You’re stressed, overweight and feel tired most of the time. A mind-body approach to losing weight and calming your mind can help, says nutritional therapist co-author with Healthista’s Editor-in-chief Anna Magee of The De-Stress Diet (Hay House £12.99). Here’s a six-week trial to get you started
You know stress is making you tired and well, stressed. But there’s convincing evidence that now shows it could be making you fat too. Here’s how: every time stress hits, the body activates it’s stress response, flooding the system with get-up-and-go stress hormones known as adrenalin and cortisol that stimulate and motivate. But in the long-term, constantly drawing on stress hormones causes the body’s blood sugar to roller coaster dramatically. It leads the body to redirect its nutrients and energy away from areas such as the skin, sex drive and digestion and into the muscles to deal with stress, which you body perceives as a threat. It’s the reason why you may get bloated or suffer with skin problems or low libido under stress.
Over time, it leads to exhaustion, lack of concentration and impatience as your adrenal glands – two small oval-shaped glands that sit just above the kidneys – have only a finite ability to pump out the stress hormones they manufacture. It leads to serious health problems such as chronic digestive complaints and a compromised immune system.
Now, mounting evidence shows stress is a leading cause of weight and can be the reason regular calories in/out diets don’t work. ‘When we’re stressed, our bodies create the hormone cortisol that encourages the body to release calories, fat and energy into the bloodstream’ says Professor Carol Shively, a stress researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the US who has studies the effect long-term stress on primates for 25 years.
Stress isn’t harmful in the short term, she explains. But when it never lets up – whether that’s relentless money, work worries or family pressures – our systems become flooded with cortisol and that signals the body to store stubborn fat around the belly, hips and thighs. ‘Excess stress and cortisol also make us crave sugary and fatty junk foods that feed stubborn fat. Stress is the missing link in the weight loss equation and it’s almost always overlooked by regular diets,’ says Shively.
ARE YOU STRESSED AND FAT?
- Do you have more and more difficulty coping with stress?
- Do you turn more and more to sugar and stimulants such as coffee as a ‘fix’ for flagging energy?
- Is your sleep and energy not what it used to be (think morning wrestles with the snooze button?)
- Has your waist size been slowly thickening over the last decade?
- Do you have difficulty finding time to relax and put your feet up?
- Do you crave chocolates, biscuits, sweets and/or crisps during times of stress?
If you tick three or more boxes, addressing your stress levels through this six week De-Stress Diet, lifestyle and exercise program will help you release weight and relax into a slimmer, calmer you.
Try it for six weeks By lowering stress hormone production in your body and minimising comfort eating and sugar cravings, The De-Stress Diet can not only help you feel better, it can help you lose up to ten pounds. For the following six weeks, follow the guidelines listed here, if you feel better, I’ve listed ways at the end of working it into your life.
WHAT TO AVOID
Processed fats low in omega 3 oils – vegetable and seeds oils, poor quality spreads (use butter or olive oil), refined oils and commercially prepared salad dressings.
Poor quality meat, eggs and fish – unhealthy fats from sedentary, poorly fed animals. Opt for free range and grass fed meats, wild fish if you can and free range eggs, organic where possible.
Sugar and junk food – sweeteners, ready-meals and take-away foods along with all sugars. Stress can cause a vicious cycle of sugar cravings but it doesn’t take long to wean yourself off sweet tastes. Watch labels for undercover sugar: anything ending in –ose as well as maltodextrin, corn syrup, cane juice, barley malt, molasses or brown rice syrup is still sugar.
Mercury-toxic fish Tuna, swordfish and marlin are highest in mercury. Add coriander, garlic, cabbage and watercress to meals containing fish to detoxify any mercury.
Roots that need cooking – potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, yams, cassava, tapioca
Some dairy – a little full fat Greek yoghurt and goat’s cheese is fine along with some full fat milk in your tea or coffee, avoid milk and skimmed milks, fruit yoghurts and processed cheeses.
Grains / cereals – wheat, rye, oats, barley flour, bran, quinoa, rice, corn, maize, all flours and ‘milks’ from these.
WHAT TO EAT
Protein with every meal It’s muscle-building and energy-giving and aids the loss of stored fat, satisfies appetite and contains essential amino acids that help keep the blood sugar balanced longer (read: fewer sugar lows and mood swings). Have a serve at each meal and choose from eggs, nuts/seeds, lean – ideally organic – meats, poultry and fish.
Healthy fats Good fats at every meal are key to appetite satisfaction as well as keeping sweet cravings at bay. Great sources include avocado, almonds, nuts, seeds, olives, flaxseed, sesame, coconut or extra virgin olive oil and even a pat of butter on your vegetables (helps you feel more satiated than having them fat-free).
Plenty of vegetables Both cooked and raw, add two to three cups of vegetables to most meals for added nutrients and fibre and dress them with unrefined, cold-pressed oils such as olive, flax and sesame oil with lemon or lime juice.
