Uncontrolled stress can sabotage any weight loss plan. As a nurse practitioner and health coach, I see many clients who list weight loss as their main wellness goal. Often they tell me they are not losing weight even though they have changed their diet and started working out. I always ask about their stress levels, and most of them will indicate it is “moderate” to “very high.” I usually focus on ways to decrease their stress levels first, then diet and exercise.
Elevated Cortisol levels will sabotage your weight-loss efforts
There is a biological reason why stress prevents weight loss. When you experience stress, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol helps prepare your body for the “fight or flight” response required under life-threatening situations. It, along with other stress hormones, directs your body’s energy toward “fighting” the wild animal that may try to eat you or fleeing” from said animal. Although we do not have to worry about being chased by wild animals in the office, we do have project deadlines, co-worker issues, financial concerns, and family problems. All of these stressors can cause cortisol levels to remain consistently high. Prolonged elevations of cortisol can negatively impact your energy level, sleep cycles, and hunger. Also, you will tend to store (not lose) body fat around your waist. Abruptly changing your diet and exercise regimen can be interpreted by the body as another form of stress, thus triggering the “store more fat” response.
Ways to decrease stress
1. Decrease your screen time. As an office worker, you must use a computer and other technology at work. What about before work, after work, and during your lunch break? How much time do you spend watching television, checking social media, or surfing the web? Set a goal to limit the amount of screen time you have today and try to decrease the amount a little every day. Eliminate all screen time at least one hour before bed. After a few days, you should start to feel a decrease in your stress level and find you are sleeping better.
2. Find a relaxation tool that works for you. Meditation, mindfulness practice, yoga, biofeedback, and Acupuncture are just a few tools that can help decrease stress. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to relaxation tools. I encourage you to try several and pick the one you enjoy most.
3. Take a breathing break. When we stare at a computer screen for prolonged periods, our breathing tends to become shallower. We even hold our breath for a time while trying to concentrate on a problem or analyze data. Taking shallow breathes results in less oxygen delivery to the brain. A decreased level of oxygen to the brain inhibits clear thinking and decision making. When we can’t think clearly, it takes longer to do the tasks we need to do. We can easily spiral into a state of stress-induced, oxygen-deprived incompetence. So, I encourage you to schedule regular breathing breaks. Stop focusing on your computer or project long enough to take ten, slow, deep breaths. Another great breathing tool I recommend is the “4-7-8 breathing technique.” Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine, explains how to do it here.
4. Learn how you respond to stress and take steps to reduce it. People respond differently to the same stressor. It is important to understand how you are reacting and then put a plan in place to address your response to stress. The best book I have ever read on this subject is 'The Superstress Solution: 4-Week Diet and Lifestyle Program' by Dr. Roberta Lee. Dr. Lee provides questionnaires to help you assess your response to stress. She then provides recommendations for diet, supplements, exercise, and other strategies to address the way your body is responding to stress.
Stress is not something you can eliminate from your life, but you can take steps to improve the way you respond to it. In doing so, your weight loss efforts may become some successful.
Author Bio: Sammie Stephens NP-C, CWHC is a Nurse Practitioner and certified Wellness & Health Coach with a focus on integrative healthcare and lifestyle disease prevention. She provides health coaching to individuals and groups. Sign up to follow her blog here.
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Yours in health,