A few years ago when I was in the midst of a breakup, unemployed and simultaneously questioning my sexuality, I experienced some preeeeeeeeeeety bad anxiety. I would go to bed worrying about my relationship, my money, my health, my future, my career and I would even worry about the fact that I was worrying. The shit drove me crazy.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night in sweats, I’d toss and turn, and then wake up in the morning with this impeding feeling of doom that would literally consume me for the entire day.
I had developed GI issues and severe anxiety that created heart palpitations – I could literally feel my heart skipping beats. One time, after feeling my heart leap from my chest, I checked my heart rate in the shower at 140 beats per minute. That’s like a jog for me.
It wasn’t until I started my Reiki practice in 2009 that I learned that my anxiety was within my control. Meaning, most of my anxiety was self-manifested. My anxiety that I felt physically was based on my emotional reactions to situations. Once I learned that I did not have to feel anxious, my anxiety almost entirely went away.
And I was able to do this because I learned how to calm my body down which in turn, calmed my mind. During this time I suffered from severe digestive issues and learning to reduce my anxiety was the turning point for me in my healing process, even more so than my nutrition.
Even though this time of my life sucked like whoa, it taught me invaluable lessons about the human body and has provided me greater insight into the healing process, as well as the emotional aspects to weight loss.
Anxiety as an epidemic?
From my personal experiences, my experience as a coach, and just from being an observer of society, I’ve realized just how much anxiety afflicts our health and our culture. We all worry about things from time to time, however, I find that we tend to worry about things to the point where they become debilitating and counterproductive.
We worry about our jobs, our relationships, our financnes, our future, and our health. We worry so much about these things that they even start to affect our well-being. Since I’ve suffered from anxiety myself, I’ve experienced it’s ramifications. So, it’s easy for me to relate to my client’s who tend to worry as well.
According to the NIH, over 40 million Americans (1) are affected by some sort of anxiety related disorder. That’s a pretty significant number, and although there are varying degrees and sources of anxiety, it is safe to say that it is widespread issue in our culture.
Anxiety about Your Body and About Food
As women, I feel we are inherently more prone to worry than our male counterparts. I dunno what it is, maybe our DNA or our upbringing.
Regardless the reason, whether biological or metaphorical, I think we can all agree that women tend to worry more, and on top of all the every day things we have on our mind, we also tend to worry more about our weight and food.
This body anxiety is one of the biggest stressors I see in my client’s lives, and one of the main reasons why diets tend to fail – because they do not address this anxiety.
Over the last year of running the Lean Body Challenge, I’ve learned that teaching my clients to enjoy food and teaching them to release anxiety around food can be more important than what they actually eat. Thus, I’ve spent the last several months re-shifting the focus of the program towards releasing this anxiety than the actual food itself. And since doing so, my clients feel better and are better able to maintain their weight loss.
Aside from the weight loss and increase in energy, one of the biggest benefits of the program a client experiences is leaning to appreciate her body while developing a deeper relationship with food.
This is HUGE! What’s the point of losing 10 lbs. if you’re only going to be worried about losing another 10?
One of our May LBC participants, Megan, has gone through a huge transformation with this, and I’m so proud of her progress. Over the last 5 months of being on the program, one of the most notable transformations that she has experienced has been the development of a deeper and more appreciative relationship with her body:
“I love my body.” How often do we ever say those words to ourselves? This occurred to me while I was working out this morning, blasting my music in my apartment, and having a blast while doing it. We don’t say this enough in my opinion. – Megan A., 28
Anxiety and Weight Loss
It may seem a little far-fetched at first, but constant worrying can actually prevent you from losing weight. In order to understand this concept, we must understand how the body reacts hormonally to stress and anxiety.
When you are constantly worrying about something, your body undergoes a stress response, this is most commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. The worry, regardless of what it is you are worrying about, is a source of stress. And to your body, a stress, is a stress, is a stress.
Meaning, it doesn’t matter if you are running for your life or worrying about your job, your body reacts the same way.
During this “fight or flight” response, your body releases certain hormones to respond to this stress. The most notable of these hormones is cortisol, or what is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”.
The action of cortisol in your body is to prepare you to either face the danger (fight) or flee the danger (flight). It is a necessary response to our survivial, meaning cortisol is not bad. It often gets a bad rap, but it can actually save our life. For instance, if you need to get out of the way from a speeding car, cortisol gives you the juice to do so.
However, too much of this stuff, like what happenes when you are constantly worrying, and your body begins to break down muscle tissue and store fat. This is one of the effects of cortisol.
To break it down even more:
Anxiety = Stress = Too much cortisol = Fat Storage
Remember from previous posts, that a body under stress does not metabolize food the same way as a body free of stress.
When we can let go of our anxiety around food, and around our body, we will naturally lower our overall stress load. On a hormonal standpoint, this means our body can begin to heal and repair, a necessary component to lasting weight loss.
Close Your Windows
The underlying emotional stress and anxiety can be a silent enemy, because for the most part, you don’t even realize that it’s causing you harm.
Think about it this way:
Every thing that you are stressing about, whether that is your job, your relationship, or the parking ticket you have to pay, is the equivalent to a program being open on your computer. The more things you are worrying about, the more programs are open, and the slower your computer becomes. When you shut down some of these programs, or address your stressors, your computer, and your body begin to work more efficiently.
