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Dealing with stress and finding joy: Dr Libby Weaver

Dr Libby Weaver is an internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and speaker, and has just released wellness cards to educate and inspire. She chatted with Metropol about her secrets to de-stress, what brings her joy and a new way we can all make health a daily priority.


With the silly season fast approaching, do you get stressed?
“There are always going to be stressful situations in our lives that we can’t avoid. But a lot of the daily stress we experience comes from our perceptions and thoughts, so there is a lot of unnecessary suffering and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve had a period in my life where I was a ‘Rushing Woman’ and that showed me that I had to make some changes – practically, but also exploring where I was creating stress for myself through perceptions of pressure and urgency. That’s where the gold really is.”

What do you do to relax?
“Having some time to myself early in the morning outside, watering trees and vegies, and watching the chickens, is a joy and brings me a sense of spaciousness, even if my day ahead is incredibly full. I also really love to watch the light changing in the sky. I made a decision a while back that I wanted to see more sunsets so even if my work day hasn’t ended by that time, I do my best to take a break to watch it.”

Why is prioritising health and wellness so important – and in particular this year?
“Collectively, I think there has been a realisation of just how important our health is, yet it’s so easy for self-care to sink to the bottom of the priority list, unless there is a health crisis. I think that for many who have slowed down this year, there’s also been a realisation that they don’t necessarily want to go back to how they were living previously.
“Ultimately, if we don’t prioritise our own health and wellbeing eventually it’s going to catch up with us and we won’t be able to contribute and care for others in the way we really want to. Taking great care of the immune system has become a focus this year, and how we eat, drink, move, think, breathe, believe and perceive really does matter—not just to immune system function but to every cell in the body.”

What can we all do to prioritise our health and wellbeing on a daily basis?
“Many people share with me that they struggle to consistently take great care of themselves so I wanted to do something different this year that would help. That’s why I created my new Wellness Cards – I wanted to offer a simple way for health to become a consistent priority in your day or week, even if you feel time-poor. The cards are divided across the three pillars that I focus on – biochemical, nutritional and emotional.”


The stress eating equation

For many of us, stressful times means picking up the packet of chocolate biscuits instead of the kale salad. Dr Libby Weaver breaks down the ‘why’ for us and provides us with some effective strategies for eliminating stress.


Many people believe weight is all about calories in versus calories out, why do you think it is so much for complex than that?

The calorie equation, which was first published in 1918, and on which today’s dieting mentality is still based, fails to factor in crucial elements of the modern world.

For example, it does not consider the metabolic consequences of modern day food.

It continues under the false belief that all that matters to body shape and size is your fat, protein and carbohydrate (and alcohol) intake: the macronutrients from where you obtain your calories.

Yet there are nine factors that influence whether the body gets the message to store fat or burn it.

For example, when your fight or flight response is activated – done by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – your body gets the message that your life is in danger.

To supply you with fuel to escape from the danger, you need one that is fast-burning.

The only two fuels for the body are glucose (sugar) and fat so the body will preferentially utilise more glucose than fat in this situation.

As a result, too many people have lost the ability to efficiently burn fat as a fuel due to stress, so they store more fat and crave sugar to top up what they are burning.

Yet the stress we face these days is primarily psychological rather than a physical threat to our life so the SNS is constantly and relentlessly activated for many people these days.

Another example involves our gut bacteria.

Research published from 2008 onwards has shown that the types of bacteria you have inhabiting your colon can influence what calories are worth – yet another example of how a calorie isn’t always a calorie.

There’s far more to it as most women who have tried a calorie-restricted diet from about age 35 onwards will attest and all of this is a major focus of my work.

How does stress make you put on weight?

Stress—whether real or perceived—communicates to the body that it is in danger and triggers the production of stress hormones.

It’s just how we are biochemically wired.

When that stress becomes ongoing and persistent, our long-term stress hormone, cortisol, begins to rise.

Because this hormone is linked to times historically where food was scarce (think of long-term stress sources in the past such as war, drought or famines), it signals to the body to start storing body fat as this can be used as energy.

To do this, it has a catabolic effect, meaning it breaks your muscles down so you’re your metabolic rate is slower, giving your more of a chance to still be alive when the food supply is restored.

However, for most people in our modern world, food isn’t scarce so all of a sudden we’re getting the message to store more body fat and it often influences us to make different food choices as well.

How does that stress influence whether we pick up a bag of chips or a kale salad?

There are two aspects to this—one is biochemical and the other is emotional.

Biochemically, as I just mentioned, the stress hormone cortisol, communicates to the body that it needs to start storing body fat in case food becomes scarce.

The quickest and easiest energy source for us is glucose (sugar) and so when our cortisol levels are raised, not only will we be more likely to store instead of burn body fat, we’ll also be more drawn to carbohydrate-rich foods which are broken down into glucose in the body.

Emotionally, when we are stressed we tend to feel less motivated and lack energy.

This in itself can lead us to make different food choices.

Throw into the mix that many people use food to TRY to make themselves feel better or numb out to what might be uncomfortable feelings (even though you may not recognise that this is what you are doing at the time), and you’ve got another scenario in which you’re more likely to opt for potato chips over kale salad.

What are some of the best foods that we should be reaching for during particularly stressful times to support our overall wellbeing?

