Dr Libby has been dubbed Australasia’s superstar of all things health and nutrition. As the best-selling author of Accidentally Overweight and Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, Dr Libby travels the world as a keynote speaker and holds seminars and workshops as a specialist in weight loss, women’s health and optimum nutrition to audiences in the thousands.
Dr Libby recently had time to chat with us about the science of weight loss, her newest book and the dangers of dieting.
Is there a clear link between stress and weight gain?
There are two major stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol. They affect metabolism differently. In any given moment the body has to choose the fuel it will use, even if we are sedentary. Your body needs fuel to make your heart beat, allow your brain to think and even for your eyelids to blink, as well of course it needs fuel to move. The two fuels are glucose and fat and adrenalin drives the body to use glucose as a fuel. There is no problem with this in the short term, however many people live on adrenalin today and therefore their body rarely feels “safe” enough to use fat as a fuel.
Cortisol is our long term stress hormone. Historically, the only long term stress humans had were floods, famines and wars, during which time, food was scarce. Today our long term stress tends to come from concerns about relationships, finances, our health, the health of a loved one or weight. When your body makes excess cortisol, it believes there is no food left in the world and so to help you “survive” it slows down your metabolism. Cortisol has a very distinct fat deposition pattern. You get fat around the middle, fat on the back of your arms and you grow what I lovingly call a back verandah. It stores fat in these places (centrally) as all of the organs crucial to your survival (except for your brain) are housed in your torso and if there truly was a famine, these organs need protection, warmth and nourishment. The trouble is, for most people, the only strategy they have to lose weight when they notice their clothes are getting tighter is calorie restriction. Yet this just confirms to your body what it perceives to be true… that there is no more food left in the world and so your metabolism is slowed even further. Going on a “diet” is wrong medicine. So yes, stress can most definitely be linked to weight gain and what I’ve described here is just the tip of the iceberg.
What are some of the most unhelpful myths about weight loss out there?
That the only way to lose weight is via the “calorie equation”; that is how much you eat versus how much you move. There are nine factors that influence whether your body is getting the message to store fat or burn it ad I’ve identified these in my first book Accidentally Overweight. Also, when the focus is on weight loss, people approach it from a head space of deprivation… it is all about what you are not allowed to eat. This is unsustainable. For people to lose weight and keep it off, a much bigger shift has happened within them. On the other hand, when you focus on health, it is positive and it is all about the abundance of what you can have the serves your body, mind and soul. In every case, when this headspace shift occurs, people naturally lose weight. It has to be about health not some crazy number on a set of scales.
Should we try to gain a better understanding of the science around weight and weight loss, to better understand our bodies?
Definitely. Having studied at university for 14 years now having worked with people one on one for almost as long, I find that when people know why they are much more likely to make better choices; choices that serve their health. I strive to communicate these scientific messages simply and in layman’s terms in all of my books.
In Accidentally Overweight you mention the importance of no longer weighing yourself. Why?
When you weigh yourself, for most people they are simply weighing their self esteem. Focus on energy, quality of sleep, if you are free from pain, how vital and alive you feel. These are much better markers of health than a number on a set of scales you perceive you need to be, that you may have dreamt up 20 years ago.
Think about the process someone might go through in their day. They wake up, walk to the bathroom, get naked and weigh themselves. People are very rarely the number they want to be and so when your scales report back to you, this means most people begin their day with a wave of disappointment and a feeling that they are not good enough. It may not be conscious but many people stack the feeling that they are not good enough many times over their day and this can indeed be the very reason they eat in a way that doesn’t serve them in the first place. Only they won’t realise this. I have found that this is very much a female psyche thing. When most men weigh themselves and they are not the weight they want to be, they often have a silent response of “I’ll just work harder”.
When I suggest people stop weighing themselves in my books, I simply want them to become aware of these factors and most likely change what they have been doing. I’ve met thousands of women who weigh themselves at least once a day (some up to four times) and they and always on and off diets. If this approach of weighing yourself an dieting has not worked for you yet, it is not about to start! A definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s time to change the focus to health, rather than weight.
In regard to Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, do you believe this desire for control and taking on too much is more of a female trait?
It has become more intense for women over the past decade or so and so it may appear that way. Men have been trying to control things and taking on too much for longer and male psychology – the meanings they create from situations as well as their emotional landscape – is different from the feminine’s. What I want to share and explain in Rushing Woman’s Syndrome are the health consequences for women and also show that the psychology behind this is very specific for women and of course offer very practical solutions to the rush.
What are some of the consequences of being a ‘Rushing Woman’, healthwise?
Challenges with the menstrual cycle such as PMT, PCOS, painful periods, challenging menopauses, problems with digestion such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and bloating… just to name a few! The thyroid gland can also be affected, as can moods. PMT is common but it is not normal. A menstrual period is supposed to just turn up and dietary change, as well as addressing the “rush” can make major differences in all of these areas if they are a challenge for women. You don’t need to put up with these health issues.
What are some ways women can start to relieve the stress of being the ‘Rushing Woman’
The first thing is to recognise that you are rushing. Take the test at www.rushingwomanssyndrome.com and have a bit of a giggle while gaining some additional insights into the rush and its consequences. In my book Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, I describe ways you can lay a “restorative foundation” which includes techniques including breathing, perceptions, your diet, movement and sleep as well as much more.
Because the regular, over-consumption of caffeine and our perceptions can be two major areas that lead women to rush, swapping coffee for green tea is a good first step. When it comes to your perceptions, the common thought patterns of rushing women are described and different solutions are offered for each of them. For many women, the change in perception is the game changer. It is as if the lights go on for them about how they have been approaching their day and once this happens, life is never the same again for them… in such a great way!
What’s the weirdest diet you’ve ever come across yourself?
The baby food diet. Women were encouraged to eat only baby food out of cans. Needless to say, not only is this not healthy but it doesn’t address why someone’s clothes became tight in the first place. People eat food that doesn’t serve them and/or amounts that don’t serve them to change how they feel. It is one of the ways people cope with “stress”. Until this is addressed no “diet” will ever work. You may lose weight initially but it will all go back on, often plus more. This is why my books help people understand why they do what they do when they know what they know as well as the hormonal and nutrition information. My work helps people identify and change (if needed) what drives their food behaviour.