Weight loss can seem like an unattainable goal to many and can cause a lot of frustration. But perhaps we just need to stop stressing about it.
The body does not differentiate between the different types of stress. Stress can be physical (over-exercising), emotional (tension in relationships), mental (constant deadlines at work), a result of a poor diet or lack of sleep.
What can chronic stress look like for you?
- Increased belly fat
- Low immune system (getting sick more often)
- Difficulty building muscle
If you work out and eat healthy but still struggle with weight, or if you feel like you only look at a piece of chocolate and gain weight, your stress hormone cortisol may be keeping you fat. Stress has an effect on hormones and the nervous system. When stressed, your body thinks it may starve and stores more fat around the belly for times of “famine” (a stress). Your blood sugar goes up and therefore insulin goes up, putting sugar into your cells which makes you fat and prevents you from losing weight. This is why it is sugar that makes you fat. Eating healthy fats in moderation does not make you fat. Again, sugar makes you fat. I repeat this because when so many of us want to slim down, what do we do? We cut out fat, when we should be cutting out sugar.
Do you feel like you used to be able to eat healthy, follow any diet program without feeling tempted to stray, yet now find yourself not being able to stick to any healthy meal plan? Your weight is likely not the primary issue. The primary issue may be your stress hormones.
Why do we crave sugar and carbs when we’re stressed? Sugar and carbs stimulate the release of pleasure chemicals in the brain that reduce tension. So they do serve us a purpose in the moment, to reduce the tension of stress (healthy sugars and carbs in moderation help our brains and bodies function as well). Yet shortly after we consume the cookies and cakes, we feel more fatigue, more guilt, and more stress! Not to mention how quickly we can put on weight if we continue this way.
Control Your Stress to Control Your Body with these Steps:
Clean up the diet
- Vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, bell peppers)
- Foods high in fiber (oats, flax seeds, chia seeds, berries, artichoke)
- Slow-digesting carbohydrates (sweet potato, yams, brown rice, rolled oats)
- Sugar (dried fruit, fruit juices, flavored yogurt, granola)
- Fast-digesting carbohydrates: these are the same as sugar in the body; don’t be fooled just because they aren’t sweet (white potatoes, white bread, white pasta)
Eat frequent meals throughout the day.
Eating five small meals (or three meals + two snacks) can help stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day. Skipping meals or going long hours without eating is, you guessed it, a stress that will spike cortisol and keep you fat.
Eat at least one meal of the day sitting at a table with no distractions.
Don’t read, do work, or watch tv. Just sit with your food and enjoy it. Who does that anymore, right? It may seem simple, yet so many of us don’t do this. Taking the time to eat, although you think you are too busy, will actually keep you more focused and productive when you get back to your work. Your body will be in a relaxed state since you allowed yourself the pleasure of enjoying your meal, and you’ll reduce thoughts about food and cravings throughout the day.
Keep your workouts to one hour or less
- Long workouts, even at low intensity will deplete the body’s fuel, creating stress on the body, again increasing cortisol. The cortisol will then start to break down lean muscle to get more fuel.
- Stick to shorter, intense, strength training sessions.
- Balance your workouts with at least one session of yoga a week.
- Take rest days.
Have more sex
Hormones released during sex help decrease cortisol. Testosterone also increases with sex, which can help prevent abdominal fat and increase lean muscle. Some of the benefits of having more sex that can help keep you lean are decreased feelings of stress and anxiety, improved mood, better sleep, and reduced appetite.
Create a peaceful sleeping environment
Make sure your room is kept dark when sleeping. Keep lights from your cellphone and laptop off. Stress can cause sleep problems and lack of sleep is a stress. Even if you don’t feel stressed, if you are not sleeping well this is still a stress. This is why you crave more carbs and sweets when you don’t sleep well. Poor sleep = stress = high cortisol = high blood sugar = CRAVINGS!
By following these steps you can begin to lower your body’s stress. When you lower your stress you will have the ability to loose fat and gain muscle so you can finally reach your health goals and maintain them for the long run.