Why does losing weight sometimes feel like a never-ending tail chase? It’s become ever so easy to have a ‘cheat day’ every day with all the amazing food and temptations around us.
That cookie is practically begging you to eat it during your afternoon break, am I not right? And it’s so small (or is it?). Surely, it can’t make such a big difference to your waistline.
I get it. I’ve been there. Calorie counting and resisting all the cookies of the world every-single-day isn’t easy. Especially when losing weight is your goal.
But what if I told you there is no need to become a calorie counting pro to both lose weight and reduce those cravings? What if I told you that maintaining good blood sugar balance, keeping an eye on your stress levels and making sure you’re not eating too little (you heard me!) are three sure-fire ways to achieve your natural weight.
Unbalanced blood sugar levels
You might have heard of the hormone insulin and its linkage to the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods. Insulin is a highly important part of our everyday life (just ask any diabetic) as our cells would not be able to use the energy from our food were it not for this little helper.
However, too much insulin in your blood can easily result in weight gain over time. You see, every food that contains carbohydrates has a certain effect on your blood sugar levels through the release of glucose into your bloodstream. These foods can either raise your blood sugar levels very quickly and very high (think white pasta, rice) or keep them nice and stable (think whole grain products, vegetables).
High sugar levels
In the first example, the body releases way too much insulin to cope with the sudden excess energy in the blood and then looks for ways of storing it (simply put). Unfortunately, it especially likes the midsection of your body.
It also results in a subsequent crash in energy levels, mood, and cravings as the body transitions from the sugar ‘high’ to sugar ‘low’. It becomes a rollercoaster ride that is anything but fun and it can go on and on throughout the entire day.
Stable sugar levels
The latter example – stable sugar levels – is the ideal situation, where your energy, weight and mood levels are nice and steady. The body is getting the energy it needs over time (not in one quick go) and doesn’t need to store any for later. That is where you want to be most of the time to ensure the body isn’t receiving signals to store fat.
How does one do this, you ask? As a general rule of thumb, the more processed and refined the product the more likely for it to get you a one-way ticket for the blood sugar rollercoaster. The Glycemic Load, or GL, illustrates this effect. It ranges from 0 to 100 and the higher the GL of a food item the quicker the sugar ‘rush’.
Consuming primarily low or medium GL (Glycaemic Load of 0-19) foods and drinks, rather than the high GL counterparts (20+), is the solution as well as adding good quality protein and fat to your meals. You can find a great tool for determining the GL of various foods here.
Dealing with high levels of stress
You might have noticed some people lose weight, as well as appetite, as a result of high levels of stress. And that can certainly happen in the initial stages.
However, the longer the high-stress levels persist the more likely that your stress hormone cortisol levels will get very high and the opposite will occur. You will start gaining weight.
That’s because cortisol tells your body to ‘prepare for the attack’ as a response to stress by releasing plenty of energy into the bloodstream to ‘fight or flight’. But if there’s no fight (or flight) to deal with then this energy is stored back and not necessarily where it’s come from (moving it from the muscle to the fat cells, for example).
Later on, if this happens day in, day out, other issues arise. Fatigue and cravings! The weight gain persists but now you also crave salty or very sweet foods. This will become anything but helpful with losing weight. What a double whammy!
Stress also harms your digestion resulting in fewer nutrients (vitamins, minerals but also protein and other structures) getting where they need to for the body to cope well with stress. This easily becomes a catch-22 also.
There are various stress management techniques. Finding the ones that work for you, whilst working on stress resilience and reducing your stress load (all the stressors in your life), is key to taking control of your cortisol levels again.
The easiest stress-reducing method to start with? Hugging your dearest every day! The love and cuddle hormone, oxytocin, gets released as a consequence (unless you’re a serious non-hugger) and will fight all of your stress hormones on your behalf. More so the reason to hug someone today.
Consuming too little calories for too long
Another reason why your body might be holding on to the excess fat is the plethora of diets out there. I do not believe in following restrictive diets for the sake of losing weight since it is likely going to start creeping in a few days after the diet is over.
Our bodies are amazing instruments and apart from a very few short-term interventions, such as intermittent fasting, they do not like being underfed. They are smart! And oh so wonderful.
Therefore, if your body notices it is not getting its energy needs met through food consumption by a long shot it can react in slowing down your metabolism and ‘hiding away’ more fat just in case the situation gets even worse. It is a survival instinct. You may become more lethargic as there’s no energy to go around and the body is ultimately in an ‘energy-saving mode’.
Conclusion: Losing Weight
Food needs to bring joy into our lives, whilst also nourishing us. Calorie counting has its place in the fitness world and many people swear by it. However, it can focus a little too much on the quantity rather than the quality of the food we eat and sees the body as a very simplistic tool. The same calories from a cup of blueberries are handled differently by the body to a candy bar.
By ensuring our blood sugar levels are in balance throughout the day, managing our stress levels and not semi-starving our bodies we are helping the body to operate at an optimum level with no need to store excess fat.