Stress triggers come in many forms, ranging from those bills that keep piling up to your teenage daughter telling you she wants to marry her bum boyfriend right after she graduates from high school. This unpleasant sensation is unavoidable in life– unless you have the mental fortitude of someone like the venerable Buddha—so the ultimate aim becomes reducing it as much as possible and learning to manage it more effectively when it does rear its ugly head. When it comes to successfully losing weight, there is a lot more to the equation than simply eating right and exercising more; learning to manage stress is one such piece of the puzzle that must be addressed for a number of reasons.
Physical Effects that May Lead to Weight Gain
Back in the days when our ancestors were outrunning or battling gigantic animals that were trying to kill and eat them, their bodies went through a number of processes that ensured they would replenish their nutritional stores to make up for the energy expended while fighting or fleeing. Our bodies work in the same way today, but, the stressors are much different—we are not really doing a lot of fighting or fleeing, but just a lot of worrying about our jobs, money, kids and other things that do not cause us to expend any calories. So, the same hormones and other chemicals are being released that make us feel hunger and trigger us to eat, even though nothing needs to be replenished. These hormones can also cause our body to hold onto to fat instead of burning it off.
To boot, this signal to replenish causes a craving for quick-burning carbohydrates since they will produce the fastest energy boost. On a somewhat related note, high levels of one of the hormones involved in stimulating appetite—cortisol—can lead the body to store more fat deep in the abdomen; over the years, research has uncovered that this type of fat—termed abdominal fat or visceral fat—is linked to increased risk of myriad serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Stress Makes You Care Less
Besides the actual physical changes in your body that may thwart your weight loss efforts, constantly feeling stressed puts you in a bad state of mind, where you may care less about losing weight or maintaining your health in general. On one hand, feeling badly can sometimes be a trigger for wanting to feel better; but, often times, feeling badly just causes us to continue to do things that keep us feeling badly. Think about how you sometimes feel and act when stressed—you just want to zone out and get away from the world. You have a more negative outlook and feel less hopeful. Instead of exercising, you may just want to zone out in front of the television and shut off your mind. Instead of preparing a healthful meal, you eat something unhealthy that provides comfort and soothes your emotions. When we learn to manage stress more successfully, we will be in a better place mentally; a place where you will care more about your health and find it easier to make decisions that will support your weight loss goals.
Tips to Reduce Stress
When it comes to reducing stress for your weight loss success, it is important to find something that works for you; there is no one thing that you must do or else you will fail. With that being said, however, I would argue that meditation may be the most powerful stress reduction tool there is. So much of our stress in life comes from how we are perceiving and reacting to what is happening, not the actual events. Meditation is one of the best ways to alter this root cause of stress—change your perception and you will change everything that follows, such as your behavior and choices. For example, meditation helps us realize the fleeting nature of our thoughts and feelings and how quickly they change; when we are aware of this, it becomes easier to sit with the discomfort they cause without doing something that will sabotage our weight loss efforts, such as reaching for a box of donuts to soothe us.
Other good stress-reducing tools include deep breathing, journaling, exercise, finding time for a hobby you feel passionate about or spending time in a tranquil setting. Besides finding ways to manage stress, it is also important to evaluate your life and see where you can make some changes to eliminate situations that cause stress; maybe you are involved in one too many committees at your child’s school or you need to work on learning to say ‘’no’’ more often. It is clear that stress can exert a major influence over our weight and for this reason; dealing with it should be right up there as a cornerstone of successful weight loss, along with eating right and exercising more.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who is passionate about healthy living and enjoys sharing tips on how people can take control of their health and well-being.