Most of us know that too much stress isn’t good for us, and that it can – if left unchecked – lead to physical and psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease and stroke. However, not many of us know that stress can also severely impact our digestion and keep us fat. So before I let you in on the best kept weight loss secret, let me explain a bit more about how stress stops us from losing weight.
Stress is primarily a physical response. When our brain thinks we’re under attack, it releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol, to prepare the body for physical action – either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. This causes a range of physical reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles, to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as thinking, reproduction, and digestion.
Unfortunately, the brain can’t easily differentiate between a real threat to our survival (e.g., a polar bear chasing us), and an imagined threat – such as work overload, being late for an appointment, or generally rushing around as if an angry bear were chasing us. So, when our brain perceives any threat – real or imagined – it releases the same ‘stress’ chemicals into our body, and creates the same stress conditions, i.e. we can’t think clearly or make good decisions, and we can’t digest our food properly. Which, if we’re trying to lose weight, are the opposite of what we want!
Moreover, cortisol causes our bodies to retain fat – especially around the middle – and de-sensitises us to pleasure, which means, when stressed, we need more food to get the same ‘pleasure hit’. Stress can also increase production of ghrelin, our ‘hunger hormone’, making us more likely to over-eat, and also affects our blood-sugar levels, causing us to crave sweet and carb-rich foods.
So, as an Eating Psychology Coach, my number one priority is to help people de-stress – especially around food, but also generally in life. And my number one tip is to breathe.
Breathing is one of the best kept weight loss secrets! It’s free, it’s easy to do, and it can help you both relax and burn calories at a more optimal rate. Let me explain …
Imagine a log burner in your living room containing expensive wood ready to burn. What do you need to burn it? Some kindling, matches and …? Oxygen! Without oxygen, the wood can’t burn. And the same is true of the food inside your stomach – without oxygen, your food is literally useless – just like the wood in your log burner. And oxygen comes from breathing.
Try this exercise. Any time you’re about to eat a meal or snack, take 5-10 slow breaths ideally following this sequence:
- Sit in a comfortable position with spine straight, feet flat on the floor.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5; on the count of 5 you should have taken a breath to approximately 70% capacity.
- Hold the breath for a count of 2.
- Exhale fully (through your nose) for a count of 7.
- Repeat this 5-2-7 cycle 5-10 times.
For more information on stress, digestion, and best kept weight loss secrets, please download my free report, “An Eating Psychologist’s Guide to Why Diets Don’t Work (and what does)” on my free stuff page. Or you may like to find out more about my eating psychology courses.
Dr Marcelle Crinean, PhD, owner and director of Brain Reframe, is a highly qualified therapist, coach and lecturer.
In her busy practice, Marcelle successfully treats sleep and stress-related issues (including insomnia, anxiety and depression) as well as disordered eating, binge-eating and undereating. She regularly holds workshops and webinars, and trains business executives across the UK and Europe in the art of sleep and stress management.