Do you ever feel like no matter how much you exercise and no matter how healthy you eat, your clothes are still getting tighter? It’s so frustrating, isn’t it?! Well, if it helps, you are not alone. And stressing yourself out over it isn’t helping. In fact, it’s doing the exact opposite!
Over the past year, I have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out this weight loss puzzle and have done a ton of research online. In addition, my studying with IIN (Institute for Integrative Nutrition) has been a huge part of my healing journey and has helped me figure out what works (and what doesn’t) for me personally. It has forced me to take a closer look at my daily habits and identify some major stressors in my life. You see, at IIN we learn that living a well-balanced life is not only about the foods you eat (secondary foods) but equally important, you have to pay attention to your primary foods. Your primary foods include your relationships, your passion/work life, your stress levels, spirituality, and overall sense of happiness and contentment. All of these factors play in a very important role in your overall well-being. Let’s take a closer look at how your stress levels can impact your weight.
Historically, we experienced stress only when we were in danger. This danger came from serious threats such as famine, floods or war. In today’s world, the long-term stress tends to come from relationship or financial concerns, your health or the health of a loved one, or your weight, the food you eat and your exercise routine.
Many people experience chronic stress daily and often their thoughts are racing from the moment they open their eyes: “Oh my goodness, I feel so tired and bloated again today! I shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine. I need to do 45 mins of cardio instead of 30 mins because of the chocolate dessert I had after dinner. It’s already Wednesday and I haven’t been to the gym once this week! But then I won’t have time to go to the organic market! What will I eat today? I need to go shopping on the way home and then it will be so late until I can actually sit down to have dinner. I won’t have time to chop vegetables and clean up after. I need to help the kids with homework, make sure their sports clothes are packed for tomorrow. I need to arrange playdates for next week, make a hair appointment and take the dog to the vet.”………Sound familiar?
Due to these stressful thoughts, we have all day, our body is under the impression we are in danger. The body’s primary goal is survival and can not distinguish between perceived stress and real danger. So what happens when we have these erratic thoughts all day, every day? Our body stores fat as a protective mechanism. The hormone associated with stress is the stress hormone cortisol. Gaining weight around your midsection, back of your arms and your back, is a major clue that your cortisol is elevated. Cortisol wants to thicken you up to keep you alive. All of our major organs (except for our brains) are in the midsection of our body, our torso. Cortisol wants to keep us safe during this perceived time of stress and wants to protect and nourish these major organs with extra layers. Again, this is our beautiful body simply doing its thing, keeping us safe.
When cortisol is high in your body, your metabolism slows down. And when your metabolism slows down and you haven’t changed anything about the way you eat or move your body, your clothes start to feel tighter. This is where a vicious cycle can set in. When our clothes feel tighter, what is the first thing we tend to do? Go on a diet, ie typically eat less, exercise more and for longer periods of time. Giving your body less food when it already perceives there to be danger slows your metabolism even further. This is why for so many, diets simply don’t work. Particularly when you have elevated cortisol which is responsible for your weight gain.
So what can we do? NOTHING LOWERS YOUR STRESS HORMONES FASTER THAN HOW YOU BREATHE. Breathing diaphragmatically, that is taking deep inhales as you balloon your belly instead of taking shallow breaths into your chest, and releasing the air with long, slow exhales, will help you lower your stress levels. Breathing diaphragmatically communicates to your body that you are in safety and that it is safe to burn fat for fuel.
Here is a list of a few other things you can do to lower stress hormones:
• Maintain or preferably build your muscle mass and embrace regular movement. Make an active effort to boost your muscle mass because the more muscles you have the higher your metabolic rate.
• If you have challenges with sleep this must be resolved. Good sleep is imperative for managing stress.
• Omit all sources of caffeine.
• Begin a daily meditation practice. Even five minutes a day will help lower stress levels.
• Address your perception of pressure and urgency.
• Bring more gratitude into your life; notice the little things – a sunset, a bird, the laughter of a child.
• Change your workout routine to include more gentle ways of exercising such as yoga, pilates and tai chi instead of hardcore cardio and HIIT workouts.
Ignoring chronic stress levels can lead to more serious conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue and Hashimoto’s Disease. These conditions take a long time to heal and are often debilitating. In times of stress, please remember there is nothing selfish about self-care. Take the time to take care of you. And breathe. Deeply.