CHALLENGE 5: Stress management strategies for weight loss

Most people believe stress is bad for them. But did you know stress can be a valuable tool to help you lose weight or accomplish any meaningful goal? Stress is the response of your body and brain when you believe something you care about is at stake. That means you can use stress as a human performance optimization tool to help you perform better.

Think about it… Can you name any truly meaningful goal you’ve accomplished that wasn’t somehow stressful? Or one meaningful relationship you have that doesn’t cause you stress from time to time?

Stress can even help you live your true values. You know that feeling in your gut when you’re about to stray from who you want to be? That's your stress response.

If this weight loss goal is meaningful to you, then it’s vital you learn how to optimize stress rather than simply try to escape it. Because when something is meaningful to you, stress is how your body and brain give you the energy you need to succeed.

If stress is so important, then what's with all the bad press?

For starters stress often feels horrible. And if you believe stress is bad for you, you might try to escape it.

Think about it… Have you ever felt stressed and just wanted to escape so you started eating even though you weren’t hungry. Or have you chosen to eat something unhealthy over something healthy to get that short-term relief?

Or have you ever planned to work out, but felt stressed so instead you watched TV or went on social media?

Now think about the outcomes when you try to escape the stress related to meaningful relationships or living true to your values.

The first part of this challenge is to learn how to see stress as your ally rather than your enemy. This is known as your stress mindset. This can not only help you embrace your stress response as a tool to help you to follow through on your goals, but it can literally change the hormones your body produces when you’re stressed to make you healthier. For example, when your heart starts pumping harder from a stressor, your blood vessels relax, inflammation decreases, and the pumping mimics exercise, which can help boost cardiovascular health.

What about when stress becomes a problem?

Although stress is an important tool to help you reach your weight-loss goals, sometimes we misinterpret events and our stress response gets overactivated for the task at hand. You don’t want the stress you need to thrive in combatives when you’re trying to have a meaningful conversation at dinner! Also, chronic, uncontrollable stress can undermine your efforts to eat healthy, exercise, sleep, and develop healthy habits. Chronic stress can also slow your metabolism and make it harder to burn fat, particularly belly fat. Most people have had stress mess with their sleep from time to time too. To optimize stress for weight loss, you need tools to put on the brakes when your stress response is in overdrive.

The second part of this challenge is to learn how to activate your body's relaxation response system to cope with unhealthy stress. Once you learn about different relaxation skills, choose one to practice every day for at least a week. Like any skill, you’ll get better with practice. So it’s important to practice these skills even when they aren’t needed “to calm you down” in the same way you wouldn’t want to only practice your marksmanship skills during a firefight.

Finally, learn how to reduce your stress while eating—and avoid overeating while distracted—by practicing mindful eating.

TASKS to achieve Challenge 5:

Additional resources: Challenge 5

Find more resources to help you successfully manage your stress.

Develop strategies to make stress good for you!
Discover what is your stress mindset
HPRC’s “Create a ‘Stress helps me’ Mindset” worksheet
How to choose what you want most
Mindfulness in military environments
Psychological Health Center of Excellence Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC)


A PDF version of the full Get into Fighting Weight: A Total Force Fitness Guide (PDF) is available for download.

Link to Get Into Fighting Weight PDF

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