Episode 170:

Show Notes 

In this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss, hosts Dr Mary Barson and Dr Lucy Burns explore the intricate relationship between stress and its profound influence on our health and weight loss journey. They acknowledge that stress is an omnipresent aspect of life, encompassing both minor and major stressors, and is an inherent part of the human experience.

Explore the importance of understanding the physiological foundations of stress. Stress constitutes our body's reaction to perceived threats, a mechanism that once aided our ancestors in surviving life-threatening situations like encounters with predators. When confronted with a threat, our bodies undergo a cascade of changes, including heightened senses, increased blood flow to muscles, accelerated heart rate, and other adaptive responses designed for immediate action.

However, in contemporary society, stress often takes on a chronic nature and is less tied to life-threatening circumstances. Dr Lucy and Dr Mary underscore the detrimental effects of chronic stress on our health and overall well-being. Prolonged stress can elevate the risk of heart disease, strokes, insulin resistance, weight gain, and psychological ailments. The key, they assert, is not to eliminate stress entirely but to bolster our capacity to withstand it and regain a state of relaxation when stressors arise.

Dr Lucy and Dr Mary introduce meditation as a potent tool for managing stress. They debunk prevalent misconceptions about meditation, emphasizing that it doesn't necessitate absolute silence, extended sessions, or a tranquil environment. Meditation can be as brief as a single minute, with daily increments in duration. These small steps can yield significant enhancements in stress resilience.

Additionally, Dr Lucy and Dr Mary endorse their 30-Day Mindfulness Meditation Program, an accessible resource for those seeking a structured approach to incorporate meditation into their daily lives.

In summation, this episode underscores that stress is an inherent facet of existence, but effective management can profoundly influence various facets of our health and well-being. Commencing with modest measures, such as meditation, can yield substantial improvements in resilience and overall health.

Embark on a 30-day Mindfulness journey with our Meditation Program and unlock the power of relaxation and resilience. Start small, build your inner calm, and experience profound changes in your life here: https://www.rlmedicine.com/30daymeditation

Episode 170: 

Dr Mary Barson: (0:11)
Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson

Dr Lucy Burns: (0:15) And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of

Both: (0:20) Real Health and Weight Loss!

Dr Lucy Burns: (0:23) Hello lovely listeners, Dr Mary here from Real Life Medicine, and I am joined by my lovely colleague, Dr Lucy. How's it going lovely one?

Dr Lucy Burns  (0:35)  Oh, well, I'm feeling lovely because you've called me lovely. How is it going? Look, If I wanted to whitewash everything, I'd go fine. Yeah, fine, fine. No problem, fine. Yeah, great, great. In fact, it probably would go terrific, fabulous. But you know, I think like everybody, life at various times, I've got quite a bit of stress going on. And, you know, while I don't need to share all the intricate details, I think it's important to acknowledge that not every day in the life of Dr Lucy, Dr Mary, is a bed of roses.

Dr Mary Barson  (1:10)  I would agree with that. wholeheartedly, in fact, yes, yes. I do also have my stressors, which are sometimes significant, not the times less so.

Dr Lucy Burns  (1:26)  Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, I think today, you know, we've got a great topic to talk about the idea, because whenever people are looking at a health and weight loss journey, and particularly when people are focused on weight loss as their outcome, as soon as the numbers stop going down, the focus on the food, what am I eating wrong? And particularly that word wrong. What am I doing wrong? What am I eating wrong? What am I eating too much of?

Dr Mary Barson  (1:53)  All right here is I'm doing everything right. I'm doing everything right. And I'm not losing weight. That's the flip side of what am I doing wrong.

Dr Lucy Burns  (2:01)  Yes, yes, you're absolutely right. So yeah, the two things what am I doing wrong? Or I'm doing everything right, therefore, I should be losing weight. And so we go, hmm. So you know, today, I think we're talking about the idea that, yeah, food is the foundation. Absolutely. You've got to get that right. However, there's more to it. And we spoke a bit about this last week with the nuances of weight loss for this week. That pesky hormone cortisol, which comes as a stress response is so incredibly important. And people just constantly underestimate its effect.

Dr Mary Barson  (2:36)  That stress, like constant, high levels of stress in our lives is extremely damaging to our health to our well-being. And it quite literally impairs our ability to lose weight. And to be metabolically well, and it sounds soft, it sounds airy-fairy, you know, you just need to stress less, you just need to manage your stress. But it is a very true, very real, very physiological physical problem that so many of us suffer with when we aren't able to cope with the stress in our lives, we aren't able to increase our resilience to the stress in our lives, and we aren't able to manage it. And I think that a lot of people just don't really know how or they might feel completely overwhelmed at the idea of being able to manage your stress. But there's a lot of subtle importance of nuances here. And also, you can start really small, small changes have the power to create enormous compounding beneficial results in your life. And if you just start, then things can really start to improve and improve quickly.

Dr Lucy Burns  (4:00)  Absolutely. And well, you know, not that my family ever listened to my podcast, but if they ever did, we often have a snigger about compound interest, which is a little just inside family joke, but it's about the idea that you know, compound interest is that you start small, and it grows. The concept is not rocket science, but we neglect to take this into account when we're talking about health. People understand that talking about wealth and money creation, but they don't then apply the same principles to health which is exactly the same. 

Dr Mary Barson  (4:39)  People are often will be very dismissive of the idea of starting small like I've got 30 kilos to lose, I've got 200 pounds or, you know, I'm just I'm so incredibly stressed. Everything in my life is just falling apart. You know, me doing three minutes of meditation a day isn't going to achieve anything so why would I even bother? You know, we could be afraid to do something small. The chance that it won't help. But the really amazing thing about us humans and about our physiology, and the physiology of our health and weight loss, is that small changes really can make a big difference. And we're really complicated. And we are really simple at the same time. The actual hormonal interplay between stress and weight gain, and metabolic hormones between our sex hormones, our thyroid hormones and our circadian hormones. And whether we feel tired, whether we're getting enough sleep, whether we're moving our bodies or getting sunlight, it's mind-bogglingly complex. Every single system affects every other system in myriad ways. It is incredibly complicated. And absolutely everything affects absolutely everything else. Your sleep affects everything, your stress affects everything, and your food affects everything. And that might sound like an overwhelming situation. It's also incredibly complex. But actually, it's really empowering. Because just tackling something. And just starting with something like your stress, like your sleep, stress is a really good one. It impacts everything else. So starting with a little bit of improving your resilience to stress, starting with a little bit of like meditation, because it's so powerful. It can then impact, has can ripple through every other aspect of your health. And that is how things start to compound quite quickly. Small changes are everything. Yeah.

Dr Lucy Burns  (6:49)  And I reckon if I had $1, for every time I heard somebody say, I've tried meditating, but I can't do it. I'd be a gazillionaire. Because the whole thing is, nobody can do it at the start. Like, it's like saying, I tried to learn French. And I went to a French lesson, and I couldn't understand it. Of course not. Or I started to learn the piano. But you know, look, really, I just all I could do with chopsticks, I couldn't do it. And it's like, no, it's actually skill. You need to understand how it works, why you're doing it and what the point of it is. And I think for a lot of people, they're the bits that are missing. And they just go in and hope that somehow they're going to sit on a chair or cushion and their brain will be quiet. And they'll feel better.

Dr Mary Barson  (7:36)  Yep. And if you can't get your brain to go completely switched off, you know, like a little robot pushing a button to power down, that you're not doing it correctly. But that's not what it's about at all. In fact, so much of the benefit of meditating is the process of trying to allow your thoughts to focus on a lovely, calming anchor, and then watching them fly off into the future into the past, noticing when your thoughts fly off, and then just gently bringing them back again, and then they will fly off again. And I like to think of it as this little dance that you play with your brain. So the idea is that you shouldn't be dancing that you shouldn't be thinking, but that you play this little game of watching your thoughts, becoming aware bringing them back, that is meditation, it's not being able to just propel yourself into some absolute state of blissful peace and Nirvana, where there's absolutely nothing going on in your mind except the sound of trickling water. That's not what you need.

