America’s weight-loss industry is a $60 billion industry while our country continues to struggle with a heart disease and diabetes epidemic. Aside from chronic conditions that can be associated with weight gain, people just want to look and feel good.
It has been long understood that fat was literally dead weight, but we are learning it is not — it is incredibly active tissue. Unfortunately, in excess it is not beneficial to our health. Fat has the ability to create inflammatory chemicals, store toxins, and create hormones that throw us off balance to increase fat and hunger. All of this activity can greatly affect our energy and mood.
Once committed to weight loss, the next step is to properly understand the cause of weight gain. For some, it may be hormonal, emotional and/or digestive issues, for others it may be lack of exercise and poor diet.
Our metabolism is regulated by hormones that try to maintain balance in energy, heat generation, fuel, and stress. Both deficiency and excess can cause imbalances that can lead to weight gain and other deleterious side effects.
The adrenal glands are considered the central gland. Sitting on top of the kidneys, they work with the thyroid, gonads (ovaries/testes), kidneys, and pancreas to modulate metabolism, blood sugar, blood pressure, sleep, and stress. They release the hormone cortisol in response to stress. If chronically stressed, this hormone can make people stuck in a state called “fight or flight.” When in fight or flight, the body holds onto fat. This state can lead to imbalances across the other associated organs.
Chronic blood sugar instability can be the likely cause of reduced fat loss, because the body is simply keeping busy trying to balance energy intake and expenditure. Blood sugar instability can look like fatigue shortly after meals, irritability if not eating regularly, poor sleep quality, and energy fluctuations throughout the day.
Chronic stress can also affect digestion, because it halts your body’s capacity to break down food into nutrients. When in a state of fight or flight, digestion takes a backseat to getting out of harm’s way (even if “harm” is simply your day-to-day concerns). We are what we eat, but more so we are what we absorb. If our bodies have an impaired ability to absorb nutrition from our food, we will get hunger signals. This is common in my elevated appetite patients.
We are emotional creatures. When we are happy, we celebrate with food. When we are sad, we grieve with food. We could have the best lifestyle program in the world, but if our emotions take a hold of us, the program becomes extremely difficult to adhere to. This is where a holistic approach involving practices like meditation, exercise, and eating psychology coaching is helpful.
Depression can be associated with having low amounts of our happy neurotransmitter, serotonin. Typically, patients with low serotonin are more inclined to evening sugar cravings. Many do not even consider themselves depressed — some have chronic pain or sleep issues as their signs of being low. The body wants serotonin to relax and rest at night, so the sugar cravings are its short-term compensations for the low serotonin level.
DISCIPLINE AND STRUCTURE
It’s a red flag when I ask patients what they typically eat each day and the response is “it varies.” This is typically code for “I don’t really know what I eat.” As humans, we do really well with habit and structure. Our bodies depend on us to provide them proper fuel regularly throughout the day, and they actually do better with a certain amount of monotony. Tracking tools like the app My Fitness Pal can be helpful in monitoring diet, nutrition, hydration, and exercise.
As patients begin to lose weight and are on the endorphin high of the results, I frequently check-in about other measurements of progress, including energy, athletic performance, pain, sleep, skin, digestion, and mood. We work to help understand how food affects them mentally, emotionally, and physically. People will actually notice changes in their internal state before noticing a weight change on the scale. By becoming connected with our internal states, we are far more likely to maintain the external representation of how we feel.
The single most important thing a successful weight loss regimen should offer you is the ability to understand where you veered off track. There is definitely more than one path to weight loss, and finding an approach that addresses your underlying needs is important.