In this post, we’re breaking down why stress and anxiety can make losing weight feel impossible, and what you can do about it. A lot of people want to lose weight. They might even make valiant attempts to. But they feel like it’s a massive fight the entire time and they just can’t sustain it. Maybe they know why it’s so stressful, or perhaps they don’t. Whatever the case, let’s dive into why losing weight can feel so impossible and how you can overcome it!
Why Stress and Anxiety Can Make Losing Weight Feel Impossible
One Big Worry Sandwich
For most people struggling to lose weight, I’ve noticed that their life is just one big, stress and worry sandwich. They battle anxiety the majority of the day, just trying to keep it together and keep their head above water. At the same time, they also are trying to stick to their diet and do that workout they have no energy for. All their mental and physical energy is being burnt up dealing with the stress and anxiety all day long.
Some of you might be reading this thinking, oh my gosh, I have never felt more seen in my life. If this is you, I want to be completely honest with you. I can’t solve all your problems in one blog post, but I do believe that this post could be incredibly eye-opening and a massive overall help with why stress and anxiety can make losing weight feel impossible.
Why You Feel The Way You Do
Let’s dig into good old psychology 101 to explain what’s going on in your head. It all comes back to the exact same concept that I discussed 200ish episodes ago, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is basically a concept that human beings have five different categories of needs, but they’re not all weighted equally. Some needs are more pressing and more important. And until the more important foundational need is met, then it’s nearly impossible, or it feels nearly impossible, to give our time, attention, and energy to a different need or desire that is on a higher level.
The Foundation: Basic Needs
Maslow’s five needs are explained best in a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, the foundation is our basic needs. This includes food, water, sleep, and homeostasis, which basically just means biological balance. This just means the first set of needs is the physiological things that keep us alive. Without these, nothing else matters. Who’s going to be interested in losing weight or getting in shape if they haven’t slept in four nights and don’t have enough food or water? That’s just not the way it is.
Safety and Security
Our next most important need, above the basics, is our need for safety and security. This includes our physical environment, employment that ensures resources like money and a home, and also our health and wellness. You might read this and think, that’s why I want to lose weight! Because it is so close to the foundation of my hierarchy of needs. No, no, no. This is not physical improvement per se, but just basic health in terms of safety. Is my health being threatened? These first two levels are just basic things that so many of us take for granted. Food, water, and safety. Having these honestly in tremendous abundance on a regular basis is a big reason that most of us even have the luxury of worrying about physical improvement and how we want to look.
Love, Belonging, and Acceptance
Moving up the pyramid, our next level of need is our need for love, belonging, and acceptance. Friendships, family, and sexual intimacy all fall into this category. These things are, of course, very important, but not as important as food, water, and safety. If you don’t have food, water, or safety, you might die, and you certainly won’t be thinking about having sex or hanging out with your friends to catch up.
Self-Esteem and Self-actualization
As we continue to move up the pyramid, the next level is our need for esteem, self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect for others. Again, these are things we can’t worry about if the previous needs aren’t being met. And then finally at the very top is what Maslow called the need for self-actualization. He described this as achieving the fullest use of one’s talents and interests. It’s our need to become everything that we are capable of becoming. I think this perfectly aligns with everything we hear and see so much on social media. Stuff like, become the best version of yourself and live your best life.
I would argue that these top two levels are where losing weight and getting in shape fall for most of us, whether people realize it or not. If we peel back the layers, the true underlying reasons that we want to lose weight and get fit are to have more self-esteem, to have a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and to become our best selves. Or as Maslow would say, to become everything that we are capable of becoming.
Your desire to lose weight and look better sits perfectly at the top of the pyramid, and it doesn’t matter how important you think it is, your brain is hardwired to not care about it until all your other needs are met. Unless your weight has become a significant medical issue or threatens your life or safety, then the desire to lose weight and get fit is just sitting at the top of the pyramid.
Even If Your Basic Needs Are Met…
You may feel like trying to lose weight stresses you out and takes up way too much space in your head, but here’s the crazy part. It’s kind of like a luxury tax. You live in such a blessed time and place where all of your basic needs are met, or if you’re overweight, they’re more than met, and that’s the reason that any of us even have the luxury of worrying about how we look.
You might be thinking that if your basic needs are met then you should have plenty of energy and time to focus on the top of the pyramid. I hear you and I agree this makes sense on the surface, but remember what I said earlier? A lot of people battle with anxiety most of the day. Just trying to keep it together and make it to another day. So here’s the thing, to your brain and body, when you’re stuck in this level of stress, worry, and anxiety, it’s very similar to being stuck in the lower levels of the pyramid, even though you do have those needs met physically. But mentally, emotionally, and physiologically, you feel like you don’t. It’s like your body is stuck in fight or flight and your brain is trapped in a constantly stressed state.
Why Are We Like This?
This could be due to a lot of different things. It could possibly be some really intense trauma from your past that you’ve just buried deep and never dealt with. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one you never properly grieved or some type of abuse you have suffered. Maybe it’s your perception of reality vs actual reality. The emotional state that you settle in is not necessarily the state that you want to be in. It is the state you are most familiar with. If it’s full of stress,vworry, and anxiety, then you will do things intentionally or unintentionally to get back to that emotional home.
Regardless of the original cause, the problem is it can just kind of become who we are, even when there’s no reason to feel that way. Even though your survival is not threatened, it feels that way to your brain and nervous system, and then your brain starts catastrophizing. And we do whatever we can to escape. So we, maybe even subconsciously, want the things that we are hardwired to believe will fix the problem: our basic needs, aka food and water.
Overcoming Stress and Anxiety When Losing Weight
If your life or just your perception of life has you stuck in the bottom two levels of needs. If your brain doesn’t feel like those bottom needs are being met, then it’s basically impossible to ignore or overcome stress in order to lose weight. We think that if we could only lose weight then our lives would be less stressful. So here’s the solution. If you want to change your body, you must first change your brain. I know I’ve said it a million times, but it’s true. You must address your brain, your stress, your worry, and your anxiety before or at least during and alongside addressing your body.
How do you do this? Well, you could try counseling or therapy. You could talk with your doctor about medication and if it would be right for you. And the third option is coaching. Find a program or a coach that you believe in and trust, and then commit to that. Remember this: You’re incredible. If you’re stressed or anxious, my heart goes out to you. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can get there. Even if you don’t believe in yourself or believe it’s possible, you can borrow my belief. I believe in you. Take some action, my friend!