stress, cortisol and why sometimes it is so hard to lose weight
HAVE you realised that the world around us is not the same one in which our parents or grandparents grew up in, without going very far, it is not the same world in which we were born?
I am 40 years old, I am an 80’s child and a 90’s teenager, media says I belong to the Generation X. We are a generation that was born analog and grew up digital, a complex one. I see this as having the upper hand, we understand many things of the past, and we navigate through the digital age without any problems.
By now you may be thinking what’s all these have to do with losing weight; well, we live in a “fast” world, a world where everything is advancing by leaps and bounds. There is never time for anything, and when we have time for something, we are just exhausted, the only thing you want to do is nothing or maybe pour a glass of wine and watch some Netflix. Does it sound familiar?
This made me think that our grandparents may have had a more relaxed lifestyle, not depending on their phones, checking emails, the latest app, a Waze app to help to get to a destination in less time by avoiding traffic. If we look at our grandparent at our age, they seemed to have a quieter life than us. You can call it boring if you like, but I don’t think they had the same levels of stress that we do.
We live in a world of information technology, of immediacy; a world in which we cannot stop to have lunch without checking our phones, answering a work email, or we just can’t resist the temptation to photograph our food to publish it on social media and show the rest of the world what we are doing and how “happy” we are. We are dependent and stressed, prisoners of ourselves, not able to relax or travel without the need of documenting every single step.
The other day someone shared this picture with me.
This picture shows a group of people, most of them from my generation or younger, at an event on the street. Please take time to notice the lady that is observing the occasion with her eyes! She seems to be enjoying what she is seeing. She is in the present moment and registering it in her in memory, as she used to do it all her life, as everyone used to do pre-mobile-phone-with-camera era. My first thought was: “she knows how to enjoy the moment”.
What about the rest of the group? They all are looking at life through the screen of their phone, creating videos to add to the “never looked again” pile or “posting to my social media story” that will be deleted anyway after running out of space to store once it’s time to register the next event.
That made me realise that most of us just live without enjoying the moment.
Back to the losing weight part. What do all these have to do with losing weight?
Well, a lot. This lifestyle of recording the next event, the rat race, technology, fast world, answering emails on our downtime, of being connected all the time, bring stress.
Stress is in the hands of a hormone called cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone”, this hormone is usually a great ally or an enemy. Depending on the case, it helps us to face situations of tension: the flight or flight mode; or be present in emotional situations turning into frustration, anxiety or anger. The negative part of these last three ones is that if these sensations become chronic, they can seriously affect our mental and physical health.
Cortisol is also the culprit of not having success on losing weight, regardless of the number of times we tried, you can’t go past the three kg mark and after lots of efforts. And even worse, after deciding to quit that diet you put those three hard lost kg back on or more!
Among many other conditions, the excess of cortisol usually produces insulin resistance, which will lead our body to accumulate fat and, as consequence obesity, depression, high blood pressure and even autoimmune conditions. These situations will be the key to open the diabetes door.
Every time we are stressed, the cortisol hormone is activated making it challenging to lose weight.
Stress is part of lives and in small quantities is even needed; it should not be seen as totally bad, it gives us the extra push to deal with a situation but it is essential to have a balance and make sure we put techniques in place to deal with stress.
Here are some tips to deal with stress and keep the keep your cortisol at normal levels
Go offline: it is unbelievable how convenient mobiles phones are. Everything at our fingertips, literally, but some of us depend too much on it that seems we can’t breathe without it. I challenge you to make the decision of not looking at your phone for at least three hours straight. I know, #fomo! But being connected all the time can also be a stressor. Give your mind a rest and go without it. Focus on another activity like listening to music, dance and disconnect. The benefits of music are endless, connects you with memories and can take you on a journey. Join our playlist here.
The iPhone has a “do not disturb” feature when activated only your favourite contacts can reach you. Allow yourself some time off, you deserve it.
