Carol (Missy) Cohen MPH, CHHC

Is Your Exercise Routine Holding You Back from Your Weight Loss?

There is a direct correlation between your ability to lose weight and your stress level. We all have a certain level of stress in our lives but it is how we manage that stress that affects our health and happiness and even our weight.

There are certain hormones in our body that helps us to deal with various levels of stress. Many of us are familiar with adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. Adrenaline is the “fight or flight’ hormone. This is the hormone that is kicked in quickly when something immediate and traumatic has happened in our lives. Examples of when this hormone is released is when you are in a car accident or unexpectedly get called to the boss’ office.

Cortisol is the hormone that is triggered to manage long-term stress. Our ancestors experienced the release of cortisol during times of war or famine. In today’s society, many people live in this chronic state of stress for various reasons. Perhaps they are in a constant state of worry over finances, careers, or issues in their relationships. Do you ever notice that your friend is stressing out about doing a presentation at work and, if the same opportunity was given to you, you would be excited about it? Or someone’s child is going off to college and their parent is worrying about where they are going to be and when while another parent is excited for the child and asks them to check in once in a while to know that they are still okay. It’s important to recognize that stress can be real or it can be perceived. It’s how we manage it that affects our health.

How Cortisol Works

Our bodies are very smart. Releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol allow our bodies to protect themselves. In times of famine or war, food is not readily available. Cortisol kicks in and does several things:

  • It shuts down our digestive system. If there is no food to eat, there is nothing to digest. By shutting down our digestive system, it is difficult to digest the foods that we do eat and we do not break down the foods sufficiently to make the nutrients available to our bodies. Also, we do not absorb the nutrients that the food may provide us with.
  • It shuts down our elimination system. Do you ever notice that you do not have bowel movements as frequently in times of stress? If you were hiding from the enemy all the time, you would not have time to stop and eliminate your waste. Unfortunately, that waste needs to go somewhere and it is reentering your body and being stored until it can be eliminated. Where do all those toxins and things that should be excreted go? Into our fat cells which, in actuality, are the storage bins of our bodies.
  • It increases the production of another hormone called insulin. It is insulin’s job to store any extra fuel in those storage bins. Extra insulin will result in a super-efficient storage system. After all, our bodies are going to need those storage supplies because we don’t know when the end of this crisis will be and having extra storage supplies will allow us to survive longer.

Five Ways to Change Your Perception of Stress

  • Keep Morning Pages:
    • Morning Pages are the brainchild of Julia Cameron who is the author of “The Artist’s Way.” They are three pages of continuous writing that are done upon rising. They capture that period of time between dreaming and being awake and offer an opportunity to not only capture your concerns but also solutions. We frequently know the answers to our problems but are so busy focusing on the problem that we cannot bring the solution to the forefront. Morning Pages allows us to find those solutions They do not need to be shared with anyone and many people find it liberating to burn them as a symbol of releasing their problems and concerns.
  • Practicing Breathing
    • A favorite breathing technique is taught by Dr. Andrew Weil. It is called the 4-7-8 breathing method and the nice thing about it is it can be done anywhere and anytime. It is done by breathing in for 4 counts, holding it for 7 counts and blowing out for 8 counts. My son says that this works because you end up passing out and then you don’t care about anything. (I have yet to see him pass out when I ask him to do this.) What it has been shown to do is lower your cortisol levels and, by doing so, reduce your level of stress. Do 7-8 rounds of it upon waking and upon going to bed. Then use it throughout your day when anything stressful happens – sitting in traffic, at a meeting, dealing with a person that you don’t enjoy, whatever. It can be done very discreetly and no one has to know!
  • Don’t Push Yourself at the Gym
    • Many people think that they feel better after going to the gym – and perhaps they do. However, pounding on the body is adding another level of stress. Pushing yourself at the gym can actually lead to more health problems down the road. Eventually, your body will quit on you and this may show as a nervous breakdown or extreme fatigue. Some people cannot understand how they can work out – 5,6,7 days a week and not lose an ounce. The physical stress you are putting on your body is increasing your cortisol load and slowing things down, including your metabolism.
  • Practice Yoga
    • Have you ever seen a fat yogi? Yoga not only strengthens and stretches our bodies but it also gives us a lot of tools for dealing with our everyday life. It reminds us to breathe. It teaches us how to push ourselves just past our own limits. In group practice, it allows us to lean on and support each other. It does all this while showing us how to be present and mindful and not live in the past or the future. Living in the present is a great way to reduce your stress!
  • Show Gratitude
    • Expressing gratitude on Facebook has become all the rage. Each evening think of three things that you are grateful for. If possible, write them down – either in a journal or on scrap paper. If you are doing it on scrap paper, put the papers in a jar. This allows you to go back and explore things that you were grateful for on days that you are struggling.

These are just a few ideas of how to reduce stress. I encourage you to share other ideas here.

Be Well,

Missy

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