In the fourth installment of Maryon Stewart’s weight loss series, she looks at stress and the effect is has on our bodies.
Do you ever pace around and find yourself eating more chocolate snacks or generally grazing as a comfort while distracted by your stresses? When stress becomes distressful we often lose our resolve to eat healthily, find it hard to love ourselves and that’s when the rot sets in.
Up to a point, stress can actually be healthy, in that it keeps us alert and ready to face the day ahead. However, there is a fine line between stress and distress. Professor Hans Selye, the founder of modern research into stress, described it as ‘the rate of wear and tear on the body’. He distinguished between good and bad stress. Good stress can be reasonably healthy as it stretches us to capacity and keeps us on our toes. However, when we reach the point of overload, the stress has an adverse effect leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed and under par.
We all have different ways of dealing with stress, and while some of us take it in our stride, others use methods of coping that can result in undesirable symptoms. Weight gain, as a result of comfort eating, or bingeing, is a classic side-effect of the ‘too much on my plate syndrome’
Have you noticed that you are feeling anxious or on edge, or sometimes feel overwhelmed? If you are experiencing emotional problems, strained.
family relationships, you are not sleeping peacefully, get irritated easily and notice that you are grazing on junk food instead of eating proper meals its probably time to do a stress check to make sure you are keeping the balance between good and bad stress. If the scales are leaning towards the bad it’s time to set in place a protective plan so your body is in the best possible state to stand up to stress and to take it in its stride without it causing you to gain weight rather than lose it.
Why not follow my three-point stress protection plan?
Firstly, you need to eat well.
Stress is one of the most common causes of digestive upsets such as indigestion, bloating, IBS and heartburn. Some people eat less when they are stressed, but many more comfort eat and gradually gain weight as a result. Stress hormones can also dry up saliva, making swallowing difficult. A healthy, balanced diet will provide the necessary fuel you need to see you through the most difficult times.
- Consume nutritious food little and often keeps blood sugar levels constant. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, with a wholesome mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.
- Eat fresh, home-cooked foods wherever possible.
- Eat foods that are naturally sweet like dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, rather than foods with added sugar.
- Relax while you are eating and enjoy your food. Bolting food down or eating on the run can result in you swallowing too much air, which can lead to bloating.
- Cut down on tea and coffee. Try caffeine-free Redbush tea or coffee substitutes instead, or herbal teas.
Secondly, sleep well
While you are asleep your body gets down to the essential processes of cell repair and rejuvenation, so a good night’s sleep is essential if you are to wake up ready to face the day ahead. If you can’t get to sleep or feel sleepy all the time, chances are you’re suffering from stress overload. Waking up in the middle of the night and fitful dreams are other common signs.
- Try to get at least eight hours’ sleep a night (you will know if you function well on less than this) and if your sleep is disturbed because of the stress take some valerian, a natural herb that will help you to relax.
- Establish a regular sleep pattern by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
- Avoid eating and exercising too close to bedtime.
- Taking a short power nap after lunch can help to recharge your batteries.
And thirdly, make time for yourself to beat stress
Making time for yourself is not just a nice idea, it is essential, especially if your life is busy and full. The ability to ‘switch off’ and refresh is the key to well-being, but it is not always as easy as it sounds. If you are preoccupied, wound up and tense, it can be hard to see the benefits of taking time out. Being able to relax thoroughly is actually an acquired skill – which for some of us takes a little practice – but all that is required is some time, around 15 to 20 minutes a day, and a comfortable space in which to spend that time. Relaxation is becoming more important as many of us continue to live life in the fast lane. The Pzizz machine is a little portable unit that provides tailor made relaxation programmes whenever it suits you, and is a great discovery, that I have to admit I now carry around with me at all times. It provides several different proven techniques to give you the most refreshing and revitalising ‘nap’ possible. It is a blend of NLP with especially composed music, sound effects and a binaural beat to induce a wonderfully relaxed stage.
The new guided meditation CD produced by Sue Fisher Hendry also comes highly recommended. If you are not used to switching off using the excellent collection of guided Mediations and Creative Visualisation will help you enormously.Once you have learned the art of relaxation you can practise it at any time, and, best of all, it is free. In addition you might like to try a more formal method of relaxation such as yoga, meditation or the martial art Tai Chi. All of these can be very calming so it’s just a question of which method suits you the best. .
Here are some of my top stress busters
- Make sure you have some sacred time for yourself for meditation and relaxation.
- Tell your family how you feel and ask for their support.
- If your stress comes from work, discuss with colleagues how you can make changes, or if you are self-employed you will need to
- Try to get away; even it’s only for a few days.
- Learn not to take on too much.
- Prioritise your responsibilities and see if you can offload or delegate some of the less important tasks.
- Eat regular, wholesome meals and have a supply of nutritious snacks at the ready.
- Make sure you are getting enough magnesium. Good sources include fruit and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Avoid caffeine in the form of tea, coffee, chocolate and cola as it acts as a stimulant.
- Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum as it can also act as a stimulant and disturb your sleep.
- Ask your partner or close friend to give you a massage.
- Watch an entertaining film or read a good book.
- Make sure you find things to laugh about.
- Make a point of singing in the bath!
Nurturing yourself when the going gets tough will increase your wellbeing as well as help you to cope with stressful situations. It will also lessen the chances of you dipping into the cookie jar or running out to the late night garage to get yourself a sweet fix.