Improve your sleep – some people claim that they can survive on 4 hours sleep with no issues, but the lack of sleep can lead to poor health and decrease our resilience. Experts recommend at least 8 hours of sleep per day to allow our minds and bodies to recover. One good tip to improve your sleep is to make your bedroom a pleasant room to be in: don’t accumulate clutter and reduce electronics.
You can improve your health by sleeping.
Ground yourself in the Present Moment – mindfulness techniques are perfect for this. Be fully present in what you are doing by tuning into your senses. One useful and straightforward mindfulness method to ground you in the present moment is the 5 to 1:
Look around and describe 5 things you can see. 4 things you can touch. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you can smell. 1 thing you can taste.
Breathe! Stand with feet a shoulder-length apart. Take3 slow and deep breaths using the diaphragm muscles. Breathe in through your nose, and breathe out through slightly parted lips. Get the oxygen flowing into every little inch of your body and with every exhale let all the worries out.
Catch up with your friends: spending time with friends reduces cortisol levels and gives you a sense of connection regulating other functions of your body. Make time to go out with your friends, is excellent medicine.
Do you know that listening to music is another way to care for yourself? Have you noticed the effects on your mood after listening to a song you like or to an upbeat one? And of course, your preferences may differ from mine, but music has the same impact on every one of us in a personal and distinctive way.
Music is primal and exists since the very beginning of humanity. A mum singing a lullaby to her baby have soothing effects and helps with bonding. Cultures around the world tell different stories through music, some ancient ones prevail until today.
Studies have shown that music creates peak emotions and a study from the University of California in 2009 showed that there is a part of the human brain that “associates music and memories when we experience emotionally salient episodic memories that are triggered by familiar songs from our personal past.” meaning that music connects us with deep and meaningful memories. Based on this, it is not surprising that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine released by the brain translating into a feel-good state.
Music increases the amount of dopamine, the feel good hormone, released by the brain in response of a rewarding stimuli.
I recently asked in some of my Facebook groups suggestions of feel-good commercial music to add to my playlist. Macklemore is a favourite, and I certainly know why! His songs and collaborations with other artists are spot on. Here is the list of all their excellent suggestions, my favourite part of the songs and also, of course, my favourite ones.
Flames - Sia & David Guetta
David Guetta and Australian singer-songwriter Sia bring this awesome, vibrant, feel-good song. Can you tell it is my new favourite?
"One foot in front of the other babe
One breath leads to another yeah
Just keep moving, oh
Look within for the strength today
Listen out for the voice to say
Just keep moving, oh
Go, go, go
Figure it out, figure it out, but don't stop moving
Go, go, go
Figure it out, figure it out, you can do this"
Just take it easy, we are not perfect but as long as we keep on moving, that is what counts.
Claudia – Wellfulness
Moana How Far I'll Go - Auli'i Cravalho
“One day I’ll know how far I’ll go”
Felicity said she may have watched this movie more times than her son. It's a beautiful movie, very empowering, follow your dreams and push yourself to achieve what you meant to do in this world. Felicity, one day probably you'll know how far you go (when you finally publish your blog, just saying, lol! no pressure! LOL)
This Is Me - The Greatest Showman
Have you seen this movie? Wow! and I meant WOW! It is great, mood lifting, a heartwarming movie in a non-cheesy way. Even if you don’t enjoy musicals, it is a nice watch. Thanks to Kelly Webb – Live Well. Be Well for this great suggestion and I watched the movie after seeing this video on Youtube and I wasn't disappointed. I think this movie will be added to my collection of "Best movies to Watch"
"I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me"
Glorious - Mackelmore
Song by American rapper Macklemore. I seriously couldn't stop listening to this song after it was suggested by Natasha Stewart from Business Jump. It got me going for days and still is! Motivation at its best, as always!
"I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It's who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious"
One More Time - Daft Punk
Music's got me feeling so free
We're gonna celebrate
Celebrate and dance so free
One more time
Run the World - Beyoncé
Rani, you run the world with your time-saving - yummy recipes.
