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The Silent Influencers of Weight Loss: Sleep, Exercise and Stress

We have been made aware, multiple times, that weight loss has a simple formula which can be represented as Calories Out - Calories In = Weight Loss. The greater the difference between the two, the faster the number on the scale falls down. You’ve got to expend more than what you put into the system.

The Silent Influencers of Weight Loss: Sleep, Exercise and Stress

However, like life, everything is not so simple. The human body ismagical in the way it manages itself. Now, back to when we had evolved to be bipeds, we had to wander and hunt to find food. At times, we, ourselves, were the food too. It was at these times, that the environment stressors released hormones to make us acutely aware of our surroundings. These environmental factors created stress.One of the side-effects of such stressors is to release the hormone called Cortisol – Cortisol signals the body to fuel up for the fight or flight situation – which means, the body craves for carbohydrates and calorie dense foods for a quick release of energy to be used at this time.

So, as physiologically tuned, when we are in a stressful situation we often reach out for foods that will give us energy – we consume this, but have no place to release this excess unnecessary packed on energy, leading us to pack on weight from the calories so taken in. 

Moreover, Cortisol, in combination with other hormones like insulin and NPY signals the body to redistribute fat from the other areas of the body to the belly .This is possibly because visceral fat is more easily converted to energy in comparison to fat from the thighs and the buttocks. In addition to this, reaching out for comfort food releases a stress coping hormone – dopamine. This hormone is effective in bringing the body back to homeostasis or the pre-stress state. Hence, this automatic craving or want for us to instinctively reach out to consume comfort foods is actually a stress-management tool. In an ideal world, we would not have to deal with any kind of stress – but in reality, Stress is very real and comes in various forms – emotional, financial, work-related …so on and so forth – so the magic for a balanced and healthy life now boils down to incorporating tools of coping mechanisms towards stress-management – it could be meditation, practicing gratefulness, mindfulness and an optimistic outlook. Choose one that works for you and move forward from there.

Exercise: Another important influencer towards weight loss is exercise. Another fact, exercise assists in increasing muscle tone. Muscle tone, just to exist, requires more energy ( read calories)- so, the more muscle you make, the faster your metabolism. Off course, it is also an increase in intensity of movement which translates to increased energy expenditure ( read calories out). But this is not all!

In addition to this, exercise also helps balance out the hormones in our body. It reduces the cortisol levels in the body caused by stress ( read stress-management tool) . Exercise also releases chemical messengers called myokines. These myokines are critical as they check and balance the harmful effects of excess fat. Visceral fat releases chemicals and proteins which cause which increase inflammation which is a pathway towards multiple diseases like diabetes, heart attack, stroke etc. Exercise, in specific, myokines – counteract these chemicals and hormones. However, to reap complete the benefits of exercise – you do need to reach a threshold level in both Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibres which can be achieved through a combination of aerobic and resistance training.

Additionally, focus needs to be applied on being active through the day. Getting up and moving, as often as you can,  helps in boosting metabolism. This is because when we sit down and are sedentary for over an hour, our muscles power down. They reduce the uptake of glucose and triglycerides out of our system. Agreed that exercising takes up a lot more energy, another fact is that, typically, we do not spend more than 5% of our day working out.

This means that the higher volume of the day will include lighter activities of daily living like running errands, using the restroom, getting up to go get something, using the stairs instead of the lift, parking the car a little further away to get a few more steps in etc. To keep the muscles powered up and the metabolism boosted through the day, it is imperative that an individual keeps moving through the day.

Sleep:  Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying! It is a fact that the body repairs itself during the sleep cycle. Studies have shown that when an individual sleeps for less than 7 hours a night, there is an increase in the levels of hunger hormone – ghrelin – at the same time, there is a dip in the level of the satiety hormone – leptin. This results in the brain getting the message that we are hungrier than what we actually are. And inspite of consuming a greater quantity of food, we do not feel satisfaction in its consumption. Hence, unknowingly we consume extra calories for the extra hours that we are awake. In addition to this, as per the circadian cycle, naturally our cortisol levels are highest in the morning – and they drop as the day progresses. However, for the people who function on less than 7 hours of sleep, there is a second spike in the cortisol levels in the afternoon. And we know exactly what cortisol does – it makes us crave calorie dense food as well as quick release carbs. Again, there is a rise in insulin levels which redistributes the fat in the body to be stored in the belly. So lack of sleep not only increases our calorie intake without us realising but also makes us store unwanted fat.

So, like I said at the beginning – the body is a magical tool which ensures survival of the individual as the primary goal. For it to function at its peak, not only do we need to give it quality fuel in terms of the food that we eat, but also allow it to rest and recover as per the natural cycles. This includes enough sleep, appropriate measures to manage stress and an optimum level of physical activity and exercise.

About The Author


An Army kid, I have lived across the length & breadth of the country and have finally grown my roots in Bengaluru. I have always had an active lifestyle competing in Equestr.. Read More..


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