I’ve shared a lot of weight loss tips on this site. I’ve talked about what I eat (everything from cat food to erotic baked goods.) and how much I exercise and how I keep my spirits high. But I have been holding back one piece of weight loss advice that a recent article hit on: I lead a low-stress life.
In a recent study, scientists got their kicks by stressing out mice and feeding them junk food. The gobbledy-gook science talk summary is here and an article that explains what it means without having to cite 12 authors is here. As Dean Ornish explains it:
Chronic stress alone didn’t have much effect on weight gain in only two weeks, nor did a high-fat, high-sugar diet. However, combining both together was especially toxic and markedly increased abdominal fat deposits in only two weeks.
Over a longer period of time—three months—the high-fat, high-sugar diet caused obesity, but the amount of weight gain increased three-fold when this same diet was given to mice who were also put under chronic stress. It also caused metabolic syndrome (glucose intolerance that can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and inflammation).
When the researchers blocked the effects of neuropeptide Y, it reduced stress-induced visceral (belly) fat by 50 percent “without any discernible effect on food intake, which remained as increased as it was” according to the investigators.
In other words, they ate the same amount of food, didn’t exercise more, yet their belly fat decreased by half when the effects of neuropeptide Y were blocked. This is amazing stuff.
I doubt anyone will be terribly shocked by the results of this study, but it is nice that you can now site a medical journal if someone gets on your case for gaining five pounds during finals week. Who hasn’t noticed friends or family members who’ve gained weight under times of stress? In contrast, I work a 40 hour week at a fairly low-pressure job. I’m a web developer, so I sit at a computer most of the day designing web sites, slicing them up, programming applications and listening to lots of Internet radio. When the server crashes, I’m not the one who has to fix it. When the phone rings, I’m not the one who has to talk to the customers. I don’t even have to feed the fish in the aquarium. It’s been great for my mental health and I suspect it’s been good for my weight loss as well. I’ve never been thinner and my knowledge of indie music has never been better.
A similar theme emerged when I watched a British TV special recently called The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. The host, Stephen Fry, interviewed several people living with manic-depression who had sought different ways to manage the disease from lithium to electric-shock therapy. One woman had chosen not to take medication but managed the disease by eating healthy, taking Omega-3 supplements, exercising regularly and quitting her high-stress job as a neuro-surgeon to work part-time as a general practitioner. When I saw her segment I thought, “Well, that doesn’t just keep you sane, it’s a good way to lose weight too.” I think leading a healthy, low-stress life is the best way to prevent a lot of diseases, be it a manic episode, heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Granted, you don’t have total control over the stress in your life. Even the most careful planning can’t prevent loved ones from dying or companies from being downsized. Things could all go to hell in the Middle East and we could be living in an apocalyptic wasteland in 10 years. Everyone has to deal with some stress and some people are just born into more stressful situations than others be it because of money, race or gender. And despite all that, it’s still possible that you could eliminate all the stress from your life and still be fat. But I think managing the stress that you can control is very helpful element in a long-term weight loss plan. And it’s hard to do of course, just like saying “eat less, move more” sounds so very simple but is very hard to pull off. Sometimes stress doesn’t care if you want it to move out of your life, it will just kick down the door and eat your face anyway.
But if someone is really serious about losing weight, they might want to see how they can cut stress out of their lives. Depending on how serious you are, you might even want to find a new job. Maybe that sounds extreme, but there are people who move to different parts of town so their kids will go to better schools. Should it really be considered extreme to rearrange parts of your life so you can live as healthy a lifestyle as possible? I always talk about how I am not on a diet but that I’ve changed my lifestyle. The stress caused by your job, family, and life is certainly part of your lifestyle. Thus it’s fair game for change. I know some people really thrive on high-stress, high-stakes jobs, which make them feel alive. Or they really want to get ahead in their jobs and need to put lots of hours in. I think that’s fine, but if you make that choice you might just have to accept that the cost of living a high-stress lifestyle is that it could make you fatter. Those are just the benefit/cost decisions everyone has to make in life.
Oops! This got posted early (before I had edited it) because I didn’t understand what the “Scheduled Entry” feature of my blogging software actually did. All fixed and live again now. Sorry for the weirdness.