The Holistic Approach to Weight Loss
There is more to weight loss than eating healthier foods, eating less calories, and exercising more. I think so many times, people get caught up in the mindset “I have to lose weight, so I’ll just go on a diet and go to the gym every day and that will do it”. Yes, I think making healthy, positive changes will benefit you from a weight loss standpoint and overall health standpoint. However, changing your eating and increasing exercise will not always lead to sustainable weight loss.
If you can think about your weight as a pie chart and each slice of the pie represents a variable that is affecting your weight. Two of those variables would obviously be calories in (diet) and calories out (exercise). But that leaves us with numerous other variables that we are not taking into account in our weight loss journey (and are often overlooked by most trying to lose weight). Things like stress levels, work-life balance (aka our job), personal relationships (our family & friends), our quality of food, and our quality of sleep all affect our body’s ability to process the food we eat and ultimately affect our weight loss attempts. Let’s take a deeper look at a few of these variables that affect weight loss.
Stress is all around us and is, unavoidable. But how we manage our stress and how it affect us is going to influence our health and wellness. I have seen firsthand in my own life how stress levels not only affected my weight, but they affected my mental health (i.e. increased depression) and my relationships (I’ll let you guess – it wasn’t in a positive way). We all have day-to-day stress: a deadline at work, getting caught in traffic on our way to a meeting, getting a bill in the mail that is incorrect but now you have to call the insurance company and be on hold and waste all kinds of time! Am I right? Those are typically stressors that come and go and are not going to hang around long – unless we let them ruin our day, which is a whole other story! But then you have stress that is constant which can really wreak havoc on your body and mind. My example combines chronic stress with a less than ideal job. Eight months of a job with crazy hours, even more crazy demands, a boss that closely resembles the devil himself and you have a recipe for extremely poor health. I made poor food choices because I was unhappy, I didn’t make time for exercise because I no longer enjoyed it (again because I was unhappy), and I lost weight (mainly muscle mass). I was the epitome of unhealthy. On the outside I looked normal – and I’m sure I appeared healthy to most. But mentally I was a disaster. I cried almost daily, my performance (and attitude) at work sucked, and I almost lost the love of my life. And if you could get a visual of the inside of your body – not in a disgusting way, but to see the health of your tissues and organs and those things – I guarantee I would’ve been as unhealthy as a 30 year smoker! The point is: sometimes we don’t see the effects of stress on our bodies, on our minds, on our relationships, but the effects are REAL and they are NEGATIVE. If you are someone who deals with daily stressors that are negatively impacting your health, I encourage you to find an outlet, a way to de-stress that helps put yourself in a healthier, more positive place. Things like yoga and meditation are legit. They really do help to calm your central nervous system and remove all those nasty hormones that are just having a field day with your insides. But other things like exercise, reading a gossip magazine, taking a hot bath, or just closing your eyes in a quiet space and breathing can provide you the balance you need to combat your stressors.
Another important variable is your duration and quality of sleep. Our bodies do all their healing, rejuvenating and muscle rebuilding while we sleep. If we are constantly waking up, which is disrupting our sleep cycle, or we are not getting enough sleep (the recommendation is >8 hours), it can be the limiting factor in our weight loss attempts. Think about it: we put our body through a lot in the course of a day (digestion, breathing and pumping blood alone are hard work), especially if we are exercising and under a lot of stress. If we do not allow our body proper time for healing by getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, we’ve got another recipe for poor health and unsuccessful weight loss. Multiple that by 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year and we’ve got some really unhealthy, TIRED zombies out there!
I hope you are starting to see the big picture – our health overall is like a puzzle with lots of different pieces. When you are missing some pieces, you can’t be at your optimal health. And you certainly may not be able to successfully lose weight and keep it off. The hard part is when you are trying to achieve a goal weight, you put blinders on and all you can see is the finish line. You know you have to change your eating habits and increase exercise in order to get to that finish line. But if you could take the blinders off and see the world around you, you might see that there are other variables that need to be addressed or they become a hurdle in your road to the finish line. Take some time to look at your mental health, your happiness, your every day stressors, your relationships, and your work-life balance. Try to move those hurdles out of the way as you work towards that finish line. Keep in mind that weight is only a small part of your overall health. Instead of just trying to achieve a healthy weight, try to achieve a healthy life! Because even if you can achieve your goal weight, if you’re stressed out, over-tired, and unhappy, how are you going to enjoy it?
Ciara Csanadi House, MS, RD, LDN