The article was written by Heidi Campo; NSCA CPT, CSCS, and certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist
4 Tips on How to Lose Fat We Gain From Stress!
Stress is the silent killer of Americans by being a major driving force behind heart disease, obesity, cancer, and many more deadly diseases. In my last article, “Can you Gain Fat From Stress?” We talked about the science behind how we gain fat when stressed out. In this article, we will talk about 4 of the best techniques for losing the fat accumulated from stress.
We need always to remember that losing fat is a math equation. If you eat more than your metabolism can handle, you will gain fat. Your metabolism is your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure); this number tells us how many calories we burn daily. One part of the equation is dieting and exercising to ensure we burn extra calories. The other half of the equation is improving our metabolism with lifestyle changes (like in this article) and seeking medical intervention from our providers.
The first thing we need to do in the fight against stress is to figure out the main stressors in our life. You can do this yourself, with the nutritionist at our clinic, a therapist, or a trusted friend/ partner. Once you have identified what it is that is stressing you out, destroying your metabolism, and wreaking havoc on your hormones. Then you can start working on making lifestyle changes to fix it. This part can be an extraordinarily complex and lifelong pursuit. Don’t let that discourage you though! Even just 1% progress every week adds up, and you will notice exponential improvement with each positive change you make.
As I said, we can work on eliminating some of our stressors. Others we need to learn to live with. That’s where we hear the phrase “stress management techniques” thrown around so much. We can’t always control what is happening outside of ourselves, but we can always control what goes on inside ourselves with some proven strategies.
Tip 1. Breathwork
This is one of the most underestimated and powerful tools in our toolbox for combating stress. I have been a certified yoga teacher since 2011, and my intensive teacher training was one of the most relevant experiences of my life. Learning how to utilize your breath to bring yourself to a sympathetic state is free of charge, and you can bring it with you everywhere you go.
I plan on writing more about breathwork drills in the future, but for now, I will encourage you to take some time tonight to breathe. You can start with a simple exercise right now. As also demonstrated in Figure 1
Sit in a comfortable position, with your hips rooted towards the ground and the crown of your head reaching towards the sky. Take a few cleansing breaths in and out through the nose. On your last exhale, empty your lungs completely. As you begin your next inhale through the nose, draw the breath first to the belly and the hips, allowing your pelvis to expand and your belly to open up as you inhale. Imagine filling a water balloon; your body expands from the bottom to the top.
Continue to inhale, feel your ribcage expand, and finally, let your chest rise as you fully inflate your lungs. The chin will also rise slightly at the inhale’s highest point. As you exhale, you constrict the anus and push the air upward from your pelvis. Imagine your pelvic floor rising into your belly and then your belly squeezing from bottom to top.
As the breath starts to push out through the ribs and chest, your chin will fall slightly forward as you deflate. Squeeze the air out of your lungs completely before starting a new breath. Repeat this breathing exercise 10 times or more. For bonus points, you can take your pulse before and after your breathwork to measure the positive effects of your slow breath on your body.
Remember, the stress in the sympathetic system will create rapid shallow breathing. As well as a tight anus to protect the spinal cord, higher blood pressure, and faster heart rate. That comes from the adrenaline your body pumps out when you get stressed. Your breath is the most effective tool to reverse the parasympathetic (fight or flight) response and bring you back to a sympathetic relaxed state. Relaxing the pelvic floor and showing your body that you are not threatened will help the rest of the systems follow.
Learning breathwork and meditation can help your body relax after a stressful situation. Meditation and breathwork can be powerful tools to use before starting a big meeting, having an uneasy conversation, or doing any task that makes you uncomfortable. It reminds the body that you are safe and allows you to focus better.
Tip 2. Mindset
The thoughts and attitudes you have surrounding stress are powerful. If something happens to you and your initial reaction is to fight back or run like an animal, then you are likely being dominated by animalistic instincts. True power lies in the ability to have something negative happen and to remain in control of yourself calmly. We like to call this having a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset. The growth mindset will help you feel less stressed and more resilient to change, which will help you become more successful overall. The fixed mindset will keep you stressed, panicked, and stuck in your rut. See Figure 2.
