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Is Stress Making You Fat?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Stress, Weight Gain, and Strategies to Lose Fat are Connected

Stress, Floating Anxiety, and a Thailand Beast at White Temple

Stressed out and feeling beastly?

Stress affects all species. Most humans have a good idea of their stress levels and whether the stress is helpful (such as exercise) or harmful (such as an injury). As well, we human personages can distinguish between Chronic and Acute Stress. Interesting to note is that we tend to handle major stressors better than micro ones.

When it comes to weight gain and fat accumulation, chronic stress is the problem. In short, chronic stress triggers a cascade of hormonal reactions that tell your body to store fat, create more fat, and swell up. Yes, long term stress increases both number and size of fat cells. As fat cells increase in size, they increase chronic inflammation, which triggers more hormonal reactions, all leading to more fat. Aaaaarrrggggh!

Getting caught in this cycle can be very … well, um … stressful! Keep reading and take a relaxing breath as we look at ways to decrease fat that stress may have added to your “friend’s” figure.

Recently Alexandra and I attended and spoke at the IDEA Personal Training Institute. One of the many stellar sessions we attended was Professor Len Kravitz’s talk “Stress, Obesity, and Cortisol.” He offered key insights on stress and fat collecting — the collection we don’t want to inherit, pay too much for, nor store for posterity (in posteriors).

First off, bad news and some Fat Facts:

  • More women than men are obese because of menopause (not really bad news for men).
  • We now know our bodies can make more fat cells at any age. We used to think we added fat cells only at certain times in life, such as gestation and puberty.
  • Fat cells can swell up to three to six times their minimum size. Oh, swell! Those cells are unwell!
  • “Normal” weight adults have about 40 billion fat cells; overweight people may have as many as 80 billion. Yes, DOUBLE! The odds are really stacked against the stressed out.

Now for some good news and Fit Facts:

  • Relaxing in the Sleeping Buddha position

    Exercise Your Right to Relax and Destress

    We really don’t gain a lot of weight over the holidays. The average is about one pound … per holiday season, so pack light for the upcoming 4th of July!

  • Two super duper interventions that really work to unpack fat are exercise and destressing. No kidding, Sherlock. (Yes, I heard you thinking that all the way from here.) What Dr. Kravitz emphasized is our need to shift our thinking from all or nothing strategies to ones that are more realistic and flexible.
Destressing with Alexandra in Thailand

Aaaaahhh, Bliss Out, Le Freak, C’est Chic

The plan? First, implement the 4 F words of Weight Management and Lower Stress Levels

  1. Have a Flexible approach when creating your workout program. For instance, maybe morning routines don’t work for you, though you’ve heard that early bird exercisers tend to be more consistent. Or your favorite cardio machine is taken. Try a different piece of cardio equipment or an aerobic class. Look for what fits YOU. Today. With each day up for a renewable contract.
  2. Remind yourself that you are not a Failure if you lapse.
  3. Forgive yourself for any unmet goals or expectations.
  4. Fix what’s not working — without blame or self criticism.

As Dr. Kravitz stated, “Learning to lose weight is a skill, just like learning to ride a bike.” He recommends that we use the same strategies as proven, successful weight losers. Referring to the work of Dr. James Hill, who founded the National Weight Loss Registry, Dr. Kravitz highlights the actions in common of those who lose fat (and keep it off):

Successful Fat Losers:

Sleep Helps Reduce Stress

Dog Days of Slumber

  • Stay or become physically active
  • Log 250-300 minutes per week of aerobic activity
  • Limit and monitor dietary intake
  • Accept realistic weight goals
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Schedule meals and exercise thereby staying consistent with both
  • Limit fast food
  • Eat some favorite foods without guilt
  • Accept their body shape
  • Confront problems rather than eat to cope
  • Recognize that weight control is ongoing

Got all that? You now have THE ULTIMATE list of what it takes to lose fat. So relax. And exercise. Then relax some more.

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A good laugh also reduces stress. So check out this interview of Kymberly from BiteSizeWellness. Spread the Wellness with us!


About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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10 Responses to Is Stress Making You Fat?

  1. Debbie @ Live from La Quinta May 24, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    I think everyone should copy the list from Successful Fat Losers and memorize it. As I read each tip, I though, yes, that’s the best one, because they are all true and useful.

    I think another problem with stress is that many of us tend to eat our way through it, adding to the problem, all the more reason to find more healthful ways to de-stress.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..Friday Fitness: The Balls Only Workout.My Profile

  2. Pamela Hernandez May 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Love the list! I really wish I could have been in 2 places at once to catch that session. Thanks for the recap.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted..Easy Power BreakfastsMy Profile

    • KymberlyFunFit May 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      Being in two places at once is a tough trick even with a twin! The session was a good one, as Dr. Len Kravitz’s presentations always are. Did you do more recaps? If so, will you add the link here?
      KymberlyFunFit recently posted..What’s Beautiful? Health at Any AgeMy Profile

  3. Calla Gold May 25, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    The list is great! I think the key one is recognizing that it is an ongoing process. You never stop. It becomes a way of life. We’re so conditioned to think that 30 days of doing (insert miracle diet) will lead to our dream body and then the work stops, which is why so many people throw in the towel.

  4. Jody - Fit at 55 May 25, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    GREAT POST!!!! I should be HUGE based on how NOT WELL I handle stress! Good thing I exercise like a maniac! ;)

    And I don’t care what any expert says, you are going to gain weight with hormone changes And/or body fat/BMI. I can weigh the same as 2-3 years ago but body fat is higher. AND I was doing everything they said to do already so all I could do was change the food & I did. :) I will only go so far with that though & I may be coming to my limit on reducing calories & things I like. ;)

    The list is great! I do more cardio than many in the blog world blog about. Again, I say we are all different & I personally think some need more cardio than the preaching out there. I do HIIT & I still do 65 + minuted of cardio 3 days a week & 85 1 day a week… This is so I can at least eat some things I want to eat. I guess I could do less & eat like I was in contest prep for a bodybuilding show but that is not going to happen. :)

    AND, I am in the camp that my fat cells from my early years are still there & want to expand… :)

    OK, I am a blabber on this – sorry! YOU are the experts! :)
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Sony Waterproof Sports Walkman ReviewMy Profile

    • KymberlyFunFit May 27, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      Jody: We may be fitness pros, but you are the expert on YOU and we HEART you for that!!!! So glad you are a “blabber” as we soooo appreciate your input. And you are the ruler of happy faces. Except the one you never share in your pics, ya rascal! As for the weight gain with menopause —- grrrrrr, you are right. Dang it! PS Love cardio!
      KymberlyFunFit recently posted..Midlife Fitness and Health Lessons from My DogMy Profile

  5. Mary @ Fit and Fed May 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Yet another reason to avoid chronic stress. And I think Debbie is right, I’m not the only one who nibbles for stress relief. The list is one of those deceptively simple ones, seems like a no-brainer, but the devil is in implementing it. One plus for me is that I enjoy my exercise and it’s a stress relief for me, taking care of both of those areas at once.
    Mary @ Fit and Fed recently posted..Willow Waltz Bronze Ice Dance TestMy Profile

  6. Joseph June 17, 2013 at 3:19 am #

    Why is it that females are more prone to weight gain as compared to men. Even losing weight is comparatively easier for men than women.
    Joseph recently posted..Frying OilMy Profile


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