The beat is very uplifting, I love Beyonce and her #GIRLEMPOWERMENT
Suggested by Rani Hansen - You Totally Got This
Hold On - Wilson Phillips
This is an oldie but a good one. It always gets me signing from the top of my lungs (sorry world, I know I am not a good singer - know yourself: weakness and strengths, right?, but I can't help it, I love this song)
"I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and
Break free the chains
Yeah I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and you
Break free, break from the chains
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day yeah
If you hold on"
Shared by me, Claudia – Wellfulness
Good old days - Macklemore
Another good song from Mackelmore, recommended by Cynthia Torok from The Intimates Collection
Maybe I've been missing what it's about
Been scared of the future, thinking about the past
While missing out on now
We've come so far, I guess I'm proud
And I ain't worried about the wrinkles around my smile
I've got some scars, I've been around
I've felt some pain, I've seen some things, but I'm here now
These Days - Rudimental & Macklemore
Thanks Marissa Towndrow from Renovating Mums for this great recommendation!
I love the message of this song! Nothing is permanent, and all is relative. Even when things are not great sometimes, it is called life, and maybe one day we will look back to that moment and smile because the days that may have looked a bit rough were the best because they helped to shape who we are.
I added these and a few more to my Youtube playlist (press here to check it out) and listen to all and turn the music up. Listen to it while working or at home, when doing some house chores like cleaning, washing up the dishes, tidying up or take a break and dance around your place (take the chance and dance like no one is watching!). Not only will you get your heart rate up, but it will also lift your mood.
What's your favourite song?
Jumping rope is a great workout routine to do at home: it is easy to do and don’t require much investment on equipment. It will also help you burn those extra calories. A 10-minute skipping rope session can help you burn up to 200 calories!!!; this means that skipping rope can help you on your weight loss journey. We can’t ignore the fact that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise prevents health problems, increases strength, increases energy and can help reduce stress. It can also help maintain a healthy body weight and reduce appetite.
I have to exercise. I have to exercise. I have to exercise … that’s what my inner voice says almost all the time, especially when I’m lying on my bed watching TV LOL, I’d love that voice say to me: “I WANT TO EXERCISE!” and actually do the exercises for me.
Add planks to your routine for better results!! Print your guide and mark your daily achievement.
Read the benefits of planks here
Share your progress with us using #30daysplank in The Hunger Games Facebook Group.
I don’t enjoy going to the gym… but
I signed up for a gym membership many times, the last time for seven months and this time I actually went. I went every day from Monday to Saturday; sometimes even twice a day, but I never end up liking it. The big problem is I went not because I want to go, I went because I have to go… because I know all the benefits of exercising and that if I don’t exercise, it will be harder to lose weight.
I found that can often be frustrating the fact we spend months doing the same routine the fitness coach gave to us, but we don’t lose any weight and left us feeling we wasted time and money, don’t we?
Another frustrating thing for me is to go to the gym when I’m not fit. Arrive for the first time, meet many people and feel that everyone is looking at you (although many of them don’t even notice us, we feel that they look at us, judging and we don’t like that). It becomes something terrifying and even more so if we have to start doing the routine in front of all those people with sculptural bodies, showing their “six-packs” while walking around and for us that only can do 20 abs… well, it’s frustrating, it isn’t? Can you relate? Have you gone through such situation? Comment on this post if you are terrified of going to the gym, free yourself and tell us what you did to overcome it.
After finishing those seven months at the gym, I was less chubby (LOL) but I had one big issue: I didn’t want to go back. What I feel is that it is not worth the time and money invested because instead of relaxing, feeling refreshed, I ended up more stressed (having to wait to use the machine, the smell sometimes, the traffic, classes fully booked out, etc) and if I exercised and stressed… this formula is not leading me to the right track: I was not going to lose any more weight because I don’t t know if you know but stress is linked to cortisol (the stress hormone) and if your body produces a lot of cortisol it becomes a great impediment to losing weight.