Yes, there will always be things that annoy you. However, if you allow everything to uproot you and destroy your peace, you will be powerless over yourself and your emotions. Not only will this affect your basal metabolic rate and hormones from the harmful effects of long-term stress, but this can also lead to negative coping habits such as stress eating.
Shifting your mindset from a negative pessimist who always assumes the worst to a realistic optimist who is more relaxed about things will take time. A few things you can do to start transforming your mind include the following.
Not everything suggested below will work for everyone; try the ones you are interested in and see what resonates with and works for you! See Figure 3 for more encouragement on adopting a growth mindset!
- Daily gratitude journal
- Positive affirmations
- Cognitive behavior therapy (You do this under the guidance of a licensed therapist)
- Doing a 12-step program
- Finding a church group to connect with
- Surround yourself with a community of people you want to be more like. (After all, you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with)
- Do things that have a positive effect on your Epigenetics. Like changes to your environment, what you consume, and even your internal dialogue.
- Find a mental performance coach, like Headstrong Consulting.
- Read books and listen to podcasts about mindsets/ productivity
- In some cases, there can be chemical drugs that can aid in mindset changes. Talk to your doctor if this is the route you want to take. Our providers can discuss this with you if you feel like you’re struggling with food addiction.
- All of these solutions will have a positive long-term effect on your brain through neuroplasticity. Helping you become healthier and more resilient over time.
Tip 3. Find a Routine
It’s no secret that chaos is a recipe for disaster. Humans thrive when there is an appropriate level of stability and consistency. See the stress performance curve in Figure 4. Life is stressful enough; we don’t need to add to it by living an unpredictable and chaotic life. Different people will thrive under different levels of pressure. Just because Elon Musk can work as much as he does with high-stress and high-risk scenarios doesn’t mean you can do the same. He has a big team of support helping him. As well as decades of experience learning what his stress limit is. I commonly hear that successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and celebrities all have dialed in their personal routines that put them on autopilot for those tasks. Allowing them to put their decision-making skills toward more important things.
We can start creating routines by perfecting our sleep schedule, morning routine, and bedtime routine. One of the best things we can do for our energy and productivity is to get on a consistent sleep schedule so that our circadian rhythm can become balanced. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s inner sleep and wake schedule.
Most humans need 7-8 hours of sleep to function properly. Athletes might need more like 8-9 hours of sleep to help them recover from their hard training sessions. Let’s break this down for the average human.
If you need to be at work by 9 am and want time in the morning to have a routine that builds positive momentum. Then you will need to be in bed by 10 or 11 pm if you want to be up by 7 am and still get enough sleep.
This gives you 2 hours to get up, read, journal, meditate, get ready, eat a fueling breakfast, and commute.
A morning routine is something many of us are working on mastering. Here is a sample morning/day routine with some healthy habits built-in:
- Wake up at 6 am every day, including weekends. Do this so your natural clock gets used to waking up at this time. This helps you to be less groggy and more productive upon waking.
- Have morning coffee and a protein shake with plenty of good vitamins to start your day. Get ready for the gym and leave by 6:30
- Put 8oz of water in your coffee
- Put 10oz of water in your protein shake
- Drive to the gym and listen to a positive mindset podcast.
- Spend 45-60 minutes at the gym doing a combination of cardio and resistance training.
- Have another 32oz of water
- Be back home by 8 am to shower and have a post-workout snack. Then, get ready for your day and be at work by 9 am. Sit at your desk with an 8-oz cup of healthy tea and an 8-oz cup of electrolyte-filled water. Sip on both throughout the morning and be finished by noon.
- Go for a walk around the building and eat the lunch you packed. It saves you money from eating out and helps increase your daily activity.
