Are you one of the many people who joined the gym because you wanted to lose a few kilos? You go to 4-5 high intensity classes every week but still that abdominal weight just won’t budge! So, you start doing double classes back to back or exercising twice a day – thinking that all you need to do is burn more calories than your consuming…right? Wrong? For many people weight loss, just isn’t that simple. While some people thrive on intense exercise – it boosts their metabolism, mood and energy – for others it can do just the opposite. It all comes down to stress and the hormones that stress releases.

The human body is designed to not only handle but thrive when it experiences short and intense periods of stress. However, this should only occur when your life is under threat and you need to stay and fight or run for your life. When your body feels under threat the sympathetic nervous system will flood the body with hormones that increase your blood pressure and speed up your heart rate to send extra blood to the muscles, your breathing quickens delivering oxygen to the brain and glucose is quickly released into the bloodstream for energy. Once the threat has gone the parasympathetic nervous system encourages the body to calm down ‘rest and digest’, returning the body to homeostasis or equilibrium.

Unfortunately, these days most people spend the majority of their time under the influence of the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” and hardly any time in homeostasis or “rest and digest”. 

If you’re not getting enough sleep (around 8 hours), if you’re working lots of overtime, if you have racing thoughts, if you’re always feeling rushed…. this is YOU.

Stress shuts down digestion (feeling bloated, constipated or got the runs anyone?) and procreation (struggling to get pregnant, have little or no interest in sex or have irregular, absent or painful periods?) and leads to hormone imbalance, insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and weight gain, particularly around the midsection.

The body doesn’t know the difference between physical or mental stress. Therefore, for some people adding an intense workout onto an already stressful day keeps their body in ‘fight or flight’ for the majority if not all of the day and even longer if they suffer from poor sleep. Basically, the body and mind never gets an opportunity to rest and heal, so you’re always on the back foot when it comes to your health.

So, if you love your high intensity exercises and don’t want to give them up, try to balance out the stress response by spending a few minutes in meditation or deep breathing afterwards or end your day with a restorative yoga practice or walk around the block. The more you concentrate on your breathing the easier it will be for your parasympathetic nervous system to switch on and calm you down. If you still struggle to lose weight consider cutting back on the extreme exercises and replacing them with brisk walking, swimming or resistance training. For many people swapping a few intense workouts for restorative ones is the solution to getting the results that they have been striving for. 

I’ve always said that there is no one size fits all approach to weight loss. In addition to stress, there are so many factors that can make it difficult to lose weight such as diet, blood sugar control, thyroid function, menopause and gut health so if you’re struggling to lose weight despite exercising regularly it may be time to seek some expert advice on what will work for you.   

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