5 Ways Stress Prevents Weight Loss

Tis the season when many of us are focusing on losing weight.

Whatever you do, please don’t go on a diet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: diets don’t work. If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, then you know what I mean.

95 to 98% of dieters regain the weight they lost. Does this ring true for you?

Stress and anxiety are huge, huge contributors to:

1. Inability to lose weight
2. Weight gain
3. Inability to keep weight off
4. Inability to maintain ideal weight
5. Overeating

Let’s look at the top reasons why…

1. Emotional Eating

We are actually hardwired to eat when we’re under stress. So stress and emotional eating are often major contributors to inability to lose weight.

This comes from the brain’s evolutionary process; from a time when fight-or-flight was a necessary daily survival skill for cave people. The energy gained from the extra food calories could help the body react and survive in the threat of sabertooth tigers.

Your brain still has that ancient wiring which unconsciously tells you to eat when you feel stress or anxiety.

Food is often used for many reasons completely unrelated to physical hunger: distraction, boredom, avoidance, comfort, love, filling a void, control, anger, anxiety, depression, avoidance of emotions, body image worries, shame. The list could go on and on.

Until you resolve the underlying emotions and related stress, emotional eating will always sabotage weight loss.

Are you an Emotional Eater? Take this QUIZ.

2. Worrying, Sleeping… Leptin and Ghrelin

Stress and anxiety alter the hormone leptin (“the satiety hormone”) which is supposed to tell your body to stop consuming food when you become full. Stress creates an imbalance which prevents that message from coming through, thus causing overeating and bingeing.

Conversely, stress and anxiety cause increases in your levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”). Ghrelin is produced in your stomach and is supposed to signal you that it is time to start eating. Stress and anxiety cause ghrelin to send excess hunger signals… this stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.

Sleep More and Worry Less

Studies show that shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours (from WebMd).

Sleepless nights have a direct impact on brain regions that control decision making and make us more inclined to crave fast food rather than healthier options (from 2013 research at UC Berkeley, from Psychology Today).

Furthermore, a study published in the journal “Appetite” found that worry – just thinking about a stressful event in the future can cause you to eat more by increasing your levels of ghrelin.

3. Cortisol, Metabolism, and your Thyroid

With chronic stress or anxiety, your adrenal glands produce a cascade of hormones connected to your fight-or-flight response. You end up with an excess of adrenaline and cortisol (the main stress hormones).

High cortisol levels signal to your brain that it is time to go into fight-or-flight mode. Then three things happen:

1. Hunger increases.

2. Your thyroid reduces its hormone production and thus slows down your metabolism.

3. Energy, fat, and calories are stored to avoid starvation, and also to conserve energy (in case you need to fight that sabertooth).

Stress ==> more cortisol

==> hunger and increased appetite =

no weight loss and more belly fat

4. Stress, Insulin, and Blood Sugar

Another part of the hormonal cascade that occurs due to stress or anxiety is imbalance in insulin levels. Did you know that insulin was a hormone?

Increases in cortisol caused by stress also can cause higher insulin levels. Insulin regulates your blood sugar. When insulin levels are off, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.

 

Stress ==> blood sugar drops

==> food cravings =

weight loss sabotage

5. Stress and Mood – Tryptophan and Vitamin B

Stress and anxiety are both very correlated with low mood and depression. And those things are correlated with weight gain. It creates a vicious cycle.

The more stress and anxiety you have, and the lower your mood, the more likely you are to have food cravings and eat foods that will actually perpetuate the problem.

You might benefit from a boost in serotonin, which is the brain’s feel-good chemical. What most people don’t know is that 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced and stored in your gut.

You can help your gut produce serotonin by increasing a particular amino acid called tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan can help with mood and are also stress-reducing.

When people feel stressed or anxious and their blood is measured, they tend to have high levels of lactate in their blood. Foods high in B vitamins help stabilize the body’s blood lactate levels, and have a calming effect on your nervous system.

Tired of Diets that Don’t Work?

If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, try a different approach.
Focus on one of the biggest root causes of the problem: stress and anxiety. Read about HOW on my blog:

Emotional eating, Top 5 holiday sabotages, why diets don’t work, what does work
• #1 most effective solution for stress and anxiety, the one and only resolution you ever need

Remember…
If you always do what you always did…
You’ll always get what you always got.

Stop Watching The News

I see a correlation between worry and watching the news on TV. I stopped watching the evening news years ago. The only news show I watch is CBS Sunday Morning. It focuses on positive, uplifting and interesting news features, while spending a very short time noting top news from the week.

The evening news is the worst to watch. The mostly negative and fear-based news increases anxiety (and adrenaline and cortisol production!) at the time when you really need your brain and body to calm down for bedtime.

