22 Jul The biggest thing holding you back on your weight loss journey
I don’t even have to see your food journal to know what it is.
We’ve all heard it over and over again: “If you want to lose weight, restrict your calories, and get more exercise. Cut your carbs. Try intermittent fasting.” And the list goes on. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Not only are all calories not created equal, but all human emotions aren’t either. And your emotions, believe it or not, play a massive part in your weight loss journey.
One emotion is particularly damaging: stress.
It’s true. When clients come to me looking for answers to their health and weight concerns, one of the first things I ask them about is their stress. More often than not, this is met with an incredulous look and a response of, “My stress? Of course I am stressed, but what does that have to do with anything?”
After a lifetime of being told that weight loss is all about diet and exercise, it can be challenging to grasp that stress may be a significant factor in your weight loss struggles. When we experience stress of any kind, cortisol levels begin to rise and signal the brain to slow down your metabolism and store energy (body fat). Stress, in small doses, increases the risk of food addiction because we associate the rewarding experience with eating.
Stress increases inflammation, causing damage to the gastrointestinal tract, reduces HCL (stomach acid) production, interferes with proper nutrient absorption and can lead to leaky gut. Malabsorption of nutrients can stimulate your appetite in an attempt to provide your body with the essential nutrients it needs to survive. Chronic stress is also one of the leading causes of many common digestive issues, including diarrhea and constipation (both symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome), acid reflux, and FODMAP intolerance.
Poor sleep quality
Under normal circumstances, cortisol would be at its highest in the morning to wake us up, decreasing throughout the day and finally dropping to its lowest levels at night so we can go to sleep. However, when cortisol, along with other stress hormones, remain elevated throughout the day, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep then affects your “hunger hormones” ghrelin and leptin, which dictate your appetite, tell you when to eat, and when you are full. This can lead to overconsumption, resulting in weight gain.
Other effects of chronic stress and elevated cortisol include increased inflammation, weakened immune system, anxiety, hormone imbalances, fertility problems, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
I think it’s safe to say that stress is a significant issue in today’s world and affects all of us on some level, whether it’s from long work hours, traffic, technology, social media, money issues, illness, deaths, trauma, or relationships. It is no wonder chronic stress is at the root of so many health issues, including your ability to lose weight.
And, while you may not be able to quit your job and go live on a beach and meditate all day, there are all kinds of easy-to-do lifestyle changes you can implement to help you begin to bring your stress levels back to normal:
- Be compassionate with yourself and understand that this will take time
- Incorporate mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation
- Reduce or eliminate prolonged or strenuous exercise such as running, cycling, extreme cardio, intense hot power yoga
- Add strength training to build fat-burning muscle
- Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed before 10:00PM and getting 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night
- Reiki and massage therapy
- Evaluate your life, commitments, responsibilities, and obligations and determine which are causing you the most stress as well as which ones are optional and eliminate them
As you can see, many factors determine healthy body weight, and they go far beyond merely “calories in and calories out.” The good news is that by taking a whole lifestyle approach and managing your nutrition, sleep, stress and movement, you can make great strides and be well on your way to living a happier, healthier, more empowered life.
P.S. If you’d like help managing your weight loss, living a healthier life or getting to know Reiki and yoga for stress relief, I have opened up spots for nutrition clients and currently have Reiki and private yoga appointments available.