The Power of Self-Compassion

When it comes to sticking to a diet, we’ve all experienced those moments of slipping up – perhaps indulging in an unplanned treat or deviating from our meal plan. These instances can often leave us feeling guilty and frustrated, questioning our willpower and dedication. However, recent research suggests that practising self-compassion could be the key to overcoming these setbacks and staying on track with our weight loss goals.

Understanding Dietary Lapses

A recent study involving individuals striving to lose weight examined how they responded emotionally to dietary slip-ups, known as “dietary lapses.” These lapses, triggered by factors like hunger and stress, not only hinder progress but also lead to negative feelings such as guilt and shame, which can derail our efforts.

The study further delved into three core aspects of self-compassion:

  • Mindfulness: Being aware of our thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Common Humanity: Recognising that we’re not alone in facing challenges, fostering a sense of connection.
  • Self-Kindness: Treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, especially during tough times

Key Findings

The research revealed that all elements of self-compassion were linked to reduced negativity following dietary lapses. However, showing ourselves kindness emerged as particularly beneficial, helping us regain a sense of control and resilience. By practising self-kindness, we can bounce back from setbacks and continue our weight loss journey with renewed determination.

Practical Insights for Everyday Life

  • Normalising Dietary Lapses: Understanding that slip-ups are a normal part of any weight loss journey can alleviate feelings of failure. Realising that everyone faces challenges on their path to better health fosters a more compassionate attitude towards ourselves and others.
  • Embracing Self-Kindness: Responding to dietary slip-ups with self-compassion, particularly self-kindness, empowers us to move forward without self-criticism. By being gentle with ourselves and treating mistakes as learning opportunities, we can overcome setbacks more effectively.
  • Distinguishing Compassion from Complacency: Practising self-compassion doesn’t mean giving up on our goals or becoming complacent. Instead, it helps us accept setbacks without losing sight of our long-term aspirations. By cultivating resilience and self-acceptance, we can stay committed to our health journey while navigating the ups and downs along the way.

In the journey towards weight loss and healthier eating habits, self-compassion emerges as a valuable tool for managing setbacks and maintaining motivation. By embracing self-kindness and recognising our shared human experience, we can cultivate a mindset that supports our well-being and resilience. Let self-compassion guide you towards a healthier, happier lifestyle, one step at a time.

References:

Hagerman CJ, Ehmann MM, Taylor LC, Forman EM. The role of self-compassion and its individual components in adaptive responses to dietary lapses. Appetite. 2023 Nov 1;190:107009–9.

From Struggle to Success: Navigating the 3 Stages of Weight Cycling

Have you ever found yourself caught in a frustrating cycle of losing weight, only to regain it shortly after? You’re not alone. Weight cycling, often known as “yo-yo dieting,” can take a toll not just on your body, but also on your mental well-being. Recent research sheds light on why people get stuck in this cycle and how they can break free from it. Let’s explore the findings of the study and uncover the three-stage journey of weight cycling.

Understanding the Cycle

Stage One: Entering the Cycle

For many individuals, the journey into weight cycling begins with societal pressures and experiences of weight stigma. Whether it’s comparing oneself to unrealistic standards on social media or facing hurtful comments from peers and family members, feelings of self-doubt and insecurity often arise early on.

Stage Two: Undergoing the Cycle

As individuals internalise these external pressures, their behaviours around food and exercise start to change. Eating habits may become more restrictive, and exercise may be seen primarily as a means to burn calories rather than for enjoyment. Despite efforts to lose weight, feelings of self-criticism and guilt often persist, especially when weight is regained.

Stage Three: Challenging the Cycle

Breaking free from the weight cycling cycle requires a shift in mindset. Some individuals find success by rejecting strict diets and reframing exercise as a form of self-care rather than punishment. However, overcoming negative thoughts about weight and body image can be an ongoing challenge, requiring self-awareness and resilience.

