Updated: Mar 18
For many of us, the number one health goal is to lose weight. But it is not only about losing the unwanted kilos, but we also want the kilos to stay away from us.
The diet industry is a billion-dollar industry, so clearly, diets must work. And they do, until they don’t. You probably know by now that unless you keep eating only kale for the rest of your life, and exercise like you are preparing for the next Ironman challenge, the kilos will be back.
Because you see, although vigorous exercising and restricted diet will temporarily get you the weight you want, they are not sustainable. And the weight will be back the moment you stop.
I want to tell you that there is a different way of approaching your weight and that there may be an overlooked element when trying to keep the weight off!
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Two ingredients to lose weight
Almost any school will teach you that to lose weight you need to look at the energy (calories) intake and energy (calories) expenditure. And this always involves changes in your diet and exercise routine.
Unfortunately, many diets are based on omitting an entire group of foods and get you obsessed about the calorie count. At the same time increasing the frequency and possibly the intensity of your physical activity. After all, everyone knows that without exercising and eating differently you can’t lose weight.
The downside is that you feel physically tired, especially if you don’t deliver complex carbohydrates and/or fats and are mentally exhausted with doing math in your head all the time to make sure you didn’t exceed the calories you were allowed to consume that day.
Gosh, that can make you feel tired before you even start your diet!
But the problem arises when the diet program finishes. Because you haven’t changed your behaviour around how you eat (only what you eat) and how you use body movement to support your overall health (only that you exercise to lose weight) the results cannot last.
The underlying message here is that no long-term behavioural changes occurred, so the weight you lost will be back.
One of the worst times you can start even thinking about losing kilos is when you are stressed. In my coaching, I always suggest not to make drastic lifestyle changes when there is a lot going on in your life, but rather do it gradually
Unfortunately, most of us live in a constant state of stress which makes it even more challenging. That is why you need to put your house in order before you go on a diet
I want to tell you that a missing element in your weight fluctuation is stress. And to be exact, the production of the stress hormone: cortisol.
As you know, when you live in a constant state of stress, your body is on a high alert. Historically the fight or flight response was triggered when our physical survival was in danger. The stress response is our survival mechanism, and it is triggered the same way today. We may no longer run away from a hungry tiger, but our psychological survival will start the stress response all the same.
During the stress response, stress hormones are being produced. The main stress hormones are adrenaline and cortisol. They both have different roles to play. And while adrenaline tells your body your environment is not safe (read my previous blog about adrenaline and your sugar cravings HERE), cortisol signals to your body that because your life is in danger, the food is scarce.
You see, primarily when our ancestors experienced stress it was during a drought, flooding, or famine. All those scenarios tell us that it will be hard to obtain food. Your body knows best, therefore it starts producing cortisol.
Cortisol tells every cell in your body that it is time to store food and do not convert any fat into energy (but to use carbohydrates instead). This way cortisol tells your body to store fat. As a result, your clothes are getting tighter, you noticed your weight went up, and some fat tissue appeared here and there. Your first thought is: ‘I have to lose weight!’. So, what do you do?
Yes, you are right! You go on a diet!
As previously discussed, most diets include some degree of food restriction. So, by going on a diet, you signal to your body that indeed, it is right because food is limited! And now the true conflict between what your twenty-first century mind wants and what your body’s ancestral biochemistry wants starts.
And either we like it or not, our body was wired for survival, and it would do anything to accomplish that.
So, how is the stress level in your life? Can you ensure that you feel safe, the stress response is not being triggered so your weight is in check?
If you have ever tried to lose weight you know that losing way is only part of the desired outcome.
You also want to prevent putting back on those lost kilos. The energy (calories) intake and energy (calories) expenditure are the base for almost any diet program. But it can only work for so long. For the weight to stay off long-lasting behavioural changes need to occur.
Trying to lose weight, embracing new eating and exercising routines can be stressful in itself. Therefore, we need to ensure that the cortisol production is at its normal range and doesn’t disrupt our dream goal of losing weight. Cortisol tells your body that food is scarce and that it needs to store fat until we are out of danger.
So, is stress impacting your weight? What can you do to move from the fight and flight response to the rest and repair response?