You incorporate sufficient amounts of protein and leafy green vegetables into your meals, take the supplements your acupuncturist recommended, and combine weight resistance with high-intensity interval training three times a week. Your friends compliment your sexy new figure as you confidently approach their table for Sunday brunch in your new skinny jeans.
And yet your weight loss isn't exactly where you want it to be.
If you're like most Americans these days, a tough economy means you're working more hours, freaking out about rising gas and food costs, trying to juggle too many tasks, and not sleeping as much or as fully as your body requires.
Let's be blunt: Even though you eat and exercise perfectly, stress can make you fat and stall your very best efforts for weight loss.
Despite implementing optimal foods, nutrients and exercise, many weight loss programs fail to integrate a mind-body approach that de-stresses your nervous system. Just like a three-legged chair won't hold you up, failing to address stress can derail your weight loss for the long haul.
A study in the International Journal of Obesity found two crucial habits of people who had successfully lost weight included eight hours of sleep every night and learning to reduce their stress levels. In other words, they knew how to relax and not let things get to them over which they had no control.
Whether you want to lose weight, boost your immune system, alleviate pain, or simply look and feel younger, relaxation is your prescription. Among the many benefits of relaxing include improved circulation that sends more blood to your heart, brain, and other important organs.
De-stressing requires time and focus. After all, you likely live in a fast-pace, high-speed world that negatively impacts your nervous system and allows you little time to slow down.
That "fast-faster" mentality increases stress hormones like cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels break down lean muscle, store fat around your middle, and all kinds of other ugly things you most certainly don't want for weight loss.
A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, for instance, found that increased cortisol levels increase your appetite and sugar cravings, leading to weight gain.
It's time to step off that roller coaster and create calm amidst the chaos.
I find meditation two or three times every week best quiets my mind and focuses my breathing. I also love jogging on the beach with my dog.
Numerous forms of yoga and other exercise also help my clients relax. Find what works for you and make it part of your life. Try a few classes, do some research, and make it fun.
Meditation is the perfect way to help your body relax. A study in the journal The Nurse Practitioner, for instance, concluded mindfulness meditation reduced stress and other medical as well as psychological issues for people living in inner cities, which typically have higher populations and a more stressful environment.
Maybe meditation isn't your cup of tea. Taking a long walk in nature or a spa day can also help you unwind and relax. Whatever method you choose, relaxation is like a domino effect: When your body relaxes, your muscles stop tensing, your adrenal glands make less stress hormones, your breathing deepens and slows down, and your mind better appreciates the moment.
If four weeks on a deserted Maui beach doesn't fit your schedule or budget, I've got the next best thing to de-stress and boost your weight loss. A key component in my acupuncture practice involves helping patients relax through a simple meditation. I'd like to share the three steps I provide to de-stress. No office visit required!
First, breathe through your nose and out your mouth, which increases your nitric oxide levels.
According to Dr. Memhet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen in You: Staying Young, nitric oxide detoxifies your body while helping you relax.
Inhaling through your nose also increases diaphragm breathing. In his recent book Use Your Brain to Change Your Age, Dr. Daniel Amen says deep diaphragm breathing accesses specific parts of your brain that modulate anxiety and motivation.
The second step involves relaxing your entire neck or softening your neck as in the Alexander Technique, a system that helps improve posture.
According to Kiiko Matsumoto, the vagus nerve, the body's longest cranial nerve that affects your facial expression, voice and digestive system can be access on your neck. And when you relax your neck, you can access and relax your nervous system.
For the third and final step, I want you to imagine lengthening your entire body from head to toe.
Here's what I want you to do. Imagine lengthening out through your fingertips all the way to the tips of your toes. The crown of your head as well as the tips of your fingers and toes have the most important acupuncture points for your body to simultaneously increase circulation and relax.
Then take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue to visualize relaxing your entire neck while lengthening out your body from head to toe, starting with the crown of your head and lengthening out the tips of your fingers and toes.
Take a deep breath in and out, which makes one cycle.
Do this cycle five times. You might use a timer instead of counting to help you relax while you focus on these powerful energetic areas of your body.
Incorporate these three simple steps daily in your weight loss program to relax your entire body from head to toe.
You'll be using a very important component of my acupuncture sessions that helps you de-stress to improve health, lose weight, and become your leanest, sexiest self. And I won't even send you a bill for my services.
Amen, D (2012). Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day. New York, NY: Crown Archetype.
Elder CR, et al. Impact of sleep, screen time, depression and stress on weight change in the intensive weight loss phase of the LIFE study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jan;36(1):86-92. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.60.
Epel E, et al. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001 Jan;26(1):37-49.
Matsumoto K, Euler D (2005). Kiiko Matsumoto's Clinical Strategies Vol. 1. Newton Highlands, MA: Kiiko Matsumoto International.
MF Roizen, M Oz. (2007). You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Roth B, et al. Mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction: experience with a bilingual inner-city program. Nurse Pract. 1997 Mar;22(3):150-2, 154, 157 passim.
For more by Grace Suh Coscia, L.Ac, Dipl.O.M., click here.
For more on stress, click here.