To add a further dimension to this concept, there may even be some stressors, or programs, that are running in the background, kinda the way your Norton Anti-Virus runs – it’s working and taking up juice from your computer, just as subconscious stressors are in your mind. It’s these programs that are running in the background that are keeping you in this “fight or flight” response, even if you don’t feel an immediate danger.
The question here, is to take an inventory in of your life, and find which programs you can close (deal with) to get your computer (body) to start functioning optimally. The more programs you close, the less stress you’ll have on your body, and the better your body will be able to lose weight.
A Quick Technique To Reduce Anxiety and Help You Lose Weight
When it comes to weight loss, food and exercise can only take people so far, and thus I’ve been fascinated by the role that stress, thoughts, and emotions play in the weight loss process. This has led me to study the work of the HeartMath Instiitute in Boulder Creek, California, and which has opened my eyes to the power our heart and emotions have over or physical body, which has in turn affected the way I coach clients through weight loss.
Through my research and self-experimentation, I’ve learned various techniques to help naturally reduce anxiety and stress. And seeing that most of my clients and friends, and even myself, deal with anxiety on a daily basis, I want to share with you a very simple technique developed by HearthMath that is designed to reduce your anxiety and bring your body back to coherence.
By reducing your anxiety, you reduce your overall stress load, which in turn helps your body lose weight naturally.
The technique is called Quick Coherence, and the idea is to bring your bodily rhythms, your heart rhythm, breathing and brain waves, back into sync. It is believed that anxiety causes these rhythms to fall out of sync, so bringing them back together can help reduce anxiety.
From the Heartmath Institute, the Quick Coherence Technique will help you:
- Reduce stress
- Feel calmer
- Become more in sync with your life
- Boost clarity
Quick Coherence Technique Step-by-Step (from the HeartMath Institue)
Step 1: Heart Focus
Focus your attention on the area around your heart, the area in the center of your chest. If you prefer, the first couple of times you try it, place your hand over the center of your chest to help keep your attention in the heart area.
Side notes: When you are feeling anxious, one of the first bodily signs you’ll feel is an increase in heart rate and nervousness. By focusing your attention to your heart, you can begin to bring your heart rate back down, thus reducing the anxiety.
Step 2: Heart Breathing.
Breathe deeply, but normally, and imagine that your breath is coming in and going out through your heart area. Continue breathing with ease until you find a natural inner rhythm that feels good to you.
Side note: By focusing on your breath, you bring your heart rhythm in sync with your respiration. This connects your mind and your body, and further reduces your anxiety.
Step 3: Heart Feeling.
As you maintain your heart focus and heart breathing, activate a positive feeling. Recall a positive feeling, a time when you felt good inside, and try to re-experience the feeling. One of the easiest ways to generate a positive, heart-based feeling is to remember a special place you’ve been to or the love you feel for a close friend or family member or treasured pet. This is the most important step.
Side note: Just the very act of thinking of something positive can help you feel better and bring your body into a calmer state.
How You Can Use This To Lose Weight
The Quick Coherence Technique was designed to bring you more in sync with your body and to reduce anxiety. Not only can you use this to naturally reduce anxiety, but you can also directly apply this to weight loss when you are feeling guilty or mad at yourself for not eating “100%”.
You know what I’m talking about, because I do it too sometimes – get so mad at ourselves for not being perfect, or being “on plan”. Just follow the same technique from above whenever you are thinking negative and poo-poo thoughts about your body. This will shift your focus from feeling negative thoughts about your body to thinking and feeling more positive ones.
Reduce Anxiety and Lose Weight
As we discussed in the How To Stop Running blog, one of the main aspects that we address in the Lean Body Challenge is the role stress plays in the body. What is important to understand about stress, and anxiety, is this:
A body under stress does not metabolize food the same way as a body free of stress.
A stressed body cannot metabolize food efficiently and thus a stressed body actually stores more fat and loses more muscle than a body free of stress. Don’t forget:
Anxiety = Stress = Too much cortisol = Fat Storage
And so worrying more, adds more stress to the body. Take away some of the stress, and you allow your body the ability to metabolize food more efficiently, thus leading to healthy weight loss.
Learning to reduce anxiety and stress is such an important aspect of losing weight that it is one of our four-pillars of the LBC: Feed, Rest, Move, Love
Each pillar is addressed in the program, and each pillar is a necessary component to overall health and healing.
These are the same principles that our participants learn during the Challenge, and the same ones that allow you to reduce anxiety, to lose weight, and to feel better.
It is possible to do. You can lose weight and feel better without worrying about your body and stressing about food.
And you know what? You don’t have to do it alone. I, we, are here to help. Over the last 10 months, we’ve built a strong, loyal, and supportive group online to help you change your body, and feel better in the process.
If any of this blog post resonated with you, please consider joining us for the next round of the Lean Body Challenge which starts on January 14, 2013. Join Megan and the other 70+ women who have participated in the Challenge and who now live a healthier, happier and more energetic life.
Space is limited, so if you’re ready for a change, now’s your chance. Get on the Early Bird List now to save $50 OFF enrollment.