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Beyond Diet and Exercise: 3 Reasons Why You Can’t Lose Weight

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.

How to Create a New Habit

Congratulations! You want to align your lifestyle choices with your vision of your best self. That’s also called habit change—and you’re ready to do it.

Let’s not sugarcoat the truth. Making positive change can be challenging. Your brain is in charge, and it will always default to the familiar. It enjoys the regular Netflix binges that include a pint of Rocky Road ice cream. That’s because your brain is designed to be efficient—to expend as little energy as possible to do its work.

When you regularly repeat a behavior, your brain memorizes it. If you engage in that behavior enough times, your brain creates a neural pathway to enhance its efficiency.

Awesome, right? Until you decide to make a change and your brain resists.

But you can stand up to your brain. When it declares that you can’t change, challenge it by saying, “Watch me!”

Adopting that attitude, and taking the following steps, will have you realizing that good-for you changes are entirely possible—and making them can be easy and fun.

Make a Decision and Commit

All of our habits are choices. Decide on the new behavior you want to create and commit to practice it 100 percent of the time until your brain considers it familiar. Want to be the woman who bicycles daily? Or the one who snacks on carrot sticks, not cookies? You can be her. Just make a decision and stick to it.

Every. Day.

Life happens, so be kind to yourself if you slip up or miss a day. Be sure to get back on track quickly, and commit to never miss twice.  

Why this step is important: Most of us commit to trying a new habit until it no longer feels good to do so. Realizing the power of good habits is worth a little discomfort. Dedicating yourself to practicing your new behavior no matter what is the hardest choice, but it eliminates any other options, setting you up for inevitable success.

Identify Your Motivation

Decide whether you are truly committed to the process or if you just like the idea that your new habit is a possibility. Write down 3 reasons that your new habit is exciting for you, then identify why each one makes you feel that way.  

Why this step is important: Reminding yourself why you want to make a lasting change will boost your willpower. Your “whys” will also motivate you when you encounter resistance along the way.

Set Small Goals

Your small goals should be so easy that you can accomplish them with little motivation. Decided you want to walk for 30 minutes during your lunch hour? Begin by walking three minutes the first day.

Three minutes?! Yes.

Why this step is important: It’s exciting to set big, bold goals, and even

more thrilling to reach them, but your small, obtainable goals will be the stepping stones that lead to your ultimate success. Immediately trying to create a big change can trigger resistance in your brain. Trick it by sneaking in a small change, then build on that by increasing it in incremental ways at a pace you can sustain. This gives you easy wins, and a pleasurable path to your new habit.

Prepare for Success

Want to develop the habit of making an energy-boosting smoothie for breakfast every day? Have the ingredients on hand and ready so you’re not tempted to choose the toaster strudel instead. Prepare in advance to make your new habit a no-brainer. Take action ahead of time that will make it easy and convenient to accomplish your daily goal.  

Why this step is important: If it’s difficult and time consuming to take an action, it’s less likely that you will.

Visualize and Affirm

Repeatedly visualize yourself practicing your lifestyle change. See yourself hiking at the lake on Saturdays. Imagine the warmth of the sun on your face, the glimmer of light on the water, the soft ground beneath your feet as you take each step. Mentally rehearse the experience as if it was real.

Supplement your brain training by creating an affirmation that you continually repeat to yourself. For example, tell yourself, “I get up early and do yoga each morning.” Repeat those words often, especially before you fall asleep every night.

Why this step is important: By frequently repeating your affirmation and visualizing your new habit, you dramatically increase the speed at which your unconscious mind accepts that behavior and it becomes the default setting in your brain.

Manage Your Expectations

Persist, yet be patient—this is perhaps the most critical skill to practice when you’re making a lifestyle change. Common wisdom says it takes 21 days to create a habit. However, research has revealed that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Among study participants, that timeline varied from 18 to 254 days, depending on the behavior sought, the person and their circumstances, so patience is key.

Why this step is important: With persistence, your new habit will become a natural inclination. You’ll realize the power of good habits when you begin to feel uncomfortable when you don’t practice your new behavior.

Reward Yourself

Celebrate your victories! Reward yourself for practicing your new habit. Getting the hang of cooking healthier dinners? Treat yourself to a meal kit service whose menu choices align with your nutrition goals.

Why this step is important: By rewarding yourself, you reaffirm and reinforce your lifestyle change with positive consequences. Soon your brain begins to associate the pleasure of the reward with your new habit, causing you to look forward to the experience.

Dedicating yourself to this small-step process can lead to big, lasting changes. Imagine the vibrant life you can create for yourself by embracing the power of good habits—then get to work. Your best self is waiting!


Also published in Prime Women magazine

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