A friend (let’s call her Cheryl) was talking about a recent birthday party she had hosted. Catering for the birthday child, parents, in-laws, vegans, and miscellaneous guests took its toll. The party ended at around midnight; finally, a chance to take a breath and relax.
Cheryl’s ever-loving husband kindly poured her a glass of wine and said, “I think you’ve earned this.” Her response? “I’ve never stress-drank before, and I won’t start now. I’m going for a run.”
We all encounter stressful situations. Stresses might be as relatively small as the birthday party above, or much larger and longer-lasting. The important thing with stress is not what’s happening, but how we deal with it.
Remember that your response to stressful situations can affect your weight loss. Those who are highly stressed often have high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which helps with weight gain, poor sleep, and muscle wasting.
If losing weight is important to you, it’s essential to find a coping mechanism that doesn’t involve food and drink. Cheryl was acutely aware of the need to react to the stress she’d encountered at the party, but knew just as well that the glass of wine was not the answer. She drinks wine on occasion, but as a celebration or because she’d like the flavour of it with a meal. She knew that one glass of wine to deal with stress had the potential to put her on a slippery slope that would be hard to get off. One glass is lovely, then it stops numbing the stress so becomes two, then a bottle and another…
Using food as a coping strategy is equally as bad. Nobody eats celery sticks when they’re stressed: it’s more likely to be chocolate, chips, or left-over birthday cake.
Neither of these strategies does anything at all to ease the either the stress or the response to it. Both just provide some time to focus on things other than the stress, and it’s time that eases the burden.
What else could you do to ease the response you have to stress?
- Like Cheryl, go for a run (or a walk). Get gloves and a punching bag and use them. Do some yoga.
- Have a bath or get a massage, or do something that helps you relax.
- Read a book or watch a movie.
- Practice meditation and/or mindfulness.
- Phone a friend. Have a whinge. Laugh it off.
- Prioritise tasks that need to be done.
- Get professional help.
Perhaps the most important thing to recognise with stress is that it’s not the event that’s the problem (though of course sometimes the event is awful), but your response to it. If you find that you’re reacting in a negative manner to every stressful thing that happens in your life, it might be a good idea to look for strategies or techniques that help. If the first attempt doesn’t work, try again or try a different technique.
Fix your stress response and your weight loss will follow.
Read Mary’s story on changing things up to deal with her stress.