Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stress: Weight Loss Challenge #1

The biggest weight loss challenge in my books is stress.

Why stress?

Stress leads to
  • Unconscious eating
  • Emotional eating
  • Holding onto weight
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling out of control
  • Physical illness
Many of these things are intertwined so you may feel fatigue and overeat to help give your body energy, or you may feel overwhelmed and eat to calm your emotions.

Not all stress is "negative" or "bad." We cannot live a completely stress-free life. Some very happy events can be quite stressful--but that doesn't mean we want to forgo the experience.

Examples of "happy", "positive" or "good" stress:
  • Weddings (or yourself, your child or a good friend)
  • Birth of a child
  • Starting a new job
  • Going on an exciting trip
  • Returning to school

There are of course many other types of positive stress, but you get the idea. These events are some of the things that make life sweet, so we don't want to avoid them.

But as sweet as the events are, sometimes we react to the stress in an unhealthy way--like overeating.

So stress itself is not actually bad for is the way we choose to react to that stress. This is part of the challenge of shifting our mindset for weight loss.

The trick then is to react to stress in a healthy way--whether the stress is a "positive" or "negative" event.

I have been reminded over and over again in my own life that I have a deep pattern (aka "a rut") that I have carved out over the years of turning to food when I feel stressed. Even today I hear the voice in my head say, "ice cream--you can have it, you'll feel better."

The truth is while I am eating the ice cream I may temporarily divert my attention from the stressful event if I allow myself to focus entirely on the ice cream. This is super conscious eating...knowing that it is a temporary diversion and choosing to enjoy the ice cream.

OK, that can work, but...
  1. if I grab the ice cream and am thinking about the stressful event or just stuffing the food down my throat without enjoying it then I am not reducing my stress
  2. if I beat myself up afterwards, then I am just adding to my stress, so it backfires.
  3. if I get upset later that I'm not successfully losing weight (presuming that is my goal) then I have not really done myself a service.
  4. the stressor is still there and now I have just added to my habit of eating for emotional reasons which doesn't serve me in the long-run either
On the other hand if I want to temporarily divert my attention from the stressful situation by playing with the dog, driving in the country and enjoying the scenery, playing a game on the computer, walking around the block, meditating, listening to music or any number of other things, I have achieved the diversion without adding sugar/calories/poor food choices to my day and I have taken a step at digging myself out of my unhealthy rut.

Since stress--all by itself--can cause us to hold onto our body fat (look, I can't explain why this is...but it is probably some survival of the fittest thing...I just know from personal experience it happens) we deserve to then minimize our unhealthy choices when we are under stress.

By making unhealthy eating choices--that can be over eating and also restrictive dieting--we add more stress to our bodies.

Making healthy choices and eating well-balanced foods that fuel our bodies and our brains and moving our bodies to keep all the blood and oxygen flowing we reduce our stress.

And by meditating we also reduce our stress. Meditations can be formal, focus on your breathing types of things or they can be walking and focusing on the surroundings. Meditation is simply quieting the mind chatter.

Try a variety of things to reduce your mind chatter and make healthy choices about food and moving your body and you will reduce the negative effects of stress on your body. The result will be greater weight loss success and overall health and wellness.

If you'd like to try meditation but are not sure where to start, take a look at some of these resources as a starting place.

No comments: