In the third post of this series on how to lose weight fast with the carnivore diet, we will look at how to create a positive mindset to support weight loss (here are links to the first and the second posts of the series).
Diet and exercises are important for good health and weight loss, but so is good mental health. Fortunately for those who are currently on the carnivore diet, there is at least anecdotal evidence that this diet can improve mental health.
In this post, we will first look at the link between chronic stress and weight gain and then look at causes of stress and ways to fix those underlying causes and build a positive mindset.
- How chronic stress can cause weight gain?
- Common causes of stress
- Signs of chronic stress
- How to reduce stress to support weight loss
- How to solve daily life problems to address underlying causes of stress
- Create a positive mindset
How chronic stress can cause weight gain?
Stress is your body’s response to abnormal physical, mental, or emotional pressure.
When you face a dangerous or stressful situation, the adrenals secrete cortisol. Cortisol prepares your body for a fight-or-flight situation by increasing sugar supply in the bloodstream, brain, and skeletal muscles for the body’s immediate use while less critical activities are suspended. In short, during times of acute crisis, eating, growth, and sexual activity may be a detriment to physical integrity and even survival and not prioritized. However, once the stressful situation is over, your hormones return to normal levels.[1, 2]
However, if you constantly feel stressed, your fight-or-flight mode is permanently turned on, high cortisol can lead to weight gain in the following ways: 
- Visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells which lie deep in the abdomen. Cortisol also aids adipocytes’ development into mature fat cells
- Overeating. A consistent high level of cortisol means a consistent elevated blood glucose level. However, cortisol also inhibits insulin production to prevent glucose from being stored, favoring immediate use. As a result, cells are starved of glucose and hunger signals are sent to the brain. This can lead to overeating and excess energy eventually will be stored as fat
- Stimulating appetite. Cortisol may directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain. Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite.
In addition, when you are stressed:
- you are less likely to exercise
- you are more likely to make poor food choices
- you are more likely to look for comfort in food and drinks
- you are more likely to have poor sleep quality, have more wake time and tend to eat more.
All these can further contribute to weight gain.
Potentially a vicious cycle can also occur where weight gain results in negative body image and low self-esteem. This can consequently worsen the weight problem.
Not only stress can contribute to weight gain, long-term or chronic stress can also have serious impacts on all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.[4, 5]
Common causes of stress
There are two main types of stress:
- Acute stress. This is short-term stress that goes away quickly, for example, having an argument with someone, having a job interview, involving in a car crash, skiing down a steep slope
- Chronic stress. This is stress that lasts for a longer period of time and becomes a constant part of life, for example, having to deal with ongoing financial problems, being in an unhappy marriage, facing bullying or harassment at the workplace.
- Major life events, for example, a death in the family, divorce, getting married, having a child, buying a house, unemployment, or a suicide by a relative
- Routine stress. This relates to the demands of everyday life and normal responsibilities:
- financial problem
- relationship problem
- diagnosis of a major illness
- bullying or harassment
- health problem
- concern for the health of others
- workplace problems
- being made redundant
- not having enough work
- feeling insecure about employment
- being in an uncertain environment such as the current pandemic
- Traumatic stress. Life-threatening or violent situations can trigger an acute stress reaction, for example, witnessing the death of a loved one, being in serious accident, surviving a natural disaster, or being in war zone.
Signs of chronic stress
- muscle tension and headaches
- having poor sleep quality or not enough sleep
- being irritable, moody or angry
- not having motivation
- not being able to focus
- relying on coffee, alcohol or drugs to cope
- feeling overwhelmed or anxious or unable to cope
- gaining or losing weight
- getting frequent or more serious colds
- having upset stomach.
How to reduce stress to support weight loss
If you think you are experiencing ongoing stress, which is extremely unhealthy, please seek health from qualified medical professionals. As mentioned above, stress not only can contribute to weight gain but can have serious impacts on all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.
- exercise regularly
- eat well
- drink in moderation
- find ways to relax
- try to get enough sleep
- avoid conflict
- get treatments (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy)
- use medications (e.g. sleeping pills, tranquillisers, antidepressants)
- learn time management
- spend time in nature
- look after your health
- do things you enjoy
- practice yoga, and meditation.
In my view, some of the above advice can be useful, but some reflect a piecemeal approach and don’t address the underlying causes of stress. For example, it is difficult to relax when you face ongoing problems that cause stress in the first place. If you face conflict at work or at home, it is also pretty hard to avoid, unless you quit which may not be the best solution. Medications have side effects and only help you forget about problems temporarily and do nothing to fix your stress problems.
In my view, the four most important things that you should focus on to address chronic stress are diet, exercise, social support, and skills to sort out life problems.
1. Eat a healthy diet
This is what we cover in the first post of this series. A healthy diet that provides your body with the nutrients it needs can have powerful stress-reducing benefits that improve the functioning of the brain, intensify immune function, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and cut back toxins from the body[16, 17]
As mentioned above, there is evidence that the carnivore diet can improve mental health and hence support weight loss.
There is currently no study that I’m aware of on the ability of the carnivore diet to improve or treat mental health. I don’t think there will be any study on this topic for a long time unless the carnivore diet becomes one of the mainstream diets rather than being labeled as a fad diet as it currently is.
However, many people have experienced improvements in mental health after switching to the carnivore diet. Perhaps, the most well-known ones are Mikhaila Peterson and her father, Jordon Peterson.
Mikhaila Peterson was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and depression. At 17, she had her hip and ankle joints replaced. Her problems continued when she was at university and she experienced mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, thinning hair, and skin not healing.
She did everything her doctors told her and everything they tried failed.
At the end of her rope and refused to give up, she tried the elimination diet and started cutting out gluten, dairy, soy, and lectins. She felt better as she cut out more food groups and by December 2017, all that was left was beef, salt, and water. All of her symptoms went into remission and she stopped taking all medications.
Urged by his daughter, Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor of psychology, also found significant improvement in his health. In an interview with The Atlantic, he said his lifelong depression, anxiety, gastric reflux (and associated snoring), inability to wake up in the mornings, psoriasis, gingivitis, floaters in his right eye, numbness on the sides of his legs, problems with mood regulation were all gone.
You can read more interviews and testimonials about the benefit of the carnivore diet here.
2. Get enough exercise
This is what we cover in the second post of this series. Evidence indicates that exercises can have a positive impact on mental health. For millions of years, our ancestors spent a large amount of daily energy expenditure on activities such as food and water procurement, social interaction, escape from predators, and maintenance of shelter and clothing. The human body, therefore, has been genetically adapted to this active lifestyle. Spending most of the time indoors being sedentary is not consistent with our genome and has had a profound negative impact on our health and well-being [19, 20, 21, 22, 23]
3. Get social support
Humans are social creatures and we suffer when we don’t have adequate social interactions. Research indicates that people who have more perceived social support are capable of handling stressful or life-changing events better than those who lack social support. In addition, those with more social support see stressful situations as more controllable or have less of a stress physiological response due to the additional resources they can draw on to reduce stress. So, please don’t hesitate to ask for help from family, friends, community, and support organizations [24, 25, 26]
4. Learn problem solving skills
Stress has underlying causes which are usually problems we face in our daily lives as part of being humans. To effectively deal with stress, we need to identify those problems and find the best way to solve them. This is a big topic on its own. However, I will cover this briefly in the section below.
How to solve daily life problems to address underlying causes of stress
The perpetuity of life problems
One thing in our life that never changes is the fact that one after another, problems never cease to pop up, from university debt, toxic work environment, financial stress, and poor health to bad neighbor, children not behaving, and unhappy relationships.
Because problems are an integral part of our life, they exist as long as we live, we have no choice in the matter. The only choice we have is our attitude towards them, how we view them and how we deal with them.
Problems are not inherently bad or good. If we view them as a part of our lives and they are there for a reason and we find a way to sort them out effectively one after another, we will move forwards and our lives will improve. On the other hand, if we view them as troubles and bad lucks, avoid facing them and hope they’d go away one day, or just react without thinking much, our lives will move in a different direction, one that is probably not ideal.
Let’s look at how people usually deal with their major problems in life below.
How we solve life problems
People tend to act differently with different types of problems at different times or different stages of their lives. Below are some typical ways people solve life problems:
- The drifter. Drifters are the people who don’t actively and deeply think about how to sort them out in a methodical way: life just happen, they accept the status quo, get on with life, and hope that their problems will one day go away on their own or through a miraculous intervention of some divine force. They have no vision and no game plan
- The resoluter. Resoluters are those who attempt to sort out their problems on their own by setting New Year’s resolutions like ‘get fit’, ‘lose weight’, ‘eat healthily’, ‘spend more time with family’, ‘stop smoking’ or ‘drink less alcohol’. According to a survey, around 50% of the people in the U.S. make New Year’s resolutions every year. Unfortunately, this DIY knee-jerk approach to solving life problems is destined to fail. Over 80% of the people who set them fail to keep them by the time January rolls over
- The expert-seeker. A minority, who can afford it, does actively try to solve their problems by seeking help from professionals like psychologists, therapists, councilors and consultants in relevant fields or a life coach. If money is not an issue and you don’t think you can do a good job on your own, it would make sense to seek help from relevant professionals
- The go-getter. Go-getters are those who want to make the best of life and work hard to get there. They are proactive. They believe they are in control of their lives. They have ambitious dreams and game plans. No obstacles or problems will stop them from getting what they want. They don’t always succeed but always get up after a failure and keep going. We are talking about people like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
The section below aims at the second group of people, the resoluters, those who want to solve their life problems and wish to change their life for the better but can’t afford to hire expensive specialists or life coaches and fail to do it successfully by themselves.
