Stress and Weight Loss Resistance

Today we are being bombarded by countless stressors, attacking us from seemingly every angle; political fears, financial worries and, of course, a pandemic that has overshadowed nearly every aspect of our lives.

More than ever, we are concerned about our health and well-being and that of our families. Although we are deluged by a world in chaos, it’s important to acknowledge and remember that our personal health and fitness is key. We must start with ourselves before we can even begin to help those close to us. Remember that flight attendant who told you to put on your own oxygen mask first?  They were right. 

Trays up. Please direct your attention to the front of the aircraft.

For many of us, weight loss is one of the major aspects that comes to mind when we think of general well-being. And certainly, a healthy weight is important to (and indicative of) a healthy lifestyle. We often assume that weight loss is entirely dependent on the amount of calories consumed and the amount of calories burned. Simple, yes?

Well, yes. Sometimes. 

However, there can be a monkey wrench thrown into this equation: hormones.

According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of The Hormone Reset Diet, “the real key to losing . . . unwanted belly fat and gaining energy lies with your hormones.” They may also be the key to “gaining clarity and a better mood.” 

In addition to the many environmental stressors mentioned previously, the stress of certain extreme diets and some exercises can actually sabotage weight loss, sometimes resulting in weight gain. Gottfried writes that “weight loss resistance is nearly always hormonally-based in women.” 

As my clients and my podcast listeners know, hormones are vital to so many functions in the body. In the “big picture” of weight loss resistance and hormones, we need to look at the Adrenal Glands, Insulin, Cortisol and Thyroid.

The adrenal glands direct a balancing act in the body; helping to control stress, fatigue, anxiety, fertility and weight. They are located on top of each kidney and produce adrenaline and cortisol. 

Both adrenaline and cortisol are necessary for the body, but too much or too little of either can cause weight resistance/weight gain. 

Although all the hormonal components play a role here, cortisol seems to get the most press; and rightly so. In most hormonal imbalance, it’s usually cortisol levels that have gone haywire. 

In fact, some statistics show that when hormones are out of balance, cortisol is to blame in 90% of the cases.

The body produces cortisol in response to stress and stress can play an important role in our lives. It gives us a chemical boost when we need to respond to potentially threatening situations, triggering the “fight or flight” response. It’s the kick that kept our ancestors alert and alive.  That “kick” involves a chemical signal that also releases the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. These result in elevated heart rate, perspiration and raised glucose levels. 

But chronically high stress levels can eventually lead to a compromised immune system, changes in insulin levels, muscle loss and, yes, weight gain . Elevated cortisol levels cause the body to store fat. Cortisol is also linked to sugar cravings and depression, creating a vicious cycle of weight gain and further depression-- a chemical Catch 22.

Elevated cortisol levels can also result in the rather frightening condition of insulin resistance

Insulin, sometimes called a “major” hormone, is produced by the pancreas when blood glucose/sugar levels rise and one of its functions is to keep those levels regulated. “Insulin resistance” is the condition in which the liver and muscles in the body no longer react to insulin and the cells in the body stop understanding how to absorb glucose. 

Consequently, the pancreas decides that it’s a good idea to start producing more insulin -- STAT!  This is a reaction by the pancreas to regulate blood sugar; however, the cells can no longer use it and the whole system is careening toward trouble. If left unchecked, insulin resistance can lead to Type-2 diabetes. 

The thyroid is also key in this weight-resistance battle. Again, my clients and listeners have become familiar with the thyroid, in particular, as much of my work centers around this. We know that the thyroid regulates metabolism. Thyroid hormone is critical, as it regulates calorie-burning and weight, as well as a variety of other functions.

As with the other hormones, the thyroid is easily susceptible to stress. When stressors act on the thyroid, it responds by slowing metabolism While stress will not cause a disorder, it can make the condition much worse. 

When it isn’t producing an adequate amount of these hormones (hypothyroidism) metabolism slows down. The opposite is known as “hyperthyroidism, which causes metabolism to accelerate wildly. It is the former condition that concerns us here. 

Hypothyroidism alone can cause resistance to weight loss and possible weight gain; however, thyroid hormone resistance can compound this problem. Thyroid resistance (sometimes called RTH or Refetoff Syndrome) occurs when cells actively block this hormone. Thyroid hormone normally interacts with alpha and beta cell receptors but, when these cells are abnormal in some way (often due to a cellular genetic defect), the hormone cannot produce its normal effect. 

People with RTH can show signs of regular hypothyroidism, such as high cholesterol, fatigue and obesity. But to further complicate matters, some can also display a symptom of hyperthyroidism: fast heart rate. This happens as a result of a difference in the types of receptors that it recognizes; i.e. fewer betas, more alphas. 

Clearly, thyroid issues ALONE can cause a multitude of problems in the body, including weight resistance/weight gain, but this is complicated because it is closely-tied to the balance with the other hormones.  

It is absolutely no wonder that women who are struggling with some of these issues find this topic frustrating and baffling. Trying to understand this condition can be almost as exhausting as the condition itself. I explore this subject of thyroid understanding and thyroid health extensively in my book, Rock Bottom Thyroid Treatment, which is available through the website. 

It would be easy to view this subject of weight loss resistance as some complex medical riddle that is nearly impossible to solve. But that’s not the case. Understanding your own chemical make-up is at least half the battle, but it is also important to know the impact that stress has on your body and working to alleviate some of that. Stress is natural and even helpful in situations. But in our hormonal balancing act, it doesn’t serve us well and it certainly doesn’t help us lose weight. 

In order to reduce and even eliminate much of this harmful stress, I’ve found the Top 3 ways to combat it with many of my clients:

1 SLEEP

 We should get at least seven to nine hours per night of “quality” sleep. This involves falling asleep at a relaxed pace (somewhere between five to twenty minutes) and eventually entering Deep and REM sleep. I explore this topic in depth with guest Jessica Drummond in Episode 6 of the Rock Bottom Wellness podcast. 

2 EATING BALANCED MACROS

I explain this on my website with the “7 Day Eating Plan.” This is available as a FREE download at:

https://www.rockbottomwellness.com/7-day-eating-plan

This will help to balance blood sugar and your internal stress management ability. 

 

3 MINDFULNESS

Remember to take breaks throughout the day to meditate, journal, do yoga, tap (explored in Episode 10), or simply take a walk. Whatever centers you and allows you to just BE. This is essential. When stress is managed and the hormones that control our insulin, cortisol and thyroid are managed and the body stays calm, weight loss is more easily achieved. You have to heal yourself first. It takes time and can be very frustrating for those who have struggled for so long. This is where help comes into play. Sometimes it takes getting someone to take a different look at what’s going on with your body in order to help you move forward with your health goals. 

As always, I would welcome the chance to help you on this journey at Rock Bottom Wellness. I understand these issues personally and have developed plans that can get you on your own road to health and well-being. Schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation here>>>https://p.bttr.to/3jtRIgI.





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