If you’re facing challenges with the weight cycle or if you’re aware of someone who might be, here are some important points to bear in mind:

  • Create a Safe Space: Avoid assuming that all individuals want to lose weight and be mindful of the language used to discuss weight-related topics. Creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment is crucial for building trust and promoting open communication.
  • Mindful Communication: Language matters. Hence, we should use language that empowers individuals and avoids body-shaming or triggering statements. Open-ended questions and positive reinforcement can help individuals feel understood and supported in their journey.
  • Focus on Well-being: By focusing on overall well-being rather than a number on the scale, you can foster a healthier relationship with food and exercise. Emphasising self-care, enjoyment, and balance can also help you break free from the cycle of weight cycling and embrace a more holistic approach to health.

Weight cycling is a complex phenomenon with deep-rooted psychological and societal factors. By understanding the stages of the cycle and adopting a compassionate approach, you can work towards breaking free from harmful patterns and embracing a more positive relationship with your body. It’s time to shift the conversation from weight loss to holistic well-being, empowering individuals to live healthier, happier lives.

References:

Tylka TL, Annunziato RA, Burgard D, Daníelsdóttir S, Shuman E, Davis C, et al. The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. J Obes. 2014 Jul 23;2014:983495.

Romo L, Earl S, Mueller KA, Obiol M. A Qualitative Model of Weight Cycling. Qual Health Res. 2024 Jan 25;10497323231221666.:

A Closer Look at the Link Between Body Image and Eating Habits

Let’s talk real for a moment. Ever feel like your body is constantly under a magnifying glass, and the standards set for beauty seem like an impossible feat? You’re not alone. In fact, being dissatisfied with your body is more common than being content with it. It’s like an uninvited guest in our minds, fueled by societal norms and internalised beauty standards.

So, here’s the scoop. Scientists at Kenyon College have delved into the world of body image, and it’s a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions. Many of us carry an idealised image of what an “attractive” body should look like – slim for women, muscular for men. But here’s the kicker – we struggle to see ourselves measuring up, regardless of our actual appearance.

If this sounds like a familiar script of body image blues, you’re spot on. And while having some body image concerns is normal, it becomes a big deal when it starts playing a leading role in your thoughts, pushing you towards disordered eating behaviours. Enter a recent study published in Appetite that aimed to uncover the specific body image concerns that might lead to full-blown eating disorders. Let’s dive into the findings.

The Body Image Detective: Unmasking the Concerns

The researchers examined various behaviours and thought patterns related to body image concerns. From constant body checking to avoiding mirrors and fearing negative appearance evaluations, they uncovered the intricate dance between our perceptions and actions.

What the Study Unveiled

  • Gender Disparities: Brace yourself – women were found to be way more likely to grapple with negative body image than men. Media and societal norms often spotlight women’s bodies, setting an unrealistic standard that many find challenging to embrace.
  • Link Between Concerns and Behaviours: The study linked higher levels of body image concerns to increased disordered eating behaviours. In simpler terms, the more negative a person’s body image, the more likely they were to engage in behaviours like food restriction, bingeing, and purging.

Insights for a Brighter Path

  • Empathy for Women: Ladies, society often bombards you with specific ideals of beauty. It’s crucial to acknowledge that these standards can impact how you feel about your body, influencing your choices in eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits. Remember, it’s okay not to conform to unrealistic expectations.
  • Watch for Warning Signs: If someone seems to be struggling with negative body image, keep an eye out for potential disordered eating habits lurking nearby. The mind and body are deeply interconnected, and addressing these concerns early on can make a significant difference.
  • Beyond Appearances: A person’s body size doesn’t necessarily reflect how they feel about it. Don’t assume someone with a higher BMI dislikes their body, or that those with seemingly “ideal” shapes are content. Listen actively, without judgment, as everyone’s journey with body image is unique.

Remember, the intricacies of body image, disordered eating, and overall health are deeply personal and don’t adhere to a specific “look.” It’s about understanding what’s going on inside, fostering a compassionate approach towards ourselves and others. Let’s break free from the chains of unrealistic standards and embark on a journey of self-love and acceptance. You’ve got this!

