Happy New Year!
Hope the holidays treated you well and you are full with family, fun, and food! I know I am. When we started our quarter, we knew it was going to be a hard one. With high stress, lots going on, colds and flus and short days to top it all, we often seek comfort in the most familiar ways: tasty food, warm drinks and cozy blankets.
This is probably why one of the top New Year’s resolutions are some variation of be healthier, eat healthier, exercise more, cut back on (insert less than good thing we are consuming to excess). Inc. reported that 5 of their top 10 resolutions were the above, with 71% wanting to diet or eat healthier.
You probably already know this, but the stats are against you achieving your resolution. Why? Well, most likely because it’s far more complicated than the simple statement that makes up the resolution. Take healthy eating and weight loss, for example: after having read my blog on the different diets, you may have chosen to pick one and start it in the New Year. Did you also know that there are other factors that contribute to your dietary needs and weight control than just which diet you are on? Read on!
This seems like a no-brainer. When we are stressed, we don’t make the best food decisions (we can even make really bad ones). We forego our plans to exercise and we indulge instead. Most people are this way. Did you also know that when we are stressed, our body releases cortisol and this makes us GAIN weight? It does! Cortisol is responsible for regulating our metabolism, helps to regulate our blood sugar, regulates salt and water balance, our heart rate, blood pressure, our sleep, and our memory. When we are stressed, these functions alter then return to normal balance afterwards.
But when we are chronically stressed, we may see things such as poor digestion, increased blood sugar (even diabetes), increased blood pressure, poor sleep and memory, poor immune function (getting sick often), hair loss, slowed metabolism, low energy. How is this going to make it any easier to eat better and lose weight?!
While sleep is not something that comes to people’s mind with nutrition or weight loss, it is so important! The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you get less once in a while, it’s what Dr. Brie likes to call NABD (not a big deal). But many people get less than 7 hours on a regular basis. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body doesn’t sense hunger/satiety normally. We tend be more hungry and crave high calorie, high fat and high carb foods. Not to mention, poor sleep also impairs our decision making and we are not able to resist cravings/temptations very well.
Poor sleep can slow your metabolism--your body is trying to conserve energy for increased waking hours. Being sleep deprived is also a condition of stress, and you know what that means? You got it, increased cortisol levels, which we just talked about. You’re also more tired and less likely to do physical activity.
While it would be easy to say,” Work out more and you’ll lose the weight,” it’s actually not that easy. Yes, physical activity will cause a deficit in calories. But often times, when you are working out, your body needs fuel to be able to sustain the activity and then repair itself afterwards. Some people eat more when they work out for this reason. It is important to eat enough calories when you are working out so your body does not become stressed (read: releases cortisol). It is important to note that exercise alone will not result in significant weight loss, but ongoing exercise can help tremendously with weight loss maintenance (see one of many studies).
Not only that, exercise helps to increase heart, bone and muscle health (your doctors will thank you), it helps manage stress and keeps you happier (bye bye, excess cortisol), and it will help you sleep better (regulate that hunger!).
Your social life
Humans are social beings and Coloradans especially love to celebrate everything that makes this state so fun to live in: the grand outdoors and our craft beer, all booze, really. (Anyone read this article in 5280?) Even if you don’t ski, mountain bike, rock climb, etc, social gatherings are yet another time where your healthy eating plans can fall by the wayside. Call it peer pressure, call it indulging, call it what you want. It’s harder to resist the beer or bar food when you’re with a group of friends. Seeing, smelling and being able to reach out to the french fries or wings or whatever is temptation waiting to win. Alcohol also can impair judgement, make you hungrier and adds calories!
Besides work adding the obvious stress, your work situation may make it difficult for you to stay on your bandwagon. On the go all the time? This makes it easier to want to pick up fast food or skip a meal. No lunch hour? You may be more prone to snacking throughout the day or bingeing when you do eat. Traveling? Less chance for a home cooked meal or meal planning. We won’t even talk about catered lunches/lunches out and office snacks or candy/cookie jars that park themselves at the end of everyone’s desk for convenience.
Your gut bacteria
Say what?! Yep, if you didn’t know it already, your gut bacteria may be playing a part in keeping your weight the way that it is. This Scientific American article is one of many that summarize current research on this association specifically. We know that the bacteria in our gut help digest things we can’t, making more calories available to us. They also can affect hormone production, altering the signals that tell us we are full or hungry. The bacteria can affect inflammation in our gut, calming it or increasing it by releasing certain chemicals based on our diets, thereby causing us to gain weight. No, there isn’t a probiotic for weight loss yet, but having a good diversity of bacteria and eating a variety of prebiotics (foods that feed our gut bacteria, usually high-fiber foods) is a good place to start.
Your medications and your health conditions
Yet another example of why it may be more elusive than you think to maintain a healthy diet and/or weight. Certain health conditions limit what you can eat and you may only be able to choose what you can eat rather than what you should eat. Take those who are doing a FODMAP elimination diet, for example, foods like asparagus, apples and some seafood are considered healthy, but are high in FODMAPs and thus need to be limited.
Certain medications can cause weight gain too, like medications for seizures and insulin, and it would not be easy to “avoid” these medications in some individuals.
It is important to remember that while it may seem easy to modify one or several of these factors, the reality is that eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight are not easy things to do. Because, as I always like to say, “If they were, I’d be out of a job!” This doesn’t mean you don’t try to modify one or several of the factors mentioned above, it means that you modify what you can and don’t beat yourself up over the rest of it. Just keep at it, one step at a time. Healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight should be lifelong goals, not just a resolution for this year. And really, if getting better sleep, having less stress, being more active and having a healthy social life are things you can fold into your lifestyle and actually enjoy (who wouldn’t??), you’ll get full bragging rights on those successes, whether or not you lose weight—I promise.