Exercise Fanatics Who Can't Lose Weight? Mystery Solved


yogaThere have been times in my life when I've worked out like a maniac. Hit up the gym every day with one of my besties the summer after my senior year of high school ... slavishly devoted myself to Jillian Michaels DVDs day in and day out as recently as the last year or two. But every time I've put myself through periods of rigorous, regular workouts, a.) the scale wouldn't really budge and b.) I would end up totally run down and feeling like crap. I had a pretty valid case for throwing in the towel again and again. Nonetheless, I managed to lose 40 pounds my freshman year of college almost exclusively by changing my eating habits.

Sure, there are a SLEW of reasons why working out doesn't translate on the scale.  "Muscle weighs more than fat!" "Exercise makes you want to eat more!" "You work out, but then think you can get away with eating more, so calories in-calories out cancels out!"

But I only recently learned what was actually standing in my way ...


See, a recent saliva test showed I run low on cortisol, the stress "fight-or-flight" hormone that's needed for tons of body functions -- from regulating blood sugar to kidney function, muscle building and immune function. You need cortisol to cope with stress; that's why when you're shocked -- like, you almost get into a car accident, say -- your adrenal glands push out more of it. My adrenal glands already don't produce enough, so when I push myself too hard in my workouts, my adrenals try so hard to keep up, to produce more cortisol, but they can't, and I end up suffering adrenal fatigue. Of course, this all plays into why intense cardio equals a stubborn scale and feeling like someone ran me over with a truck.

Similarly, a lot of women run high on cortisol, because they're chronically stressed. And more cortisol equals excess glucose which gets stored as fat. Lose-lose, right?

So, finally science is confirming what we as women already know: We need stress-management and adequate sleep to lose weight. This week, a study from Kaiser Permanente found that people who slept too little or too much and reported high levels of stress were only half as likely to make it to the second phase of the study as those who got 6-8 hours of sleep and had low stress.

Also, weight loss was linked to reductions in stress and depression over time, so obviously, people who want to shed pounds have to focus on proper sleep and minimizing stress.

These researchers explain it by saying that when you're stressed you might reach for more junk food, which can contribute to extra poundage. But I know there's more to it than that. Stress and out-of-whack hormones truly hold your ability to lose weight hostage.

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that a slavish devotion to intense cardio however many times a week just isn't suitable for me. Plain and simple, it's not doing my body's rhythm any favors. I'll have to burn excess calories with less abrasive workouts, like brisk walks and yoga. There's no shame in that. And obviously managing my stress is key. It's definitely harder than it sounds, but it's gonna be so worth it.

Do you think your stress levels affect your ability to lose weight?


Image via lululemon athletica/Flickr


stress, weight loss


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nonmember avatar Anon

This could help explain why yoga helps with weight loss even though it's not punishing at all. I don't have major weight or stress problems, but I think I'll get more focused on making yoga an everyday thing in my life again.

ArmyGal ArmyGal

I've managed to keep weight off doing 'vigorous' exercises. I'm sure you ate too much. Exercising a lot does require you to eat more calories but not empty ones. You can't eat poorly and work out and expect results.  *shrugs* Yoga has never done much for me, but that's the point. Different strokes for different folks.

Breann Nash

So it's not because my friend works out like a fiend but eats the equivalent of 3 bowls of cereal in one sitting? Then proclaims "Why can't I lose weight?"

PonyC... PonyChaser

I absolutely know that stress interferes with my efforts to lose weight. Not only am I chronically stressed, I'm an emotional eater. My hormones, as a result, are all over the place. Hard exercise is tremendously exhausting for me.

On the flipside, I find that in the endurance arena, I can go and go and go. I can take long walks (5+ miles) and not notice it, as long as I'm not pushing the speed.

So, like you, I'm trying to find the balance - how much can I push, in order to get the aerobic benefits? And where is the stopping point, before I hit that exhaustion point? It's a difficult line to walk.

H.I.S. H.I.S.

Not to mention diet...DUH!

JustL... JustLikeMyMom62

Your body works in a rhythm and everyone needs to find what their "rhythm" is.  Some people are at their perfect weight and do vigourous workouts to maintain it...they are probably not stressed about their bodies.  Then there are those who push and push and push themselves with no results and wonder WTF, stress levels go up, insomnia or over sleeping occur and bing bing no weight loss occurs.  I hate when people generalize like they have all the answers : " I work out and have NO problem with my weight, so you must be eating to much" -- YOU dont know MY body.  Point is, try differant things, find out what works for you, and go with it. 

Meg Moore

the sleep thing makes sense. Thats most likely my problem.

Madel... MadelynMc

Have you ever heard of GABA supplements? I'm going to start taking it for anxiety, tension and stress but it has a lot of applications. It seems like some of the things you mentioned might be treatable with GABA, assuming it actually works. We'll see! In the meantime, google it if you're interested.

nonmember avatar Meaghan

I hope this works! I just started treatment for adrenal fatigue a week ago. I did a saliva test to confirm that I really do have it. I went from running a half marathon to struggling with three miles. Wish me luck!

deadp... deadpplrmyhero

I sure do! I've been trying to be less stressed but I'm still getting the hang of being a SAHM

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