Dr Lucy Burns  (8:42)  No, no. And you know, like everything we often talk about, you know, I love the analogy that we'll use of walking a dog or a puppy in particular. So you've got a new puppy and your dogs running all over the place. And you're constantly saying, you know, heal or whatever word you use to bring the dog back. So it's not just running amok. And over time, your dog will go over and sniff something and then just come back, and it'll go and sniff, something just comes back. But it's not a whole, you're not having to hold that back. You're not having to yell at it to come back. And quite a lot of the time, it will just stay with you. And that's basically what happens with meditation initially, your dog is going to run all over the place. But I think people think the only way they can meditate is if there are no bushes in the first place. The only way I can do it is if the room is deathly quiet, or the only way I can do it is if I've got nothing else going on in my life that's going to distract me. And that's basically like trying to walk you know, yeah, okay, you want to take your dog for a walk in the desert. Nobody wants to do that. Yeah,

Dr Mary Barson  (9:51)  Totally. I do my meditation outside in the morning with the baby and a dog. Also probably keeping one and you're out for is my other child going to wake up and request something. So, yes, you don't need to be some perfect vacuum that you transport yourself into, you can literally fit a few minutes into your life, wherever you are. 

Dr Lucy Burns  (10:19)  Yeah, absolutely. And it's really interesting because if you ask most people, they'll go, I know I should be meditating, like people know, they know now that the benefits are profound. And I mean, there's truckloads of research on it. It's research on its improvement, not just in your general well-being, so the current you will feel better, initially, but future you know it has anti-cancer benefits and cardiovascular benefits, and here's the interesting thing. When I was a junior doctor, one of our risk factors for cardiovascular disease was type A personality, which is actually, I think being completely debunked anyway, but it's just you know, the stressed person that go go go you know, the person who has always got stuff on. Well actually that's most of us, honestly, it really is. Most of us, especially nowadays. Yeah, yeah, yeah, cuz this was, like 40 years ago now. Yeah. Nowadays, everybody is like that. But that risk factor has dropped off. Instead, we just focus on smoking, cholesterol and diabetes. And nobody, nobody talks about stress as being a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But yes, it definitely is.

Dr Mary Barson  (11:31)  Yes, indeed.

Dr Lucy Burns  (11:33)  So I think Miss, most people would agree that you know, our society, it's stressful. But I guess what does that word even mean? And when we talk about the physiology, what are we talking about?

Dr Mary Barson  (11:50)  Yeah, so we're talking about our stress response. And we evolved a stress response as animals way back in our evolutionary history to help us survive life-threatening events. And this was extremely useful for our ancient ancestors on the plains of the savanna. So if a lion or pride of lionesses came along, to where you and all of your loved ones were happily collecting berries, and you'd see the lions, this is a very stressful situation. We have evolved a stress response to help us very quickly navigate that situation, to help us run away from the lions, to help us outsmart the lions, to help us hide from the lions, to help us fight off the lions. It's all about surviving the lion attack or equivalents. So when we perceive a threat, such as the lion, our amygdala in our brain, the emotional part of our brain is like– Ah, we are in danger. And then it sets off this cascade of these neurotransmitters, hormones and neurological events throughout our body that get us primed to be able to survive that short-term situation, our senses sharpen, we become more hyper-vigilant, we get increased blood flow to our muscles, we become tense, we become ready for action, our blood pressure goes up, our heart beats faster, we start breathing quicker, our digestion really just stops and slows down. Because at that point in time, it's just not the priority. We have all these hormones released into our blood that make it sort of thicker and clutter and make us actually hold on to fluid we get fluid retention, which is really useful. If we get bitten by the sideline, then we're more likely to lose a lot of blood and more likely to be able to survive. We get our liver starts releasing extra blood sugar and blood fats into our blood. So we've got fuel to use, all of these things are happening, which helps us survive and increase our chances of surviving that particular situation.

Dr Lucy Burns  (13:58)  So useful, so useful.

