Two words I actually said out loud to myself after getting on the scale the other morning. And it brought me to tears.
You see, I have gained somewhere around 8 pounds since Nov. 2016. Might not seem like a lot but this isn’t about a number as much as it is about a feeling and a mindset. Mainly, a feeling of failure and a mindset of self-loathing. Here I am, an advocate of wellness and I somehow gained 8 pounds over the past 3 months.
But I didn’t get to February 2017 8 pounds heavier because I sat on my ass and ate everything in sight. Like I said, I’m a fitness minded gal. I exercise 5-6 days a week. I wear a FitBit and get close to my step goal each day. I eat clean 80% of the time and I’m a going back to school to be a nutritionist and personal trainer. I know better and I live better more often than not. To say this weight gain is frustrating and demoralizing is an understatement.
At first I thought it was the holidays and the busy-ness and stress of it all. Then, I thought it was age. Mid-40s and everything is slowing down, right? Or, it’s hormones. Or, dairy. Or, sugar. Or, a sluggish thyroid in need of a boost. You name it, Dr. Oz has had a show about it and I convinced myself THAT was my issue. Yet the pounds continued to creep on.
What I didn’t consider until recently is the mind-body connection. The more I study nutrition and wellness the more I believe this weight gain is mostly in my head. Well, it’s mostly on my ass – these 8 pounds aren’t imaginary. However, in the past few weeks I’ve started to believe in the concept that my THOUGHTS were, and are, the biggest contributor to my weight gain. My negative mindset, lack of confidence and harmful self-talk are a big reason why these pounds appeared and why they won’t budge. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the science and math. More calories in, fewer calories out = stored calories and fat.
But there’s more to it, so I started to dig in and read. I wanted to understand what power, if any, the mind has over our metabolism and physical body composition (I’m not crazy…stick with me on this).
Turns out it does. Significantly so. And, it’s not some new age hippie guru saying so, it’s the Mayo Clinic and researchers at Ohio State University. You can’t “think yourself skinny” but a negative mindset, anxiety, stress and depression can slow your metabolism and be a barrier to weight loss and/or maintenance. We all know that depression and stress can drive us to make terrible food choices that taste oh so good like fat, sugar, greasy fries, alcohol, etc. and those alone can pack on the pounds. But, the OSU study found women who experienced even just one stressful event the day before eating a carbohydrate and fat-filled meal actually metabolized the food less effectively. Say what?My friend and I can eat the same double cheeseburger meal but because I had a crappy day at work yesterday, I may be less efficient at metabolizing food? So, not only will stress and anxiety drive most of us to choose unhealthy foods or too much food, it can change the way we burn those calories. Super.
For the study, they worked with 58 women, whose average age was 53. They asked them if they had any stressful events the day before and then served them a meal that consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy — a total of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. Sounds amazing, right? After the meal, researchers measured metabolic rates, blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin and cortisol levels. Guess what – the women who said they had at least one or more significant stressful events the day before burned 104 fewer calories than women who did not report a stressful event.
Whoa…104 calories isn’t a small amount. For me, that’s an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill. Another 10 minutes of spin class. A half hour of yoga.
So, with this knowledge, I started to think about what has been stressful in my life since November. Um, how about being laid off from my job? Does that count?
I hate that phrase… laid off. Sounds sad even though it wasn’t…at all. It wasn’t the right job for me and I left on good terms. I was treated very fairly with a severance package and I still like most of the people I worked with. And, bonus, I had the holidays off to recharge a little and figure out what was next.
Sounds like a great situation, right? It wasn’t. For 20 years I’ve been extremely driven in my career. In a lot of ways, my identity was my current title or position. I love working. I like succeeding and climbing whatever ladder there was to climb at my current company. For the first time in two decades, I had no job-related responsibilities. I wasn’t being challenged, and I certainly wasn’t moving up any ladders. I was without a professional purpose and identity. Holy shit, that’s scary.
With that fear, doubt and some serious negative internal talk, came the pounds. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that my body was preparing for starvation…literally and figuratively…and hoarding every freakin calorie. Maybe it thought, “she’s never getting a job and we won’t have any food so we better stockpile now.” Or “Her mind may waste away, but let’s keep her waist growing!” I say these for comedic relief, but seriously – I think we THINK ourselves into gaining weight just as much as we eat our way there.
So here I am, three months unemployed and a little fearful about what lies ahead but I’m also really excited about some recent steps taken to develop a career and income stream in addition to what I “must” do to pay the bills. I’m aware of what stress and a negative mindset can do to my body and my overall health and, I’m taking action.
I re-committed myself to dealing with the stress and fear in healthy ways. I’m adding yoga back into my fitness routine and I’m monitoring my carbs down to the gram because that’s my go-to stress relief food. No more weekday wine. Limited sugar. And most importantly, I’m going to keep writing to get those negative thoughts out of my head in hopes that it helps someone else.
That’s the reason for writing this blog entry today. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me or my job situation or that I HAVE to wear leggings every day because my favorite jeans won’t button. I wrote this because I want you to know that even people who love fitness and eating healthy face these issues. So many people deal silently with anxiety or depression or stressful events.. Even the most mentally strong people have those awful internal thoughts. I just want you to know, I feel ya. I’m there. It sucks. But, you can get past it. Don’t keep in it. Don’t run to the pantry. Start speaking to yourself and about yourself in a positive way. It’s easy to go negative – just look at your Facebook newsfeed. It’s incredibly tough to speak positively about yourself, out loud. I’m trying to figure it out and as I find ways to do it, I will share with you. One of my favorite body-positive, life-positive people out there is Chalene Johnson. She’s a fitness instructor who I’ve been following for years and doing her workouts. She has a great podcast and web site with lots of resources. Check her out. She has some amazing ideas and she interviews incredible health and wellness experts on her podcasts.
I’ll leave you with this quote I found. I’m not sure if Gandhi really said this but it’s a powerful way to think about your mindset and how it manifests itself into your reality.
Thanks for listening…here’s to healthier, happier days ahead.