You’ve tried dieting and exercise but you can’t lose weight—those first several pounds or the last stubborn few just won’t budge. You might be making the best food choices and sweating through every session with your personal trainer, but other behaviors might be sabotaging your efforts.
1. Eating While Stressed
Eating when you’re stressed can make it impossible for your body to release weight.
Why? The autonomic nervous system (ANS), part of the central nervous system, is responsible for stimulating the digestive process. The ANS has two divisions: the parasympathetic, which relaxes your body and turns on digestion, and the sympathetic, which turns off digestion when there’s no food in your system or when you are experiencing a stress response.
Eating while you’re experiencing a stress response will generally lead to digestive upset, decreased assimilation of nutrients and the unwanted storage of fat. Conversely, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your relaxation response turns on and you’ll experience healthy digestion, proper nutrient assimilation and increased capacity for burning calories.
If you find that you’ve tried everything and can’t lose weight, make an effort to reduce your stress, especially at meal time. It turns out that how you eat is as important as what you eat. Experts recommend that you slow your pace of eating and strive to make each meal last at least 20 minutes—the amount of time it takes for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Consciously chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Pause and put down your fork at least three times during your meal. These practices can make your meal more relaxing while keeping you from consuming too much food before you realize you’ve eaten enough.
Take time to breathe deeply between bites. Oxygen is a key nutrient that increases your metabolism. Your intestines are lined with villi—little loops whose primary purpose is to absorb nutrients. In order to facilitate the breakdown of your food, the villi require large quantities of oxygen.
When your blood lacks oxygen for use by the villi, nutrient absorption is decreased. But when the blood is oxygen rich, nutrient absorption increases—along with your metabolism.
2. Inconsistent Meal Timing
Recent research published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society suggest that irregular meal timing might make you susceptible to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes—regardless of how many total calories you consume.
“We found that adults consuming calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to the next—were less obese than people who have irregular meals, despite consuming more calories overall,” said Gerda Pot, PhD, a visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London who was involved in the research.
So the next time you’re thinking about skipping lunch, don’t! Make a plan to eat your meals at consistent times each day and stick as closely as you can to your plan.
3. Poor Sleep Habits
Perhaps you can’t lose weight because you’re just too tired! Inconsistent sleep and insufficient rest can interfere with key hormones that influence your appetite. Lack of sleep increases the hormone ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone, and decreases leptin, the hormone that signals fullness. This mixed-up recipe can prompt you to eat larger portions, reach for multiple servings, choose sugar-heavy desserts and snack between meals. It can also cause you to crave foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats, which, when indulged, can lead to weight gain, high levels of cholesterol and insulin resistance.
Research has shown that after only 4 days of compromised rest, your fat cells become more resistant to insulin, a metabolic change that is associated with obesity and diabetes.
Factors that can negatively affect the quality and quantity of your sleep include consuming caffeine after 2 p.m., engaging in work or entertainment that stimulates your mind prior to going to bed, surfing the internet or checking social media before trying to sleep, charging electronics near your bed, eating less than 2 hours before bedtime and drinking alcohol.
Several of these activities may help you wind down in the evening, but when they happen too close to bedtime, your brain doesn’t have adequate time to shut down and allow you to fall into deep and restorative sleep.
Experts recommend that you create a ritual that divides the day from the night and practice it consistently. Consider creating a “power down” hour before you go to bed. Cut off all of your electronics, dim the lights and engage in an evening routine full of relaxing activities that prepare you for sleep—physically and psychologically.
Try taking a hot bath with Epsom salts or aromatherapy. Raising your body temperature will help to induce sleep, while Epsom salts release muscle tension and are rich in magnesium, a mineral that aids with sleep.
Take time to write a “thought download” in your journal to help ease tension and stress that might have built up during the day. Including several things for which you are grateful can induce a sense of calm and peace prior to sleep. If journaling is not your thing, try meditation to get yourself into a restful mindset.
Enhance your sleep by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and cool—optimally between 60 and 67 degrees. Optimize your rest by establishing a consistent sleep and waking cycle, aiming to get 7-9 hours of shuteye per night.
Here’s to saying farewell to those pesky extra pounds, all while enjoying more relaxing, consistent meals and many nights of restful sleep. Sweet dreams!
Also published in Prime Women magazine.