Now that you understand how and why cortisol leads to weight gain, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reverse the pattern of weight gain and actually reduce your stress level and waistline at the same time.
To prevent stress-induced weight gain and reduce the risk of obesity, get a handle on your stress. When you feel less stressed and more in control of your life, you may find it easier to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits.
So how do we achieve personal health, wellness and balanced life goals without adding to our stress?
Consider a holistic approach to stress and stress eating using mindfulness -- it's all about self-care and feeling great!
Find out what causes stress for you | Identify your sources of stress.
If you don’t understand the sources of your stress you can end up putting yourself under more pressure by just taking on more ‘stress reduction activities’ and avoiding the real problems. Pick the wrong approach and you could make things worse, feel de-motivated and get caught in a vicious self-reinforcing stress spiral.
The sources of stress could include life changes, such as divorce, marriage, job change, a move, pregnancy, menopause, change in finances, basically any change, big and small in your life.
Keep a stress journal to record what triggers you stress. Needless to say that source of stress is individual. One person’s stressors may be another’s pleasures.
There are also many different types of stress that can be affecting your health, so it’s important to identify where that stress is coming from. Recognize the warning signs of stress, such as anxiety, irritability and muscle tension or your hand stretching out to grab another cookie.
Identify your own stress symptoms.
How do you react when you encounter a stressor - a stressful event?
Stress symptoms fall into four main categories:
- Physical symptoms, such as feeling dizzy, stomach problems, tense muscles, tension headaches, erratic breathing, dry mouth, chronic constipation, diarrhea, sleeping difficulties.
- Emotional symptoms, such as irritability, angry outbursts, state of anxiety, feeling of hopelessness, increased moodiness, panic attacks; you can become very negative, everything could seem difficult or a problem.
- Psychological symptoms, such as difficulties in concentrating or making simple decisions, muddled and negative thinking, loss of confidence.
- Behavioral symptoms, such as increased smoking and alcohol drinking, nail-biting, engaging in mindless comfort eating, insomnia, relationship problems, social withdrawal.
Write your stress symptoms and signs in a stress journal.
Think about your habitual coping strategies.
Are your habitual stress management strategies effective and healthy, or on the contrary do they increase your stress and health problems in a long run?
In fact bad habits – like stress overeating, excessive smoking or alcohol consumption, are often used as a false stress management tools and may seem as a temporarily effective way of taking the mind away from whatever is causing the stress. In the long term – you gain weight and destroy your health.
Be mindful about real physical hunger versus head hunger.
Before eating, ask yourself a deceptively simple question: Am I Hungry? This question will help you to understand if your cravings are you truly hungry or triggered by stress or other emotion.
This is a toughie for women who tend to eat to deal with stress. Food is comfort when stress takes hold, and the urge to eat feels a lot like real hunger. When you wander into the kitchen or place an order at a restaurant, ask yourself if you're truly hungry, or if you're eating for other reasons.
If you are truly hungry, it will be easier to eat healthy foods. If you're stressed, you may crave fatty and/or sweet foods. If you keep in mind that food will NOT solve the stress problems (and may create more of them) in your life, and learn other coping mechanisms for stress, you will be far better off.
Find non-food soothers.
If you crave junk in stressful situations, find ways to soothe yourself without food. Keep a brief food-stress diary. Write down what you eat, what triggered your craving, in terms of the specific stressful feeling such as pressure, anger, disappointment or frustration and how you felt afterwards – satisfied or even more stressed and stuffed. This will help you identify the exact type of stress or pressure that leads you to overeat.
Look for new ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Find other ways to soothe stressful feelings such as talking things out with a friend or partner, writing in a journal, having a warm bath or doing a regular yoga or meditation class. What are your specific stress reduction needs? Only you can answer this question. Your stress management plan depends on your answer.
Add some play time.
For once in your adult life, make having fun a priority! Many of superwomen forget just how relaxing a few hours of fun or a good laugh can be. Taking time to relax and do something for yourself is the best way to beat stress. So no matter how hectic your life gets, always make time to do something you enjoy that distracts you from your everyday life and endless duties. This time to unwind will help you gain perspective and make you less likely to turn to food for comfort. So today I am writing out a virtual prescription for you: “Play!”
Three to four deep breaths through your nose can slow your heart rate and calm the whole body down. Find time throughout your day to just breathe, especially when you feel stressed. Learn to recognize the signals that you need to take a break, and get some fresh air, have a cup of herbal tea, or simply put your feet up.
Don't lose sleep…
…over your weight problems or your stress. When you don't get enough rest, cortisol levels rise, making you feel hungry and less satisfied with the food you do eat.
Get regular exercise.
Studies show that just ten minutes of physical activity daily – especially if it’s outside – can help reduce levels of cortisol in the blood stream. Physical activity clears your mind and keeps your stress and appetite under control. Next time you fancy a bag of crisps in a crisis, try a quick walk. It might not solve the problem but it could help you cope.
Devote time to relaxation.
Because it works much like exercise to produce brain chemicals that counter the effects of stress, find the activities that make you feel relaxed and calm. There is no single relaxation technique that is the best for everyone. Try them and then use the ones that you have found to be right for you. When you have find the ones that work for you, stick with them - practice them even when you are not stressed until you develop a habit. There are very few chances that without a practice and without a habit you will be able to use them in stressful situation.
And don't overlook the relaxing power of curling up on a sofa with a good book or magazine, or even playing your favorite movie on the DVD player. "Anything that makes you feel calm and relaxed will help counter the biochemical effects of stress," says Talbott.
There many more holistic stress management strategies although this all boils down to - if your current stress management and coping strategies are not leading toward your wellness goals, learn more effective and healthier and ways to manage your stress.
What are you waiting for?
Resolve stress and stress-induced overeating for long-term weight management -- join me for mindful eating, mindful living coaching.