Weight Loss with HEALTHeME

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Skinny on Stress & Weight Loss

Manage your stress to lose weight.

What if stress is the one thing holding you back from reaching your goals?

As we usher in a new year, all the holiday hustle-and-bustle behind us, we assume stress is so last year. But is that reality? Stress is pretty unavoidable in today’s society but it rarely makes the list of New Year’s resolutions. What if decreasing your stress could help your other resolutions, like losing weight, just fall into place?

Sure, getting regular exercise and a following a balanced diet are keys to living a healthy life, but one study found that chronic stress could be lethal. In the study, researchers found that people who consistently experience more than just one or two stressful events per year have a 50% higher mortality rate. So, think of keeping the stressful experiences in your life to a minimum as a life-insurance policy!

Maybe it comes as no surprise that stress isn’t good for your health, but did you know stress might cause you to gain weight? A 2011 study explains why stress must be addressed before we will be successful in our fight against obesity. When we experience stress, our bodies release a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone”, makes us feel hungry. This same hormone also makes us more likely to reach for high fat “comfort” foods when we’re exposed to stress. So, being under a nearly constant assault of stress, as so many of us are, makes us more likely to choose bad-for-us foods, leading to weight gain.

On the flip side, one recent study found that being mindful at meal-time and reducing stress may help people shed that oh-so-dangerous belly fat, even without dieting. Researchers followed chronically stressed obese or overweight women and found that those who participated in stress reduction activities and increased their mind-body awareness (especially as it relates to meal time awareness), lost more abdominal fat and reduced their levels of stress hormones more than their stressed out and less-mindful counterparts. Shedding abdominal fat is significant because abdominal adiposity (or abdominal fat) is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.

Here are 3 ways to stress less, be more mindful, and achieve your goals:
  1. Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to catch up to your stomach when you are eating. If you’re plowing through a meal at warp-speed, you will charge full-steam-ahead into that miserably stuffed, gotta-open-the-button-on-your-pants feeling. Eat slowly so you can recognize when you’re full but not uncomfortable.
  2. Meditate. A daily meditation practice helps people feel more confident, less self-critical, and less stressed. One study found that a regular meditation practice causes physical changes in the areas of your brain that are associated with stress and anxiety, confirming the study participants reported decrease in these negative emotions.
  3. Exercise. Not only does exercise burn calories, but it is also a proven way to manage stress.
You know you’re going to experience stress. But, if you want to be successful in reaching your healthy living goals, you have to combat stress like it’s skinny jeans enemy numero uno. Make managing your stress a priority for 2012!