Can’t Lose Weight? The Catch 22 of Stress and Sleep
You’re doing everything right to lose weight and it still isn’t happening. You’re eating healthy, you’re taking supplements, you’re doing the right kind of exercise for your individual metabolism…and you’ve plateaued. “Why isn’t this working,” you ask. Well, there are two other very important components that play a big role in whether or not weight loss occurs. Sleep and stress…and they are extremely interrelated. Choosing not to get enough sleep causes a lot of undue stress on the body, and being under a lot of stress typically affects your quality of sleep. It’s a Catch 22. Let’s talk about stress first.
The following excerpt from the newly released E-book: The Weight Loss Puzzle, Finally Solved! written by myself, and Dr. Frank Aieta arms the reader with information on the physiological effects of stress and sleep disturbances on weight loss.
1. Physiological Effects of Stress
Stress…might be the most commonly used word in our country these days. How many times do you hear people say, ”I’m so stressed out.” We have created a nation of overworked, overcommitted and guilt-ridden people. We continually put more and more on our plates until we have nervous breakdowns, heart attacks or are so fatigued we can’t even think straight anymore. Why? Do we even know why we’re doing this to ourselves? That’s a topic for a whole different book!
Everyone thinks that we die of specific diseases…heart disease, diabetes, cancer…but more research is showing that we actually die of stress. The stress that we put on ourselves leads to the creation of these diseases. High levels of stress cause inflammatory responses in the body and prevent fat cells from releasing fuel. In addition, stress promotes cravings and sends signals to the body to increase our appetite and consume more calories. You need strength to fight off or flee that saber-toothed tiger. Problem is…unless you’re in Africa wandering around the Serengeti, chances are you’re not going to encounter one anytime soon. More likely, you spend your day sitting at a desk burning next to no calories all day.
Stress makes us do crazy things like polish off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at 9pm and then hit the sack. Like rationalize why we are skipping the gym or our workout because we’re “so stressed out.” Like stay up until 2am working on a project our boss just dumped in our lap with a ridiculous deadline. The bottom line is we have to find a way to make this stop or we will continue to become more and more unhealthy.
The first step is determining how much of the stress we are under is within our control. For example, are we doing things to add to our stress level, like overcommitting ourselves? Do we feel guilty if we choose to do something for ourselves vs. everyone else in our lives? Do we choose to spend longer and longer hours at work because we have to get that raise to maintain our lifestyle? Are there things in our lives that we can eliminate to reduce our stress level? Are we willing to do that?
Until you make a commitment to reduce this stress you will not be successful in losing weight. Your body is going to hang on to every bit of energy inside those fat cells if it thinks it’s in a high stress situation. It’s a primal physiological response.
Until you make a commitment to reduce this stress you will not be successful in losing weight. Your body is going to hang on to every bit of energy inside those fat cells if it thinks it’s in a high stress situation. It’s a primal physiological response. Until you release the stress, you won’t release the weight.
So how is it done? Most people’s first thought is probably, “well, I’ll just exercise harder and longer.” Might work initially, but honestly, the majority of people can’t maintain that kind of an exercise program for long. In fact, there are studies available now that show that intense exercise is actually harmful for people under a lot of stress. Intense exercise increases inflammatory processes, and that’s the last thing we want to happen to someone with adrenal fatigue or chronic stress.
Believe it or not, my recommendation is to not do any intense exercise and to only engage in leisurely walking and stress reduction activities like yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, or whatever appeals to you for at least 2 months or more. Then, re-evaluate your stress level after 2 months and add in light exercise and strength training. Stick with this program and healthy eating until you see a weight loss of 1-2lbs/week for 2-3 months before you increase the intensity of exercise. You may also want to have your adrenals measured to determine if you truly are suffering from adrenal fatigue.
2. Physiological Effects of Sleep
We all know the benefits of sleep, so why don’t we get more of it? We’ve been conditioned in this country that sleep is equivalent with being lazy. What?!? Seriously, look at the Europeans – some of the healthiest people on the planet. Everything shuts down for siesta in the middle of the day for about 4 HOURS! They’ve got it figured out. Not us Americans…nope…work, work, work and more work…oh and here’s your 2-weeks vacation. It takes 2 weeks just to wind down!
Sleep is the body’s opportunity to repair and restore. You can’t survive without it…ask any parent of a newborn. You need it to rebuild and regenerate cells, to reduce stress, improve your memory and even increase your lifespan! Research indicates that people who get less sleep—six or fewer hours a night—have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat—56% of their weight loss—than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. Dieters in the study also felt hungrier when they got less sleep. Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain, when you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite. Studies show we need to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is the best way to rebuild your adrenal reserves and sleeping between 7am and 9am is the most restorative for the adrenal glands.
So, how can you get the best night’s sleep possible? Here are some tips:
- It’s a no-brainer that drinking coffee or tea right before you go to bed won’t do you any sleep favors, but you also need to watch your afternoon drinks. Check the labels on your favorite midday drinks as any that boast energy-boosting benefits are likely culprits. Then, if possible, stop sipping them by 2 p.m., so there’s time for their effects to wear off. Naturally, coffee drinks pack a real wallop, so stay away from them after lunch.
- While it’s important to avoid a big, heavy meal right before bed (a full stomach will disturb your sleep), some foods may actually help you snooze. If you’ve had a few nights of restless sleep, have chicken or turkey breast with fresh vegetables for dinner. This meal contains a combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body. If your stomach’s growling late at night, try a small bowl of cottage cheese with berries, another dish that serves up tryptophan.
- Surprisingly, a hot bath might make it harder for you to drift off. Doing anything that raises your body temperature too close to bedtime may actually hinder you from falling asleep, because your body needs to cool to a certain temperature in order to reach a sound slumber.
- Keeping your room dark while you sleep is a great start, but bringing the lights down before bed is also important. Dimness signals the biological clock that it’s time to wind down, while bright light says “daytime!”
- For tech-free zzz’s, disconnect an hour before bed, turn your smartphone off, and put any gadgets on an out-of-reach dresser or in another room so you won’t be able to grab it if you get the late-night urge. Also, invest in a real alarm clock as using your cell will only give you another excuse to keep it close.
And the cardinal rule of sleep hygiene: your bedroom should be a calming, comfortable haven—designated for sleep and sex only. The more clutter and distractions you’re up against at night, the harder it will be to transition into sleep.
Dr. Frank Aieta is a board certified and licensed Naturopathic Physician with a private practice in West Hartford, CT. He specializes in the treatment of disease, using natural therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, spinal manipulation, clinical nutrition, herbal medicine and natural hormone balancing. For more information please visit: www.draieta.com.
Dr. Diane Hayden is the owner and publisher of Natural Nutmeg Magazine and Essential Living Maine Magazine and is an author, speaker, and workshop facilitator. She holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Connecticut, a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiol-ogy from the University of Maryland and is an Empowerment Life Coach. For 20 years, her work has focused on inspiring people to learn about the power of thought and belief systems and how that shapes their lives. Her passion centers on helping men and women break the failed relationship cycle through her proprietary SPARK method. You can learn more about her online at: http://drdianehayden.com/.