Dr Mary Barson  (14:01)  Absolutely, we probably wouldn't be here without it. And it's something we share with all mammals. We've all got this stress response. And it's quite, it's really, really good. If you're being chased by a lion. It's actually quite helpful even if you're sitting for an examination or something that increased moment that increased concentration can really be helpful. So there's, there's good stress, that's like kind of a use stress. But the problem is that when we get long-term stress, and we're humans, anything that we psychologically worry about, triggers our stress response. So it's not lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my it is life. It's work. It's deadlines. It's worrying about whether or not we're perfect parents. It's chronic sleep deprivation, it's traffic jams, it's interest rate rises. It's all of these things that we can't control that if we aren't careful, can keep us constantly in this stress response. And the long term, it's so bad for us, you know that increased heart rate and blood pressure and fluid retention increases our risk of heart disease, as you're saying before, increases our risk of strokes and increases our risk of DVTs. That insulin resistance that you get, the stress response actually causes you to be insulin resistant at that moment, that literally, literally contributes to our metabolic disease, which literally contributes to our weight gain, and can make us put on weight more easily and have more trouble losing weight, as well as it's really bad psychologically, sort of very nice place to live. Over time, that constant vigilance can also hamper our cognition and clarity, creativity, and also inflammation. It's a pro-inflammatory state. And that has a whole flow-on effect, myriad problems. So chronic stress is really, really, really bad for you. That's the doom and gloom.

Dr Lucy Burns  (16:05)  Yeah. And it's interesting, because last week's newsletter, by the time this comes out, it'll be two weeks ago, the title was, The Stress is Killing Me. And people will often say that it's a little throwaway line, has our thoughts– great, but the stress is killing me. Well, it actually is like, you know, newsflash, it's not a throwaway line, it truly is.

Dr Mary Barson  (16:25)  No like that chronic stress causes all of these problems, the gut thing like chronic stress can cause significant gut issues and gut dysfunction long term. It is literally, literally making us sicker, and literally contributing to the things that kill us.

Dr Lucy Burns  (16:45)  Yes, and really the idea at the end of the day, we want to, you know, yeah, so it's that Goldilocks response, isn't it? We want some, if you don't have any stress response, then you know, you won't even notice when a car’s coming to run you over and you'll just get killed. So you need a stress response. But like Goldilocks too much, it will kill you.

Dr Mary Barson  (17:06)  That it will, it will. And there's a phenomenon with humans that we only have one stress response. So it doesn't matter if you're stressed because you're being chased down the streets by a bear, or you are stressed because you've just had a really unpleasant conversation with your boss. It's the same thing physiologically happening inside our bodies. It's the same.

Dr Lucy Burns  (17:31  Absolutely. And the thing is that as humans, we do have stressful lives, as you know, we people get our loved ones get sick, and loved ones are in pain. We’re sick, were in pain, you know, bills come, this is normal. And it's about not trying to control the external stressors. I mean, yes, there may be some things that you can do to change it. But it's not actually about that. That is not the cure for managing your stress.

Dr Mary Barson  (18:02)  No, it's about increasing your resilience to the stresses that we can't avoid. And teaching your body to be in that relaxed state in your rest and digest state we could do this. So logically, we know that herds of a lot of zebras are out on the African savanna, they've got stressors in their lives, and they get hunted by lions, however, zebras still spend most of their time neurologically, physiologically and hormonally, in a relaxed state. They spend most of their time and then yes, the lion comes along, and they're stressed and they do something about it, mostly run away slash, you know, find Little Falls, keep them safe. But then, after that stressful event is over, they go back to being chilled-out zebras. And so it's not the only way that they can be chilled-out zebras as if we went and eradicated all lions from the world. And I'm certainly not suggesting we do that. Absolutely not. But the zebras managed to spend most of their time being chilled out to spite the fact that they have lions in their lives and that lions are an inescapable reality of being a zebra. We have got metaphorical lions that are an inescapable effect of being a human. And certainly, some people have got more metaphorical lions than others. So it's not about making the lions go away. It is about taking some small steps to be a bit more like the zebra so that you can be relaxed much of the time.

