The Surprising Link Between Happiness and Weight Loss
Can You Smile Your Way Slim?
It seems like a simple formula: Diet plus exercise equals weight-loss success. But what's often overlooked is the mental aspect, which is just as important. How you handle stress and sadness in your life can truly make or break your bikini-body goals. Whether you’re anxious about work or dealing with a devastating breakup, there are real chemical processes taking place that affect the way your body reacts to temptations, from the donuts on the conference table to the urge to sleep in instead of hitting the gym.
Any form of depression, no matter how mild, affects neurotransmitters that control mood, thinking, appetite, and behavior, making you more likely to eat poorly, skip exercise, and gain weight. [Tweet this fact!] Similarly, high stress levels cause your body to release the hormone cortisol, which makes us crave energy and comfort (often in the form of pizza and cupcakes). This leads to a sugar-induced dopamine high, then the inevitable crash that causes you to seek even more dopamine, and so on. All those extra empty calories are then stored in your body, most commonly in the form of—you guessed it—belly fat.
Of course, dealing with life’s stressful and saddening situations is much easier said than done. After all, you can’t solve all your problems by ordering the salmon or taking a bubble bath. That said, these ten tips can help you battle anxiety, boost serotonin, and release endorphins, all of which will create a happier mood, healthier mind, and slimmer body.
And for even more slim-down secrets, be sure to check out Shape's exclusive plan for a beach-ready body in our new book, The Bikini Body Diet
Flash a Smile
The simple act of smiling is an instant stress-buster, according to a recent study in Psychological Science. You can do it anytime too—assuming the boss isn’t cursing you out at the time.
If you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to feel more tired and stressed, and have less energy, according to a study from the Journal of Nutrition, so it’s important to stay hydrated with water (plus: no calories!). Water won’t wash away your problems, but maintaining energy levels is an essential aspect of dealing with the tasks of life and reaching your physical and emotional goals.
Find an activity that can allow you to do mini-meditations, like a hike or walk outdoors. A study published in BMC Public Health found that a 20-minute walk outside twice a week was more restorative than getting the same exercise indoors. But even doing something like making a healthy meal can help you slow down. Take your time to chop, smell the scents, and engage yourself in the process of cooking, and it can act as a mind-cleanser. [Tweet this tip!]
Stretch It Out
Get your whole body in on the action with a deep forward bend. This move is perfect because it decompresses the spine and improves circulation, which helps release tension from your upper body as well as your mind. To do one, stand with your feet hip-width apart, then bend your knees slightly and fold your body forward. Grasp opposite elbows and let your head drop; hold for one minute.
Another good way to release tension is to contract your muscles and then release them because they’re better able to fully relax after being under tension: Take a few deep breaths, and then contract your right arm as tightly as you can, holding for two or three seconds. As you exhale, relax completely and let your arm drop. You can repeat with other body parts, and even your entire body.
A British study found that compulsively checking e-mails and texts can cause anxiety. Take 15-minute breaks every hour from your phone, and if you want to try to unplug even more, check out these eight easy steps to doing a digital detox—without feeling like you’re missing out.
Choc It Up
We’ve already covered the building blocks of eating for a beach-ready body, but a few of our favorite bikini-friendly foods have specifically been shown to improve mood. [Tweet this list!] Include more of these on your plate to keep those happy chemicals high and the hunger ones low:
- Walnuts can boost levels of serotonin, which helps put you in a good mood.
- About 40 grams of dark chocolate made from 75 percent cocoa reduces levels of stress hormones.
- Chickpeas contain folate, a B vitamin that’s needed to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s most associated with pleasure.
- Avocados contain B vitamins, which help create that feel-good serotonin. They also have potassium that can help lower blood pressure.
- Sunflower seeds have loads of magnesium. A deficiency of this nutrient can lower your dopamine levels, making you feel more stressed and anxious.
Sup on Seafood
Fatty, coldwater fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines contain omega-3 fats, which can make you feel calmer. In one study, people who regularly ate foods high in omega-3s were 20 percent less anxious than those who don’t. And according to a study by the Ohio State University, people who took an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks saw their anxiety levels drop 20 percent.
Encourage a friend or family member to join you on your quest for a bikini body. Having a social support system improves levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Satisfying your dopamine system may come in the form of a hobby, a good conversation, or hanging out with the family. What this does, essentially, is shift your dopamine system so it can derive satisfaction from other things in your life—not nacho chips.
Let Others Know
We’re not suggesting taking out an ad in the paper or blogging about your journey, but there is proof that sharing your diet and workout goals is an effective way to stay on track. Tell one, two, five, or 10 people who can relate to what you’re going through or who can act as a sounding board when you feel like downing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. By including others in your journey, you’ll not only keep depression at bay but you'll also be using the very tool that may very well be the key to successfully following through on a weight-loss plan: the accountability that comes from involving other people.
Make these changes and you'll be well on the way to a better mood and your best summer body ever. And don't forget to check out even more great belly-flattening tips in our new book, The Bikini Body Diet
, out March 25!