stress, cortisol and why sometimes it is so hard to lose weight
HAVE you realised that the world around us is not the same one in which our parents or grandparents grew up in, without going very far, it is not the same world in which we were born?
I am 40 years old, I am an 80’s child and a 90’s teenager, media says I belong to the Generation X. We are a generation that was born analog and grew up digital, a complex one. I see this as having the upper hand, we understand many things of the past, and we navigate through the digital age without any problems.
By now you may be thinking what’s all these have to do with losing weight; well, we live in a “fast” world, a world where everything is advancing by leaps and bounds. There is never time for anything, and when we have time for something, we are just exhausted, the only thing you want to do is nothing or maybe pour a glass of wine and watch some Netflix. Does it sound familiar?
This made me think that our grandparents may have had a more relaxed lifestyle, not depending on their phones, checking emails, the latest app, a Waze app to help to get to a destination in less time by avoiding traffic. If we look at our grandparent at our age, they seemed to have a quieter life than us. You can call it boring if you like, but I don’t think they had the same levels of stress that we do.
We live in a world of information technology, of immediacy; a world in which we cannot stop to have lunch without checking our phones, answering a work email, or we just can’t resist the temptation to photograph our food to publish it on social media and show the rest of the world what we are doing and how “happy” we are. We are dependent and stressed, prisoners of ourselves, not able to relax or travel without the need of documenting every single step.
The other day someone shared this picture with me.
Credit: John Blanding / The Boston Globe
This picture shows a group of people, most of them from my generation or younger, at an event on the street. Please take time to notice the lady that is observing the occasion with her eyes! She seems to be enjoying what she is seeing. She is in the present moment and registering it in her in memory, as she used to do it all her life, as everyone used to do pre-mobile-phone-with-camera era. My first thought was: “she knows how to enjoy the moment”.
What about the rest of the group? They all are looking at life through the screen of their phone, creating videos to add to the “never looked again” pile or “posting to my social media story” that will be deleted anyway after running out of space to store once it’s time to register the next event.
That made me realise that most of us just live without enjoying the moment.
Back to the losing weight part. What do all these have to do with losing weight?
Well, a lot. This lifestyle of recording the next event, the rat race, technology, fast world, answering emails on our downtime, of being connected all the time, bring stress.
Stress is in the hands of a hormone called cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone”, this hormone is usually a great ally or an enemy. Depending on the case, it helps us to face situations of tension: the flight or flight mode; or be present in emotional situations turning into frustration, anxiety or anger. The negative part of these last three ones is that if these sensations become chronic, they can seriously affect our mental and physical health.
Cortisol is also the culprit of not having success on losing weight, regardless of the number of times we tried, you can’t go past the three kg mark and after lots of efforts. And even worse, after deciding to quit that diet you put those three hard lost kg back on or more!
Among many other conditions, the excess of cortisol usually produces insulin resistance, which will lead our body to accumulate fat and, as consequence obesity, depression, high blood pressure and even autoimmune conditions. These situations will be the key to open the diabetes door.
Every time we are stressed, the cortisol hormone is activated making it challenging to lose weight.
Stress is part of lives and in small quantities is even needed; it should not be seen as totally bad, it gives us the extra push to deal with a situation but it is essential to have a balance and make sure we put techniques in place to deal with stress.
Here are some tips to deal with stress and keep the keep your cortisol at normal levels
Go offline: it is unbelievable how convenient mobiles phones are. Everything at our fingertips, literally, but some of us depend too much on it that seems we can’t breathe without it. I challenge you to make the decision of not looking at your phone for at least three hours straight. I know, #fomo! But being connected all the time can also be a stressor. Give your mind a rest and go without it. Focus on another activity like listening to music, dance and disconnect. The benefits of music are endless, connects you with memories and can take you on a journey. Join our playlist here.
The iPhone has a “do not disturb” feature when activated only your favourite contacts can reach you. Allow yourself some time off, you deserve it.
Improve your sleep – some people claim that they can survive on 4 hours sleep with no issues, but the lack of sleep can lead to poor health and decrease our resilience. Experts recommend at least 8 hours of sleep per day to allow our minds and bodies to recover. One good tip to improve your sleep is to make your bedroom a pleasant room to be in: don’t accumulate clutter and reduce electronics.
You can improve your health by sleeping.
Ground yourself in the Present Moment – mindfulness techniques are perfect for this. Be fully present in what you are doing by tuning into your senses. One useful and straightforward mindfulness method to ground you in the present moment is the 5 to 1:
Look around and describe 5 things you can see. 4 things you can touch. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you can smell. 1 thing you can taste.
Breathe! Stand with feet a shoulder-length apart. Take3 slow and deep breaths using the diaphragm muscles. Breathe in through your nose, and breathe out through slightly parted lips. Get the oxygen flowing into every little inch of your body and with every exhale let all the worries out.
Catch up with your friends: spending time with friends reduces cortisol levels and gives you a sense of connection regulating other functions of your body. Make time to go out with your friends, is excellent medicine.