When we experience stress, our need for nutrients increases because now, on top of all the other important biochemical processes that happen within us all day every day, we also have to build stress hormones as well.

Our body requires specific nutrients in order to build these stress hormones—many of which are needed for other vital biochemical processes – things like B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium.

Yet stress hormones are considered the priority so the nutrients will go to their creation before anything else.

This is one mechanism through which stress can begin to take a toll on our health and we may begin to experience symptoms in our body that we don’t initially connect to extended stress.

So what we really need to focus on during times like these is increasing our intake of whole, real food—especially plenty of vegetables.

What are some of the most effective strategies for eliminating stress?

It’s very difficult to reduce your experience of stress without exploring your perception of pressure and urgency as well as any beliefs you have that might be creating perceptions of stress.

Restorative practices such as diaphragmatic breathing, restorative yoga, tai chi, meditation or qi gong are wonderful balms to a stressed nervous system, however, we need to get to the heart of what is causing our stress in order to transform it.

Most often it is our mind.

To examine what’s truly at the heart of our stress, instead of scrutinising WHAT stresses us out, we need to examine HOW we actually think.

This is a concept I dive into deeply in my book, The Invisible Load.

For example, when a colleague phones you and asks where some work is as she needed it yesterday, we often don’t really hear what the person has said – instead we hear what we think they meant.

Behind their request for work, we’ll perceive that they think we are lazy, or inefficient, or not a hard worker – in other words we perceive that they now see us in an unfavourable way.

So the stress comes from worrying about what they think of us. Yet we dreamed that bit up. All they did was ask for work and we created their “disapproval” of us with our thinking. That’s the type of “stress” we can change. That’s the part I’m interested in.


Overcoming Overwhelm: Dr Libby

A nutritional biochemist, bestselling author, speaker and founder of the plant-based supplement range Bio Blends, Dr Libby Weaver has been making her way around the country speaking about ‘overcoming overwhelm’, which she presents to Christchurch on 8 October.



We caught up with everyone’s favourite doctor about overcoming overwhelm and her latest book to hit the shelves.


Your latest book The Invisible Load has just come out. This is the book everyone needs to read! Why was this one so important for you to write?
So many people tell me that they feel stressed or overwhelmed by their everyday lives. Not only does this mean that for too many people, life has become a pressure cooker with very little space for anything outside duty and responsibility that brings them joy – but knowing what I know about biochemistry, I understand the true impact that this is having on their bodies and their health. It is possible to live a busy and fulfilling life that doesn’t have you feeling up to the eyeballs in stress and I wanted to help people to experience this for themselves.

What is your ‘invisible load’?
Each of us carries with us a weight that silently drives the stress we feel. We may not realise it is there, just as others may not know the load we carry, which is why I call it your invisible load and it might be physical or emotional, or both.

How much impact is the invisible load having on our health and our happiness?
Physically, your invisible load is your body’s manifestation of the stress you feel. It’s likely your body’s invisible load in action (as long as diseases have been ruled out) when you suffer with symptoms such as exhaustion, weight gain, digestive complaints like bloating, uncomfortable periods or menopausal transitions, frequent headaches, or even sugar cravings and restless sleep. However, we aren’t always aware that stress has been kicking on in the background for years so we may not realise this is what it is. The invisible load on your emotions is somewhat harder to pinpoint because you will probably feel that it is just part of who you are – it’s been fused with your identity. Constructed from your life experiences and the beliefs you have created from these experiences, it filters across every thought you have, affecting how you react and respond to the situations in your life that you face on a daily basis. Essentially though, it has an incredible impact on how we feel about our body and our life as well as significantly affecting our overall health.

A common theme that seems to run through a lot of your books is the idea that the thoughts we feed ourselves are just as critical as the nutrition we feed ourselves. Why is this such an important theme for you to get across?
We can’t control what happens in our day, but with awareness and practise, we can begin to catch a glimpse of how we’re thinking. This is the ribbon we need to grab hold of in order to unravel our stress once and for all. It’s catching these perceptions, thoughts and beliefs that will ultimately alter our biochemistry, transform our health and our experience of stress, as well as how we live.

What are some of your favourite ways to feed your soul?
I love to watch the patterns of nature, especially watching the sun rise or set or looking up at a sky full of stars. I’ve recently gotten back into tennis and playing this is another soul-nourishing activity for me. I also love to read and there isn’t much I find more nourishing than losing myself in someone else’s words.

If there was one key message you could get out to the overwhelmed working mums out there, what would that message be?
Prioritise your own nourishment and self-care. So often mums put themselves at the bottom of their own priority list, not realising that they’re actually doing a disservice to the people in their life they put ahead of their own needs. As the saying goes, we can’t fill from an empty cup. Everyone around you will benefit from you making time for your health and happiness. When we take good care of ourselves it has an immense ripple effect.

What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
After my spring tour around Australia and New Zealand which comes to the end in October, I will run my Essential Women’s Health Weekends, put the finishing touches on a new online course, and have some days not doing much. I can already feel the next book buzzing around in my head so I will likely start that soon too. And, in between those things, I will spend lots of time doing whatever feels right for me at the time. Anything from pottering in my garden and playing tennis to devouring some good books.