References: 

https://www.routledge.com/The-Prevention-of-Eating-Problems-and-Eating-Disorders-Theories-Research/Levine-Smolak/p/book/9781138225107

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666323025448?via%3Dihub

Navigating the Weight Journey: What’s Inside Really Matters

Let’s talk about something we’ve all faced at some point – weight bias. You know, those moments when we feel judged for not fitting into society’s so-called “ideal weight.” But here’s the twist – it’s not just an external thing. A recent study from Canada showed that this bias can also come from within ourselves, affecting our own perceptions and judgments. Let’s unpack what this means and how we can adopt a more positive and inclusive perspective.

The study found a strong link between higher body mass index (BMI) and what they call “weight bias internalisation.” Translation? If you’ve ever found yourself unfairly judging your own or others’ bodies based on weight, you’re not alone. The study also highlighted that women tend to feel this internalised bias more intensely, probably because of the unrealistic body standards society often throws at them.

What’s interesting is how participants in the study pointed fingers at behaviours like overeating, lack of exercise, and high-fat diets as the main culprits behind being overweight. On the flip side, factors like hormones and metabolism got less blame.

Key Insights

  • Understanding Weight Beyond the Basics: Let’s broaden our view on weight. It’s not just about what we eat or how much we move. There’s a whole system of factors – physical, psychological, social, and environmental – at play. 
  • Being Kind to Yourself: Feeling down about your weight is tough, and this study shows it can even lead to mental health struggles. The key is to shift our focus. Instead of blaming ourselves, let’s explore a more positive and holistic view of health. It’s not just about what we eat; it’s about how we feel, sleep, and navigate our lives.
  • Your Health is a Puzzle, Not a Puzzle Piece: Ever thought about how sleep, emotions, work-life balance, relationships, genetics, and where you live might influence your health? They’re all interconnected. By seeing the bigger picture, we can transform our mindset and discover new ways to achieve our health goals.

So, what’s the takeaway? Weight bias is a thing, and it’s not just external. By understanding that weight is a complex interplay of various factors, we can be kinder to ourselves and others. It’s not just about the food we eat or the exercise we do; it’s about embracing a holistic view of health. Your journey is unique, and there’s more to it than meets the eye – or the scale.

References:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-021-00860-z 

https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-023-16454-5

Why Your Workout Might be Holding You Back

So, you’ve been hitting the gym, clocking in those miles, or sweating it out in your living room – all in the name of fitness. But here’s the kicker – despite your dedication, the results might not be adding up the way you expected. Ever heard the phrase, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet”? Well, it turns out there’s more to the story than just counting calories.

Picture this: you finish a killer workout, and suddenly, the temptation to laze on the sofa or skip the stairs for the lift kicks in. Ever wondered if your body is playing tricks on you? Recent research suggests that it might be, and the culprit is something called exercise compensation.

When the Sweat Stops, the Compensation Begins

We get it – working out is tough. But what if we told you that your body might be playing a sneaky game with you? A study shows that after a workout, 16 out of 24 studies found people tend to move less in the hours and days that follow. Yeah, you read that right – less movement, not more.

Let’s talk about Non-exercise Physical Activity or NEPA – the unsung hero of your daily calorie burn. It’s the stuff you do outside your structured workout – the steps, chores, and all the little moves that add up. Shockingly, the research spills the beans: on average, folks compensate for their gym sessions by cutting back on other forms of physical activity.

Mind Games: Your Mood and Your Munchies

Remember that post-workout glow? Turns out, it’s more than just sweat. A small 2012 study found a link between feeling good after a workout and eating less. So, how you feel post-exercise might be key to keeping your calorie intake in check.

How to Break Free from the Workout Rut

  • Listen Up: Don’t ignore what your body is telling you. Feeling exhausted, not just during but after your workout? Maybe it’s time to dial it back a notch.
  • Move Beyond the Burn: Your workout shouldn’t be a pass to veg out. Instead of rewarding yourself with a marathon on the sofa, find a balance that keeps you moving throughout the day.
  • Check Your Feel-Good Factor: Pay attention to how you feel after a workout. Feeling awesome? That might be your ticket to healthier eating habits.

