In the second blog of my weight loss series, I would like to present a perspective on “the right time” to start a diet. We usually set goals for ourselves, such as cutting down after the New Year, dieting for a friend’s party or wedding, and of course wanting to lose weight to be able show off our bodies on the beach during the summer.
In terms of weight loss, these are specific goals that can fail for many reasons, much of which I believe have to do with emotional stress. When we have stress in our lives, we are more prone to emotional eating to manage these unpleasant feelings. Before starting any diet, we need to assess our stress levels and learn ways of coping with it. Stress, in particular, can increase our cortisol levels, which over time can lead to weight gain.
How do we know that we are stressed out? Everybody experiences symptoms differently in the body, including the mind. We can feel moody, agitated, and get overwhelmed easily, sometimes by even trifle events in our lives. We often lack energy while at the same time our mind is spinning with racing thoughts. A can-do attitude seems to wash away and we end up procrastinating over many decisions and actions that should be carried out without too much ado. We tend toward pessimism rather than an optimistic attitude toward life. Our self-esteem often plummets and we can be plagued with a host of physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach problems, trouble sleeping, excessive sickness, body pains, nervousness, and attention/concentration problems. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve their stress. People can experience these symptoms in greater or lesser degrees.
Unless these varying levels of stress are under control, the chances of successful dieting are greatly diminished. We need to be mindful of our stress levels and the sources of stress in our lives, and root them out as much as possible. What changes can we make at work to feel more at ease? Is it time to change our jobs? Are there toxic relationships in our lives that can be weeded out? Work and toxicity in relationships are common sources of stress.
In some instances we can make changes in our lives and feel less stressed. There are also situations that may be harder to change and what works best is changing our attitude toward the stressful situation. Sometimes it comes down to putting the situation in perspective and recognizing that it is not so bad when we look at the big picture. We also have to assess whether we have over-reacted emotionally in a situation and work to reduce the stress it has caused. Sometimes this may involve a further step of making amends to those people who we struck out against.
Starting a diet can in and of itself can be stressful as we can feel deprived especially when just getting started. The key here is to find other ways to nourish ourselves and not making food our sole source of nourishment. We can nourish ourselves emotionally through gratifying relationships and sometimes just from a good book that has special meaning for us. Acknowledging and accepting any negative feelings along the way helps to reduce stress. Trying to push them away can make the situation worse. Finding spiritual sources of nourishment such as walks in nature can help to reduce stress along with exercise, but not over-exercise, which can in and of itself be stressful.
Working on managing stress when contemplating a diet even months before getting started can be a real boost and one that I wish would become a regular part of the conversation around dieting. The quick-fix mentality in and of itself has likely caused so much stress for people. It is time to step back and take a more long-range view, starting with reducing as many sources of life stress before considering real dietary and lifestyle changes in our lives.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” – Hippocrates