Stress! This little word has gotten a lot of attention over the last few decades and for good reason. While stress is a natural response to a threatening event or situation, chronic stress has been shown to cause hormonal and neurologic dysregulation that may play a role in nearly every chronic disease plaguing civilized society. Studying the pandemic of obesity, diabetes and poor metabolic identifies chronic stress as a significant contributor to the foundation of the disease process. A review of the literature on the topic shows the causal relationship of chronic stress and the hormonal changes that shift the human metabolism into a fat storing, obesity causing machine.
The good news is that research also shows evidence of a solution to all of this stress! It’s not a pill, supplement or gadget you can buy. You might say it’s all in your head. Mindfulness, meditation and guided visualization have made their way into mainstream conversation with numerous celebrities and high-powered businessmen and women extolling the benefits in their lives and careers.
The PHD program has used guided visualization for clients since inception because of the literature supporting its’ support in behavioral change. There are now so many apps and websites that offer this type of training it can be difficult to know where to turn!
We have used many of these and will make a recommendation at the end of this post for a technique called Ziva created by Emily Fletcher. This approach changed my personal practice and habits. It taught me how to transition from someone who wants to meditate daily but can’t seem to find a way to schedule it to someone who treats it as a non-negotiable event twice a day.
So, why is addressing chronic stress important for both weight loss and maintenance? The relationship with chronic stress and hormone dysregulation is shown in this study. The authors from the above study as well as this one point out that the fat deep in our bellies, visceral fat, is inflammatory and different than our superficial or subcutaneous fat. Chronic stress leads to chronically elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and favors deposition of fat into the visceral type of fat.
In other words, stressed humans develop inflammatory visceral fat faster than less stressed humans. It was made clear in this 2012 study that those participants who had suffered a stressful event went on to develop obesity at both a faster rate and to a higher degree than those who developed obesity without a single stressful event.
Both self-identified stressed and non-stressed obese groups had cortisol levels higher than non-obese controls indicating that stress may have played a role in not just the group that identified a stressful event but in all obese individuals. Stress can also play a role in your day to day habits as demonstrated in this study identifying poor eating habits in those that demonstrated quantifiable stress.
The relationship between stress and obesity cannot be ignored. A strategy to mitigate this stress must be developed in order to lose the visceral fat and maintain a healthy body weight. The literature supports several forms of mediation or guided relaxation as a way to help control stress. This 2018 randomized, controlled study as well as this 2013 study with similar design identified improved weight loss with an 8 week intervention designed to reduce stress through meditation and guided visualization. This effect was also seen in adolescent participants in this study.
So, the takeaway should be that chronic stress plays a causative role in the development of obesity and results in the deposition of visceral fat. This fat is toxic and creates a cascade of hormonal and behavioral changes that make weight loss maintenance nearly impossible when not properly address. A mindfulness practice that reduces stress alone will improve your health in dramatic fashion.
It has been proven to help in weight loss and should help with weight maintenance especially when paired with other healthy habits like great sleep, gratitude journaling and a healthy eating approach.
The Ziva Technique created by Emily Fletcher can be explored through her book Stress Less, Accomplish More or through her Ziva Online web based course. We have partnered with Ziva to provide the links here through an affiliate program. At the time of this writing there are significant discounts offered for the Ziva Online course through the aforementioned link.