Like many women, body image is something that crosses my mind fairly regularly. It happens for a variety of reasons…
- As a trained Health Coach and health and wellness enthusiast, I’m constantly trying out new things to feel and look my best.
- I’m pretty hard on myself about my body wanting it to be a certain shape — I am working on being kinder to myself.
- I unnecessarily compare myself to other people who are completely different than I am.
As hard as it can be and as vain as it feels to say that I care about how my body looks, if I’m being honest with you (which I am), I do care. In some ways, this has a really positive affect on my life — I eat nutritious food and move my body on a regular basis. But in other ways, it can actually be detrimental to my mental health and totally exhausting.
For the longest time, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around weight fluctuations. Some days I would feel great and confident, and other days I’d feel like I didn’t want to catch a glimpse of myself in the store window, bloated, and like I wasn’t even living in my body. There are weeks and months where I feel weightless and others where it feels like everything I eat sticks straight to my you know what.
So what gives — why do we feel like weight comes off us effortlessly sometimes and is such a struggle others?
I took a step back and started being a bit of a detective to gain a broader perspective of what was happening and why. Here’s what I noticed, and maybe you can relate: I realized that when I’m on vacation, feeling happy, and generally content in my life, weight isn’t a problem nor is it something I think about very much. On the flipside, when I’m feeling overloaded, like I’m losing control, or anxious, not only do I want to eat for comfort, but weight also seems to stick to me.
After digging around for awhile, talking to my integrative medicine doctor, working with my acupuncturist, and doing a lot of reading, I realized it was best explained by stress and feelings of anxiety.
Yes, weight gain and stress are directly related.
When we start feeling stressed, our brains essentially start sounding a fire alarm triggering distress signals. This is a primal instinct as a result of adrenaline, and we go into “fight-or-flight” mode. While our bodies have adapted and evolved from our primal beginnings, our brains still register that “fight-or-flight” trigger as an indicator that we don’t have enough food, sending our bodies into fat reservation. This was necessary for our ancestors because food was scarce and the body knew it needed to tap into reserves in order to survive. However, for many of us today, food is abundant, and we can access what we need at the snap of a finger. But because our bodies still register this primal instinct, reverting to “fight-or-flight” starvation mode can happen every time you have a stressful day or experience a stressful situation, which I’m guessing is a lot.
On top of tapping into our energy reserves, our bodies also release cortisol, which tells your body that you need more energy in the form of calories — which makes you feel falsely hungry. When we feel this type of ravenous hunger, we’re more likely to reach for foods that aren’t the best for us. If you’ve found yourself reaching for a box of gummies or something sugary before a stressful meeting or presentation or want the biggest sandwich you’ve ever had in your life for lunch because you skipped breakfast, you’ve already met your new enemy — cortisol.
Considering the fact that stress, for some awful reason, has become “sexy” and a commonplace indicator of success in our society, this spells trouble for our waistlines.
Due to the high levels of stress in our society with the pressure of work and balancing other commitments, many of us are operating with adrenal fatigue and constantly pumping high levels of cortisol through our bodies. When cortisol is developed, testosterone slows down, which decreases your muscle mass and calorie burning potential.
When I discovered the science behind all of this, it made complete sense — but was really scary at the same time! During this time of my life, I didn’t feel like I had control over my own body or the things that made me feel stressed or anxious — stress was just part of life.
However, I discovered that I do have control over my reactions to situations and how I let things affect me. It didn’t happen overnight, and eliminating all stress, worry, and anxiety isn’t possible — life happens — but there are simple things we can do every day to balance our stress and hormone levels.
Here are six ways I manage my stress.
Move your body.
Physical fitness is crucial for stress reduction. When you exercise, your body starts pumping out endorphins, which I like to think of as happy hormones. These hormones tell the rest of your body and your brain that you feel good and happy. When you exercise for stress management, it should be something that makes you feel good, not something that adds more stress to your body. Keep in mind that this is different for everyone. For me, I love to mix it up depending on my mood with running, yoga, pilates, and spin. Some people like really intense workouts while simple walks work best for others — you do you! Exercise has also been reported to improve sleep, and let’s be honest, we’re all better people with a solid 7-9 hours of REM.
Practice mindfulness and slow down.
When I first started meditating, I thought there was no way it was going to work for me. I figured it was a bunch of hocus pocus, a new fad, and something I wouldn’t be good at. I started small with just five minutes a day using Headspace. Over time, I noticed really profound changes in how I approached my day. My anxiety about things that would normally make me feel incredibly anxious weren’t nearly as high, my attitude towards others was way more positive, and I moved through the day with a bit more grace and positivity.
Through meditation, I learned actions I needed to take when things started feeling stressful. For me, I take a step back, remove myself from the situation, and gain a different perspective on what’s going on. I’ll take a few deep, quiet breaths, and return myself back to the situation or event. This has helped me improve my work efficiency, productivity, and relationships.
Understanding how to slow my body down during stressful times gave my nervous system the break it deserved!
Trying to slow down in general is definitely one way to reduce stress, but incorporating it into your eating practices can be beneficial for your body and your mind. I know I can speak for myself when I say I’ve finished a meal with Instagram in one hand, Real Housewives on TV, and my computer on my lap — and not even remembered eating. Not a good situation. This is just another time when our brain is on overdrive doing too much at once, and it can cause our digestion to be less effective — leaving us bloated, foggy, and feeling just plain awful.
A meal is also a great time to socialize with friends, laugh, and be present, which allows us to feel like we’re part of a community and increase our happiness.
Make yourself a priority.
Many of us often overlook our own needs because we’re so busy taking care of others. Whether it’s children, a significant other, friends, or co-workers, it can seem like there’s very little time for our own needs during our busy day. However, self-care is an important factor for stress reduction. When you’re operating from an empty vessel, you have nothing left to give others, which leads to burnout and increased stress levels.
I love to indulge in hot Epsom salt baths, getting into a good book, a yoga class, journaling, massages, and even just simple alone time… aka Netflix and chill.
Take a new perspective.
Does your view of life or the expectations you set for yourself stress you out? I know mine sure do! I’ve started adjusting my expectations and perspective by setting challenging yet achievable goals for myself. This often comes in the form of saying “NO” to events, deadlines, and people.
For the longest time, I would say yes to everything, realistic or not. This added so much stress to my life because once I commit to doing something, there’s no way I’m backing down. I was literally burning myself at both ends from sunrise to sundown, and it wasn’t sustainable. As a people pleaser, this has been incredibly hard to embrace. I was afraid people would be upset with me for saying no. Lo and behold, they weren’t. In fact, they actually respected me more for standing up for my own needs.
Utilize herbal support.
If you’re on Instagram or read any wellness websites, you’ve surely seen the craze of adaptogens. While I’m not one to spend a lot of money on superfluous smoothie add-ons, I do utilize a few herbs here and there for natural stress support. I really like taking Ashwagandha and Adrenal Support, but deciding to take a supplement is definitely a personal choice!