Did you know the way we think about food has the power to hurt or heal our hearts? Studies show that limiting what we eat out of fear, even with a goal of weight loss, can significantly increase our stress levels. Emotions, specifically hormones, play a large role in our behavior and states of mind in everyday life, and they can have a major impact on our overall health.
Let’s talk about cortisol. I like to imagine “Mr. Cortisol” as a “fun sponge” that likes to rain on all of our health parades. Cortisol is most commonly known as the “stress hormone” in the body that can contribute to many chronic conditions when elevated for a long period of time by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation in the body. These can all increase our risk for heart disease!
Things that can contribute to an increase in cortisol:
- Weight cycling (losing and gaining weight repeatedly)
- Long-term dieting/calorie or food restriction
- Over-exercise or doing exercise you don’t enjoy
- Not getting enough sleep
- Lack of coping skills or support with life stressors
What we can do to decrease our cortisol levels:
- Pursue healthy behaviors and let your weight normalize slowly.
- Eat when you’re subtly hungry and stop when you’re subtly full.
- Take rest days when your body tells you it needs them. Or take a mindful walk!
- Commit to turning the TV and phone off and going to bed around the same time each night.
- Take up journaling, meditation/prayer, reading, knitting, or painting. You can also join a supportive community such as a yoga class, book club, or simply have lunch with a friend.
The “life of the party” hormones are called endorphins. They are involved in our brain’s “reward system” for eating, drinking, movement, and having fun! They help reduce stress or anxiety, boost our self-esteem, and improve health outcomes. Activities that will trigger the release of endorphins include:
- Listening to music.
- Group exercise classes or other forms of movement you enjoy.
- Eat foods that you crave! (Pro tip: Eat mindfully and focus on when you feel satisfied.) Let’s keep the joy in eating.
- Spending time with loved ones. Laughing and connection are great for the soul.
- Engaging in self-care. Sometimes that looks like having ice cream when you’re sad or choosing nutrient-dense home cooking after a weekend of eating out.
When it comes to self-care, we are our own experts. We must honor our feelings, use healthy coping, and have a healthy relationship with food and movement. Our hearts will thank us for it!