How to Feel Great and Lose Weight—Beyond Your Diet

by JJ Virgin on May 18, 2023

During my four decades as a nutrition expert, I’ve identified seven foods to avoid for losing weight and feeling better. I found that when you eat is equally important as what you eat. And I’ve taught people how to break their sugar addiction and reclaim their taste buds so that naturally sweet foods like almonds and bell peppers feel satisfying.

What you eat certainly matters, but it’s not the only factor in your weight struggles. 

The Wired-and-Tired Cycle

Without quality sleep, you’re going to struggle with weight loss, your mood and energy levels, and so much more.

Think about a time you didn’t sleep well. You start out feeling groggy and disheveled, reaching for a third cup of coffee to stay alert and semi-functional before you even hit lunchtime. Little challenges become monumental difficulties, you’re more likely to get irritated at your colleagues and family, and even though you’re tired, falling asleep feels impossible.

“Wired and tired” describes feeling simultaneously energetic and exhausted. You’re wired from consuming too much caffeine or working for long hours, which makes winding down for bed incredibly difficult. A vicious cycle ensues. Your mind is racing ahead, you can’t sleep, weight loss stalls, and you feel crappy throughout the day.

When you sleep well, weight loss becomes easier, you look and feel like a rock star, and you maintain steady focus and energy throughout your day.

Why Good Sleep Is a Key Weight-Loss Strategy

High-quality sleep is an important strategy to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Below, I talk about five reasons why, along with helpful strategies, blogs, and episodes of Well Beyond 40 to further support your sleep goals.

1. Sleep Keeps Your Hunger-Regulating Hormones Steady

It’s not a problem of willpower if you wake up after a crappy night’s sleep craving a heaping stack of syrup-soaked pancakes. Poor sleep can scramble your hunger-regulating hormones, leaving you more prone to bad eating decisions throughout the day.

When you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Conversely, you’re making less leptin, a hormone that balances out ghrelin by suppressing appetite.

The end result when leptin and ghrelin fall out of balance? You’re far more likely to nose-dive into that box of donuts in the office breakroom.

One review of 50 studies found that insufficient sleep can negatively impact your appetite and cravings, contributing to blood-sugar imbalances, weight gain, poor eating choices, and more.¹

Great sleep keeps those hunger-regulating hormones in check, which means you’re not as likely to reach for seconds or crave those cookies staring you down in your pantry. You may even eat less: one study found that those who met their sleep quota ate about 270 fewer calories every day than those who skimped on sleep.²

2. Sleep Gives You More Energy and Focus

Waking up groggy after tossing and turning all night can impact your entire day.

Chronic sleep deprivation crashes your energy and focus in so many ways: your brain doesn’t work as well, you rely on caffeine throughout the day, and you’re more likely to blow off your after-work gym visit.

Research confirms this: both short- and long-term sleep deprivation negatively impact your attention, memory, and other brain functions.³ Quality sleep, on the other hand, can give you more energy and focus in several ways:

  • Repair and recovery: Sleep helps the body repair and regenerate tissues, muscles, and organs, so they (and you) perform better throughout the day.
  • Cognitive function: Sleep helps clear harmful waste from the brain, improving mental clarity and focus.
  • Better memory and mood: Sleep can improve your mood and ability to manage emotions.

3. Sleep Helps You Make Better Eating Decisions

Think of dopamine as a “reward chemical.” When you do something that feels good, your brain releases this chemical and you feel satisfied. By remembering how on-top-of-the-world you felt, you’re motivated to make that choice again. The problem is, when you’re sleep-deprived, those choices aren’t always the smartest options.

Sleep deprivation can decrease dopamine levels as well, whereas solid sleep optimizes levels of this brain chemical. And when dopamine stays in balance, you’re able to better regulate your impulsive behavior and make more deliberate, thoughtful decisions, especially around food.⁴

Studies show that higher levels of dopamine can help people make healthier food choices, such as avoiding afternoon snacking.⁵ Likewise, animal studies show that higher dopamine levels can increase feelings of fullness and decrease hunger after eating.⁶

4. Sleep Helps You Handle Stress Better

Sleep deprivation and stress go together: when you’re sleep deprived, you don’t handle stress as well and blow tiny situations out of proportion. Conversely, when you feel stressed out constantly, your sleep suffers.⁷

Underlying these imbalances is cortisol, your primary stress hormone. Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and decline throughout the day, reaching their lowest levels at night.

You guessed it: sleep is important for regulating cortisol levels and ensuring that they follow a normal pattern. Lack of sleep or sleep disturbances can keep cortisol levels elevated when they shouldn’t be, leading to chronic stress, health problems, and the irresistible urge to devour a brownie at 9 am (even though you’re not particularly hungry).

Research shows that people with abdominal obesity have elevated cortisol levels.⁸ And when you get A-list sleep? You guessed it: cortisol levels stay balanced… and so do you.

Take Ten Stress Support is a uniquely formulated product that provides gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter for a normal, calm stress response. We’ve also added other calming nutrients including glycine, niacinamide, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.*

5. Sleep Keeps Your Blood-Sugar Levels Balanced

When you maintain steady blood-sugar levels, your entire day gets better. Your energy and mood stay in balance, you perform during your workday more effectively, and you’re far less likely to struggle with hunger and cravings that can inhibit weight loss or make you gain weight.

