De-stress to Meet Your Weight Loss Goals
“Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” ~ Cicero
It's time to chart a new course away from the much-traveled, never successful path of dieting and deprivation and become your own best nutritionist. It's been proven again and again that diets do not work and are doomed to failure because deprivation only works for short periods of time. Putting aside quirky diets, tiny portions or calorie counting, I'd like to demonstrate the powerful connection between stress and weight loss and focus on the how and when you eat. Additionally, this information will help you heighten your awareness of your relationship with food.
How you eat is usually a reflection of the amount of stress you are under, such as eating on the go, multi-tasking, eating in the car, etc. In these examples, there is a disconnect between your eating patterns and what should be mealtimes, leading to dissatisfaction and a lack of satiation, which causes you to want to continuously eat. The bottom line is: You will continue to want to eat if you can't remember that you ate in the first place!
"Stress eating," or mindless eating, changes what happens in the brain. Changing your eating experience can help you change your relationship with food. When was the last time you sat down to a meal and really focused on what you were eating and enjoyed it? You can change your eating experience by indulging your senses of smell and sight. This will raise your level of consciousness when you eat and enhance your digestive experience.
So many things happen in the body when we are under stress. Hormones are released, signaling the body to store fat and thus, our metabolism is negatively affected. Physiologically, our bodies go into the "fight or flight mode." Muscles tighten, insulin levels rise, and blood is re-routed away from the limbs for fast running action and quick thinking in the brain. Simply stated, the part of our brain that turns on stress also turns off digestion. And conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response also turns on full, healthy digestive power. Because stress interferes with digestion, it also sabotages weight loss. When digestion slows down and food is left sitting in your stomach, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released to provide immediate energy, but decreases burning capacity, meaning that weight gain can result.
While stress is a part of life, we must find ways to minimize it and not allow it to interfere with our digestion or destroy our good health. Try to avoid mindless food consumption like eating on the run, in the car, standing or while multi-tasking at your desk. This sort of eating prevents you from connecting with and receiving pleasure from the food you eat. Not surprisingly, having a negative relationship with food can only result in weight gain and frustration.
The next valuable tool in maintaining a healthy weight is to eat intuitively by paying attention to how your body feels before, during and after meals. In addition to avoiding the distractions mentioned above, intuitive eating involves listening to your body, noting the signals you get from your mind and stomach and being fully present while you eat. It also means becoming aware of when you are physically hungry and avoiding impulsive snacking. Instead of mindlessly eating more than your body requires, make quiet time in your day to enjoy and allow your food to nourish and satisfy you. Listening to your body will yield far better results than dieting ever could.
Once the word "diet" is eliminated from your vocabulary, you can confidently stop counting calories, and begin to break the destructive cycle of stress and failed weight loss efforts. A healthy and stress-free attitude toward weight loss will help you to achieve the results you desire. Make a conscious decision to replace what I call the "negativity diet," or, guilt from eating something "bad," with a positive attitude toward food that will also reduce your stress levels.
The stress that results from feelings of failure wreaks havoc on the mind and body, thwarting all future attempts to lose the weight and re-gain self-esteem. Metabolism and digestion are enhanced by making the right food choices and having a more positive attitude toward food, which should be your friend, not your enemy. Then and only then can your weight loss goals become a reality.
As a health and nutrition coach, I recommend some simple steps you can implement, a step at a time, to improve your mindfulness of and your relationship with your food:
- Take 5 deep breaths before putting any food in your mouth to bring the body into a relaxed state. The increase in oxygen will relax you by the release of endorphins
- Eat slowly. Allow your body more time to process the food and tell you when it is satisfied. Eating too quickly makes it possible to consume more than your body needs. Pause between each bite, allowing yourself the time to savor your meal and allow your body to properly digest it as well.
- Eat sitting down, no eating on the run or multi-tasking. Eating while standing or grazing only sets up the stress response that leads to weight gain.
- Look at your food, smell it and chew it carefully. Replacing the guilt with enjoyment will go a long way since pleasurable eating keeps you satisfied and makes you less inclined to overeat.
- Don't problem solve while eating. Making quiet time for meals and keeping stressful thoughts at bay aids in digestion and avoids unnecessary weight gain.
- Recognize eating as a form of self-nourishment and give thanks. If you cook, (which I highly recommend), honor your efforts.
- Check-in with yourself and ask, "Am I eating under stress?" Is my mind in high gear?
A positive attitude towards food will help you to:
- Maintain homeostasis, or internal equilibrium, by allowing your body to run more efficiently and harmoniously.
- Increase nutrient assimilation and absorption.
- Increase energy (calorie) burning potential.
- Calm the heart and ease the spirit.
- Become an intuitive eater who eats only when hungry and in relation to your body's needs. Rate your hunger on a 1-10 scale before eating. If you're at a 10 or very hungry, you should eat to level 7 or until you are satisfied, but not stuffed. And if you are at a 1-4, take a break from eating and allow your body more time to process the previous meal.
- Eat earlier in the day and lighter in the evening. Allow your body at least 3 hours to digest before bedtime for maximum benefit.
- Cultivate a healthier and more liberating approach to eating by listening to your body.
As you learn to eat healthy foods and associate those foods with the reward and good feelings of losing weight, you are re-wiring the brain. You can re-wire your brain within weeks to months. If you slip back, even during one week on vacation, you can consciously re-wire back to your old, positive habits. Also, remember to take time to de-stress, since stress prevents the body from maintaining proper balance and weight levels. Slow down with meals and slow down in life for a happier, healthier you. Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, a gratitude journal, and journaling are a few ways to manage stress. As Cicero advised, listen to your inner voice. When it comes to health, nutrition and weight loss, give your body only what it requests.
References: "The Slow Down Diet" by Marc David