Apr. 24. 2015
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

This is a loaded topic and I’ve read so many of your emails about this, comments on Instagram or Facebook and I didn’t know how quite to answer this in short form, so let’s break down the one factor that could be sabotaging your weight loss goals, finding your “happy” weight, regaining your inner strength, feeling healthy, and look amazing while doing it!


Ah, stress. I’m going to get a little scientific on you, but also bring it down to some real talk later, some things I think we all can better ourselves by hearing. Stress by definition: is your brains response to any demand. It’s a loose definition right? Stress to any demand could be any change in your lifestyle, a physical stressor like a wound, exercising too much, or healing from a surgery; and of course emotional stress from changes in your lifestyle, relationship, excitement, financial, etc., can be grouped here.

Stress is not a bad nor good thing, it just IS. How we react, handle, manifest, and manage stress is where all the magic or I should say challenges, occur. Stress impacts our health and bodies in a multitude of ways including hormonal changes, nervous system reactions, changes in weight and sleep, poor digestion, cardiovascular disease, lowered immunity, reproductive system challenges, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, and depression. We need stress to a certain extent, for example if we were running from a bear, we would need our stress response to kick in full force giving our muscles oxygen by breathing faster to fuel movement and the release of hormones from our adrenal glands (cortisol) to highen our focus by tapping into energy reserves for fuel and flee the danger. Cortisol isn’t the bad guy, but when this response is high and chronic it tells your body to eat more than it “needs” because it’s thinking much more about survival, not stress over a work deadline or relationship woe. Cortisol is needed, but high levels of cortisol overtime will contribute to those mentioned health impacts, especially abdominal weight gain! The problem, is when we’re actually not in danger and our bodies are living in this state chronically. THIS is the magic piece of the puzzle- learning how we can turn off that heightened stress response when it’s not needed.

But how does managing stress impact your goal weight, body composition, or health goals? It matters! So much so that I feel myself screaming with passion answering this question. How you manage stress can put you at the crossroad or health or negative consequences- managing it well or not managing respectively. For me, meditation is a sure-fire way to help de-stress and manage it well. With everything going on, as exciting as it is, it can be downright overwhelming! Mediation helps me and can with you, snap out of egoic thoughts, to-do lists, pressures, anxieties, etc.; it’s the one thing I can do to completely center myself and get back to my true self, feel happy, alert, energized, and carry on doing what I do best. Most days, granted I’m at fault for skipping a day, I’ll meditate before starting my work day on a pillow at a special spot and space in my house. Meditation doesn’t have to be as ritualistic for you all, it can be walking meditation around a garden or outside, even in your car while driving- anywhere you can breath deep and allow your thoughts to dissolve and observe your state is just as perfect. The goal is not about “not thinking” because thoughts will come, the challenge and practice is allowing those thoughts to float by like a little bubble and not attach to them and giving them more power and take away from the present moment.

Top 5 ways to de-stress:

  1. Meditate.
  2. Practice gratitude and humility: check in with yourself daily about things you’re grateful for, it can be as simple as focusing on that rather than a sense of lack or what you wish you “had”, wish where you “were”, etc.
  3. Breath. Notice your breath in stressful situations, it’s very shallow and fast paced- switch on deep breathing to your, what I call, “belly breath” and breathe deep and slow. Just catching your breathing patterns is the first step to listening inward.
  4. Engage in activities that make your mind, body, and spirit completely joyful! Walking, playing with your pup, talking with a friend, being out in nature, reading a heartfelt book, etc.
  5. Practice a healthy lifestyle, from the food you eat, how you move your body, to sleeping enough each night.
    • Remember Foam Rolling? Try that out to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. rest and digest)

“Happy” weight. A happy weight, for me, is one that requires no mental or emotional pressure or burden about what I’m eating, what I’m doing with activity, releasing visual comparisons, appreciating my body for what it does for me on a daily basis to carry out my good work to you all, act with love and kindness, and so much more; it’s not a number, it’s a feeling and a state of being. Let’s just sit on that for a second- numbers are relative and are not the true definition of your health and well-being. Is your “happy” weight one where you feel incredibly strong allowing you to run outside, hike the trails, ride around town on a bike, swim for miles; or does it allow you to stand on your feet all day working at a job you love and are passionate about, helping others in the community, picking up your little ones, etc.; what does your happy weight mean to you? What activities and contributions are you able to do because of it? It’s time we start embracing our bodies in what they can allow us to do with our lives versus what they visually and physically look like- our bodies allow us to feel joy, love, happiness, excitement, strength, and so much more!

There are times I walk away from a session with a client thinking and reflecting on our conversation, sometimes we don’t even touch on diet and nutrition in the first session or even second. For me, being the best coach possible involves a solid nutrition plan but more importantly getting to the root cause with issues of stress eating, emotional and mental triggers to binge eating/overeating, self sabotaging weight loss efforts, and much more. And guess what, stress is at the top of the list for all of these situations. Many of those same clients dive deep and share their innermost thoughts about themselves; sadly, most of them revolve around bullying their physical appearance and it’s no wonder with social media and body ideals floating around constantly, it can be hard to truly “get” what healthy and happy means to you because you’re bombarded with what you think it “should” look like. Many find negative self-talk about weight as a definition of who you are, saying you’re fat, not worthy of love or happiness, not successful, will never feel joy, etc., will only generate those types of situations in life. We as women (and men), should collectively embrace the oneness that’s in all of us and getting to what truly matters- living life to the fullest of our capabilities with as much love and kindness to ourselves and others that we possibly can and supporting each other every step of the way! Remember, we’re all on the same path, to live optimally, healthy, and happily!

So how can we merge these stress management techniques with positive self-talk and truly shift our mental stressors to positive energy we can actually use that’s fruitful to our health? Positive affirmations and mantras! Notice that many if not all of these positive affirmations start with “I am” rather than “I will be…, I can be…, I want to be…”- the latter are full of words with future projections rather than what you have right now in this moment. What you are in this moment, is infinite! You are already all of these things, you just have to believe it and the mental shift will occur bringing about physical shifts and changes as well. Say this with passion, with love, with an oomph behind them, even shout them out loud if it helps!

Positive affirmations and mantras that you can start incorporating right NOW:

  • I am love!
  • I am compassion!
  • I am happiness and joy
  • I am healthy!
  • I am nourished!
  • I am confident!
  • I take great care in my health and well-being
  • I am success!
  • I am kindness!
  • I am fit, toned, and active
  • I am strong!
  • I treat others with kindness as well as myself
  • I am beautiful!

Share these positive affirmations whenever you’re in need of a boost and be sure to talk yourself through your own favorites- you can record these on your phone if it helps or just have them memorized. I write these down in my journal and upon waking I consciously read my set of affirmations to myself, before meditation, and at the end of the day I’ll have different ones to say, and so forth.

What do you think, are you a fan of positive affirmations? Will you use these in your every day life? I challenge you to shift your thinking into one of positivity and confidence, the best is yet it to come.

With so much love,

xx McKel