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Stress Management for Weight Control

Sejal Desai, MD details how chronic stress can play a huge role in managing your weight.

June 1, 2023

Stress Management for Weight Control                                   

In our society, stress is a factor of everyday life.  Excess stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, depression, and new research shows it may also wreak havoc on metabolism, which of course can lead to weight gain.  There are 2 mechanisms of action for this.

First, food is a source of comfort and a temporary means of reducing stress for many people. For example, say you have an argument with your boss, so at lunch time, you get a burger, fries, and large milkshake.

The second mechanism is how your body chemically reacts to stress. When you’re stressed, the body releases hormones (such as cortisol and epinephrine) that increase your breathing rate, divert blood from your digestive system to your muscles and brain, trigger the release of glucose into the blood stream for quick energy and start to mobilize stored fat.

For our ancestors, this fight-or-flight response was crucial because it helped to protect them against stress – these actions would burn off all of that extra glucose coursing through their blood vessels. But today’s stressors rarely require a physical response – so the extra glucose remains in your blood stream where it triggers the release of insulin. Insulin then converts the glucose to stored visceral fat, most commonly around the mid-section. These fat cells that lie deep within the abdomen have been linked to an increase in both diabetes and heart disease.

Here are some proven techniques that can relieve stress and therefore improve your weight loss efforts:

 

Healthy Nutrition

When you eat a healthy diet, you are giving your body the nutrients it needs to function properly. This can help to improve your mood, energy levels, and overall health. A healthy diet can also help to reduce inflammation, which is a major factor in stress.  Aim to get more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and don’t forget plenty of water!

 

Physical Activity

Physical activity is the best stress-buster!  By improving your health, well-being, and self-image, exercise bolsters your body’s ability to handle stress. Even with a simple activity such as walking, you begin to produce a cascade of biochemical interactions which help counter the negative effects of stress hormones by controlling insulin and sugar levels.

The key is to choose things that you like so you can make sure they become a life-long habit.  If you like to dance, take a Zumba class at your local gym.  If you want to spend time with your kids, go for a family walk every evening after dinner.  And you don’t have to do the same thing every day.  Choosing a variety of activities will ensure you don’t get bored.

It’s important to choose cardio and strength training exercises and then keep workouts to a length that doesn’t exhaust you (this could be as little as 20 minutes a day, three to five days a week).

 

 

Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention in order to find calm and clarity.  It helps you become more aware of your thoughts and actions, including those that relate to food. This can lower high blood pressure and help you manage stress, which drives some people to eat. As meditation has become better known in Western cultures, scientists have begun to quantify its physical benefits in hundreds of studies.

There are many ways to meditate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that most types of meditation have these four things in common:

  • A quiet location.You can choose where to meditate – a comfy chair, while walking, etc.
  • A specific comfortable posture,such as sitting, lying down, standing, or walking.
  • A focus of attention.Find something to focus on – a word or phrase, your breath, or do a guided meditation from an app or YouTube.
  • An open attitude.If you are new to the meditation practice, it may take time to fully focus.  It’s normal to have other thoughts while you meditate. Try not to get too interested in those thoughts. Keep bringing your attention back to your object of focus.

To start your meditation practice, find a quiet place and turn off your cell phone and other distractions. Next, pick a focus word or brief phrase that’s meaningful to you. Some examples are “peace,” or “om.” Then, sit comfortably, close your eyes, relax your body and mind, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you are breathing out, say your word silently to yourself. Don’t worry about thoughts coming in and out of your mind. Gently release them and return to the repetition. To achieve relaxation, use this technique for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

 

“To start your meditation practice, find a quiet place and turn off your cell phone and other distractions. Next, pick a focus word or brief phrase that’s meaningful to you.”

 

Get at least 7-8 hours of continuous sleep per night

Nearly two-thirds of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. When we don’t get enough rest, cortisol & ghrelin (your hunger hormone) levels rise, making us feel hungry and less satisfied with the food we eat. Skimping on sleep sets your brain up to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control so you don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions. Plus, when you’re overtired, your brain‘s reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good. So while you might be able to deter comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble doing so.

 

When we don't get enough rest, cortisol & ghrelin (your hunger hormone) levels rise, making us feel hungry and less satisfied with the food we eat. Share on X

 

Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine

Cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks (soft drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate) can cause cortisol levels to rise, stress to increase, blood sugar to drop and hunger to prevail.

The bottom line is that even though you exercise and eat well, chronic stress can prevent you from losing weight.  However, if you make these few habits a part of your daily life, you can combat the detrimental effects of stress on your weight loss efforts.

Sejal Desai, MD, DABOM

Sejal Desai, MD, DABOM

Empowering peri and post-menopausal women to shed the excess weight and gain energy and confidence to live their best lives!

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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