Can you remember anything from that anatomy and physiology class you took years ago? Don’t worry, neither can I, except for this particular topic that happens to be quite relevant to the fixation on weight loss issue.
Any slight recollection of the lecture on the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) versus the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)? Here’s a little refresher on the scientific facts:
The PNS is the “rest and digest” system, responsible for controlling homeostasis, and restoring the body back to calmness so that it can relax and repair. The SNS is responsible for your “fight-or-flight” response (stress), which is what you would use to run away to safety when getting attacked by a dangerous person or wild animal. Think: racing heart rate, dilated pupils, shallow breathing, impaired digestion, contracted muscles. The SNS has to activate a part of the adrenal gland in order to properly function (can you say, “Adrenal Fatigue?”).
It is best to stay out of the SNS response as much as possible, as stress is really hard on our bodies. “Rest and digest” is always best, although, more often than not, anyone with even an underlying stressor is in “fight or flight” mode. Unfortunately, if you’re always stressed out and worried about your weight loss goals, you may be in “fight or flight” without even realizing it, and raised cortisol levels could be making it even harder to lose weight (just one more potential roadblock on your journey to weight loss).
When eating food, your body has to be ready to “rest and digest” in order to properly digest and metabolize your food. That makes sense, doesn’t it? So when you’re in “fight or “flight” while trying to eat dinner, your body cannot even do its job to distribute all the nutrients properly and metabolize the fuel you’re feeding it. This can be a huge issue for chronic dieters and people who are fixated on the scale. We cannot expect to lose body fat by being stressed out all the time over something as silly as a three-digit number.
Another thing to consider: By weighing yourself obsessively and following a strict diet in order to lose those pounds on the scale, you may be denying your body of its ability to automatically cue hunger or the opportunity to be in tune with what’s going on internally. I am all about “shred season” where you go all-in with clean eating and amp up your workouts so you can look great for your 7-day cruise, but I’m not okay with depriving myself to the point where all I can think about is how weak and hungry I am all the time. To go on some “6 Days to 6-Pounds Lighter Detox” plan is likely going to mess with your metabolism, confuse your body about how to cue hunger, and leave you ravenous (aka scare all your friends and family away because you’re “hangry” all the time).
Instead, consider this as an alternative:
You wake up, drink a warm cup of lemon water to rehydrate your body and flush the digestive system. You wait until you are physically hungry and ready to engage in eating, and once you notice your body’s hunger cues, you cook a hearty breakfast full of fresh ingredients, protein, fats, and carbohydrates to fuel yourself for the day. You mindfully munch on filling, healthy snacks between meals like hummus and veggies or fruit and nut butter, and only eat until you feel satisfied.
You may notice your satiation from a meal will happen even quicker than usual if you take the time to be present during your meal, steering away from distractions like the newspaper, your phone, work, or the television. Taking each bite with a sense of gratitude and noticing the unique flavors and textures you experience. This is a much different and more enjoyable experience than you’d have following some quick fix weight loss diet/detox plan, and it’s the kind of thing you can turn into a lifestyle rather than something you give up after a matter of days or weeks.
The more mindful you become through an experience such as what I just described, the less need you may feel for the scale. Instead, notice all the little things like the way your pants fit around your waist, and the lighter feeling of having improved digestion from slowed-down meals. Who has time to obsess over some numbers on a scale when you’re too busy enjoying your healthy meals and your newfound feeling of vitality and energy?
Here’s a great example of why fixating on your weight is pointless: If you are performing resistance training while trying to lose body fat (which you should be doing for a multitude of reasons), the scale does not mean a thing. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
What a lot of people (women in particular) who are trying to lose weight don’t seem to realize, understand, or really want to believe is that the more lean muscle you have (from resistance training + clean diet), the less body fat you will have. Let me explain in further detail: muscle is more compact and dense, so it takes up less space in your body than fat mass. This means there’s a good chance the more muscle you have, the higher your weight will be, even if you’re simultaneously losing fat.
I, personally, weighed a consistent 100-104 pounds from 14 years old until 18 years old (18 is when college started and when unlimited waffles and ice cream in the dining hall became a thing, plus insane amounts of stress). Fast forward a few years when I started lifting weights and eating healthy, and I became a consistent 107-110 pounds, with a lower body fat percentage than I had ever had when I was “skinny fat” (skinny but zero muscle tone) throughout high school. In the last year, while really upping my weight lifting game, I’ve gained another 7-10 pounds, weighing in around 115-118.
Real talk: Ok, so no, I don’t have visible abs at the moment (been having a few too many wine nights and possibly a few extra treats than I usually do), but my arms are toned, my back is the most ripped it’s ever been, and my butt that I once thought was destined to stay little and flat forever is now Kim Kardashian status (that might be a slight exaggeration… but you get the idea).
I digress, but if you’re someone that’s hung up on the scale because you want a toned physique, I encourage you to forget about your scale and focus on getting periodic body measurements done instead. And no, I don’t recommend including BMI, which is quick and easy but doesn’t take into account muscle mass. I prefer to track progress through tape measurements, and if you know a personal trainer who can properly perform a skin fold measurement, you can track body fat that way.
In the last part of this three-part series, we will dive even more so into what to focus on once you’re free from the scale, and how it feels to live a life free from guilt, obsession, or fixation over your weight.
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© Copyright Whatismyhealth, March 25th, 2017