In the grand scheme of a healthy lifestyle, it’s time to ditch the one-size-fits-all view. Your workout isn’t just about burning calories; it’s about understanding how your body reacts and finding a sweet spot between exercise and your everyday hustle. Break out of the ‘Work Out, Veg Out’ cycle, and dive into a fitness journey that’s as unique as you are. Your body will thank you for it.

References: 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083498 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13668-023-00467-y 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.02.012 

http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.01048

Unlocking the Mystery of Obesity: The Protein Leverage Hypothesis

The puzzle of obesity is one that humanity has grappled with for centuries. How did we, with all our cognitive prowess, succumb to the temptations of modern diets? A groundbreaking study exploring the protein leverage hypothesis sheds light on an ancient biological mechanism that might just hold the key to understanding our collective struggle with weight.

What is Protein Leverage?

At its core, protein leverage suggests that humans, much like other species, have a built-in appetite for protein. This craving for protein guides our overall food consumption. Astonishingly, we continue eating until our protein needs are met, often consuming more calories than necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

However, it’s not merely about the quantity of protein; it’s about the ratio of protein to other macronutrients. This intricate dance of macronutrients influences our appetite in unexpected ways.

Protein Dilution: The Culprit in the Obesity Epidemic?

Even a slight “dilution” of protein in our diets, a decrease in the percentage of calories from protein coupled with an increase in calories from carbs and fat, can trigger a significant increase in overall food intake. This protein leverage mechanism explains, to a large extent, the surge in obesity rates.

Picture it as a lever—protein exerts leverage over our appetite, compelling us to consume more than required. And where do we find these highly diluted protein meals? Enter highly processed foods, particularly those high in fat and low in protein. The energy-dense nature of fat makes overconsumption all too easy.

The Feedback Loop of Weight Gain

As we gain weight, a feedback loop fueled by protein leverage is set in motion. A larger body demands more protein, leading us to consume more food in the quest for this essential nutrient. The result? An endless cycle of weight gain.

Yet, protein leverage isn’t a linear game. It’s most potent when calories from protein hover between 10 to 15 percent. A small dilution of protein within this range can significantly impact our appetite. However, when protein is excessively diluted and protein calories drop to around 5 percent, our bodies seem to hit the protein leverage “off” switch, curbing hunger.

Navigating the Protein Leverage Landscape

  • Not All Dilution is Equal: Interestingly, not all protein dilution is detrimental. A plant-based diet, naturally lower in protein, doesn’t trigger an increase in calorie consumption, thanks to the presence of fibre and water.
  • The Unknowns: While the protein leverage hypothesis provides a fascinating perspective on obesity, it’s essential to acknowledge the vast unknowns. Protein requirements vary significantly among individuals, influenced by factors such as age, weight, health, physical activity, and body composition.

While the protein leverage hypothesis contributes valuable insights into the obesity puzzle, it’s crucial to recognise the complexity of the issue. Obesity is a multifaceted problem with diverse contributing factors. Understanding protein leverage opens a door to comprehension, but the journey to solving the obesity mystery involves exploring a myriad of interconnected pathways. As we delve deeper into the intricate dance of macronutrients, we move one step closer to unravelling the secrets of our collective battle with weight.

References:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0912198107

http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2022.0212

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa044

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/oby.22531

http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu11112661

Late Middle Age Fitness Dilemma: Is ‘Eat Less, Move More’ the Answer?

Imagine you’re an older adult who has been wrestling with weight issues for years, perhaps even decades. Now in your 50s or 60s, nearing retirement, you’re facing a critical juncture where, with each passing year, you’re witnessing the unwelcome transformation of muscle into fat. This increase in body fat raises the stakes for conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes.

