By Kevin Cann Breaking Muscle
Stress has always been a hot topic for me. It is a critical area in our ability to develop a well-rounded health and weight-loss plan. And for many of us, stress leads to poor food choices. The term “comfort foods” did not come out of nowhere.
Throughout my time as a coach, I have stressed the importance of adding in forty minutes per day of some form of stress management. Stress management techniques could include meditation, deep breathing, or even the use of certain phone apps.
A few weeks ago, I was having an email conversation with Robb Wolf and Chris “Squatchy” Williams and they recommended a book to me – The Myth of Stress by Andrew Bernstein. In the book, Bernstein explained where the stress response comes from and how it was key to our survival. He also offered a simple solution for what we see as modern-day “stress.”
Sress Versus Stressors
When I say, “stress response,” I am talking about our fight-or-flight response. In his book, Bernstein mentioned all of the stressors we face today. We no longer face the stress of being eaten by an animal higher up the food chain, but we deal with different issues such as money, traffic, family, and relationship problems.
Bernstein acknowledged that these issues are stressors, but he also argued that the way we internally relate to an external stimulus is what causes the stress. For example, if we do not see a saber-toothed tiger hiding in the brush, then we will not initiate a fight-or-flight response. But if we think there is a saber-toothed tiger hiding in the brush, whether it is actually present or not, we will experience a rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature – and probably get as far away from the area as possible.
“Imagine if we can control the stress response by simply reframing our thought process? This to me is a game changer.”
Bernstein has his clients start the process of changing their perception of their stressor by writing down how they feel about the situation. For example, “There shouldn’t be any traffic.” He then has them change the sentence to say the opposite. In this example, “In reality, there should be traffic at this time.”
Adding “at this time” helps keep people in the present. They then have to prove the newly constructed thought to be correct. Continuing with our example, the statement could be something like, “In reality, there should be traffic at this time because the roadways were not built to handle this volume of cars.” Bernstein has his clients rate the stressor at the beginning of their session and again after proving the negation correct. The goal is to be able to bump the perceived stress down a few points.
Stress Versus Food
There is also a chapter in this book in which Bernstein applied the same concept to weight loss. As a coach, I cannot stress enough the importance of guiding people to see food in a different way – and to see themselves in a different way. Many people view food as an emotional crutch. Also, many people begin a weight-loss program because they believe “they should weigh less,” which is is the exact example Bernstein used in the book.
I have seen people do some crazy things to attempt to lose a few extra pounds. Things like starving themselves, juice fasts, laxatives, every weight loss program under the sun, and crazy exercise habits. Almost always, it becomes a vicious cycle of losing ten pounds and gaining back ten, or even worse, gaining fifteen.
Changing how we perceive stress is critical to a person’s long-term success in staying on a healthy eating plan. The goal is not to convince you to not lose weight, but to change your perception about the weight loss.
Bernstein suggested changing “I should weigh less” to “In reality, I shouldn’t weigh less at this time.” From here we need to prove the negation to be true. The goal is to come up with as many examples as possible that support why you should not weigh less right now.
Possible options could include:
“…because I eat more than I need.”
“…because I do not exercise.”
“…because I make poor food choices.”
“…because I am too tired to cook at night.”
If you are someone who thinks you should weigh less give this a try. After proving the new statement, do you feel better?
“Changing how we perceive stress is critical to a person’s long-term success in staying on a healthy eating plan.”
Adopting a New View of Nutrition
This new mindset can help you avoid the weight-loss-quick plan that will only work in the short term and encourage you to start eating a more nutrient-dense diet. When we get stressed out, many of us will reach for that processed treat. The techniques explained above can help reframe your thinking of food. You may see food as something that can either make you lose or gain weight, and shift to thinking of food as nourishment that allows you to do everything you want on a daily basis.
These negations can be utilized for as many stressors as you can think of. If you had a bad day at work, are stuck in traffic on the way home, or your spouse is irritated because you forgot to pick up something at the store, you will be more inclined to reach for that sweet food or alcoholic beverage.
Performing negations on the issue at work, traffic, or home is critical. I am a firm believer that the obesity epidemic is caused by the hyperpalatibility of foods mixed with our chronically stressed lives. Modern foods taste so good that it is hard to choose broccoli over pizza, and when we get stressed, we reach for these foods even more due to their comforting response in our brains. These foods actually elicit a similar response in our brains as some recreational drugs do.
Imagine if we can control the stress response by simply reframing our thought process? This to me is a game changer. If you think this technique could help you, then I highly recommend reading The Myth of Stress. This book provides a simple and sustainable way to mitigate the negative consequences of stress – and it may turn out to be a game changer for those of you, as well.