Experts talk about getting into the right mindset if you want to lose weight, but they may not be just talking about motivation. While creating a calorie deficit and sticking to healthy, balanced foods is the key to most diets, how you’re feeling is just as important as what you’re eating. Research has found that stress can impact your weight in surprising ways.
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It’s no secret that stress is bad for your health, but did you know that getting worked up could make those workouts less effective?
It’s all to do with your hormones, and how the stress response causes your body to act up.
Nutritionist Libby Limon explained: “Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, signal the brain to lay down or hoard fatty stores. This is driven by evolutionary and biological rationales.”
When you’re getting stressed out and anxious – something many Britons have felt during the last few months due to the coronavirus crisis – your body can work against you.
“If the body is in a stressed state, it means that it needs to conserve energy by storing it as fat so it can deal with the cause of the stress,” explained Libby.
Chances are, a lot of this will be stored around your middle, which is why belly fat can be so hard to lose if you’re stressed.
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Libby revealed that this is something that would have been useful for the nation’s ancestors – but not so much for those looking to shed a few pounds.
“This makes sense if you had to run from a lion, or food is going to be scarce because of a drought,” continued Libby.
“Unfortunately, our modern stresses don’t generally mean either of those scenarios; food in western society is rarely scarce and our stresses are generally emotionally driven rather than physical.”
It means that if your stress levels get too high, your body could actually hold onto fat – meaning any diets you’re trying to follow could be a waste of time.
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Libby recommended making sure you’re prioritising your emotional wellness at the same time as focusing on your physique, in order to better achieve your weight loss goals.
“Finding a way to switch off and relax, as well as working through any problems is important,” Libby advised
“Everything from regular walks to gardening or being in nature, yoga, exercise and meditation to reading are good for this.”
However, while managing your stress levels by taking time out is key to keeping those hormones in check, you may also want to look at the very foods you are eating.
While you may be trying to cut down on calories, it’s important to remember that they’re not all created equal.
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“From a dietary perspective if you are trying to lose weight, be mindful of not just how many calories you consume but also what those calories are made up of,” warned Libby.
The very foods you eat could affect your cortisol levels – so your stress can affect your diet and vice versa.
“High sugar foods can spike blood sugar; this causes the release of insulin, another hormone which also drives weight gain,” explained Libby.
“Often the body can then also rebound with low blood sugar, that drives cravings and cortisol production.
“Having balanced meals which contain adequate protein (at least 20g) and abundant vegetables that give complex carbs and fibres, will help balance blood sugar, manage cortisol and energy levels,” Libby added.
This approach will mean you feel fuller for longer, as you work with your body’s hormones rather than battling against them.
What’s more, if you are dealing with raised stress levels, you can change certain elements to your diet to make you feel calmer.
Even what you drink can affect your state of mind – and reaching for a mug of coffee for an energy boost could be doing more harm than good.
High doses of caffeine can make the body create even more stress hormones, which is why you may feel jittery after a few too many cappuccinos.
Switching to matcha green tea could help, however, as it contains a substance which has a relaxing effect.
“Green tea does contain some caffeine, but less than coffee,” revealed Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart, medical nutritionist.
“But the primary reason that tea is a better choice when we’re stressed is thanks to its content of a natural substance called L-theanine, which is virtually unique to the tea plant. L-theanine has been found to have a relaxing effect on the mind, reduce anxiety, and help with focus and concentration. It’s thought to do this by increasing alpha waves in the brain, which are associated with being ‘calm but alert’ – i.e. increasing relaxation without causing drowsiness.”
Matcha green tea has a particularly high percentage of the wonder ingredient, so switching your morning caffeine fix to the herbal alternative such as Pukka’s Supreme Matcha Green Tea will help you feel alert, but calm. For tea lovers looking for a more soothing brew, try the brand’s Relax Tea fusion for a dose of relaxation.
Other herbal remedies can also help; Libby recommended a natural supplement such as Link Nutrition Relax capsules to balance out your stress hormones and your mood.
“It contains chromium, which is key for blood sugar balance, as well as cortisol-balancing herbs, ashwagandha and ginseng,” Libby revealed.
Several studies have proven that ashwagandha can significantly reduce and regulate your body’s cortisol levels.
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