So, what’s the best strategy to reverse this trend? Over the years, you’ve heard three seemingly conflicting narratives on how to shed those extra pounds. The first preaches the mantra “eat less, move more,” emphasising the dual importance of calorie restriction and aerobic exercise. The second focuses on the kitchen, claiming that the path to a leaner body primarily involves strict dieting and a high-protein intake. The third story promotes “lifting weights to lose weight,” arguing that intense resistance training can rev up your metabolism and sculpt your physique.

In this journey towards optimal body composition in your late middle age, which of these stories holds the key?

A recent research review provides some clarity.

How the Study Worked

This review draws insights from 66 studies involving nearly 5,000 individuals aged between 55 and 70, all with a BMI ranging from 25 to 40. The interventions in these studies varied, lasting around 12 weeks on average, and were categorised into three groups: diet, exercise, and a combination of both.

What the Study Revealed

  • Body-Fat Percentage Results:

The most effective strategy? Calorie restriction with high protein plus any form of exercise, which reduced body-fat percentage by about four points on average.

  • Fat Mass Results:

For total fat loss, calorie restriction plus high protein led the way, cutting an average of 5.86 kg (13 pounds). Interestingly, calorie restriction plus resistance training achieved similar results.

  • Lean Body Mass (LBM):

The surprise here was that combined resistance and aerobic training resulted in the most significant gains in LBM, followed by aerobic training alone. Calorie restriction, on its own, led to small reductions in lean mass.

  • All Outcomes – The Overall Winner:

For overall improvements in body composition, the winning combination was calorie restriction plus resistance training.

Key Takeaways

Clearly, the magic lies in the combination of diet and exercise. Let’s revisit the three stories:

  • “Eat less, move more”: Calorie restriction paired with any exercise proved most effective for reducing body-fat percentage, especially with a high-protein diet.
  • “Abs are made in the kitchen”: Calorie restriction plus high protein excelled in pure fat loss and reducing body-fat percentage, waist circumference, and BMI. However, cutting calories without exercise resulted in a small muscle loss.
  • “Lift weights to lose weight”: As a standalone for fat loss, resistance training was modestly effective for older adults. But, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet, it emerged as a winner, showing excellent outcomes in fat mass reduction, body-fat percentage, BMI, and waist circumference.

In your journey to a healthier you, the evidence points towards a holistic approach—a balanced mix of dietary changes and exercise, with a special nod to the combination of calorie restriction and resistance training. It’s not just about losing fat; it’s about optimising your body composition for a healthier, more resilient future.

References:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.advnut.2023.04.001

psychiatrist.com/jcp/mean-difference-standardized-mean-difference-smd-and-their-use-in-meta-analysis

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/obr.13428

Can Your Genes Dictate Your Ideal Diet?

Have you ever wondered why two people can embark on a similar diet, yet experience vastly different results? A recent study delved into the intriguing realm of genetics to explore if some individuals are genetically predisposed to thrive on specific diets, be it high in carbs or rich in fats.

The Genetic Diet Conundrum

Weight-loss studies often yield diverse individual outcomes, prompting scientists to investigate if genetic variations could make someone a “fat responder” or a “carb responder.” The theory suggests that tailoring diets to these genetic predispositions might optimise weight loss.

In a 12-week program involving 122 participants, half assigned to a higher-fat diet and half to a higher-carb diet, researchers aimed to align participants with their genetic predispositions. Astonishingly, the results showed no significant difference in weight loss between those on a diet aligned with their genotype and those whose meals were not.

The Genes vs. Weight Loss Verdict

The study’s revelation challenged the assumption that genetically tailored diets lead to better weight loss outcomes. Whether participants followed a genotype-concordant or genotype-discordant diet, the average weight loss was about the same, hovering around 5% of their initial body weight in 12 weeks.

While the concept of “precision nutrition” gains traction, promising tailored dietary plans based on genetics, this study suggests that, at least for weight loss, the impact may be less significant than anticipated. It turns out that your genes might not be the sole arbiters of the perfect diet.

