Our world today is busier than ever and filled with temptations. Many of us feel like we can hardly find time to sleep, much less prepare healthy meals and exercise regularly. Yet, our bodies are meant to move, and they aren’t designed for the high-calorie processed foods that tempt us at every turn. In short, we haven’t evolved to keep up with the dramatic lifestyle and environmental changes that have happened over the last century. It seems like the cards are stacked against us, so what can we do to ensure optimal physical, mental, and emotional health? Let’s take a look at some tips.
1: Understand the Connection between Chronic Stress and Eating
When we’re stressed, many of us eat—the question is why. In the short term, stress may suppress our appetite. Temporary stress causes the body to produce adrenaline, which triggers the fight-or-flight response and temporarily puts our eating urges on hold.
It’s chronic stress that’s the real killer. Stress causes our bodies to unleash cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and motivation to eat.1 Generally, cortisol levels fall after a stressful episode, but cortisol in people who are in a chronic state of low- to moderate-level stress often have elevated cortisol levels. Sugar-laden and high fat snacks release the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain, which is why so many of us find treats like donuts and potato chips irresistible when we’re stressed. Research also suggests that the hormone ghrelin, a “hunger hormone,” may play a role in stress eating. Reducing stress, if at all possible, is the key. If you can’t do that, here are some other tricks to keep you from stress eating.
2: Let Go of the All-or-Nothing Attitude
When our weight gets out of control or our health declines because we’ve neglected our bodies, making the changes needed to get in shape can feel overwhelming. People often take an all-or-nothing attitude, which often leads to failure. Making small exercise, diet, and weight loss changes each day is much more manageable. Here are some suggestions:
- Make a point of drinking three more glasses of water each day.
- Reduce or eliminate consumption of refined carbs like white bread, white rice, cookies, and other sweets.
- Add two more servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner (a serving is ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables servings, or 1 cup of vegetable juice, or 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables).
- Add more fiber to your diet—aim for 5 to 10 grams more per day. This can be achieved easily by reducing or eliminating refined carbohydrates and introducing whole foods in their place.
- Take a 10 minute walk break every day.
No one is perfect—we all have our good days and bad days. Forgive yourself if you slip up on vacation or during a stressful or busy time.
3: Don’t Skip Meals
A common weight loss strategy is to skip meals, but this is self-defeating. When we skip meals we’re much more likely to reach for high-fat, carb-rich foods the first chance we get, and we are more prone to overeating. Rigid diets that deprive you of the things you love don’t work. Allow yourself planned treats and snacks on occasion—without feeling guilty!
4: Don’t Forgo Health Insurance
In addition to a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, seeing your doctor for regular physical exams and for routine tests and screenings is important for maintaining good health. For many people, this is difficult or impossible to do without health insurance to help cover the costs. Millions of uninsured people go without regular visits to their doctor for years simply because they can’t afford it. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act has established healthcare marketplaces where consumers can buy affordable health coverage. Many people will qualify for premium tax cuts and cost-sharing subsidies to help pay for coverage. Consult with a California health insurance expert to find the plan that’s best for you.
5: Keep in Mind that Change Takes Time … But, There’s a Silver Lining
Humans are an impatient bunch—most of us want to see instant results. While the mantra has long been that “slow and steady” is optimal for long-term weight loss, this can discourage some people from sticking with a weight-loss regimen. The good news: a recent study suggests that the rate at which you shed excess weight has no bearing on whether you will gain the weight back. Those involved in the study that lost weight more rapidly had lower drop-out rates than those who lost weight more slowly and steadily. The key after you reach your target weight is adopting permanent lifestyle changes that keep the pounds from coming back.
6: Move around More!
Historically, people moved around a lot more than many of us do today. With the specialization and mechanization of so many tasks and functions, it could be argued that life has become too easy. There are plenty of ways to incorporate more movement into your daily routine—manually change the TV station rather than using the remote control, walk or jog in place in front of the TV, try your hand at gardening, take the stairs at work, or organize a 15-minute daily stretch break with your coworkers. One of the best things you can do to boost your metabolism is to incorporate weight training into your exercise routine. Women often worry that they’ll bulk up by lifting weights, but unless you’re training to be a body builder, this is unlikely. Building toned muscle (which doesn’t have to mean bulking up) boosts your metabolic rate, even at rest.
7: Rethink Your Role Model
The idealized image for women today is perhaps the most unattainable to date (by natural means, anyway)—big chest, tiny waist, “thigh gap,” ample rear end. Men also are under more pressure than ever today to look a certain way—broad shoulders, muscular arms, narrow waist. Obsessing about what your body isn’t is, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, damaging to self-worth and self-confidence. Choose role models that are strong and healthy, and who make you feel good about yourself.