Getting out and walking for 15 minutes to half an hour can be just what you need to manage a stressful situation. Of course, strength training activity is also necessary a few times a week to ensure that you build appropriate muscle and burn calories to help you lose weight.

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