All this month, each week, we will explore ways to protect different aspects of our health: physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual. Except for the finance week, on Mondays, I’ll talk about how we feel about the health factor for the week, and on Thursdays, I’ll give specific information. On Wednesdays, guest experts will blog about the topic of the week. However, since I’m not the world’s best money manager, guests will offer all three financial health week blog
Stress thwarts weight loss through chemistry and behavior.
My daughter went to the emergency room with a potentially life-threatening illness. I had lost 40 pounds; I hadn’t eaten carbs in so long, but that day, I came home and ate two bowls of a sugary children’s cereal. Stress makes us crave carbs. This is normal, and for a time in human development, it was necessary!
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary, and favorite fuel. In the early days, humans lived in physically harsh conditions: inadequate shelter, dangerous animals, and food was either scarce, or required lots of physical activity to obtain. Our bodies learned the “fight or flight” response to stress, sending certain hormones into high gear. Stress hormones increase both the amount of fuel (sugar) in the blood and the circulation that delivers fuel to the muscles. Once the danger passes, these hormone levels are supposed to drop, but for most modern humans, stress may be less physical, but social, financial, and emotional stress is constant. Stress hormones stay up, and over time, cause diseases of the heart and blood vessels, disability, and death.
High levels of stress hormone also keep blood sugar levels much higher required the most common kind muscle activity, today: sitting, using electronic devices. The hormone, insulin, promotes storing this extra sugar as fat. Stress can work against weight loss on a chemical level, but stress also affects behavior.
One of my patients weighed over 600 pounds, suffered from diabetes and had several small strokes. He was socially isolated and very depressed and blamed both on his weight. Hoping to ease him into weight loss, I designed a program with a very modest decrease in his usual daily calorie intake, but I asked him to eat smaller portions every three hours. He was unable to follow the program, even though he admitted that he was not physically hungry. He said he just could not deprive himself.
With further discussion, it became clear that he felt helpless to control the areas of his life that made him sad. He did not want to deprive himself of something that he could control. He agreed to behavioral health counselling, where he learned that he was overweight because he was depressed. He learned strategies that improved his social interactions and activity. Now, he enjoys a slow, but steady weight loss.
Many of us suffer emotional trauma, depression, and anxiety. Feeling deprived emotionally, we may refuse to deprive ourselves of anything else, as if eating can fill holes left by loss, grief, or fear. It can’t. Emotional eating just leads to guilt that we try to soothe with more emotional eating until we trap ourselves in a spiral of weight gain.
You can succeed in reaching your weight goals. Get counselling to learn stress management, treat your anxiety and depression, and see food as a source of energy instead of a poor substitute for the attitudes and relationships that fill emotional needs. On Wednesday, Jeff and Rita Sachs from the awesome fitness company, SWEAT EQUITY in Homewood, IL will help us navigate the media’s confusing recommendations about fitness regimens and find exercise programs that best meet our needs.