The Relationship Between Stress and Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, should you care about stress? You may think that dealing with weight loss is stressful enough.  But it turns out that there is a strong connection between stress and weight loss. Taking care of stress can provide a big boost to your efforts to lose weight.

There are two main ways that stress adds to the difficulty losing weight.  These are : 1) food cravings, and 2) changes in the body’s metabolism.

Stress and Food Cravings

Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. Our ancestors needed it in “fight or flight” situations since it provides a quick burst of energy, a higher tolerance to pain, and other things to help get us out of danger.

Stress is also linked to food cravings.     With higher levels of cortisol, often people will feel cravings for salty, sweet, or high-carbohydrate foods. This may have served our ancestors who needed to eat more to prepare for danger ahead.  But today, these same cravings cause weight gain, especially with more sedentary lifestyles.

Stress and Metabolism

Cortisol helps the body deal with physical stress by tapping into energy stored as fat.  In response to stress, it moves fat from around the body to the abdominal area.  Study after study confirms that long periods of stress are linked to increased abdominal fat, even in those who are otherwise thin.

Deal With Stress, Not Stress Hormones, for Weight Loss

Cortisol by itself isn’t bad. It’s an important part of a normal metabolism. It’s long-term stress and long-term elevated levels of stress hormones that make weight loss more difficult than it has to be.

Consider how much stress you have been facing over time.  If ‘being under pressure’ drives you to get less sleep or follow eating habits you know aren’t good for you, then stress may be the problem to focus on first.  You may find that by learning enjoyable ways to exercise, get enough sleep, and manage stress, extra pounds may come off more easily than you thought.

Personalized Weight Loss Treatments at the Optimal Wellness Center

Dr. Keller makes a commitment with you to help you succeed in becoming lighter and healthier.

Her weight loss program includes personal consultation to plan meals with foods you like, and feel and look better with appropriate activity and rest.

Find out more about the support available to you in Dr. Keller’s weight Loss Program.

Call us at 201-485-7930 to get started.

About Dr. Betty Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative medicine at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.  She is a board certified doctor  specializing in weight loss, chronic pain treatment, medical acupuncture and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.

Treating Fibromyalgia Naturally: Dealing With Stress

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you’re learning that it’s a chronic pain disorder, with body-wide soreness and tenderness in muscles its major symptom.

But there are other characteristics too.  The Mayo Clinic describes it this way:

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

You may find that certain things you do, eat, or even think can trigger your symptoms.  While your pain symptoms may simply just happen, more likely you feel worse after a lack of sleep, eating certain foots, a lack of exercise, and increased stress.

Stress May Be One of Your Worst Pain Triggers

Not only does your pain get worse with stress.  Being upset makes sleeping more difficult, eating right harder to do, and keeping your spirits up almost impossible.  These things are hard enough to do anyway, let alone under stress. So, managing your stress is especially important when you’re dealing with fibromyalgia.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to managing stress.  There are several approaches open to you. Look at stress management actions you can do by yourself, as well as those involving the help of others to deal better with stress.

Look for Relaxing Lifestyle Choices

As far as possible, include more downtime and calming activities.  Turn off the computer and make more time for things like:

  • Taking a warm bath:  Allow yourself to add soothing agents such as Epsom salts or lavender oil, juniper oil or chamomile.
  • Spending less time with aggravating people: Make more time for those you find comforting and easy to be around
  • Going to a personal quiet space: A sanctuary that invites peace of mind and helps you let go of tension can be an important part of learning to relax.  This can be a room in your home, a garden, a place in nature, a park, or a church, or a place with your favorite animals or a pet.

Learn Some Relaxation Techniques

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are these main types of relaxation techniques:

Autogenic training: a learned technique to help you use visual imagery and body awareness to move yourself into a deep state of relaxation

Deep breathing: this is a strategy for relieving stress by taking in more air, and lowering activity in order to focus just on calmer, deeper breathing.  For example, standing or sitting quietly, breathe in through your nose.  Breathe in fully so your ribcage area expands gently. Hold your breath for 3 seconds, then breathe out through the mouth.  When exhaling, make your time to exhale longer than your time to inhale; this will help you relax further, and release tension from your muscles. Repeat a few times as you can without discomfort.

Progressive muscle relaxation: You focus on particular muscle groups, tensing and then relaxing them, slowly.  This approach involves your whole body, working in sequence, starting at the toes and ending with the head.

Meditation:  Two main forms of meditation are Transcendental (using a mantra or phrase), and mindfulness (focusing on thoughts and your own sensations).  Some exercise programs, such as yoga, also have a meditation component

You can safely learn relaxation techniques from well-recommended books and audio programs.  You can also find classes in many areas , and learn a technique with an experienced coach.

More Natural Approaches to Fibromyalgia and Stress Management

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:  This approach focuses on challenging a person’s overly negative or self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns. It helps replace them with new thoughts and ideas for coping better and feeling less anxious.  There are self-guided and therapist-lead ways to explore this therapy.