Key Takeaways: Beyond Genetics

  • Precision Nutrition’s Current Landscape: The study highlights that, for weight loss, we might not be at the point where precision nutrition based on genetics significantly outperforms general dietary advice.
  • Factors Beyond Genes: While genetics play a role, numerous other factors, such as personal preferences, lifestyle, and mental well-being, also heavily influence the success of a dietary approach.

Embracing the dynamic relationship between genetics and diet is an ongoing journey in the realm of nutrition. While the study challenges the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach based on genetics for weight loss, it illuminates the intricate interplay of factors influencing dietary success. Remember, in the pursuit of personalised nutrition, genes are just one piece of the puzzle. Acknowledging individual preferences, lifestyles, and holistic well-being is pivotal.

So, as we navigate this intricate landscape of nutritional science, understanding the synergy between our genes and broader lifestyle choices becomes paramount. It’s a journey, and every step towards unravelling this complexity brings us closer to a more nuanced and effective approach to personalised nutrition.

References:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-41969-1

Exercise Intensity vs. Volume: What Really Matters for Fat Loss?

When you see that iconic image comparing a sprinter’s muscular physique to a marathoner’s lean build, you might wonder which one is more effective for fat loss. However, this comparison between Olympians can be misleading, as their training, recovery, sleep, and nutrition are worlds apart from the average person’s. Recently, researchers from the University of Cambridge delved into the exercise intensity vs. exercise volume debate, investigating which factor matters most for fat loss in everyday individuals. The results are encouraging for everyone, regardless of their training preferences. In this article, we explore why the Olympian comparison falls short and uncover the findings of the Cambridge study, shedding light on the essential elements of effective fat loss through exercise.

Why Most People Will Never Do a “Sprinter’s Workout”

Before we delve into the Cambridge study’s findings, let’s address the common misconception perpetuated by the sprinter vs. marathoner comparison. While this comparison aims to highlight the benefits of high-intensity sprint intervals for fat loss, it doesn’t apply to most individuals. The athletes featured in these images are world-class, naturally built for their respective sports, and dedicated their lives to achieving peak performance. Elite sprinters, for instance, undergo rigorous training regimens, including sub-maximal sprints, technique work, mobility training, and weightlifting, often training twice a day for several hours. Similarly, Olympic marathoners possess bodies specifically suited for long-distance running. Attempting to emulate their training would be impractical and unrealistic for most people.

What the Cambridge Study Unveiled

The Cambridge study examined the relationship between exercise intensity, exercise volume, and body fat levels in “regular” individuals. Unlike Olympians, these participants followed everyday routines. The researchers analysed data from over 11,000 middle-aged adults and assessed their body fat percentages using DEXA scans. Participants wore combined heart-rate monitors and movement sensors 24/7 for six days, providing data on their physical activity levels. The study yielded valuable insights into the significance of exercise intensity and volume for fat loss.

What the Study Found

The study uncovered a fundamental relationship between physical activity and body fat levels. Participants who engaged in more physical activity exhibited lower body fat percentages, regardless of gender. Notably, women experienced more significant improvements in body composition with higher physical activity levels. When evaluating exercise intensity, individuals who engaged in vigorous activities had lower body fat percentages. Conversely, those who primarily participated in lower-intensity activities exhibited higher body fat percentages. However, the study’s most crucial revelation was that the total amount of energy expended through physical activity, irrespective of intensity, played the most significant role in fat loss. In essence, individuals who burned the most calories through movement were more likely to have lower body fat percentages.

Key Takeaways

  • Start Where You Are: If you’re new to exercise or struggling to get started, remember that even small steps count. The study showed that the biggest difference in body fat was between people who were less active and those who added a bit more movement to their daily routine. So, don’t stress about doing intense workouts right away. Begin with something manageable, like a short daily walk or a few minutes of exercise. What matters most is taking that first step towards a more active lifestyle.
  • Your Unique Path: Understand that there’s no universal exercise plan that works for everyone. Your fitness journey should align with your goals, preferences, and what feels right for your body. High-intensity workouts may suit some, while others may prefer steady-paced activities. It’s all about finding an approach that fits your lifestyle and keeps you motivated. Don’t be afraid to explore different types of exercises until you discover what works best for you.

