Fat loss is more than just controlling our calorie intake and the food and beverage choices we make each day. The body also responds to the way we think, feel and act (also known as the “mind-body connection”). Over the past two decades, mind-body research has provided evidence that psychological factors play a major role in illnesses such as heart disease and that mind-body interventions can aid in treatment and healing. In the final segment of the series, “Fat Loss Fundamentals”, the focus will be on how one’s emotional well-being can affect both weight gain and overall fat loss results.
Stress plays a significant role in how we store and release fat. In “Fat Loss Fundamentals – Part One” we discuss the role of hormones and body fat. Whether we are feeling stressed from the demands and expectations at work, at home, or in dealing with personal relationships, our bodies respond as if we are physically in danger. This triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, leading to the release of various hormones resulting in the production of immediate energy, a shift in metabolism and blood flow, and other changes.
Prolonged stress, or chronic stress, can also cause weight gain. Because cortisol, the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” response, is continually being released into the bloodstream the body assumes it is in some sort of danger. Our metabolism shifts and our behaviors also change in response to being exposed to environmental stress.
Chronic stress results in the following physiological and emotional changes:
- Metabolism – high levels of cortisol slows down metabolism, causing weight gain (if eating habits aren’t adjusted)
- Cravings – individuals experiencing chronic stress tend to crave foods that are fatty, salty and sugary (i.e. processed foods and sweets)
- Blood sugar – altered blood sugar levels, as a result of chronic stress, can cause mood swings, fatigue and other metabolic conditions (i.e. type 2 diabetes, hyperglycemia)
- Fat storage – prolonged, excessive stress can affect where the body stores fat (i.e. abdominal fat)
- Emotional eating – not only do people crave unhealthy foods, they eat more than normal due to an increase in nervous energy from increased levels of stress
- Fast food – stressful work, school and family schedules make fast food options more appealing than healthy home cooked meals
- Too busy to exercise – with the stressful demands that comes with each day, exercise is far down on the list of priorities and often gets sacrificed for other items on the “to do list”
Ways to Reduce Stress
In order to counteract the effects of stress on your body (and your tendency to store fat), there are many things you can add into your daily routine. Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can be beneficial in reversing the effects of stress. These techniques are designed to trigger the “relaxation response”, when the body feels it is no longer in danger. Techniques to effectively reduce stress and promote relaxation include:
- Breathing exercises
- Massage therapy
Effective long term fat loss requires careful attention to the foods we eat, the physical activity we do, and the emotions we feel each day. Paying attention to each of these factors, and how they interact with one another, is essential to long term success with healthy fat loss.