Body Treatments, Including Massage, Acupuncture and Exercise:

The topic of acupuncture and stress relief deserves a good look.  Here are some articles to help you explore the proven benefits of this ancient Chinese treatment, to stimulate healing, reduce pain, lower stress hormones, and improve health:

Exercise can play a major role in reducing the negative impact of stress on your body and pain levels.  To find out more, look at:

Dealing well with stress is a personal matter, but very important to improving your health. You may need to explore and find your own best combination of approaches for different situations or times of year.  When it comes to getting the upper hand on stress, you may need to take some time to find your own best answers.  A doctor experienced in treating fibromyalgia can guide you to resources that have helped others recover, and live well despite the daunting stress of coping with fibromyalgia.

About Dr. Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative therapy at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.  She is a licensed acupuncturist and medical doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.

Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 2: How acupuncture eases pain, improves mood, sleep, and body chemistry

We cannot eliminate stress from our live but we can learn to manage. That’s part of what we learned in Acupuncture and Stress Releif Part 1: How the Body Responds to Stress

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing stress and stress related conditions.

It is well documented that there is a strong connection between the mind and body. Clearly mental well-being is associated with physical well being. Acupuncture helps restore the imbalances of neurotransmitters and hormones brought on by chronic stress and thus help reduce stress and the harmful effects of chronic stress.

Acupuncture: How It Works

The modern scientific explanation is that needling stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the brain, spinal cord and muscles. These chemicals alter the experience of pain and also trigger the release of other chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones that influence the bodies own internal regulating system.

Acupuncture Decreases Cortisol and Other Stress-Related Hormones

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing stress and stress related conditions. It does this by modulating neurotransmitters and reducing stress hormones. Acupuncture needles stimulate the secretion of endorphins the body’s natural painkillers, as well as decrease cortisol – one of the major stress hormones.

In addition acupuncture increases serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin.  These neurotransmitters help reduce pain, elevate mood, relax the body, improve sleep and help with an increased feeling of over all well being. People feel extremely relaxed during and after acupuncture treatments. Post acupuncture treatments, patients feel completely relaxed and often report improved sleep.

Multiple acupuncture treatments appear to up regulate the secretion of neurotransmitter and hormones, which explains the long-term effects of acupuncture.   Acupuncture helps restore the imbalances of neurotransmitters and hormones brought on by chronic stress, and is a safe and effective way to treat stress and stress induced disorders.

What is Medical Acupuncture, and Who Can Provide It?

Acupuncture can be part of a doctor’s medical practice.  It is part of my practice at the Optimal Wellness Center, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Not all acupuncturists are doctors.   A licensed acupuncturist can provide services without being a health practitioner.

As a professional medical doctor, I use acupuncture because the most effective treatment for some people uses contemporary Western medicine  combined with complimentary techniques, including acupuncture. Sometimes the best treatment for difficult conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, or weight loss, uses both acupuncture treatments and modern medical treatment. This is what integrative medicine is all about.

If you find that traditional medicine alone has not helped improve health for you, you may want to speak with a doctor who takes in integrative approach.

Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 1: How Your Body Responds to Stress

Stress is a part of our daily lives.  In northern New Jersey, where I have my medical practice, we are so busy, we may not even be aware of how we respond to stress every day.

Too much stress can adversely affect your health. It is estimated that between 75 and 90% of primary care visits are in some way attributed to stress.

We all know that having a stress free life is impossible. In fact a strong reaction to stress also known as the fight or flight response is a physiologic response that is designed to increase survival.

Understanding your stress is the first step to having more power over it.

When you are faced with a threat whether real or perceived, your autonomic nervous system sets off a series of chemical reactions involving the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Also known as the HPAaxis.  This results in the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and glucocorticoids (cortisol) from the adrenal glands. This triggers physiological changes that help you survive immediate danger.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, dilates your pupils, increases alertness and decreases blood flow to the skin, and your digestive system. Blood is redirected to your muscles for increased strength. Cortisol increases glucose, which is the main form of energy used by both your brain and body. Cortisol increases your blood sugar by breaking down muscle (protein) and increasing fatty acids to supply energy to the muscles. This increased energy supply gives the body the necessary power to respond to a physically and emotionally demanding situation. It allows you to fight harder or run faster, thus increasing your odds of surviving.

What is cortisol’s role is causing chronic disease?  When you are in a stressful situation, large amounts of the hormone cortisol are released into the bloodstream.  Over time, prolonged elevations of cortisol can have negative health consequences.

Here is what can happen when stress becomes chronic.  Initially you have the alarm phase – the immediate reaction to a stress.  Heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, digestive enzyme production decreases, and blood sugar levels increase.

The alarm phase is usually short, and self limited, hormone levels go back to normal until activated by another threat. No long-term negative health consequences occur.  Unfortunately in today’s world many people have chronically elevated levels of these hormones due to stress. Our lifestyles and the world around us are full of potential stressful situations. You may feel continuing stress related to the economy, fear of terrorists, relationships, natural disasters, traffic, your job, etc.

We have become a nation of chronically stressed individuals

Whether perceived or real, stressful situations arise multiple times throughout the day.  The stress response was helpful to our ancestors that had to fight or run from a wild bear. Unfortunately in our daily lives, we all have perceived threats through out the day. This stress has contributed to many chronic health problems.

