Sometimes the best thing you can do to SPEED UP weight loss is to SLOW DOWN.
Do you believe that? Does stress play a role in weight loss? It is hard to see slowing down as a valid option in our “hustle more” culture. Even when it comes to health and weight loss, most of us think that it is complicated. And it takes a lot of time and a lot of extra energy. Being healthy is just one more thing to add to your ever-growing TO DO list.
Stress and Weight Loss
Our bodies are designed so incredibly. As a health coach and a nurse, I am constantly learning new ways to teach people how to better understand their bodies and to work WITH their bodies, not against them. Stress is a major contributor to a variety of health conditions. Interestingly, stress plays a critical role in our digestion and metabolism as well. It can be said that it may be even more important HOW we eat or food rather than WHAT we eat. Let’s dive into that idea a bit more…
What’s getting on your nerves?
You have 2 major nervous systems in your body, sympathetic and parasympathetic. These nervous systems serve important functions in the body. It is critical to note that when one system is activated, the OTHER mostly shuts down.
Rest & Digest
The parasympathetic system, is what I like to call the Rest & Digest, or the Relax & Heal System. When this system is activated our body puts energy into digestion, healing and creation of essential proteins and enzymes. This is the optimal state we want to be in when we consume nutrients. When we are in this state, we can optimally use our food for energy and healing.
Fight or Flight
The other system, sympathetic is the Fight or Flight system. When this system is activated, energy is transferred AWAY from digestion and healing and put into systems that will help up move quickly to get away from danger.
But the problem with our modern world is that we are surrounded by so many stressors. We are constantly on the go and have subscribed to the idea the all food should be fast. Multitasking, especially during meals has become the norm for many people.
Guess what? The chemical pathways activated by your nervous system in response to stress can’t tell if the stress you are experiencing is life threatening or not. When stress hormones are released, they just do what they are supposed to do. Most of us are NOT being chased by wild predators on our lunch hour (like maybe our ancestors were). But we are in a state of stress. Our bodies are in fight or flight. So our body won’t digest your sandwich very well when its in this state. It is diverting focus AWAY from digestion to save you energy so you can escape the lions in the lunchroom.
Stress and Fat
One of the things that cortisol, the stress hormone, does in the body is store food into the most efficient form of fuel it knows. You guessed it, FAT. Our body is doing what it thinks is best for us. We need stored fat for survival if we are constantly running away from wild animals and food sources are scarce. But for most of us, we are surrounded by too much food and storing it as fat is actually causing us to be unhealthy. You can eat healthy, exercise a bunch but if you are still super stressed your body will rebel against losing weight.
Slowing down will help you speed up weight loss
So with this new understanding, what can we do to get our bodies into the Rest & Digest phase more often? You guessed it, SLOW DOWN.
Simple things to try this week to practice slowing down
- Chew your food more intentionally. It helps breaks down your food so your intestines have to do less. And it slows you down.
- Work on increasing your meal time little by little. Plan for 20 minutes as a goal. Eat normal portions, slowly and stop when you are full or satisfied.
- Try intentionally taking 10-20 slow deep breaths before meals, snacks or anytime you need a little reset. This helps “trick” your nervous system into being more relaxed and shifting into the Rest & Digest phase.
- A fun game to try for yourself when eating with other people at home or a restaurant. Try and be the last one in the group to finish your meal. That way you don’t have to watch the clock for a 20 minute meal, you just pace yourself against everyone else.
I know that slowing down doesn’t come natural for many of us. It will take conscious work to implement some of these changes. And the changes won’t happen overnight. But understanding more how your body works, and learning to work WITH your body and not against it, will help you get closer to your health goals.