Alkalizing foods Vegetables, fruit, seeds, herbs and spices are all alkaline foods that can help balance the acid in our systems that can build up from a high stress lifestyle or processed diet. Great sources include almonds, coconut, sesame seeds, pine nuts and adding lemon juice to water and dressings. Have warm water in lemon juice each morning to wake up digestion and keep your system alkalized.
Liver-supporting foods Eat sulphur-rich foods such as watercress, garlic, onions, leeks and fennel as they aid the process of liver detoxification and could help you feel better faster on your six week plan.
Bitter foods Use endive, radicchio, chicory, romaine or cos lettuce in salads. Their bitter taste stimulates digestive juices when it hits the tongue making them particularly good before a meal. Other bitter foods include grapefruit and olives.
Fresh fruit Stick to two pieces of slow-sugar releasing fruits such as apples, pears and all varieties of berries eaten whole daily and try and avoid fruit juice. Although it’s rich in nutrients, fruit juice is high in sugars and can keep a sweet tooth alive.
Adequate liquid Have non-sugary, non-caffeinated drinks in between meals as your thirst dictates. But don’t force yourself to glug down litres of water at once as this can strains the kidneys. Stay hydrated by taking healthy liquid in different forms, pure water is one, along with green or herbal teas and coconut water (a good hydrator).
Supplements that may help We live in a world where all the nutrients we need are not always available in food because of poor soil and large scale farming. Furthermore, the amounts we do get may be used up quickly because of stress, pollution and mediations (both prescription and over-the-counter). The following supplements could help help aid your liver detoxification and energy levels during the next six weeks.
Multivitamin and mineral To help replace the energy nutrients such as B vitamins lost due to stress and also shown to support weight loss efforts.
Vitamin C This naturally anti-inflammatory nutrient is used quickly when we’re under stress and may help reduce sugar cravings.
Omega 3s Low omega-3 oils (found primarily in oily fish and algae products) and high omega-6 oils (found in commercials oils and processed foods) can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis as well as joint pain that can flare up under stress and make weight loss difficult.
Probiotics Low levels are linked to weight gain and inflammation in the body, taking probiotics have been shown to help reduce stress-related anxiety and aid the immune system.
WHAT TO DO TO CALM YOURSELF
Easy breathing therapy Don’t force yourself to meditate for hours. Five minutes gentle breathing morning and evening can calm you down for the day. Lie down in bed or on the floor with your head supported and body covered by a blanket. Observe your breathing without forcing it to change until it naturally becomes longer and slower, helping you relax.
Walk it off This regulates stress hormones without generating more – as running and other hard exercise can. It also helps relax tense shoulder muscles and the habitual breath holding that stress causes. Try and walk outside for 30-45 minutes each day. If you can, get a pedometer and try and clock up 8-15,000 steps throughout the day.
Rest – not only sleep We can’t avoid those screaming children or bosses but opting for rest between stressful times helps prevent the development of the hard-to-shift stress related conditions listed above. As well as sleep, the odd opt-out Sunday duvet day can help. But according to leading sleep cycle researcher Dr Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest: Why sleep is not enough (HarperOne £12.99) we also need active rest – think swims or walks in nature and regular calming yoga sessions – along with social rest such as socialising with people you like.
Find natural highs Sugar creates a surge of ‘beta-endorphins’ or natural opoids in the brain- as well as weight gain – and repeated studies have shown that continuous stress increases cravings for it. But we can make your own beta-endorphins by laughing, listening to music we like and having sex.
Less-is-more fitness Hours on the cardio machines can lead to increased stress hormone production, sabotaging weight loss. ‘Research now shows short bouts of targeted exercise increase fat-burning metabolism for up to eight hours after your workout,’ says Dr Chris Shaw, exercise research scientist at the University of Birmingham. ‘Best effects come from just 15-25 minutes resistance training using lots of muscle groups in moves such as squats, lunges and press-ups or interval training, where on the bike, cross-trainer, rower or walking/jogging you go as fast as you can for one minute and slowly for one minute for a total of 15 minutes 3-4 times weekly,’ says Dr Shaw.
Drink smart Champagne or dry white wines contain less sugar than sweeter wines and or beers and are the best choice for anyone wanting a celebratory drink. If you’re going for red wine, the most antioxidant rich are the deeper reds especially merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chianti grape varieties. The night before and the morning after taking 1000mg of vitamin C may help your liver detoxify alcohol quicker.
Try yoga Gentle daily yoga practice is the cornerstone of the De-Stress Diet lifestyle. This doesn’t mean complicated handstands and pretzel poses but simple postures that encourage deep, slow breathing, muscular tone and mind focus. Yoga counters the effects of stress such as muscles tightened by the flight-flight-or-freeze stress response, postural stiffness from sitting on chairs and lack or continual natural movements. In long-term practitioners it’s also been shown to lead to a lower-than-average weight, a good reason to start! At de-stressyourlife.com you can download morning and evening yoga videos for your journey or find them in the book.
The De-Stress Diet (Hay House £12.99) by Charlotte Watts and Anna Magee is now available from amazon.co.uk. For downloadable yoga and fitness videos, shopping help and to sign up to a free email and podcast support program for your Six Week De-Stress Diet Plan, log on to de-stressyourlife.com.
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