Guest Post: Relaxing into Life and Your Healthy Weight

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Marcs-headshot-200x300We are pleased to feature a guest post by founder of the Institute for Psychology of Eating, Marc David. Join the first global online Eating Psychology Conference Aug. 5-9 to hear Marc David interview Green Mountain co-owner and president, Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD on why dieting doesn’t work. Other featured interviews include Geneen Roth, Linda Bacon, Dr. Mark Hyman, and more.

Relaxing into Life and Your Healthy Weight by Marc David

I recently had a conversation with one of my clients who is trying to lose weight. She’s 56 years old, smart and professional – and she’s carrying around 25 extra pounds that just won’t budge no matter how hard she exercises or how little she eats. I asked her a very simple question: “Is there a time when weight loss comes naturally for you?” She thought for a moment then responded with a wholehearted, “Yes.”

It turns out that whenever she goes on a vacation for several weeks, she drops about 10 pounds without trying and without doing anything different other than relaxing more, having a few extra margaritas and enjoying food without counting calories. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? The key, of course, is not the margaritas – it’s the relaxation.

Many of us, in an effort to lose weight and feel healthy, try our best to control our diet. The challenge, though, is this: our best dietary efforts often generate stress, which goes hand-in-hand with increased appetite and extra weight.

Our best dietary efforts often generate stress, which goes hand-in-hand with increased appetite and extra weight.

Here’s an example. A common weight-loss strategy is to skip meals or to eat as little as possible, especially at breakfast or lunch. This sounds like a sensible strategy to the logical scientific mind (fewer calories supposedly means less weight), but as it turns out, nothing could be further from the metabolic truth.

In findings published in the journal Neuron in August 2011, researchers in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine found that when there’s not enough food, the body responds with a stress signal that temporarily causes a functional rewiring in the brain. This impairs our ability to regulate appetite and instead causes us to desperately want food. What’s fascinating is that these changes are driven not by the lack of nutrients, but by the stress that results from the absence of food.

Think of a time when you were dieting and skipping meals. It wasn’t easy, was it? For many people, the more we restrict our food intake, the more anxious we become, and the more stress response we create. Numerous studies have shown that the physiologic stress response, when present day in and day out, signals the body to produce more insulin and cortisol. These two hormones will signal the body to store fat and not build muscle. Notice that these are the exact opposite effects that dieters seek.

In addition, the hormone cortisol, when chronically elevated, desensitizes the body to pleasure. What this means is that the pleasure we would normally receive from a nice piece of chocolate cake is less available to us because of the physiologic stress response. We actually need to eat more of the cake in order to experience the amount of pleasure that allows us to feel fulfilled and complete. From here, it’s easy to conclude that there’s something wrong with us, or that we have little control over our appetite. In reality though, we are being biochemically driven to eat more because of stress physiology and the body’s demand that we store weight whenever it senses “famine conditions” – in this case, dieting.

We are being biochemically driven to eat more because of stress physiology and the body’s demand that we store weight whenever it senses “famine conditions” – in this case, dieting.

Consult any basic textbook in physiology and you’ll learn that the optimum state of digestion, assimilation and appetite regulation occurs during the relaxation response. In this physiologic state, our parasympathetic nervous system is well activated and our gut functions at its best. During the relaxation response we naturally breathe more deeply, blood flow to the digestive tract is at its apex, enzymatic output in the gut peaks, and the brain is at its fullest capacity to distinguish taste, pleasure, aroma, satisfaction and the visual aspects of a meal. All of these synergize to let the body-mind know that it’s time for the meal to end because our appetite has been satisfied.

Relaxation regulates our desire for food effortlessly.

At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, the practitioners we train have remarked time and again how their clients who previously struggled with appetite and weight had profound breakthroughs once they practiced the long-lost art and science of relaxed eating.

Here’s a simple technique: The next time you sit down to a meal, allow yourself to take five to 10 long, slow, deep breaths. Let your lungs fill naturally – don’t work too hard – and delight in the experience of breathing in beautiful vital oxygen. Deep breathing can shortcut the stress response in less than a minute and send the body into parasympathetic dominance (the physiologic relaxation response), which is exactly where every eater wants to be when it comes to regulating appetite and weight. Can you think of a simpler or easier nutritional strategy for losing those extra pounds?

Nature has a brilliant way of regulating metabolism. When it comes to optimum weight, we are designed to function best when we ease into life, into food, and find a relaxed place of nourishment.

The road to your healthy weight is to lead a life well lived. Could you think of a more wonderful path?



Marc David
is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom, The Slow Down Diet, and Mind Body Nutrition.  His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. The Institute for the Psychology of Eating is the world’s only teaching organization dedicated to a forward thinking, positive, holistic approach to nutritional psychology. IPE is unique and revolutionary in its approach – teaching students and professionals how to effectively work with the most common eating challenges of our times – in their internationally acclaimed Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training. Learn more here: http://psychologyofeating.com

2 Responses (Add Yours)

  • I know for my own fat loss, whenever I was stressed I tended to eat more, eat faster and craved junkier foods – all of which made losing fat impossible. Once I break that cycle and eat healthier and at a relaxed pace, I just naturally eat a less as well. I know stress is a major factor for me and fat loss.

  • Harriet Krivit says:

    “It turns out that whenever she goes on a vacation for several weeks, she drops about 10 pounds without trying and without doing anything different other than relaxing more, having a few extra margaritas and enjoying food without counting calories. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?”
    Ah yes, it does…me too, when I’m away from my home…but in MY home my subconscious rules and overpowers conscious intuition. I don’t diet and eat all foods…stress/no stress. Many years of fine therapy (including desperate hospital stays). My grazing/binge eating disorder sounds unusual but in the years when I had a home remission because of a very large ( hundreds and hundreds women available 24/7) online support group responses almost within the minute you pressed “send”. This was Rosie’s “Chub Club…no longer there.
    It would take something like AARP (theirs failed miserably) Blue Cross (who pays for WW, hospital and health club programs…but no…I’ve tried). Discussed this with MANY appropriate outlets. I often think of that moving vocal by Irene Cara of the original “Fame” film…”OUT THERE ON MY OWN”.

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