“Look, Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.” [2001: A Space Odyssey] - Sir Arthur C. Clarke [photo courtesy of FilmReference.com]
When it comes to losing weight, managing stress over the last several months has been my biggest challenge. While I’m still ahead of the game at 26 lbs for the year, my recent progress has really slowed. (You can read more about my progress in my most recent status report, “Forget Lassie - Simple Carbs are Man’s Best Friend“.)
While it is certainly true that daily stress might be more manageable if I were exercising regularly (without question), here’s the problem: So far I haven’t been able to find the motivation that gets me out in the cold and rain of a wet Oregon spring. I am eating well, and I think those habits that I’ve been working on have really paid off in the sense that I’m still losing weight slowly. However, until I get a better handle on the pressures of my current situation and make room for regular exercise, I don’t expect that my weight loss will be accelerated further than it’s current rate. I am certainly not giving up on finding a way out of my front door to go for a run; however, some bigger changes might be in order.
In doing some reading about the effects of stress, it’s clear that beyond inhibiting weight loss, prolonged stress can have real physical consequences. In Dr. Will Clower’s recent book, The French Don’t Diet Plan: 10 Simple Steps to Stay Thin for Life, he addresses some of the characteristics of a body under stress, particularly as they relate to the overproduction of cortisol.
Here’s a summary of some of the common effects:
Muscles: Blood sugar levels stay at higher than normal levels, which ultimately leads the body to break down muscle tissue in a search for more energy.
Immune system: Antibody levels decrease, T-cell response to infection is reduced, and white blood cell count is negatively impacted. Common sense says that if you are stressed for longer periods of time, you are more susceptible to illness. Science agrees.
Bones: Calcium levels in bones drop over prolonged periods, and the ability for the body to absorb additional calcium is reduced.
Heart: Basic heart performance appears to be reduced by the overproduction of cortisol as a result of prolonged stress; arteries are also negatively impacted in their ability to perform properly. The ratio of sodium to potassium begins to weigh in favor of sodium, which is thought to lead to high blood pressure.
Central nervous system: Neurological hampering begins, with side effects that often include insomnia and depression. Migraine sufferers can move from an occasional migraine to chronic. Prolonged stress also increases muscle tension (this again is common sense), which increases fatigue, which in turn requires your body to seek out more resources for energy. Of great interest is recent research that links excessive stress to creating eating disorders.
Weight: Hormones responsible for cravings to eat more are produced (presumably in its search for more energy), but the focus of the expenditure of that energy is typically in your extremities. Your digestive tract is the victim in this case, which may partially explain why ulcers were thought to be stress related. Essentially, you eat more but get less nourishment. What’s more, in recent studies it has been shown that stress hormones contribute to storing fat in your midsection, which is linked to higher risks for certain cancers and heart disease.
Habits: Eating faster, eating more, making poor food choices, and eating out of necessity rather than pleasure become commonplace. We wind up treating food like gasoline - cheap and convenient, with the stopover to acquire it reduced to a mild inconvenience. Eating should be more than just a mild inconvenience.
Need I say more?
In our culture, we have been trained to look for solutions in the form of a product or a packaged plan. We are told that if we just wait long enough, we’ll soon have a miracle pill that will cure all that ails us. It could happen; certainly we are farther along that road than we were when Sir Arthur C. Clark wrote the words in the opening quote for this article. Sometimes, however, the answer is right in front of us, without a shipping and handling surcharge, or a computer trying to lock us out of the vehicle.
I am taking this week off work, hoping to recharge, catch up on rest, spend time with my wife and children, and reconnect with friends and compadres in the blogosphere. By the end of the week I expect to know what the next week will look like, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess, and I’m OK with that.
If you can't bring yourself to go out when the weather isn't good a mini-trampoline is a good alternative. You can use it while you watch television and it's a good way to get the kids to exercise as well.
Keep the faith. It's a lifelong journey to good health and you're right, there are no quick fixes. I beat bad weather with my eliptical machine - pricey, but well worth it. Check Sam's or Costco for bargains!
@Mary Ann: That is a great suggestion. I will have to check into that, and I know that our almost 4 year old would LOVE it. Thanks!
@Lela: Thank you for the encouragement - I was able to get out on Wednesday morning for a walk, which is a step in the right direction. I will have to do some research on elliptical machines - I've never actually used one, but lots of folks swear by them.
Do you have a gym membership? I know it's a bummer to go out into the rain either way, but at least in a gym you've got a big roof over your head and plenty of equipment to get in a great workout. And, at least in my neck of the woods, it seems like the price of gym memberships are getting lower and lower.
You might also consider purchasing a Wii, if you don't already have one, and WiiFit. I swear by that "video game" lately. It really makes you work up a sweat and helps keep you on track and measure your progress. Plus, other adventure games (like Zelda, Harry Potter, etc.) on the Wii are actually great for an arm workout and a lot of fun!
@Kristen: -- I REALLY want a Wii Fit, but I'm having a hard time justifying it ;) -- on the gym membership, I don't have one. For me I am not really a "gym person" in my estimation, but at the same time, maybe I need to just get over it. :)