Jessica Sepel is a nutritionist and health expert who specializes in disordered eating. With a combination of self-care exercises, healthy recipes, and a fresh perspective on food, Jessica is able to help others achieve their wellness goals without negativity or deprivation. To learn more, check out Jessica’s class How to Stop Dieting & Learn to Eat Intuitively.
Believe it or not, diets make weight much more difficult to control in the long term.
You start a diet. You restrict your food intake. You lose weight. After a short time, you get over the diet. Your body rebels. You overeat or binge. Your body protects you by holding onto fat (because it is protecting you from going back into starvation mode). You gain the weight back, and more. You decide to go on a diet again (usually on a Monday!) and the vicious cycle begins again.
There comes a time when your body just can't take it anymore. You start to think about how much better or easier life would be with all those delicious things you've deprived yourself of for so long: wine and cheese nights, ice cream, chocolate, a piece of cake with your tea … and then what happens?
Most people succumb and eat as much as they can of all those foods they've been missing. They can't help themselves. That's called bingeing (and disordered eating, to some degree).
Dieting causes high stress levels, which equals weight gain
Stress and cortisol (the stress hormone) is an incredibly important piece of the weight-loss puzzle.
From a physical perspective, high cortisol levels are linked to lower thyroid function as well as weight gain, especially around the stomach area. Cortisol also throws off our blood sugar levels, which triggers cravings and overeating. Ever wondered why you eat more when you're stressed? Or crave chocolate? This is why.
Cortisol has been shown to lower the conversion of our hormones T4 to T3, which is your active thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is your driver of metabolism and driver of burning energy (burning your food for energy).
Another issue that stress messes with is sleep. Less sleep has also been associated with weight gain.
It breaks my heart when women walk into my office or write to me via my blog saying, "I am doing all the right things, Jess. I'm eating well, exercising daily, and I've given up processed food—but my weight still isn't going down! Why?"
My mind immediately goes to stress. How stressed are they? While digestion and liver health play a role in weight, usually it's high stress levels keeping them from reaching their optimal and healthy weight. And they don't even know it.
Some people lose their appetite when they're stressed but then tend to overeat later when their appetite returns. Low cortisol levels can occur when your stress levels have been high for long periods of time and then crash, which is what adrenal fatigue is.
This can also make it harder to lose weight, as your energy levels are lower (who has motivation to exercise then?!) and you start to crave sugar. Low cortisol can also affect healthy thyroid function.
From an emotional point of view, it's my belief that when we worry and stress about our weight—like so many women and men do—we are more likely to gain weight.
Waking up and worrying about the number on the scale can spike our cortisol levels. I've noticed that during periods when I worry about my weight more, my weight seems to go up. It's really quite interesting.
When I let go and relax with it, my body feels lighter.
So, what can we do to reduce our cortisol and stress levels? Give these a try: