A certain level of stress is unavoidable nowadays. Whether it be from work or family-related concerns, lifestyle or a specific event - there are various factors that can contribute to stress levels. It can have many impacts on your physical health, but is there a connection between stress and weight loss or weight management?
First, let’s take a look at what stress actually is. It is our body’s natural response to challenge or demand (1, 2).
The impact of stress can be physical, psychological or emotional. In some cases, stress has the potential to affect how we behave in our daily lives. This can result in sleeping disorders, excessive drinking or smoking as an outlet, and even weight management problems (1,2,3). Whilst the link between stress and weight gain is relatively common knowledge, the relationship between stress and weight loss is far lesser known.
Stress plays a role in weight loss problems (5). When coupled with an unhealthy diet, stress can inflame the vagus nerve (5). This nerve plays a part in how our body processes and metabolises food (5). Stress prevents it from activating properly, affecting the digestion and absorption of nutrients (5).
Stress can also lead to gastrointestinal system issues which often results in changing eating habits and appetite (supressed appetite), even higher stress levels and even weight loss. Stress may cause bloating, as well as gut pain and discomfort (9), which may affect your appetite.
Just like weight loss, stress and weight gain also go hand-in-hand (8). Being under stress may result in unhealthy eating habits, commonly referred to as “stress eating.” Higher levels of stress may compel you to keep eating even when you aren't actually hungry, resulting in an excess calorie intake (8).
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is responsible for responding to stress. This, in turn, affects cortisol levels. More cortisol is produced when we are stressed. Cortisol can stimulate cravings for unhealthy foods that are high in fat and sugar. These cravings for calorie-laden foods are because your body thinks it may need to fuel up to face your stressors (10).
Now that we understand the negative health impacts that stress can have on your health and weight management, here are some tips to manage stress levels (4):
Among many other health benefits, exercise has also been shown to be a great stress reliever. When choosing an activity, opt for yoga, tai-chi or other relaxing activities that can help you stay fit.
Habitually taking the time to relax yourself can help manage your stress. Look into activities such as breathing or meditation to help you wind down before starting or ending a busy day. A great time to practice breathing activities or meditation is at the beginning of the day to help put you in a positive mindset, or at the end of the day to help you wind down.
Make a habit out of eating nutritious whole foods to help your body combat stress. If your lifestyle, such as time restraints, makes it difficult for you to get all the nutrients that you need, consider how supplements could benefit your diet.
Here are some supplements you can consider taking alongside a healthy diet to help support your body’s stress response and weight management.
This wonder herb is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to help the body reduce symptoms of stress and enhance the body’s adaptation to stress. It has been found to have moderating effects on the HPA axis, and reduces the effects of mild stress (11).
The B group of vitamins supports healthy stress response in the body. B5, in particular, helps improve the body's response to stress (12).
Ginkgo and Brahmi have been known to enhance the body’s adaptation to stress. Studies have found that Ginkgo may aid in relieving mild anxiety, while Brahmi helps the body adapt to stress (14).
Whilst there are many stress factors that are out of our control, knowing which vitamins can support your body shouldn’t be one of them. Vitable’s vitamin subscription and vitamin delivery services can help create a personalised vitamin plan to suit your health goals, including stress.
Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.