Some of my workshop participants were initially surprised at this item when we were discussing it. Then their their mouths opened and the light bulb went on in their heads. “Ahhhh I see” said one participant. She went back to her pad of paper and began to scribble frantically.
Stress is a detail that is often overlooked when you are trying to lose weight. It’s something we know and acknowledge happens to us but we don’t often associate it with our vision of us moving through our weight loss plan. Often people tend to compartmentalize stress and associate with other facets of their life. But when you are faced with making new dietary changes, changing your schedule to accommodate your new workout while maintaining the lifestyle and work responsibilities you have always had; things can get pretty stressful. Add to that extraneous unpredictable things like a flat tire, additional responsibilities at work or a sick child and you’ve got stress. The kind of stress that would make it easy to reach for a couple of cookies, chips or glass of wine.
Stressors like these are a normal part of life yet they have the power to completely derail your efforts to make any kinds of positive changes or lose weight. If you’ve ever experienced the effort it takes to handle those types of stressful circumstances, and possibly worse, you know how impossible it is to sustain a new habit.
Not only were you not able to sustain that plan because your circumstances have changed; but you in all likelihood automatically started a brain habit that prompted you to use as a stress coping strategy like eating or drinking. This was part of the original reason(s) why you started gaining weight from the beginning. Makes sense, right? If you have no other form of stress coping strategy then you will go back to using the one that used to work for you usually those that involved ingesting something. That is, until you figured out that it actually made things worse by making you gain weight.
Why do we do this? Because we humans are wired to soothe ourselves, make ourselves feel more safe, recognized, loved, intimate and over all good. Typically the stress coping skills we modeled from our parents probably involved foods that could replicate those feelings. If you find you need to ingest specific items like sugar, salts or carbohydrates you may actually be looking to boost the endorphins, seratonin, GABA or dopamine in your brain to get those feelings.
Plus there is always a positive loving feeling with decadent high fat and carbohydrate filled meals because we often associate them with holidays and events that we have shared with family and friends. I’m not suggesting we get rid of those positive associations with family and friends just that we find better coping strategies when it isn’t a holiday and our family and friends are not around and we are not eating those foods.
You may be wondering how to create a stress coping strategy if you’ve never had one (other than foods, alcohol or other drugs etc.). I have a list of several stress coping strategies that can help you not only support the pattern interruption and new lifestyle habits but get your mind and body back on your weight loss track. All you need to do is prepare for them and practice using them when you aren’t in a stressful situation. This will make the use of them during stress much more like second nature than the original stress coping strategies you started with
Here are a few:
1- Breathe! Closing your eyes and breathing deeply slows your heart rate, increases circulation and allows your body to relax.
2- Count backwards. Sometimes giving the mind a simple yet slightly complicated task will help to redirect your thoughts and slow a reactive behavior.
3- Meditate. You can use your breathing to deepen your state of relaxation into an Alpha or Theta state (pre-sleep and sleep stages).
4- Spend time petting your cat or dog. Again heart rate, breathing, muscle constriction all return to a normal state when spending time with pets.
5- Aromatherapy. Use essential oils like: Lavender, orange, lemon, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang and Chamomile. All are great at prompting a relaxed state.
6- Laugh. You probably know how to do that best for yourself.
7- Unplug, go for a walk or take a yoga class.
8- Visualize the stressful event or person and see yourself responding in a way that will resolve all the tension, anger or anxiety. See the perfect resolution manifesting before your eyes.
9- Use your favorite hobby as a distraction. Any activity to change or interrupt the negative behavior habit will suffice. Drawing, painting, journalling, playing an instrument, weaving, sculpting or any creative pursuit usually does a great job at retraining the brain for new more productive neural pathways.
These are the repeatable stress coping strategies I and my clients use to stay on top of their weight loss goals.
There are others, I know of people who carry “worry” stones in their pockets, burn incense or candles to relieve tension etc. Find a few that works for you and stick with it. The more you use them the better off you and your family will be!
Enjoy Your Mind and Body!