Is stress making you fat?

Something I come across a lot in overweight individuals is the phrase: ‘I just can’t lose weight’.

I think sometimes we dismiss this as a lie or perhaps assume that this person has a warped perception of what exactly eating healthily entails. We never stop to ask ourselves, what if they’re right? What if they are in a calorie deficit and they are exercising? Shouldn’t they be losing fat?

Far too often the answer is a stress or lack of sleep related one. An increase in stress has a profound hormonal effect, specifically when looking at our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that has a catabolic effect on muscle and an anabolic effect on fat. For two identical people with identical diets and caloric deficits, an increase in cortisol in one person would result in that individual being less able to lose fat and more likely to maintain or gain weight.

This principal can also be applied to individuals who naturally have high levels of cortisol. Stress is something that is undoubtedly harmful to our general health and this along with the mentally associated issues is a key reason why.

Testosterone on the other hand has the exact opposite effect to cortisol, an anabolic effect on muscle and a catabolic effect on fat, which makes it a common aid used by bodybuilders to aid fat loss whilst maintaining muscle mass.

So perhaps this will help us to stop looking at every individual who is overweight in the same way. That is not to say that it is impossible for certain people to lose fat, but rather that we should treat every individual as exactly that, ‘an individual’ and thoroughly assess each person’s barriers to a healthier lifestyle.

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