Stress Sleep & Weight Loss

Why can’t I lose weight even though I’m working out?

I’ve spent most of my life going through cycles of weight gain and weight loss. I’m sure there are some people that can relate to this while others may be on the far ends of the spectrum. Now as I’m in my 40’s I’m starting to see that it’s harder to maintain my “ideal” body. I started thinking about what most people say about getting older and to some degree I would agree. I finally accepted the fact that I can’t keep up with the 20 year olds in my CrossFit classes and I have more experience with injuries that seem to creep back into my life at the most in-opportune moments.  There are other things that seem to happen as we get older as well that contribute to our physical health.

With each passing birthday cake we seem to also inherit more responsibilities.  We get promoted at work, have kids, adopt pets, and buy homes. All of these things seem to demand more of our time and we slowly change our lifestyles to meet these demands. Often times this means irregular sleep patterns or increased levels of stress. Have you ever had a day where things just are not going well and you feel like some comfort food would make you feel better? Or maybe it’s one of those days where you just don’t care what you eat because you don’t have the mental capacity to think about it.

I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve been very disciplined with my diet, but I also experience days where Dominos Pizza is just the only choice because I’m too tired to figure out what I’m going to make for dinner, then run to the store, and then come home and cook. Why does this happen you may ask! Well I started thinking about how best to help people that seem to be putting in the physical effort but just can’t quite hit their numbers. After some research I’ve put together a summation of a few areas that affect our weight management goals. This of course is not all encompassing but they may surprise you.

Numerous studies have shown that irregular sleep patterns increase the intake of calories. These studies were conducted on preschoolers, adolescents, and adult males; all on separate studies and by different scientists and researchers. One article noted that preschool children not only consumed more during the period of temporary sleep deficit but also during the next recovery day. Another article noted that during sleep deprivation, we are more likely to eat sweets and fatty foods.

This sleep deficiency isn’t based on a set amount of sleep. Some people are well oiled machines on only five hours of sleep, while others cannot function on less than eight hours. The exact number you need as an individual may differ but these studies used control groups that received a set number of hours for the first period of the test and then were abruptly modified, resulting in a sleep deficiency.

Something else I’ve noticed in myself and in my family members, deals with the relationship between stress and lack of sleep. Although I did not research how stress levels related to sleep deprivation it’s easy to see irritability and lack of patience on those days we didn’t get enough sleep. What I did find was the correlation between bad food choices and over eating when we are stressed.

Stress directly affects cortisol levels in your bodies.  Cortisol is a steroid released by the adrenal glands. It is most notably associated with our “fight or flight” response. The primary function of cortisol is to regulate energy and mobilization. It also controls what macro-nutrient to utilize based on the situation (fats, proteins, or carbs). When we are affected by negative stressors we are subject to the cortisol levels increasing our urge to consume foods high in sugar and fat. This sounds like our bodies natural response based on primal instincts to store high caloric foods to survive life threatening situations. This article also indicates that stress increases our appetite and stores these extra calories in subcutaneous fat cells in our abdominal region.

I had always assumed that lack of sleep and stress levels affected our ability to reach our weight loss goals but after reading the documented findings from tests, it’s pretty eye opening. CrossFit has had a huge impact on my life and while I don’t have the six pack abs I’ve always dreamed about I have been able to reach many of my other fitness goals. After correlating my personal experiences with the data presented above I will also make efforts to add more continuity to my life and regulate my sleep patterns. I think being able to identify urges may also help to curb the cravings.

As far as stress is concerned, our gym is my happy place. I can be tired, stressed, or moody and within a few minutes of walking into CrossFit 611, I have the biggest smile on my face and a heart full of joy. Working out beside my friends is the best part of my day; and when I get to work out with my wife, even better.



Acute sleep restriction increases dietary intake in preschool-age children

Elsa N. Mullins, Alison L. Miller, Sherin S. Cherian, Julie C. Lumeng, Kenneth P. Wright Jr, Salome Kurth, Monique K. Lebourgeois


Dietary Intake Following Experimentally Restricted Sleep in Adolescents

Dean W. Beebe, PhD, Stacey Simon, PhD, Suzanne Summer, MS, RD, Stephanie Hemmer, BA, Daniel Strotman, BA, and Lawrence M. Dolan, MD1,


Increased Food Intake by Insufficient Sleep in Humans: Are We Jumping the Gun on the Hormonal Explanation?

Jean-Philippe Chaput,* and Marie-Pierre St-Onge


Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight

Christine A. Maglione-Garves, Len Kravitz, Ph.D., and Suzanne Schneider, Ph.D.