Exercising should be pleasant, I found what I was looking for!
Doing exercises should be something pleasant, something that doesn’t cause any stress, something you can do at youch my own leisure so I decided to exercise at home. I started skipping rope: it will help you be quicker, working your legs. A skipping rope session will improve your cadence and stride. You will burn calories, tone your body, help with your concentration. It also gives you muscle resistance, improves your aerobic conditioning, increases your power … It is a super easy exercise, almost everyone can do it and it is super fun too. (watch me on our Youtube channel)
I added this to the # 30daysplank challenge and I am very happy! I exercise any time I want or can, I usually do planks before going to work, and at night I skip the rope and do abs, I am happy because I don’t have to leave my house and drive several kilometers then find parking just to exercise!!! I’ve been doing the plank challenge for about 17 days now, and I started incorporating other exercises into this routine to tone up other parts of my body. I’ve downloaded the “8fit” exercise app to help me find a routine I can do at home.
This free app (there’s the option to upgrade if you want to unlock more features) is very easy to use. You only need to create an account. Then the app will ask you a series of questions to determine your body structure so you can choose the routines that are right for you. It has demonstrations of different routines you can choose from depending on your level of fitness. Exercises take between 10 to 20 minutes to complete, they are good! My abs hurt so much that can’t even get into the car, LOL, but I’m happy!
Keen to start the #30dayplank challenge? Print your guide and mark your daily achievement.
Read the benefits of planks here
Share your progress with us using #30daysplank in The Hunger Games Facebook Group.
Starting a diet is not the only part that is difficult, staying on the right path is too.
First of all, I come up with every excuse under the sun to postpone the start date, and when I finally start it, it all goes well at breakfast, continues well at lunch but later in the afternoon, and I SIN (LOL!) and eat something that is not part of the diet! I remain calm saying “tomorrow will be a new day…I’ll continue with my healthy eating plan”. Has that happened to you? Well, that is practically my day to day.
I’m a freelance photographer and university lecturer, and when I’m not on uni vacation, it is easier for me because I have a set schedule. For four months straight, my working hours are the same. I’m super organized with my meals, I’m very busy for most of the day and I don’t even think about eating outside of my set hours. Do you know that you have to eat 5 times a day? It is the only way that your metabolism doesn’t slow down and that your body doesn’t want to store “energy” for winter.
Well, what I want is to start and finish a diet and not die in the attempt. I know I need an incentive. Don’t you need one?
What works well for me is having an important date to work towards like an event or agreeing to catch up with a friend that I have not seen for months. An even greater incentive would be to have a wedding to go to, like in 8 months I have to go to this wedding, and I have to fit into my dress. So?
I think it’s time to change the mindset and start a diet because I WANT TO, because I NEED IT, because I DECIDED TO and because I’m want to FEEL BETTER about myself.
I think it’s time to change the mindset and start dieting because I WANT TO, because I NEED IT, because I DECIDED TO and because I want to FEEL BETTER about myself. I understand that fat or thin, my friends and my family would love me, so if I want to lose weight is simply because I want it! Because I want to walk without getting tired, I want to wear heels without feeling my feet and calves killing me soooooo… this time I will start with a 30 days plank challenge.
Planks work most muscles of your body in only a few minutes a day; you just need a support mat and a lot of willpower.
- Strengthen your abdominals, back, and shoulders’ muscles
- Help you achieve higher balance and improve posture.
- Activate your metabolism
- Burn calories
- Tone your core area
Print your guide and mark your daily achievement.
Share your progress with us using #30daysplank in The Hunger Games Facebook Group.
Planks combined with a delicious meal plan and keeping this thought in mind “I’m going to do this for myself”. Will be my success factor. My motivation this time, is to do this just for myself because I want to and I can. My reward would be fitting into a pair of pants I bought 5 years ago but I’ve never worn. I don’t care if they are no longer in fashion I WANT TO PUT THEM ON AND THAT’S IT!
