Ask 10 people what their biggest wish (short-term or long-term) is, right off the top of their head – 9 out of those 10 people may just utter, ‘I really want to lose weight!’ It doesn’t really matter whether it may be for health reasons or for aesthetic purposes, most of us would really love to shed a couple of kilos, wouldn’t we? Improving our diets and exercising are the first words we associate with weight loss (as we should), but there are other contributing factors that determine whether your wish can come true or not. And if after doing everything right you still seem to be hitting a dead end, there may be one particular reason why!
The Common Culprit of Your Weight Loss (or Lack of It!) Woes
Some of you may be lucky enough to work off excess fat with the regular regimen of suitable exercise and a healthy diet. But that’s not the case for everyone. In today’s world, where we’re all rushed for time and are scrambling for energy, having to meet ten deadlines at once, dealing with our family’s various needs, and trying to balance our careers and personal lives, our stress levels have truly peaked. Earlier, mental health was not something that was given importance to; but today, plenty of factors are present in your real and digital life to trigger stress bouts. What’s one of the many ill effects of stress? That’s right – it can stand in the way of your weight loss journey, and in fact, can make you gain weight!
How Does Stress Stop You from Losing Weight?
In the short run, when you’re super stressed, you probably don’t feel like eating much. However, over time when your stress levels build up (leading to chronic stress), your appetite tends to increase.
For one, your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response gets triggered during stress bouts, when cortisol levels (i.e – the stress hormone) shoot up. This leads to a drop in your sugar levels, suddenly filling you with the urge to gorge on fatty and sugary foods. Yes, the same decadent chocolate cake or bhajiyas that beckon you with their tempting aroma every time you should technically be having fresh vegetables or so!
The more you stress out, the more your tendency to overeat builds up – and if your diet is inclusive of too many ‘cheat-day’ treats, well, you can see how that won’t really help you lose weight. High levels of cortisol also lead to increased fat in areas like around your tummy, which may be hard to work off even with lots of exercise or conventional weight loss methods. Another protein that chronic stress leads to the production of is betatrophin, which hinders the body’s ability to break down fat.
Stress also sets off a chain reaction by which it affects your sleep cycle, which, consequently, can thwart your weight loss attempts. When you’re super anxious or stressed out, your sleep cycle gets disrupted. The levels of hormones ghrelin (which signal when you can eat) and leptin (which signals you to stop eating) go for a toss – sleep deprivation results in more ghrelin and less leptin. And that’s why when you’re lying in bed, trying to doze off without much success, you find the need to munch on something!
So in summary, your chronic stress is a big factor which contributes to your lack of weight loss and unintentional weight gain!
Tackling the Culprit – 9 Tips to Handle Stress
Let’s be very clear about something right off the bat – your mental health should be just as big a priority as your physical health for you. Your weight is just one aspect; there are plenty of problems that can run amok in your life if you don’t start taking care of your mental health. So when you feel that the following tips are not really helping you tame your stress bouts or that further help is a necessity, make no mistake – seek professional help. Your mind and body will thank you immensely!
Here are a few other things you can try to keep your stress levels at bay:
A good workout releases endorphins or ‘feel-good hormones’ which can improve your mood and make you feel accomplished, and reduces cortisol levels too. This doesn’t mean that you do a couple of jumping jacks when you’re stressed out! Exercise should become a part of your daily routine so that you can avail of its benefits.
2. Follow a Healthy Diet
Food plays a big role when it comes to your stress levels. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar can only make your stress and anxiety worse; and no, we’re not talking about the occasional cup of coffee here! Also, include healthy foods in your diet but do not skip any food groups thinking that it will help you lose weight. In most cases, it will just make you feel deprived and add to your stress.
3. Indulge in ‘Me Time’
Even if it is just for 20 minutes a day, spend some time doing something YOU love. Take up a relaxing hobby (try and avoid anything to do with screens though!) and spend your me-time focusing on just that. If possible, taking a long break and giving yourself the downtime you deserve can also work wonders for your mental health.
3. Talk it Out
Especially as parents, you may tend to bottle up all your problems so that people around you won’t be affected by your negativity. While it’s noble of you to think that way, remember, you’re not superhuman. You’re allowed to have problems and seek help to solve them. Discuss issues that are stressing you out with your partner or trusted family members and friends. Don’t forget to talk to yourself too – but only positive things! Affirm yourself of your capabilities, the good things in your life, and the fact that there is nothing you can’t tackle!
4. Practice Meditation
Even a few minutes of deep breathing and following a relaxation technique can actually, well, relax you! Choose a quiet spot free of any distractions, sit down and maintain a good posture, and close your eyes. Chant a comforting word or phrase slowly and steadily, while breathing through your nose. While it’s okay to be conscious of the time, don’t set yourself a stringent time limit that will set you running off right after a meditation session. Instead, once you’re finished, remain seated with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes, and give yourself the time to come back to reality.
5. Listen to Soothing Music
Your stress hormones tend to reduce when you’re listening to calming music; so put together a playlist you’d love to sink into every time you feel the need to relax.
6. Start Journalling
You don’t need to have a flair for creative writing to maintain a diary; pen down your thoughts first thing every morning. It can be thoughts of gratitude, your wishes and dreams, or even a simple to-do list. Writing your thoughts out, however, offer you more clarity and gives you something actionable to work on or analyse. Maintaining a stress/anxiety journal can also help you identify repetitive triggers and patterns which you can work on alleviating.
7. Learn to Say No
To too many things on your plate, to toxic people who are adding stress to your life, to doing things that don’t merely push you out of your comfort zone but truly make you uncomfortable! Piling on stressors in our lives is a habit most of us unintentionally cultivate; it’s important to understand what is troubling your mind and work on eliminating such stuff from your life accordingly.
8. Spend Time With People You Love
It doesn’t have to be just people, you know – pets are brilliant stress relievers too! Take time out of your day to be with your family, talk about random things that bring you happiness, become a child again with your kids, cuddle up to your spouse, and laugh out loud at every opportunity you get. Your cortisol levels are bound to go down when you’re surrounded by unconditional love and positivity!
9. Seek Help When Needed
As mentioned earlier, these tips may help a lot of you bring down your stress levels. But if you notice that you’re constantly feeling on edge, second-guessing your every move, are overthinking even basic things, and generally ‘can’t keep calm’, have no shame in consulting a professional. Stress and anxiety may be creations of your mind, but they sure have dire effects on your physical health. You wouldn’t just brush away a case of dengue fever or typhoid as ‘a simple cold’ or ‘high fever’ – why would you brush away chronic stress as ‘just a little tension’!
Weight loss is one of the results of your body’s functions working together in perfect harmony; both, the physical and mental aspects of your body. Exercising and dieting should take top priority as it directly contributes to your weight loss (and as seen above, can also help alleviate stress). But do take the time to acknowledge your mental health and give your mind and body all the love and care it deserves. They’re sure to repay you with desirable results if you do!