Project Body Smart | Tired but wired: Why you can’t lose weight?


Tired but wired: Why you can’t lose weight?

Sarah Berry

Stress, tired, depressed, depression, anxious, anxiety, sad, unhappy, woman.
Stress factor … more to weight loss than eating and exercise, says  nutritionist.

Eating and exercise aren’t the only things that impact our weight and health.  Physical and emotional stress can also tip the balance of our nervous system and  our scales.

Take, for example, Susan a strikingly tall and physically beautiful woman,  whose nutrition was top notch and whose booze consumption wasn’t big.

But, she had started putting on weight and couldn’t understand why.

Slow down ... Dr Libby Weaver ties weight gain to stress.
Slow down … Dr Libby Weaver ties weight gain to stress.

So, she went to see dietition and biochemist, Dr Libby Weaver. Weaver herself  was stumped by Susan’s mysterious situation and fossicked for extra information.  But, Susan was adamant nothing in her life had changed to explain the weight  gain.

Except, that is, her intake of coffee.

She had gone from one a day to as many as four a day over a three to four  month period. “But, they are all black coffees, so there are no calories in  them,” she assured Weaver.

At this revelation, Weaver’s eyes lit up and when Susan saw the look on her  face she began to cry. “Please don’t take them away from me,” she begged.

Weaver didn’t take her coffee from her, she simply asked her to drop back to  one a day for one month and see what happened. “I did nothing else for this  woman,” Weaver said. “Not one other change to her dietary intake, and four weeks  later, she burst through my door telling me she had lost four kilos in four  weeks.”

The reason was simple, Weaver explains in her book Rushing Woman’s  Syndrome and it had nothing to do with a reduction of calories.

“When you consume caffeine, it sends a message to the pituitary gland in your  brain that it needs to send a message to your adrenal glands to make adrenalin  … [and] get you out of danger that doesn’t actually exist …

“When adrenalin is released, your blood sugar elevates to provide you with  more energy, your blood pressure and pulse rate rise to provide more oxygen to  the muscles, which tense in preparation for action [the fight or flight  response] … you make insulin to deal with that elevation in blood sugar. And  insulin is one of our primary fat storage hormones …

“This biochemical state can either lead you to slenderness [often at the  expense of your nervous system health] or fat storage, because insulin … will  firstly convert unused glucose from from your blood into glycogen and store it  in your muscles and what is left over will be converted into body fat.”

The biochemical dance produced by chronic stress, along with its emotional  and physical impact, is what Weaver explains in Rushing Woman’s  Syndrome.

“We’re tired, but wired,” she says. “So many of the women [I saw] kept  talking about being so exhausted or so busy or so stressed. I talk to a biased  group of the population. But, I kept hearing the same issues arising – about  menstruation, digestion, sleep and the ability to remain calm and patient and  kind … I kept hearing the word ‘pressure.'”

In our information-saturated society, Weaver doesn’t believe it is a lack of  knowledge that causes people to be overweight or unhealthy, rather this sense of  emotional ‘pressure’ can lead us to make poor choices.

“”I was at uni for 14 years,” she says. “But, then when you go and work in  the real world, you learn very quickly that often what you thought is not  practical … The whole idea that you could just tell some one how to eat and  they’d do it … it’s not a lack of knowledge that leads someone to polish off a  packet of chocolate biscuits after dinner … of course people need great info,  they need accurate info, they need an idea around what’s the right thing to  nourish their own body …but, they also need to understand what drives their  behaviour…So my work brings together the biochemistry and the emotional  [factors].”

While the cause of many weight and health problems are often biochemical and  emotional, she says that stress compounds both. For when we are stressed  emotionally for an extended period, our biochemistry changes and cortisol kicks  in.

“Cortisol traditionally kicked in when we had to deal with chronic stress –  famine, wars and floods,” Weaver explains. “When there was no food, it slowed  the metabolism down. It thinks it’s doing the body a big favour.”

“[But] if cortisol tells every cell of your body that food is scarce, and  your metabolism slows down as a result, and you continue to eat and exercise in  the same way you always have, your clothes will slowly get tighter. It doesn’t  matter how amazingly you eat … it is very difficult, if not impossible, to  decrease body fat until the cortisol issue is resolved.”

This can help to explain why intense exercise and curbing calories can be  counter-productive in times of stress and why weight-loss doesn’t just come down  to the calories we consume.

It is also the reason that Weaver believes we need to bring the body back  into balance first by addressing our stress issues before our weight issues.  “Most people believe that in order to become healthy, they must lose some  weight. I believe the opposite is true; in order to lose weight, we must become  healthy,” she says.

“Once the body is better balanced and healthier, body fat is readily burnt.”

Weaver’s tips for bringing the body back into biochemical balance:


  • Eat real, whole food. “Amp up your greens.”
  • Invest in your adrenal glands (yoga, tai chi, meditation etcetera).
  • If you can’t get away from your desk, schedule a reminder on your computer  to stop and take 20 long, slow breaths into the diaphram.
  • Be honest about how caffeine and alcohol are affecting you. “We know in  ourselves [whether we’re consuming too much].”
  • Schedule downtime. “Rest and recreation, are as important as work.”
  • Don’t compromise your sleep.
  • Take time just being grateful “[Many people] are losing the ablity to see  how privileged they are.”
  • Start to understand what drives your behaviour. “[For many, food is their]  pleasure [but, they are eating to] avoid feeling emotional  pain.”


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