Losing and maintaining weight is not always as simple as calories in minus the calories you work off. Eating healthy and exercise, while still a large part of the weight loss/maintenance equation, are not the only factors at play. Glucose intolerance, chronic stress, lack of sleep, imbalanced hormones, wide spread inflammation, and exposure to toxins will sabotage your efforts and goals to achieve and maintain optimal health.
Glucose Intolerance: Isulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that attaches to and signals cells to absorb sugar in the bloodstream. This sugar comes from the carbohydrates that you eat in food and is needed by the body for energy. After you eat, the levels of sugar in your blood naturally rise and beta cells in the pancreas signal the release of insulin. If there is more sugar in the body than required for energy, insulin helps to store sugar either in fat cells, the liver, or in muscles as glycogen. Insulin will also help release these sugar stores for energy as it is needed. Your muscles are the main organs involved in the absorption of glucose in response to insulin.
Type 2 diabetes and weight gain are both a direct result of your cells becoming insulin resistant. This occurs when cells in your muscles, liver, and fat tissues are no longer efficient at absorbing insulin and regulating the amount of sugar in your blood. As a result, the pancreas tries to pump out more insulin as it sees blood sugar levels continue to rise. The pancreas can’t maintain this pace for creating insulin, preventing cells from receiving the energy they desperately need. The leading risk factors for developing insulin resistance include being overweight or obese which causes high amounts of free fatty acids in blood cells, having increased visceral fat, having a sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in fructose from added sugars, inflammation, and damaged gut microbiota.
Chronic Stress: When your body perceives or experiences stress one of its first reactions is to send out a message via cortisol telling the body to stop storing energy. The cells in the body immediately become unresponsive to insulin. This helps the body break down stored fat for energy, the liver starts to produce more glucose, and muscle cells begin to break down protein into amino acids that the liver can use to make more glucose. This is exactly how the body should act under true moments of stress or danger. However, our brain is unable to tell the difference between real danger or stress-like being attacked by a lion, and perceived danger or stress-psychological stress. Studies have shown that perceived stress is more damaging to your body than true physical danger. Chronic stress and feelings of anxiety mean that your body is constantly and unnecessarily releasing cortisol that is referred to as highly catabolic cortisol. At the same time your body has reduced the amounts of anabolic hormones it is secreting like DHEA, testosterone, and human growth hormone. This combination causes you to store fat, lose lean muscle mass, and slow your metabolism way down while your appetite increases. It takes your body hours to normalize cortisol levels, which keeps your appetite running on high that entire time. During chronic stress, levels of insulin also rise, and together with cortisol send a powerful signal to your fat cells telling them to store as much fat as possible and to hold on to stored fat. This will make it even more difficult for you to lose or maintain weight and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Studies have shown that lowering your levels of cortisol by just 14% is associated with a weight loss of more than twelve pounds.
Research on mindfulness and meditation shows that these practices support weight management and prevent insulin resistance, as those with higher levels of optimism are less likely to gain weight during high levels of stress. They are also better equipped to manage stress and keep cortisol levels from spiking. Mindfulness and meditation support sustainable weight loss through visualization, so you change your body from the inside out. There are several peer-review studies that document the health benefits of meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard physician who has researched mindfulness said, “Meditation can change your metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry”. Practicing mindfulness or meditation specifically for weight loss/management has been shown to balance hormones, reduce cravings and overeating, and creates a calm, motivated mindset. Deepak Chopra, a holistic health practitioner and proponent of meditation, believes you can see positive change through the rewiring of your brain in a little as eight weeks.
Lack of Sleep: According to published research in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sleeping less than seven hours per night can reduce and even undo the benefits of dieting or healthy eating. Dieters on the study who received adequate sleep saw half of the weight they lost come from fat. Those on the same diet but deprived of sleep lost half as much fat, and felt hungrier, lower levels of satiety, and lacked motivation and energy to exercise. Researchers from the University of Chicago coined the term “metabolic grogginess” to explain the effect lack of sleep has on fat cells. After just four days you become insulin sensitive, which leads to excessive amount of fats in your blood that get stored as fat, usually in the liver. Sleep is when the body heals and repairs, protecting itself from chronic inflammation and muscle loss. Lack of sleep causes cortisol levels to rise. Sleep also interferes with your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
Imbalanced Hormones: Leptin is called the king of hormones because it regulates fat metabolism and energy. It is made and released from your adipose tissue (stored fat) and travels to your brain to let it know how much stored fuel you have on hand. Your brain relies solely on this information to gauge nutrition and energy reserves. When leptin is low, your brain sends signals to stimulate your appetite and when leptin levels are high, your brain can send signals that you are full and satisfied. Once leptin levels are full, the brain signals your metabolism to run at high speed. When leptin levels are low, your brain immediately sets your metabolic rate at hibernation mode to prevent malnutrition. Leptin is constantly regulating the rate at which your body creates energy or the amount of energy available for every function of your body. Excess insulin interferes with the communication between leptin and the brain, sometimes causing you to stop producing leptin at all! Meaning, you never feel truly full or satisfied. High levels of fructose also induce leptin resistance. Avoid all sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup, agave, and artificial sugars. A great way to promote leptin levels in your body is to eat protein at every meal or snack. When the small intestines detect protein they create a hormone called PPY that stimulates leptin levels to help ensure satiety.
When empty, your stomach and upper intestines produce the hormone ghrelin to stimulate your appetite. Ghrelin frustrates you with hunger pangs when you diet and have a reduced caloric intake. The longer you go between meals, the more ghrelin that is produced. It has been clinically shown that high levels of ghrelin cause you to crave high calorie foods. You can avoid high levels of ghrelin by not skipping meals, eating five to six small meals per day, eat 35-40 grams of fiber per day, or making sure your snacks between meals contain protein and fiber to slow digestion. Ghrelin is also produced in the hypothalamus and stimulates the growth hormone. Ghrelin produced by the hypothalamus helps with learning and cognitive adaption to a changing environment, so you never want to completely deplete yourself of this hormone. However, you don’t need the excess!