In summary, the Olympian comparison might not apply to most of us, but the study’s findings offer valuable insights. It’s not about pushing yourself to extremes but rather about embracing movement in a way that suits your individual needs and preferences. Start small, stay consistent, and choose activities that align with your goals. Your fitness journey is unique, and by tailoring it to your lifestyle, you can achieve sustainable fat loss and overall well-being.

References: 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41366-021-00970-8

http://dx.doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821ece12

How Does Stress Influence Obesity and Vice Versa?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus what we already knew: stress is closely linked to weight gain. However, the question remains: why exactly is stress problematic in this context? Beyond the surface-level effects, what underlies this relationship? A review by UCLA researchers offers insights into why stress and obesity are intricately connected, revealing a more complex interplay than commonly acknowledged.

How Stress Contributes to Weight Gain

Stress has a profound impact on various systems involved in weight regulation, and these effects are interconnected. They form feedback loops that can influence one another. Let’s explore these systems:

Cognition

Stress can disrupt cognitive functions, including executive function and self-regulation, which encompass skills such as planning, organising, emotional management, concentration, and impulse control.

Behaviours

Stress influences eating habits, physical activity levels, and sleep patterns. Interestingly, within this system, each factor can also affect the others. For instance, inadequate sleep can hinder physical activity, and a lack of physical activity can disrupt sleep patterns.

Physiology

This area delves into the scientific aspect. Researchers outline three ways in which stress might affect individuals physiologically:

    • Stress Hormones: Stress triggers the release of hormones that can lead to increased appetite and signal the body to store fat. Scientifically, this is referred to as “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation.”
    • Reward Seeking: Stress elevates the brain’s desire for feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine, motivating individuals to consume highly palatable foods rich in sugar and fat or to seek out substances like alcohol or drugs
    • Microbiome Impact: While research on humans is limited, there is speculation that stress may negatively affect the gut microbiome, potentially increasing susceptibility to weight gain. Remarkably, the gut microbiome can also influence emotions and behaviours.
Biochemistry

Stress can impact blood chemicals associated with weight control:

    • Leptin and Ghrelin: These hormones play a role in hunger and appetite. Leptin suppresses hunger, while ghrelin stimulates it, though the relationship is more intricate than this simplified explanation.
    • Neuropeptide Y: This peptide may stimulate both appetite and fat storage.

These interconnected factors provide a comprehensive view of how stress can affect individuals’ weight. However, there is more to explore.

How Obesity Can Induce Stress

Certainly, it’s essential to delve into how obesity impacts stress. Obesity not only affects physical health but also introduces a psychological dimension. The societal stigma associated with obesity can be a potent stressor in itself. People living with obesity may encounter prejudice, bias, and discrimination, which, in turn, contribute to elevated stress levels. This weight stigma-induced stress forms a challenging feedback loop, where stress exacerbates obesity, and obesity intensifies stress. This cyclical relationship highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to health and well-being, one that not only addresses physical aspects but also emphasises the importance of mental and emotional resilience in the face of societal pressures and prejudices. It underscores the significance of empathy, understanding, and support in helping individuals navigate the complex interplay between obesity and stress.

What You Can Learn from This

  • Holistic Approach: As someone looking to improve their health, it’s crucial to recognize that nutrition advice is just one piece of the puzzle. While tracking macros like protein, carbs, and fat is important, it’s equally vital to understand that other factors, especially stress, can significantly impact your progress.
  • Identify Your Starting Point: If you’re facing challenges with weight management, it’s essential to determine the root cause. If stress plays a significant role in your life, simply focusing on changing your diet might not deliver the results you want. Consider prioritizing strategies to manage stress effectively, build resilience, and regulate your emotions. These skills can create a solid foundation for making lasting improvements in your eating habits and overall lifestyle.

References:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936 

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