Ask any weight-loss expert about the secret to dropping excess pounds, and he or she will tell you it’s as easy as basic math: Burn more calories than you consume, and the weight will surely come off. And that’s pretty much right. But if you talk to someone who’s actually tried to lose weight – and struggled – they may have a different story.
The truth is that there are a lot of different factors that may disrupt the calories in/calories out ratio that promises to make weight loss easy. And there is perhaps none more important than stress.
You may remember learning about the fight-or-flight response from your seventh-grade science class. Essentially, it’s the body’s innate ability to assess a potentially dangerous situation and determine whether to stick around and “fight” or take “flight” toward safety. It’s a very primitive aspect of human physiology, but the response triggers a very intricate chain of reactions within the body, including the release of the hormone cortisol.
In normal amounts, cortisol is healthy and beneficial; it keeps up motivated and helps us to stay awake during the day and remain constantly aware of our surroundings. But when cortisol is constantly elevated, a host of negative consequences can occur, including sleep disorders, anxiety, fertility problems, hormonal imbalances and, yes, weight gain.
The reality is that in today’s go-go-go society, in which we’re strapped to our smart phones 24/7, constantly checking emails and juggling family, friends and careers, we are much more stressed than our ancestors were. It’s like we’re in a never-ending fight-or-flight state, and that stress (and the resulting cortisol spikes) can do a number on even the best weight-loss efforts.
So if you’re serious about toning up and dropping some serious fat, you’re going to have to keep tabs on your stress levels. And the good news is that there are some completely all-natural ways to do just that. Here are my top three:
You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: Exercise has full-body benefits that extend well beyond your bikini-body goals. One of its most powerful benefits is its ability to trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which act like built-in painkillers, anxiety busters and mood lifters. If you’re already hitting the gym as part of your weight-loss efforts and not noticing any de-stressing effects, try mixing up your routine. Yoga is known to reinforce the mind-body connection, while also improving sleep, but really any exercise routine will help if you stay consistent. HIIT workouts are my exercise of choice because, in 25 to 30 minutes, two to three times per week, you can experience major improvement to your cardiovascular health, muscle endurance and overall strength.
Eat a Healing Diet
Eating the right foods is a key component of overall health and wellness, so it should come as no surprise that I recommend a nutrient-dense, healing foods diet to help beat stress and lower cortisol. From paleo to vegan, there are so many diets in the mainstream now that it can be hard to choose the right one for your specific needs, but my recommendations come down to a few basics:
- Remove processed foods and those with added sugar, as these can cause your blood sugar to spike and crash throughout the day, increasing anxiety and causing cravings and fatigue.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine, as they can cause or worsen anxiety, interfere with sleep, cause dehydration and leave you unable to cope with stressful situations.
- Add in foods high in B vitamins (like grass-fed beef and green leafy veggies) that the body will use to convert nutrients to energy; calcium and magnesium (including wild-caught salmon and avocados) that will relax muscles and help you sleep; and healthy fats (coconut oil and nuts/seeds) that will reduce inflammation and help stabilize your mood.
Try Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogen herbs are a unique class of plants that balance, restore and protect the body, making it easier to handle stress by regulating physiological functions and hormones. In fact, there are several that are known to lower cortisol levels, including ashwaghanda, astragalus, ginseng, licorice root, holy basil and rhodiola. All of these herbs are available at your local health food market or vitamin/supplement store, as well as online. And the good news is that they have been used for thousands of years with little to no side effects.