- 8oz water with lunch
- Finish your work day with another glass of water and a healthy afternoon snack before leaving work. This will help you not to be starving by the time you get home, allowing you to take your time to make a healthy dinner instead of picking up fast food on the way home.
- Any more water for the evening is optional. You have had 74 oz already today. Finishing water earlier in the day will help your body not wake up at night to use the bathroom.
A bedtime routine is just as essential to master. This is one that many people struggle with. Especially if their schedules are overbooked and their work days are bleeding into their personal evenings. Here are some tips to help get better sleep
- Avoid caffeine 10 hours before bed
- Avoid meals or snacks 3 hours before bed
- Sleep in a cool room, ideally 67° F
- Try a weighted blanket or heavy quilt for added comfort
- Avoid alcohol 4 hours before bed
- Avoid blue lights and screens 1 hour before bed
- Make sure your room is dark with no ambient light. Try blackout curtains and turning off all digital lights.
- Have a wind-down routine that is ideally the same time every night
- This can include a hot bath or shower
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
I hope some of these tips are ones you can find inspiration in. I understand that many of our readers have very different lives. From children to work shifts, being on call, or other scheduling issues. Just remember to focus on what you can control. Learn to manage the things you can’t control.
Tip 4. Integrate Play
My last tip is to find ways to integrate joy and play back into your life. In my work at the clinic, I have found that the majority of my patients are burnt out and can no longer control themselves from temptation. This happens when we have mismanaged our inner child. Let me explain to you what that means.
In psychology, there is a practice where we recognize that each of us has an inner adult and an inner child. The inner child is you, even though you are a grown-up. When you were little, you might have enjoyed playing, being imaginative, and expressing your creativity in various ways. Think back to the things that brought you the most joy as a child. When was the last time you enjoyed those things?
As we grow up, we start to put the child away, and the inner adult begins to take over. Being an adult is necessary for us to be successful members of society. We can’t listen to our childish impulses all the time. The adult teaches work ethic, discipline, and putting aside pleasure for the things that need to get done. However, the inner child is still very much a part of us.
What happens if you tell a 3-year-old to sit and be quiet for 5 minutes? They might be able to sit still for a moment, but after a while, they start to fidget, wander, act out, and, at worst, have a tantrum.
Now think about your current life. Has your inner adult been running the show for a while? Have you been so focused on chores and adult tasks that you have told your inner child to sit in the corner for a few days, weeks, months, or years? What do you think will happen to that inner child of yours? Well, a few things might happen:
- Your inner child acts out and throws a tantrum, similar to when a child is tired and grumpy. This manifests when you break the adult rules you made for yourself. This might look like spending too much money, binge eating, drug or alcohol abuse, participating in risky sexual behavior, gambling, or other things that we know are not good for us. Once this tantrum passes, we might feel disappointed and confused about why we keep repeating these self-destructive patterns.
- Your inner child can start to atrophy, leaving you with a loss of creativity and joy. You no longer look at the world with wonder and curiosity. Feelings of deep sadness can set in, leading to further abuse of food.
Take time to reconnect with your inner child. Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can be alone and unbothered. Try journaling and writing a letter to the younger you. Tell yourself sorry for ignoring the bright-eyed child. Tell yourself that you love yourself and that everything will be ok. This is an important step in reconnecting with your inner child. From there, you can rediscover the things that once brought you the most joy and integrate play into your lifestyle! Only then will you be able to drive back many adult stressors.
To sum it up
- Stress will make you gain extra body fat. It is almost impossible to make progress on weight loss without managing stress.
- Breathwork and meditation teach your body that you are not in danger, allowing your body to exit a state of stress physically.
- Mindset matters! Take steps to strengthen your mentality and resilience.
- Finding a routine will help remove a lot of the daily stress and put many of your goals into autopilot. Making it easier to achieve success.
- Find time for joy and play to ensure your stress doesn’t take over your life.
If you feel like you need more help managing your lifestyle or getting over some of the health issues caused by stress. Give our office a call today, and we can get you in to see our providers. But don’t wait! Our schedule fills up fast!