If you are a worrier who worries about current events and associated negative “what if” thoughts, then you have even more reason to stop watching the news.

Anxiety and Constantly Checking Your Phone

Yes, there is a correlation!

Do you have shiny penny syndrome or squirrel syndrome?

The human brain has a “novelty bias.” This means that the pre-frontal cortex becomes easily distracted by new things.

These days, your phone has become your biggest distraction.  You carry your phone with you everywhere and it has an app for everything on it. So your phone has become a problem for your pre-frontal cortex.

Your phone provides a constant distraction which is actually hard on your brain and body.

Your Brain on Phone Addiction

The constant distraction creates a dopamine addiction loop. Your pre-frontal cortex gets a dose of dopamine every time it responds to a phone distraction. Every time you check your phone or text/message or use a phone app, your brain gets its drug.  

Is this an addiction? You probably underestimate how often you actually do this because it has become an unconscious habit.

According to research reported by USA Today and Apple:

  • iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times a day
  • On average, we tap, type, and swipe our smartphones more that 2600 times a day!!!
  • People are more willing to give up food, sleep and sex than to lose their internet connections
  • Half of people in one study would rather have a broken bone than a broken phone!

 

Dopamine is a feel good brain chemical so your brain likes it! It’s the same brain chemical involved in all addictions.  Dopamine is the driver of heroin and cocaine addiction.

When your phone dings and you don’t immediately check it, you feel anxiety.

Because your brain gets addicted to that little dopamine rush, when it doesn’t get it, your brain goes into a stress reaction. Your body is signaled into an anxiety state.

This stress/anxiety reaction releases adrenaline and cortisol in the brain and your sympathetic nervous system is activated.

This activates fight or flight mode, and the following anxiety reactions can occur in your body: increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, perspiration, preparing muscles to fight or flight, and shutting down digestive processes so you aren’t able to digest food properly.

When your body spends too much time in this mode, it can also suppress your immune system (and therefore contribute to a multitude of health issues). It is also a big contributor to insomnia.

What To Do?

Because your brain likes that dopamine, it will not want to stop pursuing those shiny pennies and squirrel distractions on your phone. It will urge you to keep checking.

But your best strategy is to reduce the constant checking. This will help your brain fight off that stress and anxiety response.

Another strategy is to counter balance the dopamine addiction loop with periods of time of deep concentration or focus or mindfulness.  

Concentration calms your brain so the goal is to find an activity to focus on for a period of time, giving your brain a break from anxiety orientation that your phone creates.

The goal is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your brain and body.

Meditation is great for this, but you can also accomplish this with many different activities.

Put your phone away for a little while and concentrate on a yoga class. Try concentrating on reading, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Maybe coloring, or cooking, or Zumba.

Find something you love to do and see if you can zone out doing it. That feeling of zoning out, or losing track of time, is what you’re going for. No multi-tasking allowed! No phones allowed!

3 Things

Think of 3 things right now that might get you that into the zone feeling. That is the anti-anxiety feeling.

Pause right now and name 3 things.

My clients often ask me “what can I do to reduce my anxiety?”

Now you know 3 things you could do.

When will you turn off your phone and put it out of sight and try one of them?

Toe Tensing for Insomnia

Anxiety or tension keep you awake at night? You can draw the tension out of your body with the technique to alternately tense and relax your toes:

• Close your eyes and lay on your back.
• Bring your awareness to your toes.
• With as much tension as you can, pull all 10 toes back toward your face. Hold for a slow count of 10.
• Relax your toes.
• Count to 10 slowly.
• Repeat 10 times.

Insomnia Technique Bettter Than Counting Sheep

Insomnia from anxiety, worry or thinking too much?  Counting sheep is way too boring for your magnificent brain.  Try this technique instead:

Close your eyes and imagine drawing a big circle. 

• Inside the circle write the number 100 very carefully.  The number must touch the edge of the circle just barely and can’t go outside the circle. 
• Then write the word “deeper” outside of the circle.
• Now erase the number very carefully, as if your eyes were an eraser.  Be careful not to erase any part of the circle, just the number itself.
• Next write 99 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 99
• Next write 98 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 98
• Repeat and keep counting down backward until you fall asleep

P.S.  I’ve never made it to the 80’s!

Make a Worry Box

Part of the problem with worry is that it rolls around and around in your head.  It’s the hamster on the wheel.  Or the monkey mind that keeps you awake in the middle of the night.

Try getting those worries out of your head and into a Worry Box.  Take any box and decorate it as you like and put a label on it:  Worry Box. 

When you identify a worry, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the worry box.  When your monkey mind wants to worry about it, go get the piece of paper out of the box.  Make a rule for yourself: You can only worry about it while you are sitting there with the paper in hand, sitting next to your Worry Box.

