Can't get a handle on your nerves? It could be sabotaging your healthy eating efforts. Here's how chill so you can finally lose that pesky belly fat.
So stressed you could scream? It's time to take a chill pill, guys! Not only will getting a handle on your stress help you feel better, it will help you look better, too. As it turns out, being under constant tension could be negating all the health and weight loss benefits of your healthy eating plan, according to a study recently published in Molecular Psychiatry.
To come to this finding, Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, who heads up the Institute for Behavioral Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, evaluated 58 women who ate meals with either saturated fat or better-for-you sunflower oil. She then measured levels of inflammation (a chronic condition that can cause weight gain) and markers that predict the likelihood of arterial plaque. Overall, those who ate meals rich in saturated fats were more likely than their counterparts to have markers for inflammation and clogged arteries. However, after controlling for other factors, she found that subjects who ate the healthier fat but reported being under major stress, showed similar results to those who ate the less healthy meals. According to Kiecolt-Glaser, this study is the first to show that stress has the power to cancel out the benefits of choosing healthy fats. Scary stuff!
Is this a go-ahead to eat whatever you want when you are under duress? Not quite. It does, however, highlight the importance of stress management—not only for the sake of your mental health—but for your waistline, too. If you're not sure how to best unwind so all of your healthy eating efforts don't go to waste, we've got you covered. Read on to find out the very best way to get your zen on—and don't miss these 22 Best and Worst Foods for Stress so you can double down on your destressing strategy and keep those pesky pounds away for good.
Just Breathe —Literally
Next time it feels like you just can't deal with your nightmare of a boss anymore, find a quiet place to sit comfortably and breathe for three to five minutes, suggests Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight. "Think of yourself as an unbiased observer to the natural process of the breath. Try not to change or regulate the breath but instead notice all the textures and qualities and at the same time try not to judge or put any positive or negative context to what you are experiencing," says Cruikshank. It may not seem like a simple exercise like this can do much to help, but it's super simple so it's 100 percent worth a shot. And how relaxed it leaves you feeling may just shock you.
Nix Sugar & Caffeine
You may love your daily sweetened coffee, but caffeine and sugar are both stimulants that give us a false sense of energy, leaving us more exhausted and frazzled than we were before we indulged. You don't have to quit them cold turkey—cutting back can be favorable, too. "For stress and anxiety, having a stable blood sugar level and cortisol rhythm is key, and sugar and caffeine will throw off both of those," Cruikshank said. For alternative ways to boost your energy, don't miss these 23 Best Foods for Energy.
Pop Some Fish Oil
Psychological stress has repeatedly been shown to increase blood levels of cytokines, small proteins released by cells that cause inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other age-related debilitating diseases. Thankfully there's an easy way to fight back: pop a fish oil pill. These heart-healthy supplements can reduce inflammation and anxiety, Kiecolt-Glaser found in a 2011 study of 68 medical students, decreasing levels of cytokines. To discover more simple ways to aid your weight loss efforts don't miss these 16 Secret Weight Loss Weapons.
Hit the Brakes
It's been proven that multitasking is actually a myth, meaning our brains aren't particularly good at doing multiple tasks simultaneously. Our focus at any given second should only be on one thing. Going back and forth will just make you feel stressed and scattered, explains Dr. Shoshana Bennett, a California-based clinical psychologist. "When you absolutely must hold the baby, call work, and make dinner simultaneously, move slower, not quicker," she advises. "It will feel counter-intuitive at first, but give it a try and you'll see. You won't lose productivity—quite the contrary—you'll accomplish the tasks at least as quickly and will keep your head on straight in the process."
When weight loss is the goal, you should always aim to use the power of nutrition to your advantage. Lots of supermarket staples—like these 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods—are natural inflammation fighters. Raw oats with blueberries and a cup of green tea with ginger could be that perfect breakfast to help your body battle inflammation, decreasing the waist-widening effects of stress. Other foods that have been known to fight inflammation include Kamut, chia seeds, and apples.
Whatever type of meal you sit down to enjoy, make sure you take the time to eat mindfully. "If you only have 15 minutes for lunch, don't try and stuff five food items down in that period. Eat two of them slowly, taking your time," Bennett said. "Save the rest for a snack a few hours later, again sitting and chewing slowly." Sipping something hot (like decaffeinated tea or hot water with lemon) can help ease your nerves, too. We've got more tips in our report, 8 Easy Ways to Eat Mindfully.
Reading is a great way to destress because it gets you in the zen zone quickly. A 2009 study out of the University of Sussex found that reading for just six minutes daily could lower your stress level by more than two-thirds. Consider a book-of-the-month subscription service if you don't have time to browse shelves for new material, or pick up one of the 12 Best Cookbooks for Clean Eating.
Listen to Music
Listening to music can also be an effective way to reduce stress levels. In most cases, once you hit the chorus of your favorite song, you're focused more on that than what's got you feeling drained.
Talking a walk during the workday or enjoying a weekend CrossFit session are both great ways to improve your fitness level, body mass index, and cardiovascular and muscular health. Breaking a sweat is also a proven way to relieve stress and depression while boosting cognitive function, the American Psychological Association reports. No time to get to the gym? Try one of these 31 Sneaky Ways to Work Out—Without Hitting the Gym to sweat away your stress.
Destress—Even When You Feel Fine
Sure, there are many activities that can help you ward off stress, but improving your time management skills, learning to say "no" to invitations, and finding better coping mechanisms can be effective ways to relax, too, says Dr. Phillip J. Brantley, the associate executive director for scientific education at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Make sure to practice these skills during non-stressful times so you're stronger when you're in crisis mode. "Anything that can get one's mind off their cares and promote deactivation of the body's nervous system can destress an individual," he tells us.