Chronic stress isn’t your average ordinary annoyance. It’s not something that happens once in a blue moon to dampen your otherwise sun-shiny day. When stress is chronic, the effects cumulate in the body like pools of rainwater in overflowing storm drains.
The deluge just keeps on a comin’.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the difference between periodic stress and chronic stress. It could be defined as the difference between the flu and fibromyalgia. One may pass in 24 hours and the other hangs on … and on.
So what’s the connection to weight loss?
Stress impacts every system of the body, and the intention of this article is to reveal its path of destruction and the resulting impact.
An Example of Bloat
Have you ever noticed that a stressful event (even if it’s “fun” stress such as a wedding, class reunion, or a significant party) can leave you feeling bloated and feeling stuffed? The added bloat might represent a temporary 2-3 pound water weight gain or a not-so-temporary addition of 5 pounds or more.
It’s not usually just one thing, but stress definitely contributes to the body’s ability to hold on to or release weight. As part of that complex issue, stress directs the body to make digestion a priority, or to put it on hold.
Slowed or dysfunctional digestion
is a primary challenge for those with chronic illness.
Using the post-party bloat issue as an example, it’s also easy to see how emotional stress probably played a role. Stress causes us to overeat or under eat. Emotional stress can cause us to eat foods we don’t typically consume and throw us off-kilter. We may eat at times of the day that we wouldn’t otherwise. It’s not usually just one thing.
Stress has a compounding effect.
When it comes to the body, it’s important to understand the cycle of stress. It helps to understand the impact of one body system on another.
Here’s a simple overview of this cycle of stress. This cycle will make the connection to weight concerns much more clear.
The Cycle of Stress
Stress happens in one of two ways. It may come from an outside source. You’re under a deadline, someone says something that upsets you, or any number of issues that are outside your control.
Or, your own internal thoughts can create stress; looping thoughts, unresolved issues, fears. Ruminations on the past or envisioning worst-case scenarios of the future can all cause stress.
In any case, when the body perceives stress, here is how it responds.
1. Stress and the Adrenal System
Stress triggers the adrenal system to take action. It produces adrenaline and kicks the sympathetic nervous system response of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) into gear. Stress hormones are released in this stress response (also known as the fight, flight, freeze response). When this becomes chronic rather than temporary it’s sometimes referred to as a sympathetic dominant state.
Under sympathetic dominance, stress hormones, such as cortisol, suppress the function of the thyroid. In times of stress, the body considers thyroid hormones to be a low priority.1
2. Stress and the Thyroid
The thyroid is responsible for so many day-today functions that there isn’t room here to list them. Skin, hair, weight, body temperature, energy, and mood are all domains driven by thyroid function. Thyroid function supports every organ of the body.2
So, when thyroid regulation is suppressed – for long periods of time – it’s easy to see how the snowball effect takes place. A little bit of dysfunction accumulates into a whole lot of issues.
In regards to the Cycle of Stress and systemic dysfunction, the next in this series highlights how a weakened thyroid impacts the liver. In particular, the liver’s ability to detoxify the body.
3. Stress and the Liver
The liver is an organ with complex functions. It’s needed to filter the blood, store glucose for energy, aid in fat digestion, convert thyroid hormones, and, most importantly, it’s our body’s primary detoxification organ.3
As this detoxification process becomes sluggish, so does our digestion.
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4. Stress and the Gut
The digestive system breaks down the foods we eat into nutrients that the body can use for energy, growth, and cell repair.4 As you can imagine, when this system is slowed, we’re left feeling lethargic, restricted, and unable to heal.
Properly working digestion is critical for overall health. And, as you can imagine, slowed digestion represents a body in crisis. So much so, that when digestion is impaired, the body sends out stress signals. And guess what system receives those signals?
Yes, you guessed it. It’s the adrenal system. And, the cycle of dysfunction continues.
Stress: A One-Way Street?
Keep in mind that while I’m referring to this as a cycle, it’s not a one-way street. Yes, the stress cycle is systemic and it follows the 4 paths referenced above. This path is laid out for simplicity’s sake to illustrate the cascade effect from one system to another. It would be more accurate to say that stress moves on a two-way street.
For example, lowered thyroid function definitely impacts the liver’s ability to detoxify as it should (steps 2 and 3). This effect is also experienced the other way around. A compromised liver impacts the thyroid, too. Each body system impacts the others in a multi-faceted way.
Understanding the cyclical effect of stress helps to define the bigger picture of dysfunction.
Weight Loss and the Cycle of Stress
Sustained weight loss is a result of a healthy, optimally-functioning body. Most people who want to lose weight can do it – on a temporary basis. Severe diets, calorie-restriction, or even over-exercising can cause weight loss. But, if the approach isn’t sustainable, neither will be the weight loss.
Four areas of dysfunction are outlined in the Cycle of Stress above. Let’s take a closer look at one of them.
Poor gut health is often identified as intestinal permeability or leaky gut. If you follow the articles and podcasts of even a few health experts, leaky gut is a primary topic of concern.
The focus on digestive health is valid. Take a look at some of the areas of concern that relate to a digestive system that’s out of balance.
Contributing Signs of Leaky Gut:
- Constipation/Diarrhea (or going from one to the other)
- Arthritis (Rheumatoid)
- Joint Pain
- Body Aches
- Food Sensitivities
- Lowered Immune System
Do any of the above issues apply to you? I’m guessing you relate to more than one. If so, then improving gut health is likely the best place to begin to help you in your weight loss journey (and so much more).
By addressing the basics – food sensitivities, microbiome balance, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, hydration, and stress – the digestive system can begin to recalibrate and restore normal function. Restoration of proper function allows body-wide inflammation levels to lower. This in turn can help to reduce many of the challenges highlighted here.
A sluggish digestive system holds on to weight. The metabolism is compromised, detoxification pathways are compromised, and stress hormones tell the body to stay in a holding pattern and stall.
The Cycle of Stress – Corrected
Improving digestive health is always a great place to start in any weight loss plan. And why not help the process along even faster by adding in stress management techniques?
Simple techniques such as deep breathing, prayer, meditation, and others can go a long way toward retraining the body to slow or even halt the Cycle of Stress.
Break this cycle with tips offered in this article: 5 Fibro Stress Strategies
Doesn’t your body deserve a break? Address the stress, repair the digestion, and rev up your metabolism today!
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue’s free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.