If stress continues the adaptation phase kicks in, allowing the body to continue the fight or flight response. This is where cortisol comes in, converting protein stores to blood sugar to continue to supply energy to muscles.  Sodium is retained to keep body fluid levels up and blood pressure elevated.  This is why continued stress can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

We can all relate to catching a cold or coming down with a virus when we are under stress. That’s because cortisol redirects immune cells, which lowers your immunity, causing increased risk of infections. Cortisol can also lead to depressed cartilage and bone formations, increasing risks of osteoporosis. In addition it can also cause damage to the part of the brain the hippocampus responsible for short-term memory, and it alters nerve cell functions in the brain leading to anxiety and depression.

If the stress response continues, the body starts slowing down, as it is unable to continue producing high levels of stress hormones.  Eventually, many body functions can become exhausted.  Exhaustion due to prolonged stress weakens the heart, blood vessels, adrenal glands, and immune system – partially due to the chronic elevations of cortisol.

Recent research also shows that chronically high levels of cortisol can result in weight gain and changes in body composition too.  Cortisol promotes increases in blood sugar, which is converted from protein stores (muscle).  This results in the loss of muscle (lean body mass) and in increase in body fat, especially around the mid-section.

One study showed an increased tendency in snacking during times of high cortisol levels in the blood. People who have trouble coping with stress often turn to food for comfort.  In addition cortisol causes physiologic changes that increase food intake. Cortisol affects our hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Cortisol decreases leptin the hormone responsible for telling us we are full. It also increases ghrelin the hormone that tells us we are hungry. Both these hormonal changes cause one to increase their food intake.

In addition cortisol also increases insulin and neuropeptide Y, again both cause you to consume more food, particularly high fat or sugar comfort food.  Therefore, chronic stress can lead to weight gain.  Weight gain around the middle, known as “central adiposity,” is associated with the metabolic imbalances of “metabolic syndrome”, insulin resistance, and increased risk of heart disease.

So clearly chronic stress has a negative impact on our health causing or exacerbating heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety depression, osteoporosis, impaired immunity, dementia, and possibly cancer.

The good news is, your can decide to take care of yourself. You can decide to better manage your stress. A highly effective, but often overlooked therapy is acupuncture. Very briefly, acupuncture enables the body to boost the immune response, and lessen the bad effects of stress on many fronts.  More about how acupuncture reduces stress and helps restore healthier conditions in the body is the topic of the next article.

Fibromyalgia Holiday Survival Guide

7 Tips for Surviving — Even Celebrating — Holidays When You Have Fibromyalgia

They’re coming.  The winter holidays.  In New Jersey, where I live and work, Thanksgiving brings on weeks of more traffic, bigger crowds and longer lines at restaurants and shopping centers. If you have fibromyalgia, it’s also time to protect your health.

Let’s pause right now and make a plan so you can enjoy the holidays as much as possible.

Time management is key to surviving the holidays with fibromyalgia.

Here are my 7 fibromyalgia holiday survival tips. They’re the simplest, easiest tips for controlling stress and saving your best energies to be with your family and friends:

  1. Remember, you don’t have to do everything.  You don’t have to make meals or dishes from scratch or even cook every meal.  If you are hosting the holiday meal, make it pot luck.   Everyone loves to bring a favorite dish.
  2. No need to go all-out.  Keep your meals simple.  Keep menu plans simple.
  3. Decorating should be fun and bring you joy. Make it a family affair, or invite friends over to help decorate. Again you don’t have to have too many decorations, put out the ones that mean the most to you, or have special memories.
  4. Decide first what’s most important to you.  Just do that.  Is it attending a service? Is it spending time with family? Save your energy just for this.
  5. Find family and friends you enjoy and savor the time with them. By now, you’ve learned that some people are more understanding of fibromyalgia than others.  Some people don’t yet ‘get it.’ You may be worried about offending some people if you don’t eat what they’ve fixed or take part in their plans.  Use what you’ve learned about saying no, and say no. Say yes to the things you enjoy and are important to you. Make good memories.
  6. Tell others what you want.  Be as open as you can about what makes this time special for you – whether it’s having some holiday lights put up; having someone bring home a special treat, or having some time to yourself so you can relax, unwind, and have the rest you need.
  7. Remember to breathe.  This helps decrease stress.  Get as much sleep as you can. Find a way to make your favorite relaxation techniques part of your day, even if your ordinary routine has gone out the window.

My best suggestion is really this: Do what is most important!

Of course you want to feel your best, and enjoy yourself and your loved ones during the holidays.

Putting yourself and your health first may be one of the hardest things to do during the holidays.  But this can be the best time to set yourself free. Allow yourself to focus on what makes them the best they can be, for you, and do away with the rest.

If you enjoy this health tip please share it or print it for your use. It comes to you from Dr. Betty Keller, an integrative therapy and fibromyalgia specialist, practicing in Franklin Lakes New Jersey at the Optimal Wellness Center.