Wide Spread Inflammation: Inflammation is one part of the body’s immune response to protect, care for and heal itself. When injury is caused near the surface of the skin it is expressed through symptoms such as redness, heat, swelling, pain or loss of function. However, when inflammation occurs deep inside the body only some symptoms, if any may be felt. Chronic inflammation has been linked to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia and severe allergies including asthma and food intolerances. Diet and lifestyle contribute heavily to chronic inflammation. During the inflammation process immune cells call on free radicals to kill off any pathogens or foreign invaders in the body. These free radicals live up to their name by being unstable particles that damage and puncture all the cells around them. This is perfect for killing bacteria and virus strains, but free radicals often get out of control and damage healthy cells. Chronic inflammation results in an increase of free radical or oxidative stress on the body. Free radicals damage blood vessels, joints, cell membranes, nerves and pretty much any part of the body they are exposed to. Free radical stress essentially ages us. The body naturally responds to excess free radicals with anti-oxidants. Chronic inflammation depletes the natural stores of anti-oxidants, increasing damage to the body. The diet and lifestyle factors that promote inflammation include:
Exposure to Toxins: The Environmental Working Group conducted a study on hundreds of volunteers to see what types of toxins people are being exposed to. They found per person, on average, 91 industrial compounds, pollutant and chemicals. According to their research, 76 of these cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain or nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. Toxins also contribute to excess weight. The chemicals used in plastics, food packaging, cosmetics and foods are stored in fat. Your liver simply is unable to keep up. Taking a supplement like Liver Care or Milk Thistle will help support the function of your life and prevent toxins from further invading your body. Toxins also influence hormones, which directly affect metabolism and body weight. Common ways you are exposed to hazardous chemicals include:
In women estrogen is made by the pituitary gland before menopause, but postmenopausal is made by the adrenal glands and fat cells. Estrogen is converted from testosterone in men, and is converted at a higher rate when carrying extra pounds. There are actually three hormones, estradiol, estrone, and estriol that make up estrogen; although estrogen is commonly just referred to as estradiol. Estradiol is the most abundant estrogen hormone. It has many roles in the body such as stimulating the cells that build bones and supporting cardiovascular health. It plays a part in blood sugar balance. Estrone is the least favorite part of estrogen as it has been linked to breast and uterine cancer. It is produced after menopause in fat cells, making women with excess stores of fat to be estrogen dominant. High estrone also blocks the benefits of estradiol in the body, and increases stress on the liver. Estriol is only produced when estradiol and estrone are converted into estriol. It helps block the negative effects of estrone on breast cells, and helps with autoimmune functions throughout the body.
There are two ways in which you can develop excess estrogen. Either your body produces too much or you become exposed to estrogens from the environment or the foods you eat. Toxins, pesticides, plastic, herbicides, and growth hormones given to animals like cows and chickens, all have compounds that act like estrogen in your body. These toxins also cause weight gain, which means you produce more estrogen from fat cells. Unfortunately, we’re not done! Weight gain leads to insulin resistance, which is directly linked to a risk of estrogen dominance. Poor digestion, liver function, stress, not getting enough sleep and a lack of exercise are all related to excess insulin. Alcohol and diets high in omega 6 fatty acids increase estrogen in both men and women.
There are several ways to determine if you are estrogen dominant. Excess estrogen affects men and women differently. In men, testosterone is more frequently converted into estrogen, causing weight gain in the chest and abdomen. In women, estrogen is converted into testosterone causing fat to store in the abdomen, breasts to shrink and sag, and abnormal hair growth on the face, acne, and even male pattern hair loss. Both men and post-menopausal women with excess estrogen will have an apple body shape, meaning high deposits of stored fat in the abdominal area. Premenopausal women with high estrogen will have a pear shape, meaning weight will be stored in the hips. If you are premenopausal you will have many symptoms of PMS, and difficulty losing weight. Excess estrogen can also cause gallstones, urinary tract infections, and have a history of endometriosis or ovarian cysts. For men is will be seen in poor libido, a lack of motivation, loss of lean muscle mass, and even depression. Estrogen dominance is one of the leading causes of breast, uterine and prostate cancer. Low estrogen can also impact insulin levels causing them to rise, and causing body fat to accumulate at the waist. Since estrogen helps protect the heart, low levels put you at risk for heart disease.
It is important to understand and listen to your body to achieve and maintain weight loss. I’ve also found the following products to be helpful:
★Holy Basil - lowers cortisol and keeps me sane
★Stress Care - lowers cortisol and prevents me from pigging out on chips
★DIM - helps estrogen, metabolism and belly fat
★Mind Care - helps with focus, depression and repetitive thoughts
★Liver Care - balances hormones, helps with digestion and prevents fatty liver
★Probiotics - prevents obesity and helps the stomach when antibiotics are used
★Maca - provides hormone balance, energy and overall sexiness
★Garcinia Cambogia – suppresses appetite, blocks body’s ability to make fat
★Green Tea – the L-Theanine, found in green tea helps manage stress, anxiety and increases dopamine helping to prevent emotional eating and increase satiety
★Coconut Oil – boost thermogenic rate, targets abdominal fat, reduces appetite
★Cleanses – helps you detox from addictive sugars and carbohydrates that spike insulin and inflammation
★Alpha Lipoic Acid– antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage, improves insulin sensitivity in adults with Type 2 diabetes.
★Berberine – increases the number of gut bacteria, improves function of fat regulating hormones, and regulates blood sugar.