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Can’t lose weight? Maybe it’s not what you’re eating

StressedOutIt could be what's eating you.

You eat right and exercise regularly but the scale won’t budge.  Conventional weight loss advice says to eat less and exercise more, but that’s not working either.  What gives?

While diet and exercise are important factors for losing weight, they aren’t the only ones.  How you handle stress can also play a huge role in your weight loss efforts.  While stress may initially cause you to lose weight, chronic stress will not only increase your appetite and make you gain weight, it will also make it harder for you to lose weight.   

How does stress make you fat?  Whether you’re being chased by a bear or anxious because you’re stuck in traffic, your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way.   As the nervous system goes into “fight or flight” mode, your body releases a cascade of hormones.  Adrenaline provides you with a burst of energy to either fight or run away.  At the same time, a surge of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, kicks in.  The increased levels of cortisol increase insulin levels, which in turn causes your blood sugar to drop.  This is why you get so hungry and crave sugary, fatty comfort foods when you’re under stress. This leads to inevitable weight gain,  and to make matters worse, the weight tends to settle around the belly area.    

We live in busy, stressful, 24/7 world.  How’s a person supposed to reduce stress and lose weight? Here are five tips to help you decrease stress and reduce your waistline:

Set boundaries:  Do you constantly say yes to everyone’s requests even when you don’t have the time?  It’s time to set boundaries. Saying “No” can be one of the most difficult things to do, but it gets easier with practice.  Trust me, the temporary anxiety you feel saying no is much better than the stress and resentment you feel from saying yes to activities you don’t have time for or even want to do.   

Ask for help:  Next to saying no, asking for help seems to be the hardest thing for most of us to do.  Are you spending what little free time you have running errands and doing household chores?  If you’re constantly saying “Never mind, I’ll do it!” because you’re the only one who knows how to do it “right,” it’s time to loosen control and let go of perfectionism.  Seriously, who cares if your kid doesn’t fold the towels in perfect thirds or your husband doesn’t load the dishwasher exactly like you do.  As long as the chores get done, it’s a win.  Look into hiring someone to help clean the house or do the yard work. Don’t automatically assume you can’t afford it. Review your budget to see where you could cut back in order to be able to get some help. 

Get your ZZZs:   Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night but are only getting five or six at best. To get a good night’s sleep, avoid caffeine in the afternoon.    Eat at least 3 hours before going to bed.  Turn off all screens (TV, computers and phone) at least 1 hour before going to bed.  Keep your bedroom cool and dark.

Mediation:  You don’t have to go away on a silent retreat or sit for hours to reap the benefits of meditation.  Just 5 minutes of meditation can improve your mood for the better. There are lots of free online resources and apps like Insight Timer to help you get started. 

Breath Work:  Controlled breathing has been shown to reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure and increase immunity.  Controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous response which helps you relax and get out of the “fight or flight” mode.  The next time you find yourself feeling stressed, begin taking long, deep breaths through the nose.  Feel your belly expand on the inhale, pause at the top of the breath, and then exhale completely.        

The goal here is not to completely avoid stress – that’s impossible.  By taking conscious action to reduce unnecessary stress, you can begin to relax, feel better and start losing that stubborn belly fat.

Let me know which tip you’ll try to help you reduce stress and lose weight.

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