Vertical sleeve gastrectomy can lower your weight, but it can’t lower the stress in your life. And when stress ratchets up, even the best gastric sleeve tool can’t fight the damage it does to your body. Why does stress have such a big impact on your weight? And is there anything you can do about it? Let’s take a closer look at an issue that affects us all.
Stress and Fat are Nature’s Perfect Pair
There’s a reason most people gain weight when they’re stressed; it’s what your body is designed to do. It made sense for our ancestors, whose stress came from things like fighting off wild animals. You’d need a snack, too, if you’d just spent an hour wrestling a sabre-tooth tiger. But today, when stress is mostly mental rather than physical, stress hormones still prompt you to eat like a caveman even if all you’ve been doing is worrying about paying the bills or fighting with a family member.
Hormones are one thing driving you to the fridge; psychological comfort is another. In my experience, the vast majority of VSG patients have a problem with comfort eating—a habit usually developed as a child or adolescent. Unfortunately, stress eating typically does soothe our anxious or troubled psyches. If you bring to mind your favorite comfort food, can’t you almost feel your worries melting away, even if it’s just for a minute? That’s what makes it such a hard habit to break. After all, it’s a lot easier to stop doing something that doesn’t work.
And then there’s the worst news of all: Sometimes you gain (or stop losing) when you’re stressed, despite not changing a thing about your gastric sleeve diet. Yep, Mother Nature strikes again. To help our ancestors who were chronically stressed—likely about a persistent lack of food and dangers from the natural world—our bodies developed the “ability” to store plenty of fat, mostly in our bellies, to keep us going. These days, that’s a very dangerous thing, though.
Fighting Weight Gain When You’re Stressed
It seems the deck is stacked against us, so is there any way for modern humans to overcome our bodies’ natural response to stress? Yes! As it turns out, there’s a lot we can do to combat stress-related weight gain.
- Move more. If it seems like exercise is the answer to everything, that’s because it is. I mean, our bodies store fat because early humans burned it off so quickly. Mimic those long-ago relatives by moving every chance you get. A strenuous workout is key, of course, but more movement outside the gym can make a huge difference. Instead of tuning out anxiety by sitting in front of a screen, find active ways to destress, like talking a long walk while listening to an audio book.
- Get your Zzzzzzs. Being sleep deprived is right up there with stress in terms of things that will mess up your weight loss. So prioritize sleep above just about everything else. If you’re losing sleep because you have too much to do, start delegating. Your spouse and kids can do more than you give them credit for, and hiring help with cooking and/or cleaning is a great investment in your health. If you’re sleep derived because you can’t fall or stay asleep, book an appointment with your physician to talk about sleep hygiene.
- Let it out. The things that are stressing you out become worse when you keep them inside. If you don’t have a therapist, get one. If you don’t have money for counseling, bend the ear of a compassionate friend. And if you just can’t talk to anyone about it, write it down. A journal is the cheapest therapy out there because the simple act of writing about your problems helps lighten your mental load.
Your VSG journey will be marked by periods of stress; that’s just how life works. But no matter what comes your way, take comfort in the knowledge that you can stay in control of your health.
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“Changing lives…one sleeve at a time”.