We really don’t give ourselves enough credit when we’re trying to lose weight. The truth is, there are so many factors to consider, including body type, expectations, current fitness level, and more. But the one I encounter most often with my clients is stress.
Stress changes the way our bodies perform, and can cause us to eat more than we need, crave more sugars and carbohydrates, and store more fat in our bodies.
It’s important to recognize that this has nothing to do with our amazing ability to handle stress. What we’re talking about here is the effect stress has on the body.
What is Stress?
First of all, stress is not the thing, the person, or event. Stress is how we react to the thing, person or event. To put it another way, the stress we feel is our physical and emotional reactions to events. Stress produces a physiological reaction in your body. When something happens the subconscious mind triggers the sympathetic nervous system, initiating our “fight or flight” response.
The fight-or-flight response plays a critical role in how we deal with stress and danger in our environment. Essentially, the response prepares the body to either fight or flee the threat.
By priming your body for action, you are better prepared to perform under pressure. The stress created by the situation can actually be helpful, making it more likely that you will cope effectively with the threat. This type of stress can help you perform better in situations where you are under pressure to do well, such as at work or school. In cases where the threat is life-threatening, the fight-or-flight response plays a critical role in your survival. By gearing you up to fight or flee, the fight-or-flight response makes it more likely that you will survive the danger.
It is also important to note that the response can be triggered due to both real and imaginary threats. Your mind reacts in the same manner to being chased by an actual bear as it does to the memory of being chased by a bear, and imaging “worst-case scenarios” can (and does) trigger a very real stress response in your body. The stress response also happens in response to internal stresses, like injury and illness.
Moving Into Chronic Stress
Acute stress is the result of things that are happening right now. Acute stress can be both positive and negative. For example, the excitement before a fun event is a type of positive acute stress. Getting into a car accident is negative acute stress. It happens to all of us, and it passes with time. Acute stress triggers the “fight or flight” response in our bodies that creates physiological changes.
When you feel threatened (or imagine that you are threatened), your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action.
Adrenaline creates changes in the body such as decreases in digestion and increases in sweating, increased pulse and blood pressure. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
If the stressor goes away, then your body turns off the stress response. But What happens if the stressor never really goes away?
What Does That Have To Do With Weight Loss??
When we are experiencing chronic stress, we have a lot of the same physical reactions as acute stress. Our breathing is faster and shallower, our digestion is still slow, and we are a little foggy. Our bodies are using a lot of our resources to just maintain the stressed-out state, and there isn’t a lot left over for anything else.
Because we are using all our energy to maintain our level of stress, we feel tired, heavy, and not very motivated. We also crave foods that don’t take a lot of energy to process, like sugars and carbohydrates. Because of the dopamine lift we get from sugars, we tend to eat in response to unpleasant emotions instead of just when we are hungry.
Great! How Do I Fix It?
First, lower your stress response. That will bring your digestive system back online and lower the energy demands on your body. Next, really start thinking about what you’re eating and why you’re eating it. This will help you be better at eating only when you are physically hungry. Finally, consciously drink water. Use a water bottle or other container so you can monitor how much you are drinking and keep it with you throughout the day. Before you eat, drink water, then ask yourself if you are really hungry.
Here are more tools you can use. If you need support to learn them or to use them, let me know! I’m happy to help.
Breathe. Abdominal breathing activates the Vagal response that turns off stress. Push your stomach muscles out and inhale deeply, hold that breath for just a moment, then exhale slowly. The more you practice this breathing technique, the better you feel.
Let go of the garbage. We carry around a version of everything we have ever seen, done, and experienced. Some of it is good, and some of it reinforces limiting beliefs and holds us back. Getting rid of the extra emotional weight you don’t need to be carrying around anymore is a great way to get healthier.
Change the way you think. We think we know how to eat right, move right, and feel right. But most of us have made these simple things seem much more complicated in our minds. When we simplify nutrition, movement, and emotions, we gain a sense of control that lets us take charge.
Get to know how awesome you are. Building your self confidence through acceptance, emotional healing, and finding your inner strengths is easy when you have access to your subconscious mind. The result is a better sense of who you are and why you are so incredible.
Listening to your body. Knowing when you are truly hungry, when you are full, and when you are experiencing something else by listening to your body will help you stay on track. We all have this intuition, and you can amplify and work with it just by checking in with your body.
Creating mindfulness. We’ve all done it - absentmindedly grabbing a snack or going through a bag of chips. When we eat without thinking we aren’t listening to our body signals. Being mindful of what you are eating makes the food taste better, and keeps you from overeating.
Slow Down. Take just a few moments to do anything that helps to dissolve some of your stress. Maybe it’s a shower, reading a book, or playing a game. Maybe it’s a breathing exercise like Square Breathing. Letting go of some of that stress means that you are less likely to reach for extra snacks.
Check In. Before you eat, check in with your body. Notice how you feel. Are you Hungry? Stressed? Sad? Bored? Remember that there is no food or drink that will satisfy any feeling other than real physical hunger. When you pause to check in with yourself, you’ll know better what your body is telling you. Then you can choose if you want to eat, or if there is something else you need.
By using some simple techniques, you can help yourself stay healthier without losing control of your eating.∎
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Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, Registered Nurse, and Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, schedule your free Strategy Call Now