In this post, I discuss the physiology behind the stress response and why it can be the primary factor that is preventing weight loss. I discuss the defining moment in my life when I thought I was having a stroke and how this led to the last 20 pounds coming off as well as the entire overhaul of my lifestyle!
Let’s talk about stress. Have you ever wondered why everyone is talking about cortisol and its effects on weight and overall health? I get the privilege of talking to people every day who want to improve their health. Because of this, I have seen patterns over the last few years and what commonly occurs, is that women are eating healthy, working out and their weight won’t budge.
When we dig a bit deeper inevitably there is always an event, a situation, a trauma, a change, etc. that was the catalyst for the weight loss resistance to occur. Our bodies are extraordinarily sensitive to stress. In fact, women have less stress resilience than men are even more susceptible to its perils if left unattended or unresolved for long periods of time. You see, our bodies release a floodgate of hormones in a state of fight or flight; but, our bodies don’t distinguish the difference between running from a tiger or a fight with our spouse.
In fact, events such as birthing a child or a miscarriage; a divorce; a change in vocation; a move from one house to another; a loss of a loved one; a change in responsibilities at work; a change in your dietary habits; an increase in intense exercise; long periods of time in traffic; an injury to the body or a surgery, etc. I have seen all of these events prevent women from losing weight. Very rarely do we discover major issues with their eating habits or activity levels. Most often, we can pinpoint the event that initiated their weight loss resistance.
In a healthy individual, the body has enough buffering mechanisms to calm the body down after a stressful event. However, if your stress resilience is down, your stress chemicals will promote fat accumulation rather than fat burning. Why? In stressful events we release cortisol. Cortisol is beneficial for us in that it tells the liver or the muscles to release sugar into the bloodstream for use. After all, if you are going to have to fight or fly away from, or freeze in fear from your tiger, you will need some blood sugar to keep your stamina up.
When there is sugar in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin due to the fact that sugar is toxic to your cells if left unattended and insulin must be used to shunt the sugar into the cells. In the presence of insulin, your body essentially will not burn fat. So, if you are constantly pumping out cortisol because your stress resilience is down and your buffering mechanisms are depleted, it is nearly impossible to lose weight.
Many of you know my story and how I came to be so passionate about lifestyle design and simplifying my life. In fact, I used to be about 45 pounds heavier. Even just a few years back when I was working in the corporate world, I was still 20 pounds from my current weight. But what you may not know, is that there was a specific event in my life that led me to where I am today and is one of the defining moments that ignited my passion for simplifying my lifestyle.
I’ll never forget the moment I thought I was having a stroke. A few years back, I was driving home with my husband from a lovely time on vacation in the San Juans when I got an e-mail notification from work. The e-mail informed me that an employee had quit and I would have to creatively figure out how to fill the position. I felt the heart palpitations start. I was already overwhelmed and teaching full time all while trying to fulfill administrative duties as the Dean of a college. I started to slowly feel the panic rise within me, knowing I most likely would have to step in to fill a position knowing, once again, we didn’t have anyone else to do it.
I started to take deep breaths expecting the oxygen to calm my nerves. Soon I felt buzzing all over my body, like I was holding on to an electric fence. Then, without warning my lips went numb and I couldn’t speak. My tongue felt like it was wrapped in gauze and numb with novocaine. My husband quickly pulled the car into a small gas station and looked at me with panicked eyes. I tried to tell him that I was losing all feeling in my lower limbs but the sound coming from my mouth was not forming discernible words. A passerby saw the exchange of panicked eyes and hurriedly told my husband that he needed to get me to the nearest hospital. I now was losing strength in my limbs and couldn’t lift my arms without great effort. I knew I was having a stroke…and I wasn’t even 40 years old.
He rushed me to the nearest hospital and they conducted a series of tests. After hours of unanswered questions and a lot of, “We aren’t sure what is going on”, I was discharged. As the sensations and motor control started to return very slowly to my limbs and my lips, I realized what was going on; what the physicians were unable to diagnose. It was not a stroke. Today, If I were to self-diagnose, I would say it most likely was conversion disorder. In extreme states of psychological stress, the body can present crazy symptoms such as blindness, the inability to speak, paralysis, tremors, etc. It’s a defense mechanism that really is a mystery to most clinicians.
On that solemn drive home, thanking God that I was able to move my appendages and to speak clearly to my husband, I realized that if I kept up my current pace and responsibilities at work, I was going to either end up institutionalized or have an actual stroke. Something needed to change. And so, within a matter of a few short weeks, I drafted a proposal to the corporate office that ultimately led to my decision to leave. And while I left on good terms, l took my departure as God’s opened door for me to move on to bigger and better things. I knew my body and mind needed some recuperation. I knew that moving forward, I would need to simplify my life; that stress was killing me and if I did not find ways to change the patterns, I was going to suffer.
And so, I slowly but surely made the necessary changes to my lifestyle. Slowly but surely, the last 20 pounds came off of me and I began to find fulfillment in pursuing more peace in my life. I decluttered my home room by room. I cleared out my schedule. I started eating simpler foods and less processed foods. I started meditating more. I started praying more. I started to read books. I started to write my book. I started to work in the clinic setting.
And that, my friends, is why I founded my website: journey toward joy. That is why I wrote The Forever Fat Burner. That is why I do everything that I do: because I don’t want anyone to suffer the same way I did by trying to do it all, trying to climb the corporate ladder, trying to please everyone whilst ignoring the signs that the person who needs care the most was me!
MY MESSAGE TO YOU:
If there is one message I want to impart to every woman out there it is: STOP trying to do it all while sacrificing your sanity and peace in your life. The myth that I want to debunk out there is that we as women have to prove our worthiness and our equality to men by overextending ourselves and multi-tasking ourselves into our own grave. If you are overwhelmed or feeling anxious, there is a chance that you need to simplify a few things in your life. Woman, you are incredible just as you are and you have been created to leave a great impact on this earth. But, if you think that this can only happen by putting more things on your plate and doing it all, you are sadly mistaken.
And if you are a woman of influence who is wanting to leave your mark in this world, we need to support you. You need to be commended for your efforts and you need to know that delegating; that taking breaks; that taking time to exercise; that having time alone; that taking vacations are not only acceptable options; but, entirely necessary for you to thrive.
If you are like me and you are on a journey toward improving your life, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and share this video and post with a friend that you know is struggling with stress. We need to support each other and encourage each other more.
Until the next post, my friend, please know that perfection is who you are in this moment; your mind, body, and soul. Imperfection is the result of time passing with no effort to improve each of these. In other words, learn from yesterday and stop beating yourself up.