Energy levels and stress can be significant obstacles in any weight loss program. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves in a situation where we have little energy and way too much stress - which I'm betting is the opposite of where most of us want to be. With low energy levels and elevated stress, it's hard to want to exercise and burn calories. It's also easier to make a misstep and fall off our healthy diet plan. That's the sad nature of stress when it comes to a weight loss plan.
Stress is a lifestyle in this country. The stress response was a pretty good thing for our ancestors - it kept them alive - running from things that wanted to eat them for lunch. But in the present day, we feel the stress response when we are stuck in our cars; when we have a bill that throws off our budget; when our kids miss the bus. The issue is that the response that made our ancestors run for their lives is the same biochemical response we have when we are stuck in traffic. Hormones are released that give us the strength and ability to fight or flee the things that stress us. Adrenaline (also called epinephrine) provides instant energy - and it decreases our appetite at first, but that doesn't last very long. Cortisol, which is also released during the stress response, is designed to help us replace the energy we lost after the stress is gone. And it likes to hang out in our bodies for a while. Constant stress means cortisol remains elevated.
This results in an increased appetite and a constant feeling of hunger. Let me put it this way: your brain and your endocrine system don't know that you didn't run for your life after you were stuck in traffic for 45 minutes. They just know you are stressed, and they are still going to respond with the chemical signals to refill your nutritional engine - and that is going to make you feel hungry.
So what do we do?
- I'm going to say that evil word - EXERCISE. Exercise is the best way to relieve stress. I know; I know...you don't have the energy to exercise. I'll get to that, but first let me just plant that word in your head - "exercise". It makes perfect sense that exercise would help relieve stress. When you're stressed, don't you have this overwhelming urge to move? To just move something? Your hands; your arms - whatever - that is supposed to happen. Remember? Fight or Flight. Yes, exercise will burn calories, but it will also release biochemicals that can counter the negative effects of those stress hormones. You don't have to work out for 2 hours a day to reap the benefits of exercise. It could be just 20 minutes a day. You can find 20 minutes. (I shoveled by driveway today for 30 minutes - exercise accomplished.)
- Take adaptogens or a blend of them. Adaptogens are incredible plants (or fungi) that modulate our stress response. They help our brains and bodies deal with stress. Remember when I said that our brains and bodies don't know we didn't run for our lives? Well, adaptogens help our brains realize that we didn't run for our lives and they adjust hormonal output accordingly. Taking adaptogens, such as Rhodiola rosea, Panax ginseng, and Cordyceps sinensis daily can help to normalize cortisol levels; boost immune system function; improve sleep quality, and oh yeah - they give you energy! The stamina and endurance kind of energy. The "I can get up and walk for 20 minutes" kind of energy. The "I don't need to go to Starbucks" kind of energy. Adaptogens aren't stimulants, so they don't push your central nervous system beyond its limits. They don't cause a crash. They help you maintain your energy levels throughout the day and give a good sense of well-being.
- Get a good night's sleep. Sleep is so important to stress-control. A lack of sleep will elevate your cortisol levels. Can't get a good night's sleep? Adaptogens will help with that.
- Relax. Make time to relax. Doesn't matter what it is - whatever makes you feel calm. Devote that time to yourself. Every day.