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Ask an Expert: What is stress and how does it impact weight loss?

Woman feeling the affects of high stress levels after weight loss surgery

Stress is the body’s response to demands or pressures, whether they be physical, emotional, or psychological. Following weight loss surgery, individuals may experience a multitude of stressors, ranging from adjusting to dietary changes and managing expectations to navigating social situations and addressing underlying emotional issues.

In this blog, Clinical Director of Psychology, Melanie Rendall, delves into the concept of stress, the importance of keeping and eye on our stress levels and offers advice on how to deal with stress.


What you need to know about stress

Stress  – also known as our fight or flight system – is the body’s natural response to real and imagined situations and is essentially a chemical reaction that prepares our bodies for action and is there to keep us safe from harm. It is a term that we use casually all of the time but actually in the modern world most of us are so used to being stressed that we often don’t know when we are overloaded until we are at breaking point. 

We often think about stress as something that needs to be avoided or overcome, but in fact, small amounts of stress often helps us perform better at tasks or activities by motivating us to do our best and helping us to focus our attention where it needs to be, and take the action that is needed.

However, we know that repeated activation of our stress response can take a real toll on our bodies and minds, taking us away from the person we want to be, or the things in life that matter to us. And over time, this can get in the way of people making the changes that are required to successfully work with surgery over the long term. 

If you notice you are struggling to make the changes you intended to make after surgery, it can be useful to step back and draw out what the difficulties are. This can then help you figure out what may be helpful or identify what other actions may be useful.  


Why is it important to keep an eye on our stress levels?

In modern world, we are increasingly so used to holding levels of stress, that it can be hard to identify when it has tipped the scale. 

Learning to live with bariatric surgery takes time, and it is normal for people to struggle at different stages of their journey. Life after weight loss surgery can be just as challenging as it was before. 

At times of stress, people can find themselves being pulled back into old eating habits, or neglecting other aspects of self-care, such as exercise or taking time out for themselves. We also know that surgery can create a new set of challenges to deal with.

We know that those that learn to treat themselves with kindness, even when things don’t go to plan or if they are still facing reality gaps between where they are after surgery and where they had hoped to be, can often navigate setbacks a lot more smoothly.


What can I do about stress?

While our inbuilt stress response is not something that we can control, we can learn to control how we react and relate to stress, so it has less impact and influence on our behaviour. 

The first thing to say is that this is not easy. Most of us want to do whatever we can to get rid of difficult thoughts and feelings. We may start avoiding people or situations that bring up these thoughts and feelings and over time, we may spend less time doing the things in life that matter. We may use substances such as food or alcohol to give us some temporary respite from uncomfortable or unwanted thoughts and feelings.

But the good news is that there are skills that we can all develop and strengthen to help us cope with stress. If we are facing short-term stress, often a few simple self-care strategies can help us navigate these difficulties.

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