This technique works well in combination with setting aside “worry time.” [Read more about that HERE.] 

Floatation Therapy for Anxiety and Stress

If you’re as old as me, you may remember old TV commercials with the slogan “Calgon, take me away” as someone is floating along in a bubble bath. I loved that slogan. I could imagine all my stress floating away.

floatingawayIn 2016, floating now has a whole new meaning. Floatation therapy is an emerging relaxation treatment, with research supporting its effectiveness for stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, muscle tension and more.

Float centers are popping up like hotcakes all over the US. We now have three in the metro Milwaukee area. I love floating and I float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls (more about my float experience below).

Your Senses Deserve a Break Today (R.E.S.T.)

Another old commercial slogan used to say “You deserve a break today.” What we all really need these days is to give our senses a break.

Our busy, 7*24, technology-filled world gives us constant stimulation of our senses of sight, sound, and touch. Constant sensory stimulation negatively affects the nervous system and contributes to anxiety.

Floating gives your nervous system 60 minutes of R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique), sometimes referred to as sensory deprivation. In the most positive way, floating creates a very peaceful, sensory-limited experience.

The Float Room

Your senses of sound, sight, and touch are calmed by a warm, quiet, dark floating environment. Some float centers have float tanks or pods, while others have float rooms (which I love).

float_poolA float room (I think of it as a float pool) is approximately 8 feet long * 5 feet wide. It holds about 10 inches of water with about 1000 lbs. of dissolved Epsom Salt, which enables you to float automatically. Epsom salt is made of magnesium which has many health benefits as well. 

Water is heated to an average skin temperature (93.5F) which reduces the sensation between body and water. All light and sound can be eliminated to allow your brain and body to relax completely. Often there is ambient light and/or relaxing music available if you prefer.

Backed by Scientific Research

In the 1970s, Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie began to explore the therapeutic benefits of floating. A study in the late 1990s found that more than 90 percent of people experienced feelings of relaxation. A 2014 study found that twelve 45-minute float sessions over seven weeks reduced anxiety, stress, and depression.

brainwaves-theta-stateResearch suggests the effects of a one hour float session are equivalent to eight hours of sleep! Floating quiets your brainwaves from the active beta and alpha waves, to theta brainwaves which are more calming, meditative, and restorative. 

Brain imaging shows calming effects in the brain (the amygdala calms down – that’s the fight or flight part of the brain). Blood testing shows reduced levels of cortisol (one of the primary and problematic stress hormones).

In addition to all of the above findings which show how floating can be great to help reduce stress and anxiety, floating is also good for pain, muscles, blood pressure, circulation and more!

Check out this Time Magazine article about floating and find a lot more floating research HERE .

My Floating Experience

floatingabettermeI float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls, the only float center in the area which has float rooms.  There’s a very comfortable, private suite that includes a changing area, shower and the float pool itself.  

 

floatsuite

From the shower, you open a door and step right into the float pool. Lay down and you will automatically float because of all the Epsom salt. Adjust (or turn off) the lights and music, and float for 60 minutes.

During my first float, I found it “strangely relaxing.” Strange because it is such a unique experience, and also because I wouldn’t have expected it to be as relaxing as it actually is.

My husband said it was the most relaxing thing he ever did!

Finally, a break from all the stimuli, multi-tasking, to-do lists, and interruptions of a typical day! Permission to relax…

At first I found myself full of thoughts about the float itself: how do I move around and what is most comfortable, do I like the music or not, do I like the neck pillow or not, what am I supposed to do now, how many minutes have passed, etc…

After a short time, my brain slowed down and I reminded myself to relax. I focused on my breathing, let go of body tension, and became meditative. At the end of 60 minutes, a dim light goes on to signal completion. Then you step right into the shower. Ahhh… I felt amazingly relaxed.

Floating is like pressing a “Reset” button for both mind and body. Another calming, self-care tool to add to your wellness toolbox!

Chamomilla for Calming Anxiety and Peaceful Sleep

greatideaThis is a homeopathic (all natural, plant-based supplement) derived from the plant German Chamomile. It promotes comfort and relaxation, while helping with anxiety and general irritability.

Dissolve 5 pellets under your tongue, or add a few pellets to a cup of herbal tea at night to promote a peaceful night’s sleep.

Chamomilla is a great addition to your natural medicine cabinet!

50 Signs of Stress and Anxiety that May Surprise You

warningsign_istock_000004940205xsmallAll to often, we are unaware of how our stress is affecting us. Here are 50 signs to help you get a better understanding of how YOUR stress affects not only your health but also your life.

1. Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
2. Gritting, grinding teeth
3. Stuttering or stammering
4. Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
5. Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
6. Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
7. Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds
8. Frequent blushing, sweating
9. Cold or sweaty hands, feet
10. Dry mouth, problems swallowing
11. Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
12. Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
13. Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
14. Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
15. Excess belching, flatulence
16. Constipation, diarrhea
17. Difficulty breathing, sighing
18. Sudden attacks of panic
19. Chest pain, palpitations
20. Frequent urination
21. Poor sexual desire or performance
22. Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
23. Increased anger, frustration, hostility
24. Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
25. Increased or decreased appetite
26. Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
27. Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
28. Trouble learning new information
29. Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
30. Difficulty in making decisions
31. Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
32. Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
33. Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
34. Little interest in appearance, punctuality
35. Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
36. Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
37. Overreaction to petty annoyances
38. Increased number of minor accidents
39. Obsessive or compulsive behavior
40. Reduced work efficiency or productivity
41. Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
42. Rapid or mumbled speech
43. Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
44. Problems in communication, sharing
45. Social withdrawal and isolation
46. Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
47. Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
48. Weight gain or loss without diet
49. Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
50. Excessive gambling or impulse buying
(Source: stresstop.com)

Learn more about stress here!

Busy and Productive are Not the Same Thing

Di Philippi, Wellness Counseling Milwaukee; Busy creates overwhelm and anxietyAre you so busy that it causes you stress or anxiety? 

You try so hard to get it all done. 
You’re going non-stop. 
You multi-task, trying to maximize every minute. 

Always More To Do

There’s just more and more to do these days.  Most of my clients complain that they are so busy “DOING” that there is no time to rest or play.  There is no such thing as “Me Time.” 

Too much “DOING” and BUSY-NESS eventually wears you down with fatigue, low energy, sleep problems, illness, anxiety, irritability, and dissatisfaction. 

If you wake up the next day and go right back to push, push, push…the quality and productivity of your work goes down.  In the end, you actually get less done.

High Intensity Interval Training

Di Philippi, Wellness Counseling Milwaukee; Work Hard-Rest Hard to reduce anxietyWork smarter not harder with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  This is a concept used in fitness and athletics.  Interval training means alternating intense periods of exercise coupled with adequate recovery/rest time. 

  1. Work hard – really give it your 100% effort and focus for a short interval
  2. Rest!
  3. Repeat Steps 1 & 2

In the fitness world, this ultimately maximizes productivity of time spent working out because it makes most efficient/productive use of your energy and muscles.  Athletes don’t lift weights while trying to simultaneously trying to do two other things.

Busy and Productive are Not the Same Thing

You can apply this High Intensity Interval Training to your life and to your To Do Lists.  You cannot do everything at your 100% all the time without some recovery time.  It’s not humanly possible.

Busy and productivity are not the same thing.  Busy all the time leads to feeling anxiety and overwhelm, which makes it harder to get things done.  Productivity means alternating “DOING” with recovery time, which reduces overwhelm and anxiety and ultimately makes it easier to get things done.  You’ll feel better about yourself too.

To use HIIT in day-to-day life:

  • Don’t multi-task – either work hard or rest hard
  • Take a 5 min recovery period for every hour of work
  • Don’t multi-task during your recovery period
  • Value your recovery time as much as your “DOING” time

No Multi-tasking during Recovery Time

Holistic Anxiety Treatment with Di Philippi, Milwaukee, BrookfieldThe old thoughts that told you to keep pushing more and more will tempt you to do something while you’re resting in order to “make productive use of that time.”   You will have to remind yourself that the reverse is actually true!

Even neuroscience research is now showing that multi-tasking is really a misnomer.  In the brain it is considered “switch-tasking”, with the brain constantly switching back and forth so fast it appears to us to be simultaneous.  Switch-tasking actually uses more brain energy than doing one thing at a time.

Recovery time is downtime — no “doing” but instead resting.  Many people have told me they are so used to running around like a chicken with their head cut off that they forgot how to rest and relax.   So here are a few reminders: 

  • Sit (and do nothing else!)
  • Do Mindful Belly Breathing
  • Take a nap
  • Do a quick meditation
  • Sit or play with your pet
  • Mindful eating (Note to Self: eating while on your computer or phone is not recovery)
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Go for short walk
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Listen to Happy music
  • Stretch
  • Read a book for fun
  • Call a friend

Apply HIIT Interval Style to Your Overall Week

Schedule in recovery time into your overall week or it won’t happen.  There may be a day that requires you to push at your 100% all day with long hours.  This is life.  But please don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do that every day and still be at your 100%

Sprinters give it their all.  But they couldn’t do this if they continued jogging for the rest of the day.  Running yourself ragged is not the answer!