In today’s weight-obsessed culture, it’s easy to feel pressured about having a certain body shape or size. Messages from family, peers, or the media often tell us we need to be thin to be happy, and we can even start internalizing these beliefs and beat ourselves up for not having the perfect look. Some people think that these continual reminders about how important it is to get rid of excess pounds will keep us motivated to stay on a diet or put in our daily gym time, but the reality is sobering. Constant criticism, whether it’s coming from others or from ourselves, keeps us in a state of chronic stress about our weight, which produces a biochemical chain reaction in our body that actually makes it much harder to burn fat – and may even have the opposite effect. In this compelling new podcast episode, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains why it’s time to let go of fighting our bodies, and let the magic of life take over.
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
If you’re like most people trying to lose weight, you’re probably working hard at it.
And even though hard work is generally considered to be admirable and effective, when it comes to weight loss, you might be putting yourself at an unexpected disadvantage. That’s because “hard-working” often means highly stressed, and when we’re in a heightened state of tension, anxiety, push, shove, force or fear – our metabolism changes, and not for the better.
Have you ever had the experience where you’ve gone on vacation, eaten much more than usual, and lost weight? About one out of five people I’ve polled answered yes to this question. According to the old paradigm, this is impossible. But thanks to new research in the field of Mind Body Nutrition about the processes of digestion and metabolism, the reason for this weight loss is simple to understand. While on vacation, many of us do something that is highly unusual for us: We relax. We move from chronic sympathetic dominance to a parasympathetic state. Our frame of mind changes our metabolism to such a degree that we can eat more, yet lose weight.
The scientifically documented connection between weight gain and stress is compelling.
Numerous clinical studies have shown that conditions with high cortisol production are strongly associated with fat accumulation. That’s because one of cortisol’s chemical responsibilities is to signal the body to store fat and not build muscle.
Cortisol is the key hormone released in significant quantities during acute and chronic stress. Indeed, many people complain that even though they’re eating a lower-calorie diet and exercising more, they still can’t lose weight. More often than not, stress is the reason.
Chronic stress can also increase the output of insulin, another hormone strongly associated with weight gain. The pancreas produces insulin whenever there is a rapid rise in blood sugar. One of the ways that insulin lowers blood glucose is by telling the body to aggressively store excess dietary carbohydrates as fat. Insulin also signals the body not to release any stored fat.
So if you seem to be doing everything right for weight loss but are stuck on the same plateau, ask yourself about stress. Do you live a hurried life? Are you eating at warp speed? Does your job require that you live in a constant state of fight or flight? If so, then no amount of calorie counting or treadmill running will get you where you want to go. Your task is to do something that might be very difficult: Relax. Stop producing so much cortisol. Take a deep breath, and give your calories a chance to burn.
Imagine yourself worrying about your weight, following a joyless diet, and convinced of your unworthiness to exist if you can’t shrink your body down to a perfect size. These self-perpetuated messages will literally put you in a state of chronic low-level stress. Though you’re consuming less calories by dieting, you’re producing more cortisol and insulin, which are signaling your body to gain weight.
The bottom line is this: Worrying about fat increases fat. Anxiety about weight loss can cause your body to put fat on and retain it.
Many people use anxiety and stress to motivate themselves to lose weight. You might be saying, “If I don’t lose eight pounds before the party, I won’t go,” or “I’ll never look good until I lose weight.” This self-chosen stress feels energizing because it produces alertness hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Over time, though, these fight-or-flight hormones diminish metabolism.
So the point is this: you don’t need to worry any more or punish yourself about food. It’s totally counterproductive to stress yourself out about weight loss because that same stress can cause you to put weight on. Instead, find ways to relax. Cut yourself some slack. Breathe. Give yourself some love and appreciation for all of the unique gifts you bring to the world. You might be surprised at the shifts you experience in your relationship with food and body.
I hope this was helpful.