If you want to lose weight, you have to manage your stress first. All too often your inability to lose weight and improve body composition has little to do with your training and nutrition programs and everything to do with poor stress management.

If you’re overly stressed – and stress comes in many forms – it’s virtually impossible to lose weight in a healthy way. Physiologically, you have to create an environment that puts the body in a position that it wants to lose fat – you can’t force it without serious consequences.

The body has no way of differentiating the source of stress; whether it is imposed by exercise, being caught in traffic, or a fight with your significant other. Your body’s response to these stressors is the same.

The Fight or Flight Response

The body responds to stress through its fight or flight survival mechanism that was developed over thousands of years of evolution. When the fight or flight response is activated, your bloodstream is flooded with glucose to fuel the brain so it can mobilize the systems your body needs to either face the threat or escape from it.

Because of our (American) societal pressures, our fight or flight response is being constantly activated by trivial things such as social media posts, traffic jams, too much work, not enough rest, being over-committed, etc.

Biologically, our bodies are not meant to be in high-stress mode all the time. All too often someone’s inability to lose weight has little to do with their exercise and nutrition program (given they’re putting forth some effort) and everything to do with poor stress management.

If someone is consistently under a tremendous amount of stress it will be virtually impossible for them to lose weight. This is largely because when the fight or flight response is constantly activated, the body is more concerned with survival than it is “losing weight”.

To put this in evolutionary terms, if we faced a serious threat (being stalked by a lion, for example) the last thing our body would be worried about is what we were going to eat for lunch.

In this situation, the body would mobilize all of the physiological systems necessary to either fight the lion, or do everything possible to run away from it.

Once the threat was eliminated/avoided, the body would then down-regulate the systems that were mobilized to take on or escape the threat. Once these systems have returned to their “resting state” the body then begin re-priortizing it’s needs.

The fight or flight response is partially responsible for the advancement/development of humans. However, in today’s life we rarely encounter stressors that threaten our survival.

Instead, we have “replaced” these dangerous, infrequent encounters with smaller, more trivial and often self-perceived threats that trigger the fight or flight response regularly.

Under these circumstances, the body is more concerned with surviving what it perceives as a threat, or series of threats, than it is losing weight.

So, if you want to lose weight, you have to put your body in a position where the fight or flight response isn’t constantly triggered. Better managing your stress will signal to the body that there are no imminent life or death threats, which then puts the body in a position where it “wants” to lose weight.