Do you have any clothes that you have stored and you want to fit into?
Share your WHY’s, motivation and your reward in our Facebook Group. I promise we support each other on this weight loss journey.
*A fast and easy Green Juice: watch me on our Youtube channel
JOIN the biggest craze and achieve your WEIGHT LOSS goals.
Kiss your muffin top goodbye, forever!
“The Hunger Games?” Group was a private group created by a bunch of friends to share recipes, exercise ideas and keep checking on each other on their weight loss journey. They knew their metabolisms and understood what exercises and meal plan worked with their bodies; they just needed to challenge each other, keep themselves accountable and share some inspo for a healthy meal.
Why the Hunger Games?
The name was just to joke on the mistaken idea that dieting means starving yourself, eating lettuce all day, trying to avoid temptations all day and living on one calorie a day. This is far from the truth. Dieting means eating smarter and healthier. You don't have to say goodbye to the things you love, just everything in moderation as you probably heard before.
Having a goal makes it easier
You'll also probably found that it is so easy to lose weight when you have a goal, I did it for my wedding day but after having my first baby there’s no goal-date to work towards, there’s no challenge, and it is easier to fall out the wagon.
Recently my aunt commented on how good I look on my Facebook profile (I've changed that one since), of course, that picture was from 5 years ago! I noticed how lately I don’t like to be photographed. Ever since my son turned one, I wanted to organise a family portrait but based on my photos with Santa I can’t do it. He’s almost two now. I need to lose weight before immortalizing myself in a photograph and exhibiting it on my walls. I'll make this one my goal and now that I share it with you, I have a responsibility to do it. See how it works?
Choose the fitness plan you prefer
My kitchen is full of books with healthy recipes; I probably read every book offering a diet program. You name it Dukan Diet, The Low-Carb, The CSIRO wellbeing diet, the Paleo diet and I have a couple of Women's Health special editions too. Those books are just gathering dust because I couldn’t find the support around me to follow through. I wanted to join a support group, but they all come with a MLM attached and no offence to anyone in the MLM industry, but I know myself, I know what works, I know what to do, I just need that little kick to get started and follow through.
Start today: there's no time for perfect and no perfect time to start
I also fret when an old friend asks me to catch up (don’t say school reunion please!) and for her to notice that I didn’t manage to lose the baby weight even though my baby is now a toddler.
Even comments like this one that I heard at the seal exhibit in the zoo: “This seal is a new mum. She’s no longer breastfeeding her bub, so we are reducing her calorie intake because there’s no reason for her to eat that much” gets me. If you were around me that day – I was the voice saying “I'm not taking that personally.". Of course, I didn't take it badly, but something clicked on me that day.
"Enough!" I said to myself, "something needs to change."
Accountability & Support to keep the commitment
I talked to my friends and proposed to do a new, bigger version of The Hunger Games? Dieting doesn’t mean starving Facebook Group. Reaching out to more women and support each other to achieve our goals of eating healthy and help each other out with meals ideas and fitness tips.
You probably already know how easy is to stay on track when you have support around you. I can also tell you all the pros of joining an online support group but why don’t you join “The Hunger Games?” Facebook group and find it by yourself.
You are at work and your boss sends you an email asking for something urgently. “I need this by yesterday” sort of email! Oh gosh no! You feel your energy levels dropping, your heart racing, and stress taking over. “Quick,” your body says, “give me something with sugar! I need quick energy for my fight or flight response!”. Or maybe there's no trigger but the habit of having the cheeky chocolate in the afternoon with a coffee.
No, you don't have to forget about your commitment to reducing your sugar intake. Here are five tips you could use to keep your cravings at bay at work!
Always have breakfast. Skipping breakfast will lower your blood sugar and makes you more vulnerable to sugar cravings. Try to have breakfast before going to work. Multi-grained cereals with almond milk or coconut milk chia pudding with berries are great options to start your day.
