The Hidden Stressors That Are Making You Gain Weight
You know the value of balance in life: You can't have action without rest, happiness without the blues, yin without yang, or discipline without a little leeway. So why is it that when it comes to a health makeover—especially those aimed at reaching a healthy weight—we sometimes think in all-or-nothing terms and wind up burned out, exhausted, and S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D? Especially ironic when our physical responses to stress, such as an increase in cortisol, make it especially difficult to lose weight; in fact, scientists note there's a clear link1 between high stress and a larger midsection.
Nope, this isn't a new reason to stress! Rather, we're here to remind you that your "healthy" habits may just be the cause of stress that's keeping you from your goals. Consider this your big, shiny permission slip to relax, enjoy the process of your amazing body growing stronger and healthier, and seek (altogether, now!) that balance in your journey. Here, four hidden stressors that might be hampering your efforts, plus alternatives that will help you maintain a healthy weight (and love every second of it).
1. You're slogging away with high-intensity exercise.
Pounding away on the treadmill at a steady pace for a full episode of Veep raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol and keeps them elevated; since cortisol encourages fat storage, long workouts might, ironically, make it tough to lose extra pounds. On the other hand, interval training, alternating short bursts of intense activity with active rest, helps your body burn through calories without raising cortisol levels.
In fact, one study from the University of Western Australia found that after 15 weeks, women who regularly completed a 20-minute interval workout had dropped about 15 pounds; those who did 40-minute, steady-pace workouts had gained a pound. To get started with a short interval workout, try this 12-minute full-body routine.
2. You're up until the wee hours prepping meals for the week.
Sleeping is key to weight loss—and, uh, every single other aspect of your health—so try to make it a priority. Getting too little sleep has been linked with weight gain, in part because people who don't sleep crave sugary and fatty foods and feel too pooped to exercise or make other helpful choices (like sticking with that meditation routine).
Large studies2 show that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese. One small study even found that coming up just a few hours short on sleep for a few consecutive nights caused people to gain about 2 pounds, on average. Hitting the hay doesn't make you lazy—while you're zonked out, your body's working hard!
Lack of sleep is also related to (deep breath) heart disease, diabetes, depression, pain, impaired immune function, and even an increased risk of accidents and death. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reviewed more than 5,000 studies to conclude that adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
If other "healthy" prep work is keeping you up, carve out time earlier in the day to get 'er done, or consider how you can streamline the chore. If meal prep is taking over your life, consider the NutriBullet LEAN system, which takes the guesswork out of answering the question "What should I eat?" with quick, nutritious smoothies and one-pot meals—no measuring, weighing, or counting required.
3. You can't eat a single bite without weighing it and tallying the math.
Keeping a food journal and being mindful about what crosses your lips are smart, empowering moves. Beating yourself up for finishing your slice of baby shower cake or freaking out because the kitchen totally put dried cranberries on your salad even when you asked for them on the side? Not so much.
Approaching your own beautiful self like an insult-spewing drill sergeant will only lower your confidence and up your levels of stress, increasing, again, your levels of cortisol in turn. In fact, a study from Cornell University suggests that weight fluctuations—often including weight gains over the weekend—are a normal part of losing weight. When you hear the drill sergeant piping up, instead ask how you'd talk to a friend who was trying to make healthy choices. Self-compassion goes a long way toward making the healthy-makeover process effective—and enjoyable.
4. You're reaching for "healthy" snacks and treats.
A body of research suggests that when we see a food label claiming the food is healthy (anything from "low-fat" to "organic"), we put an imaginary "health halo" over it—and go on to eat way too much. In fact, sticking a low-fat label on a snack food encouraged people to munch up to 50 percent more than those who didn't see the label.
Remember: Organic ice cream is still ice cream, and non-GMO chips are very much still chips. And beware of artificial sweeteners in lower-calorie sweets (such as ice cream or soda); a number of studies suggest that overdoing it on artificial sweeteners messes with your microbiome and leads to overeating. In short: If it's a special occasion, go ahead and eat the real thing, and—this is key—savor every last bite.
And don't forget: Truly healthy and tasty snacks do exist as part of a balanced diet for weight loss or management. In addition to three balanced daily meals, the NutriBullet LEAN plan encourages you to nosh on two filling, delicious snacks a day, such as hummus and veggies, almonds, or roasted chickpeas. Real, whole foods FTW!
Sign up for weekly weight loss tips from one of the NutriBullet registered dietitians. You’ll receive 3 tips right away when you provide your email.
Exclusive offer for mindbodygreen readers on NutriBullet LEAN! Get 20 percent off your NutriBullet LEAN purchase when you use code MBG20 at checkout.