We start off every new year with a bang: big resolutions, big plans for weight loss and healthy living, and big expectations for results. But when the results are slow to come, we can get frustrated and consider throwing in the towel. Is that where You’re at with your health-related resolutions? Has the scale refused to budge no matter how faithfully you’ve been putting in time at the gym and passing up dessert? In this two-part series, we’ll explore how weight loss is more complex than diet and exercise, and discuss some obstacles that are holding you back from achieving your healthy weight goals. And it doesn’t mean more time on the treadmill.
Stress: the Resolution-Killer
Stress, stress, stress: It’s become the scapegoat for many health problems. But did you know that stress is the number one killer of weight loss efforts? In fact, the more stressed you are, the more your body works against you. And the harder time you’ll have losing those unwanted pounds.
When You’re under stress, your body uses its resources to help you get through the stressful situation. You’ve heard of the ?fight-or-flight? reaction?should the body run from the stress or stay and fight it? To help you make the decision, your body stimulates the adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline (that hormone that can make people move heavy weights and perform other feats under stress)
So far, so good. It’s how the body protects itself. The problem occurs when a stressful situation is prolonged. When the issue doesn’t go away in 18 minutes?and modern-day stressors like family problems, stressful work situations, money woes, etc. tend to last quite a bit longer?the body turns to cortisol production as a long-term coping mechanism.
Cortisol may have been helpful during prehistoric times, but in today’s world It’s your enemy. It does three things: raises blood sugar, raises blood pressure, and alters your immune system, but It’s the first that really affects your weight loss goals.
When your blood sugar is high, your body produces more insulin (this is why diabetics, who have difficulty processing insulin, need to carefully regulate their blood sugar levels). Increased insulin production triggers increased activity of the lipoprotein lipase, which means greater fat storage. It’s a chain and cascade effect: more stress means higher blood sugar, more insulin, and more fat storage. And it keeps packing it on no matter how much time you spend at the gym.
As if cortisol production weren’t bad enough, your belly fat cells contain four times as many cortisol receptors as other fat cells. This results in what’s called the cortisol ring: that ring of tummy fat That’s particularly tough to dissolve.
The Mechanics of Fat Loss
Stress has another negative effect on weight loss: it makes fat loss happen less efficiently. Remember that fat loss, or lipolysis, doesn’t mean that fat cells disappear, they just empty and shrink. Normal, healthy fat cells open wide during lipolysis?up to 70% open. But when you are under stress, fat cells only open up 40%. That’s a big difference and can drastically slow down how quickly you drop those pounds or inches. It means you need to work harder for a diminished result (which, of course, creates more stress).
Attacking Stress the Healthy Way
Stress is a part of modern life, but it doesn’t have to destroy your health. These four strategies can increase your mental and physical well-being, lower cortisol production, and ultimately help you with those weight loss goals and healthy resolutions:
– Take care of yourself. According to the Harvard Mind-Body Institute, engaging in a relaxing, self-directed activity for fifteen minutes a day has the power to lower blood cortisol. This can be as complicated as a painting class or yoga session or as simple as a cup of tea and a book or a jog around the block. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as It’s self-initiated?and not something on your to-do list.
– Take your time. If you’re short on time and stressing out about it Then, for your health’s sake, It’s even more important to take those fifteen minutes to yourself. You’ll lower your cortisol levels and improve your mood, making it easier for you to handle the stressful situation in the first place.
– Focus on the good. It may be your least natural reaction, but focussing on the good in a situation can do a lot to lower your stress levels. For example, if your boss is being rude and demanding, try to think about good aspects of the situation: I have a job. I’m competent to do it, no matter what my boss says.
– Cut out alcohol. Experts keep going back and forth on the health benefits of wine, for example, but if You’re hoping to lose weight you should cut back on or cut out your alcohol consumption. This isn’t just because of the calories (around 100 calories for a glass of wine?and up to 500 calories for a frothy, sugary mixed drink), either. Research shows that one glass of wine turns up your body’s cortisol production, something you definitely don’t want to encourage.
If You’re struggling with insomnia, change your thinking: instead of “Help! I’ll never be able to sleep!” think “because I’m not sleeping, I have more time to meditate.” Sound too Pollyanna-ish? It’s okay to fake it until you make it; facing your stressors in a positive manner breeds positive adaptive strategies. Then your body feels like It’s in control, which means lowered cortisol, or stress hormone, production.
Next week, we’ll look at the role of the thyroid in enhancing and inhibiting weight loss. In the meantime, if you’ve made good resolutions and tried to stick to them without success, try reducing stress and cortisol production by taking care of yourself, focusing on the good, and cutting out alcohol. You might just have your weight loss goals within reach!
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.