Posted on: August 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm
Last updated: September 26, 2017 at 2:17 pm

This amazing guest post was written by Sue Hughes M.S.Ed., a certified Nutrition and Wellness Counselor. We encourage you to check out her website here and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

It’s true. The very thing most of us are doing to lose weight may actually be making us fat.

If you are more frustrated by the minute after working so hard to lose those extra pounds only to find the scales tipping in the wrong direction, you’re not alone. The good news is there is something you can do to change that. It just may not be what you expect.


What overexercise or stressing out about your weight actually means to your body.

Your body looks at emotional and physical stress, such as over exercising, as threats to your survival. As a result, your body triggers the “fight or flight” response via your adrenal glands (the glands that make stress hormones) and your autonomic nervous system (the part of your nervous system responsible for automatic functions like heart rate and body temperature) to help you get away from the “threat” fast.

What your body doesn’t realize is that you can’t run away from exercising too much or being concerned about your weight. [1]

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Fight-or-flight: Running from today’s saber-toothed tiger.

The “fight or flight” response is your body’s way of protecting you from the threats that come at you day after day, even if they aren’t actually dangerous. Back in the day, our cave-dwelling ancestors faced serious dangers like being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger. When a caveman was chased, his mind assessed the situation, deemed it to be dangerous, and the life-saving powers of “fight-or-flight” were triggered.[2]


When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, the “sympathetic” nervous system suddenly takes charge. It is the part of your nervous system that is fully awake and aware in the midst of “danger”. During this time your body directs as much energy as possible to the functions of your body that help you get away. Your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes quick and shallow, your blood pressure and blood sugar spike, your pupils dilate, and blood flow increases to your brain and muscles. [2]

Simultaneously during a perceived emergency, energy is taken away from the functions that aren’t immediately helpful for your “escape”.  Your immune system, liver and detoxification, hormone regulation, metabolism, and digestion are a few of these “non-essential” functions that slow down or stop altogether.

“Fight or flight” can be life-saving during short-term emergencies, but quite the opposite is true when it is triggered all the time.

Today you probably aren’t being chased by anything, let alone a saber-toothed tiger, but your body still responds as though you are. Negative emotions like fear, worry, anger, or guilt, and frustration over your weight or anything else, as well as extreme physical stress such as over exercising, inflammation, dehydration, or infection, trigger the same “fight or flight” response that happened back in the day when real danger was on the horizon. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if those emotions or conditions were temporary. But today’s negative emotions and perceived “threats” are often with us from the time we wake in the morning until we go to sleep at night, resulting in your body not functioning at full capacity.


So, with the impaired digestion and metabolism, stress hormone release, and blood sugar surges that go hand-in-hand with the “fight or flight” response, weight loss can be difficult, if not impossible. If your physical and/or emotional stress is constant, it sets the stage for conditions including insulin resistance and diabetes, hormone imbalance, and adrenal fatigue, just to name a few. [1][3]

7 simple things you can do to switch off fight-or-flight and shed pounds starting now

It’d be great if you could magically rid yourself of all stress, but that’s not always realistic. The next best thing is to teach your body how to handle stress in a healthy manner.

The strategies below will help you switch off your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that allows you to relax and restore so your body is able to function exactly as it was meant to. While in parasympathetic mode, you’ll metabolize your food and break down carbs and fats more efficiently, balance your hormones with less effort, and take a huge burden off of your adrenal glands and the rest of your body. It’s the way to go if you want to stop the cycle of weight gain and get your energy and balance back once and for all.

  1. Pay attention to your tension, then name it. It’s really easy to get used to feeling stressed out – so much so that we often don’t notice it. Take time to recognize the feeling of tightness that accompanies tension and then name the reason for that tension so you can address it.
  2. Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply changes how your body responds to tension by stimulating the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system – the vagus nerve. This slows down your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and calms your body and mind. [4]
  3. Take a high-quality probiotic. Your gut is the first line of defense against physical stressors like viruses and bad bacteria. Adding a daily probiotic (beneficial bacteria) to your regimen will help the good bacteria outnumber the bad bacteria in your gut so germs and infections can’t take hold as readily, sparing you the stress of physical illness and inflammation. [5]
  4. Journal. “Better out than in” is what I like to say when it comes to toxins, including toxic emotions. So, detoxify your mind by writing down your thoughts so that they don’t ultimately wreak havoc on your physical health. [6]
  5. Take part in gentle exercise daily, like brisk walking, yoga, or jumping on a mini-trampoline. When you’re having trouble losing weight, strenuous workouts or over exercising can be stressful to the body. Your body may respond better to exercise that allows you to breathe deeply and stretch.
  6. Do a gentle, daily detox. Drinking an 8-ounce glass of warm water mixed with the juice from half a lemon is an awesome way to flush out waste products from your body’s night-time housekeeping. During sleep, your body conserves a bunch of energy that is then used to filter out toxins. This simple drink will help your body move all of the resulting waste out so it’s no longer stressful to your body.
  7. Hydrate! Your body is made up of about 65% water. That is used up during temperature regulation, breathing, and even digestion. If you don’t drink enough water, your body can’t work as it should. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses daily.
  • Lewis, S. L., & Bonner, P. N. (2016). Stress and stress management. Medical-Surgical Nursing-E-Book: Assessment and Management of Clinical Problems, Single Volume, 77.
  • Andreassi, J. L. (2013). Psychophysiology: Human behavior & physiological response. Psychology Press.
  • Aschbacher, K., Kornfeld, S., Picard, M., Puterman, E., Havel, P. J., Stanhope, K., … & Epel, E. (2014). Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 46, 14-22.
  • Carter, K. S., & Carter III, R. (2016). Breath-based meditation: A mechanism to restore the physiological and cognitive reserves for optimal human performance. World journal of clinical cases, 4(4), 99.
  • Yang, H., Zhao, X., Tang, S., Huang, H., Zhao, X., Ning, Z., … & Zhang, C. (2016). Probiotics reduce psychological stress in patients before laryngeal cancer surgery. Asia‐Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, 12(1).
  • Chen, J. A. (2016). The effects of systematic self-monitoring, feedback, and collaborative assessment on stress reduction (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Jordan, A. (2016). The missing link between stress and weight gain.
  • Bally, L., Zueger, T., Buehler, T., Dokumaci, A. S., Speck, C., Pasi, N., … & Rosset, R. (2016). Metabolic and hormonal response to intermittent high-intensity and continuous moderate intensity exercise in individuals with type 1 diabetes: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia, 59(4), 776-784.


Sue Hughes
Founder at Susan Hughes Health
Sue is a Certified Nutritional Consultant, holds a Master's Degree in Psychological Counseling, and is the creator of the popular online course DIY Hormone Balance: A Self-Paced Course . The course offers step-by-step tools to help you re-balance the puzzle that is your hormones. Sue specializes in individualized natural healing support for cancer, hormone imbalance, and adrenal fatigue using nutrition, stress support, and non-invasive diagnostic tools including hair tissue mineral analysis. Sue believes that the body has an incredible capacity to heal when provided with the necessary tools. Her programs are unique in that they address the root cause of disease and imbalance from both the physical and emotional standpoint.

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