When you’re sleep deprived, your body has a harder time regulating blood sugar. Eventually, this can lead to insulin resistance, where your cells “resist” the call of this hormone. Left unchecked, insulin resistance contributes to obesity, diabetes, and more.

One study surveyed nine healthy folks after a night of solid sleep (8.5 hours), and again after a night of 4 hours of sleep. The results were shocking: just that one night of sleep deprivation created insulin resistance… and this was in healthy people!⁹

To be fair, sleep deprivation isn’t the only culprit for insulin resistance. When you start your day with a muffin or fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt along with a flavored latte, you’re creating a blood sugar roller coaster that’s set to crash late morning. 

But let’s be honest: you’re more likely to have a high-sugar impact morning like this when you don’t sleep well, setting you on a spike-and-crash blood sugar cycle.

Transform Your Sleep: Introducing the Optimal Sleep Program

When you don’t sleep well, everything suffers. Optimizing your overall health starts by getting deep, replenishing sleep every single night. That’s why I designed this Optimal Sleep Program, which provides an easy-to-follow, actionable blueprint for the best sleep of your life.

The Optimal Sleep Program features an Optimal Sleep Guide, covering everything you need to know to confidently get stellar shuteye every night. 

You’ll learn what foods to eat and avoid, how to manage stress and other sleep saboteurs, plus you’ll get a 7-day meal plan including nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals and loaded smoothie recipes.

For even more support, you’ll also receive my exclusive Optimal Sleep Masterclass to master these principles and address obstacles that could hinder your sleep. In this fun, packed-with-action-steps class, I reveal all my secrets and strategies for getting amazing sleep every single night.

Optimal Sleep Program also includes three supplements that work with your body to ensure you get deep, replenishing sleep every night:

  • All-In-One Shakes give you the optimal protein you need for restorative sleep (and protein’s many other benefits). Each one is loaded with protein, nutrients, and phytonutrients. They contain zero inflammatory ingredients such as dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and GMOs. Each serving contains 20+ grams of high-quality protein to help manage blood-sugar levels, reach your goal weight, and help you feel full and focused.*
  • Sleep Candy™ combines 3 mg of melatonin with 5-HTP, vitamin B6, inositol, and L-theanine. These nutrients work as a team to support healthy sleep and overall relaxation.*
  • Magnesium Body Calm provides a targeted dose of highly bioavailable chelated magnesium, which doesn’t create gastric upset or other problems like many magnesium supplements do. Among its many duties, magnesium promotes calm and improves both the quality and quantity of sleep. *

Plus, I’m throwing in a couple cool bonuses to upgrade your sleep:

  • Ziva Meditation Manifesting Sleep Online Course ($47 value)
  • A custom-designed sleep mask to ensure that you get deep, restorative sleep every night

Sleep issues can impact your brain, gut, immune system, weight loss, and so much more. Stop struggling and settling for “just OK” sleep. Deep, replenishing sleep is the key to vitality, abundant energy, and a healthy weight.

When you’re ready to take your sleep to the next level, my Optimal Sleep Program contains everything you need to get the best sleep of your life! Learn more and purchase the program here.


  1. Soltanieh S, Solgi S, Ansari M, Santos HO, Abbasi B. Effect of sleep duration on dietary intake, desire to eat, measures of food intake and metabolic hormones: A systematic review of clinical trials. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2021 Oct;45:55–65. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2021.07.029. Epub 2021 Aug 21. PMID: 34620371.
  2. Tasali E, Wroblewski K, Kahn E, Kilkus J, Schoeller DA. Effect of Sleep Extension on Objectively Assessed Energy Intake Among Adults With Overweight in Real-life Settings: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2022 Apr 1;182(4):365–374. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.8098. PMID: 35129580; PMCID: PMC8822469.
  3. Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(5):553–67. PMID: 19300585; PMCID: PMC2656292.
  4. Zald DH, Cowan RL, Riccardi P, Baldwin RM, Ansari MS, Li R, Shelby ES, Smith CE, McHugo M, Kessler RM. Midbrain dopamine receptor availability is inversely associated with novelty-seeking traits in humans. J Neurosci. 2008 Dec 31;28(53):14372–8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2423–08.2008. PMID: 19118170; PMCID: PMC2748420.
  5. Johnson PM, Kenny PJ. Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nat Neurosci. 2010 May;13(5):635–41. doi: 10.1038/nn.2519. Epub 2010 Mar 28. Erratum in: Nat Neurosci. 2010 Aug;13(8):1033. PMID: 20348917; PMCID: PMC2947358.
  6. Johnson PM, Kenny PJ. Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nat Neurosci. 2010 May;13(5):635–41. doi: 10.1038/nn.2519. Epub 2010 Mar 28. Erratum in: Nat Neurosci. 2010 Aug;13(8):1033. PMID: 20348917; PMCID: PMC2947358.
  7. Nollet M, Wisden W, Franks NP. Sleep deprivation and stress: a reciprocal relationship. Interface Focus. 2020 Jun 6;10(3):20190092. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2019.0092. Epub 2020 Apr 17. PMID: 32382403; PMCID: PMC7202382.
  8. Hewagalamulage SD, Lee TK, Clarke IJ, Henry BA. Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2016 Jul;56 Suppl:S112–20. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2016.03.004. Epub 2016 Mar 31. PMID: 27345309.
  9. Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, van Kralingen KW, Corssmit EP, Romijn JA. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963–8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2009–2430. Epub 2010 Apr 6. PMID: 20371664.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.