- Diet and nutrition
- Stress reduction
Weight Loss Strategies You Know
When you ask the average person what is involved in losing weight, most will mention diet. They’ll talk about eating less, or counting calories, or even about selecting the right foods for a healthy diet.
Many will also add that exercise supports weight loss. It’s certainly true that any kind of activity, from a structured exercise program to an after-dinner walk every night will help you lose weight faster. In fact, every minute you’re not sitting in a chair (or being a couch-potato) doubles the calories you burn.
Weight Loss Strategies You May Not Know
However, many people are completely unaware of the third key to weight loss: stress management. Learning relaxation techniques to manage stress has important impact on weight loss (and your quality of life as well).
You see, stress triggers two hormones in your body, adrenaline and cortisol. You’ve heard of adrenaline – it’s that “flight or fight” hormone that prepared your caveman/woman ancestors to run from sabre-toothed tigers. It kicks in pretty much instantly when you are threatened or stressed, and while it’s useful in the rare situation where you actually do have to respond to a threatening situation, most of us experience fewer predator attacks than our ancestors did.
Understanding the Role of Cortisol in Weight Management
Cortisol is the hormone that is related to your weight management challenges. It is released when you are stressed, but not instantly. It takes an hour or so to kick in, and it’s one of the most potent appetite signals our bodies have. Some research indicates that cortisol interferes with our bodies signals that control appetite (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin). Cortisol also seems to trigger us to seek sweets.
In other words, cortisol functions to make us ravenous – it drives us to replenish the calories we may have burnt off while running from that sabre-toothed tiger. The stressors we actually encounter, such as work deadlines, financial woes, and unreasonable bosses, don’t burn off calories in the same way, so the high-fat high-carb foods we crave when stressed (“comfort food”), create trouble for us instead of preparing us to escape it.
Cortisol is also associated with belly fat – it triggers the storage of fat in the abdominal area.
When we’re experiencing ongoing stress, a vicious circle can occur where we gain weight due to eating junk food in response to cortisol. Then we feel stressed about our weight gain, and eat even more in response, particularly when we create even more stress by trying to completely eliminate favorite foods by making them taboo.
Step 1 – Understanding
Step 2 – Realistic Moderation
Step #2 is to limit rather than try to eliminate all treats. Allow yourself small amounts, and try to choose those that offer a health benefit. Perhaps mix a bit of ice cream into a fruit smoothie, or destress with a couple of squares of dark chocolate. These are treats that are actually good for you, in moderation, and that’s the secret. Plan in advance for choices that you genuinely enjoy, rather than grabbing a large order of fries when stress kicks in.
Step 3 – Manage Stress for Weight Loss
The third step to addressing the effect of stress on weight loss is to practice specific techniques to manage stress. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Pay attention to scent. Do something to get your surroundings smelling pleasant. Aromatherapy candles are available at most dollar stores and offer relaxing scents. Try peppermint or lavender to start. A few fresh flowers will offer both scent-therapy and a bright spot of cheerful color in your day.
- Play some music – relaxing or happy music helps relieve stress, and singing along works even better, since it gets you breathing more deeply.
- Laugh – watch or re-watch a comedy, or check out a favorite comic’s routine. Search YouTube for “funny video” or visit a humor website such as lolcats.com. Laughing reduces cortisol.
- Spend time with your pets. Walk the dog, pet the cat, feed the goldfish, cuddle your boa constrictor… spending time with pets has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
- Nurture your houseplants – replanting, trimming, fertilizing can be relaxing. Gardening is even more so – studies have shown gardening to reduce psychological distress.
- Sleep enough. People who get at least eight hours of sleep show reduced cortisol as compared with those who get six hours or less.
- Combine your exercise routine with destressing by choosing activities such as yoga or tai chi. See our article on gentle exercises to lose weight.
As you pay attention to reducing your stress, you’ll find that both weight loss and weight management become easier – which reduces stress in itself!
If you are in Hawaii and could use a little help in getting weight loss under control, contact me for a low-stress weight loss consultation – it’s free.