Dr Lucy Burns  (19:41)   Absolutely. And I think there are two ways to think about relaxation because again, when you think about relaxation, you know, people think about lying in a hammock in the Bahamas, you know, or they'll think I just watched Netflix to wind down. So there's that kind of, I guess what we might refer to as a have a superficial relaxation, but there's actual physiological relaxation, which is then that thing that you've referred to as the rest and digest phase or, you know, technically the parasympathetic, activating your parasympathetic nerves. And there are lots of tools that you can do for that. And again, one of the most powerful is meditation. It's not the only tool, but it is a powerful one.

Dr Mary Barson  (20:30)  And I love it, because it’s an investment of just a few minutes a day in meditation, even if you feel like you're not doing it properly, it still can be so powerful. So it's like a few minutes a day, can completely change the trajectory of your health, especially since everything is connected to everything else. So you start working on your resilience to stress, then all the other aspects of your health could start to improve as well.

Dr Lucy Burns  (20:57)  Absolutely. And you know, I think for a lot of people, again, we often talk about this, you go out too hard, too soon, you know, the fast and the furious, and they think– I'm gonna, I'm gonna meditate, and we're gonna do a half an hour every day. And if you've never done it before, that's way too long, way too hard, not sustainable, not going to be useful. And you're not just not going to do it. Like it's, you know, it's like, I'm gonna start running, and I'm going to start with a marathon every day, you just have to start with the small steps. And that's really the reason that we designed our meditation program. With that in mind, it literally increases by one minute, per day. And for a lot of people, their brain says, I don't have time. I just don't have time to meditate. Listen too busy, I'm already busy. Don't give me another job. And it's like, well, actually, what about one minute? Could you find a minute? Of course, yes, of course. Because you can't argue with a minute. You know, if we can all do one minute to go, we'll start with one minute. And then you know, the next day, you'll go, well, one minute, that was pretty easy, I can probably do two. And then the next day, you'll get to three. And then you'll get to four. And because you've got a program to follow, you suddenly get into a bit of a routine. And you might decide that 10 minutes a day is enough for you and you just continue on 10 a day or other people might want to do more. You're the boss of you, can do it if you like. But the concept of just being able to start meditating without committing to practising it and learning it is like wanting to you know, play the piano and start off with you know, Mozart, some books, I don't know any Mozart songs, but whatever mode so yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I'm gonna go out and I'm just gonna learn how to play Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Dr Mary Barson  (23:00)  So don’t be afraid to start small.

Dr Lucy Burns  (23:04)  A minute a day, increase by minute and minute by minute, a bit like compound interest. dollar by dollar. It all builds up. It's so easy.

Dr Mary Barson  (23:18)  So Lucy, tell us a bit more about this meditation program. It's available for people.

Dr Lucy Burns  (23:22)  Yeah, absolutely. So if you're thinking, yep, alright, you know what? Yeah, you've convinced me I do need to do something, it would be helpful to have another tool, then yeah, we've got a 30-day Mindfulness Meditation Program. There are lots of different types of meditation. This mindfulness really uses the breath as the anchor. You just download it so you can purchase it on our website, or www.rlmedicine.com/30daymeditation, all one word, it's quite a long URL. But again, we've also linked it in the show notes.

Dr Mary Barson  (23:58)  Stress, everything is connected to everything else. And those little steps, beautiful people, just taking a little step can make massive changes. Probably a lot quicker than you may realize.

Dr Lucy Burns  (24:13)  Indeed, indeed. Alright, gorgeous peeps. We'll see you next week. Have a wonderful week. See ya!

Dr Mary Barson: (24:24)So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy Burns…

Dr Mary Barson: (24:32)  and I'm Dr Mary Barson. We’re from Real Life Medicine. To contact us, please visit rlmedicine.com

Dr Lucy Burns: (24:43)  And until next time…

Both: (24:44) Thanks for listening!

Dr Lucy Burns: (24:47) The information shared on the Real Health and Weight Loss podcast, including show notes and links, provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide, individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.

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