Two Things That May Be Preventing You From Achieving Your Health Goals

Are you eating all (or almost all) the right things and exercising regularly but still struggling to reach your health or body composition goals? There could be two things you're not giving much attention to that are hindering, maybe even sabotaging your results and once of them may even be more important than your diet!

What are these two things? I dare you to take a guess, I bet you probably already know.

Stress relief and sleep.

We are constantly being bombarded with stimuli and stressors. Some of them extreme, some of them mild, and some of them (like exercise) are good for us but still add to the load. There are a few ways that stress may hinder weight loss. When we fail to manage chronic stress in a healthy way we're more likely to find stress relief outlets in unhealthy ways such as straying from healthier eating habits to consume less healthy comfort foods, drinking more, and/or switching regular exercise for more mind numbing experiences such as watching TV.

Elevated cortisol due to stressors triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream, often from breaking down muscle tissue. The elevated glucose leads to an insulin spike which in turn leads to the glucose being stored as fat, usually in the stomach area. If you are constantly stressed, this is will be an ongoing process and it's easy to see how this cycle can lead, at least, to the hindrance of weight loss and at worst, weigh gain.

When we're stressed it is also likely our sleep will be affected and according to some experts, sleep may be more important to our health and weight loss goals than nutrition and exercise combined.

As I said in the short paragraph [sentence?] above - some experts believe that sleep may be more important than nutrition and exercise COMBINED! For those in the back who still think they can sleep when they're dead, I'll say it one more time. Sleep is likely more important for health and body composition goals than both nutrition AND exercise. Okay, everyone got it? Good. Stop skimping on your sleep people!

According to Shawn Stevenson, author of "Sleep Smarter" (a quick and easy read I recommend for everyone), "Sleep is the secret sauce. There isn't one facet of your  mental, emotional, or physical performance that's not affected by the quality of your sleep." And he's right. If you're not getting adequate, quality sleep, everything suffers. Sleep is the time when the body repairs itself and the brain clears the harmful waste produced by the daily working of cells. Getting high quality sleep boosts your immune system, metabolism, and physical energy, improves brain function, lowers inflammation, helps to balance hormones, reduces the risk of Alzheimers, improves skin health, decreases the risk of stroke and heart disease, and helps boost weight loss.

With all of the benefits that come from high quality sleep, all of us should be aiming to achieve it every night. For those looking to lose weight, it's crucial. Sleep deprivation causes changes to the hormones that control hunger, causing us to feel hungry when we aren't. Also, when we're sleep deprived, we are more likely to crave carbohydrates which are a quick source of energy for tired, sleep deprived brains. This makes even those of us with the strongest willpower struggle. Not only does sleep deprivation lead us to feel hungry even when we're not and to craving those carbs, it may also contribute to extra fat storage! So now, not only are you having trouble losing the weight you already have, but you may be gaining more.

So, what can you do to reduce stress and improve your sleep? 

Stress relief practices
  • First, put the screen away! Yes, even I've tried to claim it, but scrolling memes does not count as stress relief.
  • The idea is to minimize stimuli and give our brains a break.
  • If there is something you've been worrying about, first ask yourself if the worry serves you and/or if there is anything you can do about it. If it doesn't or if there is nothing you can do try not to worry! (I know, easier said than done)
  • Set a "worry time" practice where you allow yourself 10-15 minutes to just sit and worry about whatever is stressing you out. Use this time to determine whats the worst and the best that could happen and come up with a plan to manage both. When time is up, you know the possible outcomes, you have plans, and you can try to put it out of your mind.
  • When you get stressed or pissed over little day to day things (traffic, waiting in long lines, etc) ask yourself, "does being angry or stressed over this serve me?" It probably doesn't. It likely won't get you anywere faster or improve your day at all. Once you've determined it doesn't serve you, use this time to practice mindfulness. Focus on your breath or notice the scenery.
  • Set aside 15-30 minutes each day for yourself. Can't find the time? Contact me, I'll be glad to help! Use this time, screen free, to meditate, stretch, take a walk, read a leisurely book, or do a puzzle.
Sleep Improvement
  • First, make sleep a priority, not something that you'll get around to if and when you have the time.
  • Set up the ultimate sleep environment. Remove electronics (yes, that means your television) from the bedroom and black your bedroom out. Use curtains to blackout the windows and use electrical tape to cover any small lights. Ideally, you wouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face once your eyes have adjusted to the dark. Set up a fan or noise machine to drown out any noises that might keep you awake. 
  • Keep it cool! Our house is set to 67 for bedtime. You may not need it that cool but a warm environment may make it harder to sleep comfortably.
  • Quit using screens (TV, phone, computers, tablets) at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
  • Set up a regular bedtime routine. This is perfect for those 30+ minutes before bed when you're not going to be looking at a screen. Use this time to read, meditate, or do any relaxing activity that promotes good sleep.


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