To solve life problems, you don’t need to re-invent the wheel or do anything fancy, you just need to follow a systematic problem-solving framework that is being used by corporates and governments around the world to solve their major problems.[28, 29]
The problem-solving framework has six stages and can be used to solve life problems as summarized below.
Step 1 – Defining the problem
The first step in solving a life problem is to define the exact problem that you are facing and wanting to solve.
In our daily life, we talk about ‘having a problem’ when we want to get something done or to achieve something but we are not sure about how to get there or what is the best way to get there.
To identify the exact problem you are facing and causing you stress, ask yourself: What is my current situation? What is the ideal situation that I want to be in? What are the obstacles that have been stopping me from getting where I want to be?
Step 2 – Finding possible solutions
Depending on the type of problems you are trying to solve, in this step, you may need to gather and analyze information, do a little brainstorming exercise, or carry out research to be able to identify all possible potential solutions.
Try to come up with as many solutions as possible, no matter how stupid they may seem, you will judge them in the next step. If you have difficulty working out potential solutions, ask for help from people who you can trust, are knowledgeable, and know you well.
Step 3 – Choosing the best solution
In this step, you will need to evaluate all potential solutions and select the best. The following questions can help you find the best solution to your problem:
- Will this solution fix my problem and help me reach my goals?
- How much time and effort does this solution involve?
- How will I feel if I pick this solution?
- What are the costs and benefits of this solution to myself and others, right now and in the long-term?
Step 4 – Preparing an action plan
The complexity of your action plan depends upon the complexity of the problem and the chosen solution. For example, your action plan could include the breakdown of the main goal into smaller goals over a time frame, a list of resources and time required, down to the exact tasks that you need to do on a daily basis to achieve your goal.
Step 5 – Implementing the plan
In this step, one is required to actually carry out tasks specified in the plan.
For a personal plan, the most important thing in this step is to stick to the plan and not let other things in life get in the way of completing the tasks set out in the plan.
This is the most challenging part of the whole process. No matter how wonderful you have done in the previous four steps, you are probably only around ten percent of the way. Without actually performing the plan by taking a small step every day, you will never solve your life problems or achieve your goals.
Step 6 – Review and revise
Reviews should be carried out at regular intervals such as monthly, quarterly, or half-yearly.
However, if things have not gone as planned substantially at any stage (and they usually do) then an urgent review is needed. Some important elements of the solution or plan may need serious tweaking.
If all things go well as planned, then no revision to the plan or solution is needed. However, it is often the case that some revision is necessary.
Create a positive mindset
Finally, life is not just about solving problems and dealing with stress. You can work proactively to create a positive mindset, find the positive things in life, focus on things that you can change in your life and learn to let go of the things that are out of your control.
Again this is a huge topic on its own. Listed below are 11 techniques from Dr Tchiki Davis (2018) to help you adopt a more positive attitude:
- Ask yourself, “Do I think positively?”
- Strengthen your memory for positive information by using positive words more often
- Strengthen your brain’s ability to work with positive information with exercises that involve positive words
- Strengthen your brain’s ability to pay attention to the positive by routinely redirecting your focus away from the negative to the positive
- Condition yourself to experience random moments of positivity (use classical conditioning on yourself to build positive associations)
- Think positive, but not too much, and think negative when you need to; sometimes we need to grieve, think about the negative consequences, and use negative emotions to motivate and engage us
- Practice gratitude (e.g. with a gratitude journal)
- Savor the good moments (stop to “smell the roses” and celebrate the positive)
- Generate positive emotions by watching funny videos
- Stop minimizing your successes and acknowledge the efforts you put in
- Stop all-or-nothing thinking; this cognitive distortion is not in line with reality since things are very rarely “all good” or “all bad.”
This post may seem like a digression from the main focus of this series which is how to lose weight fast with the carnivore diet.
However, as discussed above, mental health and physical health are closely related. Managing stress successfully can help you lose weight and have a positive impact on your overall physical health.
To deal with stress effectively and support your weight loss and overall wellbeing, focus on important four areas:
- Find a healthy diet that will nourish both your body and your mind
- Become physically active most of the time which will benefit both your mental and physical health
- Get social support from family, friends and community if you think you need. Social interactions are what make us humans after all
- Learn problem solving skills to address the root causes of your stress. This will help not only with dealing with your stress but also helping you live a better life in general.
In the next and also the last post of this series, I will summarize what has been covered in the last 3 posts and show you how to put everything together into an action plan to lose weight and improve your health and wellbeing.
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for reference purposes only and not intended to constitute or replace professional medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.