Losing weight while you are stressed may be harder. Ironically, you may have to eat even less than a unstressed person to loose the same weight. Is it just calories in calories out? Well, it depends on your metabolism.
Here’s a particular client’s situation that will explain what I mean. She gave me permission to describe to you her struggle and how we approached it work toward success. This woman came to see me at the clinic for help to lose weight. She was having trouble maintaining weight, let alone losing it. In fact, she recently gained 20lbs. She is a VERY physically active, exercising five or more times a week, running and doing lots of hot yoga. She was unable to understand why she still gained weight. After our initial consultation it was clear that many different factors could be contributing to her weight gain. She is middle aged and is approaching menopause, and was on some medication for hyperthyroidism. Her endocrinologist indicated that her thyroid hormone levels were balanced now and not the primary cause of her weight gain. But here is how I assessed and treated her from a whole person point of view….
Aside from the hormonal factors that may be contributing to a slowing of her metabolism, it become clear to me that she was under a lot of chronic stress. Her career had her traveling all the time. And key to my work with her, she was possibly over-exercising. And the hot yoga, although can be therapeutic, was another example of her asking the body to adapt to extreme conditions. The intense heat, humidity and activity combination over many years, throughout the different seasons, may be extremely taxing on her body.
In traditional Chinese medical terms, my diagnosis was ‘yin deficiency’, which is a common menopausal condition, especially with over exercise and chronic exposure to heat . In more conventional scientific terms, this long term stressing of her body and mind in many ways were likely elevating her cortisol levels, and put her body into a default “survival” mode. This long-term “fight or flight” set-point of the body can slow a metabolism to make it more efficient, since it is in a survival mode. Also, in this conservative state, energy can be directed away from vital functions like fertility, digestion, immunity. Generally speaking, we don’t feel well if our cortisol levels are high.
So when I suggested that she cut back on the hot yoga and reduce the intensity and frequency of her exercise, at first that did not make sense to her. So I explained about how her base line metabolism may be shifted into survival mode due to all the stressors she was putting on herself over time. She wanted to know what she could do. I suggested walking instead of running and restorative or yin yoga instead of a hot and more active yoga. She gradually came to embrace this idea of balance and it’s impact on her metabolism. The last time I saw her she said she is learning how to be “lazy”. Quietness, resting, slowing down are essential restoration states necessary in the ebb and flow of a healthy life. We live in a society where we say “how are you doing?” and we can brag back by saying, “busy, busy, busy!”. It is less applauded to talk about what we are not doing, especially if we are not “retired” and/or wealthy.
As my client is losing some weight now, her focus comes away from how much fat she is burning in exercise and hot yoga, but more about achieving balance and mindfulness in her lifestyle and eating habits. She needs to eat to meet the demands of her body, regardless of her metabolism being fast or slow. We know diets don’t work to keep weight off, unless they become permanent lifestyle changes in how and what we eat, responding to our body’s needs. If we slow down the eating (and living) process to listen to our body telling us when we are hungry and when we have had enough, we may not need to count calories, would we?
Hopefully this can be a turning point for her. With acupuncture to help her relax, along with some coaching suggestions to foster a balanced approach to activity and leisure time, her metabolism will become more balanced, and her overall health will benefit. I think that she has taken the first major step. It may make the weight loss journey seem longer, but it has become more about a journey health than simply about losing weight.