Even if you're doing everything right when it comes to your diet — eating mostly healthy foods and scheduling time to exercise — the extra weight may not come off so easily. What gives? Between working and taking care of our families, it can sometimes feel impossible to find even a minute to take a deep breath. But turns out, holding onto stress can cause us to keep weight on, and gain it as well.
Whether coming from physical, environmental, or mental stimuli, stress (defined as anything that causes an over-use of energy in the body) turns on the “fight or flight” response in our nervous system. This may signal the body to produce more cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which causes insulin levels to spike. You may then begin craving fatty, sugary foods.
Once the craving starts, you’re not likely to reach for a fruit smoothie with flax and avocado, but seek out greasy, sugar-laden foods that your body can easily store as fat. This is where the term “comfort food” comes from! During times when humans hunted and gathered, we held onto fat that could sustain us until we would find food as a survival mechanism. But now, we end up storing more fat than we need when our body’s stress response is turned on. So how do we flip the switch off?
To reduce stress levels, it's important to focus on self-care, but that is easier said than done. To help you get started, experts at the Cleveland Clinic recommend developing a personal wellness plan using the tips below:
Identify Life Changes
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the six life areas fall into physical, emotional, mental, occupational, social, and spiritual categories. Since change prompts stress, review where you are going through changes in any of these areas. Pause to observe that the change is happening, and practice having positive thoughts around the change, even if you’re facing the unknown.
As human beings, we thrive when we are progressing. For our own sense of purpose in life, it’s important to set even small, daily goals that help us feel like we’re moving forward in some way. Be specific about what you hope to accomplish in the short term and in the long term.
So we don’t end up burning out even more, we need to be realistic, but also proud when we set and achieve even the smallest of goals. A goal can be something as little as getting up five minutes earlier for a morning meditation practice! Every step, no matter how small, still moves us forward! You should also set time limits and personal deadlines for when you want to have things done — within reason! Having the sense of accomplishment of reaching your goals will help you feel confident.
A common thing we might feel when we’re stressed is that we’re alone. Without the sense that we’re being supported, it can feel impossible to lighten the load of whatever we are carrying. With this in mind, it’s important that you rely on your support system, or seek help when times are trying. Phone a friend or loved one and tell them what you're going through, or seek professional counseling with someone you trust.
And last but not least, review your progress. Too often, we spend a lot of time thinking about the ways we’ve messed up or are falling short. We don’t consider that everything is progressing, though sometimes slowly, and that getting overly worked up about things doesn’t propel us further any faster. Take this time to honor how far you’ve come and celebrate yourself, then determine how you’re going to keep it going and what work still needs to be done, then make changes accordingly.