Health

The Number-One Rule of Weight Loss

The surprising reason people can't shed pounds

Hungry all the time and craving sugar?

We’ve known for a long time that being tired messes with your mind. This past week, health officials warned that if you’ve missed even an hour or two of the recommended seven hours of sleep within a 24-hour period, it’s the same as if you’re driving under the influence.

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But another new study adds to the growing body of evidence sleep can have a significant impact on your waistline. The meta-analysis of 11 small studies found that those who weren’t getting enough sleep ate an average of 385 calories more than usual the next day. Tired participants also didn’t get any more exercise than usual to burn off the extra calories.

So you’re hungry, and on top of it, you’re lazy — because you’re tired, grabbing whatever may be in front of you. Most often, that means you’re eating foods that are high in fat rather than lean protein.

“Don’t run out for a caramel macchiato. Take a nap instead, and aim to get to bed earlier,” said one nutritionist.

“If you’re getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, then you are sleep-deprived,” said Cristy Nickel, a nutritionist, celebrity trainer, and former professional boxer. “The majority of Americans fall into this category and stumble through their day in a fog. It is my belief that most people eat for other reasons — other than actually being hungry — with a main reason that they’re sleep-deprived. When you’re sleep-deprived, you reach for the quickest form of energy — sugar — which does you no good. No one ever makes good food decisions when they’re burning the candle at both ends.”

Nickel recommends if you can’t get enough sleep, this time of year especially, to grab a nap when possible. “When your body responds to normal holiday stress with a sugar craving, listen to it! But don’t run out for a caramel macchiato. Instead take a nap, and aim to get to bed earlier that night.”

How does your mind work to sabotage your waistline? Previous research suggests a lack of sleep messes with the hormones that control appetite. On top of that, feeling tired can “heighten the motivation to seek food for reward.”

Related: Don’t Even Think About This During the Holidays

Bottom line: Get more sleep. It’s that easy. You won’t be as hungry, you’ll be more motivated to exercise, and there will be fewer calories to burn off. You’ll feel better when you do indulge over the holidays and you won’t need to ask for pants a size larger this year.

“The number-one rule in weight loss is sleep,” said Nickel. “The body with not let go of fat if you are sleep-deprived. The body senses a lack of sleep as stress and will hang onto body fat to protect the brain, which is 60 percent fat. When clients hire me to help them lose weight, I insist they get at least seven hours of sleep.  I have their sleep tracker connect with me directly so I can see how much sleep they’re getting per night. They know this going into my program — I require a certain number of hours of sleep.”

She added, “If they aren’t willing or able to change their habits and lifestyle to allow more sleep, they can’t go through my program.”

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