“Brother, I am busier than a one-legged-cat-in-a-sandbox,” declared Teddy on one of our early coaching calls. “I mean with the kids doing sports and their school stuff, Jess and I are constantly juggling busy schedules. And don’t even get me started about work, you know, trying to make numbers, trying to keep my boss off my back. He’s so useless he couldn’t pour piss out of a pot with the directions on the bottom. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s just ain’t enough sand in the hourglass. And then Jess got diagnosed last year… thankfully, it was a small lump and they caught it early, but dear Lord that gave me a scare! Man… there are weeks when we cannot wait for Saturday to come. But then it’s off to baseball games and soccer tournaments. So, can you blame me if I indulge a little with some potato juice and tonic on the weekends?!”


Our friend Teddy, like practically everyone I know, contends with a significant amount of stress.


Stress and Weight Loss


High levels of stress have been shown to lead to weight gain and obesity. Small wonder then that Teddy had been steadily gaining weight over the years and felt stuck and unable to drop those stubborn pounds.


In response to stress, our bodies secrete a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol gets a bum rap. It’s a useful hormone that helps our body respond effectively to external stressors and helps to regulate several important biological processes. Because it has been written about extensively in recent years in relation to uncontrolled and excessive stress it now bears the connotation of being a “bad” hormone. It’s neither good nor bad.


However, chronically high levels of cortisol will negatively affect our health and can lead to weight gain, or impede our efforts to lose weight.


We end up with chronically high secretions of cortisol from uncontrolled stress. What’s the source of all this stress? Well that’s usually specific to each individual, but a short list could include: work demands, expectations at school, our own health issues or those of a relative, friction with family or friends. The list can be endless.


High Levels Cortisol Can Contributes To Weight Gain


Cortisol increases our cravings for sugary and calorie-dense foods. High levels of cortisol will increase our insulin output which has the effect of decreasing our blood sugar. That decrease leads to cravings to store more energy in response to the increased levels of stress. It’s all part of our “fight or flight” response. The problem arises when the external stressors don’t dissipate or resolve. The body’s response is to continue secreting cortisol.


Interestingly, it has been shown that the more overweight we become the less capable we are of successfully coping with stress and may feel more helpless in response to it. This supports the notion that high levels of cortisol may represent a mechanism for the association between stress and excess belly fat.


The Doom Loop…


It becomes something of a doom loop.


More stress = more cortisol = more cravings for sugary foods = more belly fat = more stress = more cortisol = ad infinitum


This helps explain why we turn to “comfort foods” that are dense with sugars and starches in times of stress.


How do we break the cycle? To interrupt this doom loop, it’s imperative to mitigate the stress and develop successful coping mechanisms.


The top recommendations for dealing with chronic stress are all things that will sound quite familiar:

  • Better and more sleep
  • A nutritious diet of non-processed foods
  • Adequate daily exercise
  • Meditation or mindfulness
  • Healthy and supportive family and friends


What’s The Source?


All these things help us to cope with chronic stress. Yet, none really address the source of stress in our lives.


We covered all the above bullets in my coaching discussion with Teddy. He’s been working on each of them for several. As we drilled down to uncover the actual source of Ted’s stress, it became apparent that what has been causing that unrelenting feeling of overwhelming pressure in his life is that he simply tries to do too much. He’s overcommitted, overworked, over-scheduled, and overwhelmed.


Where our stress originates is specific to each of us. Yet, I will contend that the most common source for most 21st century Americans is our compulsion to do too much. We, erroneously believe we can do it all, have it all, and be everything to everybody.


This is such a weighty topic that it represents an entire genre of self-help literature. We don’t have space to really dive into it here. But, by recognizing that this might be where our own individual life stress originates is a major step forward in beginning to mitigate it.


And that just might be what’s been missing in our efforts to burn fat and keep it off.


Small Group Nutrition Coaching


Julie’s Small Group Nutrition Coaching Program will dive into this in depth in Week 6 of our eight week program.


We’ve gotten a number of inquiries about when her next Small Group session kicks off. That begins on July 22nd.


We cap these groups at eight, and we’ve got two folks already signed up. So, if you were considering jumping in with the first session, please fill out an application to claim one of the six remaining spots. Click the button below.


If you don’t live nearby, no worries, you’re still able and welcome to participate. All of the live sessions will be held remotely using remote meeting technology, and will be recorded for those who aren’t able to attend.  


You can reach Julie with your questions at julie@midstrong.com.


We’ve got one last lesson that our good friend Teddy’s story will help us to illustrate. In my next post, I’ll explain an invaluable tool that my friend and mentor, Dr. Wayne Phillips calls JAMM – Just A Mite More. Look for that one titled – We JAMMin’, I hope you like jammin’ too!


Be strong and have fun!


Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.