Is Stress Killing Your Diet?


The human body is an amazing machine. It has evolved to develop protective responses to stressors.

Sure, the stress we experience today is much different than centuries ago (thank goodness we’re not battling traffic and T-Rexes), but our bodies are programmed to respond in the same way.

Your body sees fat as energy, and to your body “energy is life.” Your body also sees stress of any kind as a threat. It really doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a lion or having a fight with your boss.

When your body is under attack from a stressor, it protects itself by storing energy as fat.  It does this by releasing the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol not only promotes fat storage, but specifically belly fat storage.

There are two types of stress: emotional and physiological. The stress most of us are familiar with is emotional. Between the phone, traffic and emails, it’s hard to get through any day without some kind of emotional stress. We accept it as part of our busy lives, and it’s our job to cope with it through exercise and healthy escapes like meditation or reading.

Most of my clients are surprised to learn about the “silent” physical stressors that sabotage their weight loss efforts. Despite all of their efforts in the gym and eating the correct number of calories, they still can’t seem to lose weight. When they express their frustrations, I always ask about the physiological basics. In addition to oxygen, your body needs food, water, and sleep in order to survive. I ask, “Are you giving it what it needs?”  If not, it’s going to respond like it’s under attack.

Here’s my checklist:


This is for all you breakfast dodgers out there… Yes! You are sabotaging your diet by not eating in the morning. Your body doesn’t know when it’s getting its next meal so, in response, it will slow down your metabolism and store fat.

The solution: Give your body something small… and often. I tell clients to take their 3 meals and split them in half. Eat half of your breakfast at 7, the other half at 9, and so on. Make sure you eat lots of lean protein and plenty of colorful fruits and veggies.  Eat more during the first half of the day than the second.


Your body needs water to survive. Most of us are dehydrated.  If your urine isn’t a pale yellow, you are dehydrated and stressing your body out.  When you are dehydrated, not only will you store more fat, you will also retain water because your body will begin rationing it’s water consumption. Probably one of the quickest ways to see the scale move is to hydrate properly with 8 glasses of water every day.


In addition to slowing down your metabolism, a lack of sleep could actually cause you to overeat. A recent study showed that the hormone, ghrelin, that is responsible for hunger increases with sleep deprivation. Ghrelin also promotes fat storage, specifically abdominal fat storage.  Yikes!

Now you know, don’t stress out about losing weight!  Once your body feels safe, it will start to let go of those extra pounds. Diets that are about deprivation don’t work. If you think of dieting as a time to take extra good care of yourself, you’ll see results much faster.



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