Words: Amy Dawson | Images: Shutterstock
We can all agree it’s been a bit stressful recently. And stress – plus periods of indulgence – means many of us want a health reset, including weight loss. As it so happens, weight management and mood go hand in hand; with chronic worry making it hard to stabilise weight.
‘Although we’re beyond caveman surroundings, our bodies respond to stress in the same physical way that it would react to a huge predator,’ says Uxshely Chotai, founder of the Food Therapy Clinic. ‘Your blood sugar increases and your heart beats faster as your body gets ready to fight or flee.’ This would help if you needed to scarper from a sabre-toothed tiger, but is less useful when you’re fretting about finances or deadlines.
How does stress affect weight loss?
Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which stimulates glucose release to give your muscles an immediate supply of energy, whilst suppressing glucose-regulating insulin. If not used, excess glucose coursing around your blood ends up stored as fat.
‘Even if you’re eating healthy, increased cortisol from excess stress can raise insulin resistance, which adds to the risk of diseases such as diabetes,’ says Dr Sally Norton, an NHS consultant and weight-loss specialist.
The link between cortisol and visceral fat
Cortisol has also been shown to have an impact on where you put on weight, as well as how much. It tends to encourage the storage of visceral fat, or belly fat in the abdominal area, which wraps around major organs such as the liver and kidneys.
This type of fat is particularly bad for you, with links to increased risks of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Many of us also ‘stress eat’ in times of anxiety, reaching for sugary foods as a coping mechanism. While there’s no harm in an occasional treat, it’s not a good plan in the long run. So, read on for some ideas that will help you lower your stress levels and aid in your healthy weight loss journey…
6 ways to lower your stress levels for healthy weight loss
1. Smell a familiar, comforting scent
Next time you borrow your other half’s snuggly jumper, there’s extra comfort in the fact that it forms part of a stress-busting weight loss plan! A romantic partner’s scent is proven to help lower stress levels, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia.
If you don’t have a partner (or don’t fancy sniffing dirty laundry!), fragrances of lavender, jasmine and green apple are also said to alleviate stress. A perfect reason to stock up on scented candles and de-stressing bath soak!
2. Schedule a daily ‘worry time’
It might sound counterintuitive, but scheduling a specific ‘worry session’ into your day could reduce overall stress levels, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
Using a diary planner to organise and structure your days should help you to feel less rushed and flustered. Plus, if you feel panic rising, you can use the CBT technique of allotting worries a specific half-hour window. This helps you control your stress, instead of it controlling you.
3. Stroke an animal
There are good reasons for pet adoptions increasing recently, with the most compelling being that it’s great for reducing stress, which could help with healthy weight loss. Playing with a dog not only gets you moving around outside, rain or shine, but petting a dog – or other animal – has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, according to a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
If you don’t have a dog, local shelters or sites like borrowmydoggy.com can connect you with pets in need of cuddles, walks, or dog-sitting.
4. Blow up balloons
We associate balloons with happy memories, but they can also help us stay relaxed and healthy every day of the year. By slowly inflating and deflating a balloon, you naturally force yourself to start taking deep, soothing breaths. Your body needs oxygen to feel calm, but when you’re worrying, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths, so this technique can help.
5. Tune in to nature
Getting out into the fresh air, surrounded by nature, is a brilliant mood booster and stress reliever. In fact even watching wildlife videos will help you harness similar mental health benefits, according to a study by the University of California.
There are wildlife webcams all over the world that you can access online. Take a visit to The Wildlife Trust’s website where you can see live footage of peregrines nesting in Derby Cathedral, Scottish red squirrels, and much more.
6. Join a choir
Choirs are soaring in popularity, and no wonder – they’re fun, sociable, and might just be your ultimate stress-buster. Singing with others triggers the release of oxytocin, a ‘happy hormone’ that helps lower stress levels and blood pressure, according to Swedish research.
Popchoir holds community choirs, which belt out anything from Lady Gaga to Coldplay. There’s no audition process so every voice is welcome, and Zoom now means you could sing with people all over the world.