Make a conscious decision: remember you are reducing your sugar intake for your own good, take a step back and observe yourself. Why are you reaching for that Mars bar? Is it maybe to deal with stress? You don’t need it: take a break, focus on your breathing, go for a walk. Take a breather.
Pack your lunch and snacks to work: This will require a bit more of effort, but you thank yourself for it. Substitute the junk food with whole fruits such as apple, pear, and peaches. A salad is an easy and yummy option for lunch. Combine lettuce, capsicum, cucumber, and tomatoes and top it with a little olive oil dressing and tuna. YUM! But if you are anything like me and after one or two lunches you run out of ideas or can't get your head around the prep stuff, there are delivery options like Thr1ve, low-cost healthy options, they do all the thinking and you do all the healthy eating, including snacks. Check them out. Seriously, it's really good.
Avoid or limit the time you spend in the kitchen or break-out area of your office. Don’t hang out there! Instead, take your lunch and eat it outside at a park or if you can’t do that, eat it and then go for a walk. A bit of exercise and clean air will help you clear your mind too.
Find a buddy. Tell a colleague about your plan and help each other keep out the sugary snacks or junk food. You probably already know how easy is to stay on track when you have support around you. I can also tell you all the pros of joining an online support group but why don’t you join “The Hunger Games?” Facebook group and find it by yourself.
And for that cheeky chocolate! Substitute it with dark chocolate - 70% cocoa or up and limit to one square rather than the whole block and voila! There you go.
One more thing! Always read the labels; not all meals offered as “healthy”, really are. Sometimes they are full artificial sweeteners, read carefully!
Staying away from sugar may be a bit hard at the beginning, but you'll kick goals once it becomes a habit. Remember you can make this happen!
The 8th of March is the day that the world celebrates the achievement of women in social, political, cultural, economic areas. Women today can not only vote but be presidents or prime ministers, be icons like Malala Yousafzai, a prominent education activist and be in the military or police force. Women can pretty much follow any path they want to pursue without facing any discrimination. I wish this last statement were true. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that even though women had made a lot of progress to achieve gender equality, there’s a lot more to do.
Last year, after a rather tricky interview, the interviewer, a man in his 50’s with a high-power position, finished it by saying these words: “ask your husband if you should come and work for me.” My jaw dropped to the ground. No, I didn’t discover time travel: it wasn’t the 1960’s, this happened in Sydney, Australia in 2017. The interview wasn’t for a FIFO (fly in/fly out) position or for one dealing with high chemical waste which are the only instances that I think of it would be appropriate to ask someone to discuss with his/her partner if it’s good or not for the family to take a job. That is why I was as astonished as you are now. I left the building promising myself not to go back. I don’t have to ask anyone else but me if something is a good or bad decision, if I have permission or not to do something, it’s my life and I make my own choices. This incident made me think of another time, seven years earlier, when a well-known professor of a reputable business school made this woman in my classroom cried when he asked her: what are you doing here and not taking care of your children?
You would’ve thought that after many years of women fighting for better working rights, workplace gender equality, to end violence against women and girls, etc. things would’ve changed by now. The interviewer and professor remarks on gender generalisations and movements like #metoo, that started last year in Hollywood against sexual harassment, or #niunamenos (not one [woman] less) which began in Argentina against gender-based violence remind us that even though women had made a lot of progress, there is still a lot more to be done.
This is not a feminist post because I am far from being a feminist or an anti-man one because we all deserve respect. This is a post to encourage all, women and men, to join the #pressforprogress movement. I believe that we are the owners of our destiny, but we need to take responsibility. We need to know our self-worth and respect ourselves and each other. Speak up if something doesn’t look right and know when to walk out. Let’s aim that our children don’t have to start any movement against sexual harassment, violence, and discrimination because gender parity, equality, and justice have been achieved worldwide.