Weight Loss Challenge: The power of habits and cortisol in your life
These last two weeks have been a mix of many things and I am still doing this challenge and learning more things about how I understand food.
One of the things I am noticing after 4 weeks doing this challenge is that the ‘crazy need for really rich foods’ is fading away. By this, I don’t mean that I don’t ever think about it but that I don’t have it in my mind 24/7 and that it is becoming increasingly easier to just say NO. I read a book a long time ago about the power of habit and I guess this has a lot to do with it. I have also realized how big is the role of stress in any diet.
To an extent you get used to saying yes to certain things and you can get used to saying no to certain things as well. Sometimes what makes the change difficult is to manage other people reactions to your change of response. I feel that this is sometimes similar to when you quit smoking. My friends would be used to me as a smoker in certain events and situations and all the sudden I would not join for what was a social activity for all of us. Nobody speaks about this, but it is hard to quit some things simply for social pressure!
With the diet, it feels a bit similar sometimes. I have some friends whom I would meet for lunch or dinner (certain foods) and when you can’t have everything in the menu like you used to, they feel disappointed and it feels really awkward. But just like when you were quitting the cigarettes it is a phase that we all go through until they get used to your new habits, you get used to the NEW YOU and how you will behave from now going forward.
THE POWER OF HABIT
They say that if you stick to a habit for 21 days it is easier to continue with the habit. I have to say that in my opinion, it gets easier because in those 21 days you probably said NO to rich food at least 21 times, if not more! Learning by repetition, and it does get easier because you get used to it and it is not that much of an effort anymore.
STRESS AND CORTISOL
But a different aspect of losing weight, that is commonly overlooked is stress and how it can negatively affect your progress. There are studies out there that state that stress makes it very difficult for some people to shed those few pounds. It seems that cortisol has a lot to do with it since we produce this hormone when we are stressed and it immediately puts our body in ‘saving mode’, making our weight loss journey way harder.
Unfortunately, it can become a vicious cycle since we cannot stress because we are stressed, so I am noticing that how we are physically has a lot to do with our minds.
The following is an example taken from the website Today’s dietician of how the stress response happens:
1. You are confronted with a situation that causes you stress.
2. A complex hormonal cascade ensues, and your adrenals start secreting cortisol.
3. Cortisol prepares your body for a fight-or-flight response (you go into survival mode, our body does not distinguish between our nuances of stress) by flooding it with glucose, supplying you an immediate energy source to large muscles.
4. Then cortisol will inhibit insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, by favoring its immediate use.
5. In that moment cortisol will narrow your arteries while the epinephrine will increase your heart rate, both of which will force blood to pump harder and faster.
6. The individual addresses and resolves the situation (sometimes we do resolve it, other times we don’t; you can see where the problem is, right?).
7. Hormone levels return to normal.
What happens is that in many cases we live over-stressed and always rushing off to do things producing stress and our bodies produce cortisol almost constantly because our bodies do not distinguish between the stress of running away from a lion or missing that deadline that may get us fired. For our bodies, those two are the same. But think what would happen, if you were literally running away from lions every day on a regular basis. Would you feel ok? Would you like to continue like that? Many people would even say that it wouldn’t be a way of living. But we do accept the same stress shaped in the form of a more acceptable stressor: work, money, houses, people…name it. And yes, this can and will wreak havoc on our health. The whole-body goes through this process, mediated by hormones and the immune system, and it identifies cortisol as one of the many players.
After being diagnosed with endometriosis I cannot help but marvel at how little I knew about hormones and cortisol in my life. But the more I learn, the more I see that it affects women with endometriosis, women that want to lose weight and people in general, and in major ways.
I will write a post on how hormones and cortisol affect you in more detail soon 🙂 So stay tuned!
Some ways to reduce the stress that is helping me along this journey are:
Just to stop whatever you are doing and being present helps with stress. In my case sometimes I have so many things in my head I literally drive myself crazy. But the discipline to MAKE IT STOP for 10, 20 minutes helps me to do the same sometimes along the day, being able to redirect my focus to fun activities when I want. It helps me to really disconnect when I am not working. Some other times it helps me to just let some things go: like the fact that I had a donut or a pizza slice (and the guilt! oh boy), or when someone is rude or not nice to you, it helps to put the nasty negative feelings where they should be: in the bin.
I must admit I like the philosophy of letting go of those things you can’t control and to focus on those that you can. I tend to forget that way too often.
Anywhere, to the main street,to a shop (careful in sales!!:P) to a park (ideally!) even if it is for ten minutes helps you to be more grounded. It helps to get out of your head a bit and see things for what they are, or at least to disconnect for a few minutes. If your thing is not walking alone there are many meetups out there where people meet to walk together during the week. It may be an option! Another one is to switch shopping area and go further to shop, this way you get the exercise and it is almost what you would do anyway.
This is something very helpful to do since it is quite unbelievable the amount of things that are just playing out in our minds at the same time while we live our daily life (and hear the creepy thing: they usually play on repeat). Or at least that is how my mind works! So when you sit down and simply write whatever comes to mind it feels like you are ‘downloading’ (yeah, geeky much?) all those thoughts from your head to paper or the computer, leaving the space clean in your head. And the funny thing is that you start to recognize the repeats. I use a software that is free online (if writing on the computer is your thing) that is called 3PAGES but many people buy small notebooks and write 3 pages (750 words) every day.
LETTING GO OF EMOTIONAL EATING
For those of you with the same problem I have, I know…easier said than done. For me, the only way that I can overcome this is to have something else that is more important than to have that ‘whatever’ food I am craving. And I must admit that the Weight Watchers is helping me at least even though I haven’t been there in the last two meetings (holidays!). But I have to show up and some point and face the result and that makes it real. They are wonderful there and I don’t think they will say anything bad if you have a bad week, as I have had those! But you have to be accountable which makes a difference.
I also noticed that focusing on the things you really love helps you with this. I am way more picky with the way and the people I spend my time with these days, and what I do for a living. Surprise, surprise I haven’t felt like eating my usual binge food for months. Coincidence?
So let me know what are your thoughts on this as I would love to hear the experience of other people going through this journey!
Thank you for reading and hasta pronto!