January has come and gone and we find ourselves squarely in the first week of February. Did you have a resolution this year to be healthier, perhaps by working out and eating better? How has it gone? What have you tried to add into or change about your diet and lifestyle to 'be healthier'? Which of those things are you still doing? What stuck? Was weight loss part of your healthier goal?
If you have a weight loss goal, but don't feel that it's working the way that you had hoped, something’s missing. Take a look at these key pieces of your daily routine that may be impeding your success and are worth considering, including: an imbalanced diet, insufficient movement, insufficient sleep, your reaction to daily stress, and relationships. If you are only focusing on diet or exercise, and not finding the results you're seeking, read on...there are a few additional things to think about.
It would be surprising if altering your diet was not a major component of your effort to shed some pounds. What are some good things to consider? Three important factors are: nutrient density of your foods, avoidance of junk and toxins, and fiber. Oh wait, there's a fourth - water! If you are not putting nutrient dense foods in your body, it will not feel satisfied, no matter how many calories you consume and your body will beg you to eat more to get the nutrients it needs to function well. If you are putting junk into your body, (think empty calories in the form of danishes and cookies, sandwiches devoid of nutrients, restaurant take-away) you are giving your body a lot of work to do to just to digest the foods, find any possible nutrition, and get rid of toxins, without providing it with the fuel it needs to get past just digesting the food. Result: FOOD COMA. In addition, you have fed the unhelpful bacteria, which over time, can lead to an imbalance, ultimately creating weight gain. If you eat a good amount of fiber (the government tells you to aim for 25g a day minimum, but I recommend aiming for 50g), your system will run smoothly, toxins will exit your body quickly, and all that helpful bacteria in your gut will keep you healthy because you have fed them as well.
For example, if you eat a salad with 7 different vegetables (think lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, carrots, celery, beets, and fennel), add some tomatoes, avocado, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, toasted slivered almonds, and top it with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil or another rich quality oil, your body has just received a whole host of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. It will NOT have received any refined carbohydrates, additives, preservatives, added sugar - the junk. You will have provided it with lots of fiber and water to help flush out toxins and keep a healthy movement of the digestive system, getting toxins out faster. It will be happy, full, and full of energy to help you think about exercising!
It DOES NOT MATTER where you are starting from. The most important thing is to get yourself to move often and in a variety of ways. Get your heart rate up for 2.5 hours per week in any way that works for you. Do resistance training and make sure you train different muscle groups. Focus on flexibility throughout the week to help your joints by stretching. And include neuromotor strengthening activities such as balancing and coordination. It is also important to move throughout the day, which is why all the FitBit type devices have alarms that remind you to get up every hour and walk around.
Do not underestimate the importance of sleep on your health and your weight! Sleeping more does not help you lose weight as a rule, but if you cut back on sleep, the amount of weight you lose from fat can drop dramatically (one study shows up to 55%!). In addition, when you get less than 7-9 hours of sleep per night, your body seeks reward in other places, like the mocha frappaccino you just saw a sign for as you rubbed your tired eyelids on your way to work. Your decision centers are off leading you to seek sugar and fat, you seek caffeine to help you stay awake, and you're too tired to even think about going to the gym.
If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep, make sure you are not drinking too much caffeine (or too late in the day if you metabolize it slowly), that you turn all screens off one to two hours before bed, and that you go to bed close to the same time every night to cue your body into a regular routine.
Ok so there is stress in the world. It's everywhere, and it's in every job, even if you are working at home, or driving your kids back and forth to activities in between grocery shopping and picking up the dry cleaning. Our phones are buzzing constantly, not just with email, but with notifications from a myriad of social media sites, breaking news of a startling event somewhere in the world, and your family and friends texting you, WhatsApping you, and FaceTiming you. Add to that all the regular stressors we have become accustomed to such as long work hours, mean bosses, evil co-workers, fear of losing your job, finances, how to get everything done in limited time, worrying out helping loved ones, and many other normal parts of our lives, and we have a lot to worry about - if we feel like letting it take over.
So what can you do about it? Well it turns out that no matter how much stress, or what the cause of the stress, how you respond to it is what governs your health. If you are in a stressful moment, and you think 'right, well, this is interesting, let's see how I can tackle this creatively - I think it will be fun', your brain will biochemically show a different set of pathways than if you say 'oh no, what will I do - I'm doomed'. And the more you worry and think negatively about your situation and your response to this stressful situation, the more your body produces cortisol, which inhibits proper digestion and assimilation. You cannot be healthy when you worry constantly. First step: become aware of how you respond to stressful moments. Second step: ask yourself how you could be actively positive in any of those situations and try them out when they happen. When someone driving next to you cuts you off, while screaming and honking...who cares? Smile, wave, and thank your micro biome that you are not that person - they must be miserable!
Consider your companions in life, who they are, why they are in your life, and whether the relationships you have are positive or toxic. Having social connections keeps you healthy and helps you to live longer. You may already know that weight loss occurs more rapidly and successfully when participants of a group connect to support each other. In addition, social connection enables you to feel part of a group and gives emotional support that helps you know you have support when the unexpected and perhaps stressful events of life take place. Having a support system, never mind a group of friends who can help you laugh, cry, and talk out your troubles, lessens the strain and stress that contribute to your stress response (the one that we talked about taking over by secreting cortisol and turning off healthy digestion and immune strength and resilience).
So take a moment this February, and then again later in the year if you find you're not happy with the number on the scale or the tightness of your jeans, and just consider the quality of your diet (not just how much and often you eat), the type and amount of movement you are doing, the quality and amount of sleep you are getting, how you respond to stress throughout th day (perhaps just consider what you find stressful and why, to start), and your friends, family, and support network. They are all key to your health and wellbeing. And as such, key to finding your optimal weight.
Good luck! I know you can do it, but you must commit to yourself. You’re worth it!