YOUR WEIGHT: It’s About Much More than Food and Exercise
Medicine is inclined to a mechanistic approach when problem solving. Weight has been viewed as the result of calories in (through food) and calories out (through exercise). Thus high-fat foods get pilloried due to their greater kilojoule or calorie count compared to carbohydrate or protein. But there is a bigger buffet of contributors to consider such as stress, hormones – and food quality, not just quantity.
Kilojoules and calories are a measurement of the amount of heat or energy a food can produce to stoke the body’s factory furnace. They could be pictured like wood ready for burning. This is instrumental material, but its use and rate of burning are under the executive direction of the organs and processes involved with metabolism. Metabolic efficiency should be the focus as it determines how well your factory can create the energy and building materials for every thought, movement and cell.
Quantity of fuel is significant but even more so is its quality (like the burning time differences between types of wood) and the proportion of one nutrient to another (similar to the ratio of fast burning twigs to slow but sustaining large logs). The life-giving nutrients we must obtain from food are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Different body-types need different ratios of one to the other for peak metabolic efficiency: or too fast leads to underweight; too slow leads to overweight.
Harvard Medical School studied the effects just one meal can have on two metabolically influential hormones: insulin (which promotes fat storage) and glucagon (which promotes fat burning). They fed a group of overweight people three different vegetarian meals. Each meal was designed to have the same quantity of kilojoules but different proportions of protein to carbs. The meal with most protein and least refined carbs resulted in the ideal ratio of moderate insulin to enhanced glucagon – and this lasted for five hours, so participants ate less at their next meal. Despite being identical in kilojoules each meal showed, “…markedly different effects on metabolism, perceived hunger, and subsequent food intake.” It is our metabolic response to food that is significant, more than the static qualities of its contents.
1) Regulate Your Blood Sugar
To survive, your 30 trillion cells must receive fuel in the form of glucose or blood sugar. It is insulin’s job to courier this in. The brain is your most glucose-hungry organ and the first to feel its lack. All carbohydrates – whether from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains or legumes – get broken down into glucose. What differs is the speed at which they do this. High fibre, hearty and crunchy choices digest slowly into steadily elevated fuel (eg coarse, wholegrain bread with hummus or peanut butter); while those highly refined encourage sudden highs then lows (eg white bread of uniform texture with jam).
The top regulator for steady fuel is soluble fibre (see my Linseed Cereal recipe in The Shape Diet). Eating too carb-heavy (especially low fibre) and protein-lite encourages high levels of glucose. This is followed by compensatory amounts of insulin. Over time high insulin is life threatening so cells limit its entrance. But by becoming resistant to insulin they are unable to access the critical fuel it carries.
This leads to erratic or chronically sluggish mental and physical energy, and is a common pathway to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sustained, refreshing sleep also relies on balanced blood sugar levels. Without this the metabolic rate – like a thermostat on your factory furnace – gets reset to ‘low and slow’. Eating may no longer result in metabolic firepower getting re-stoked, or if so only briefly. Weight can be gained without overeating and dieting is frustratingly unsuccessful.
Thin people too can suffer from elevated insulin and poor vitality, especially if they manage stress poorly and do not maintain enough muscle. Body weight although significant, is less a determinant than the ratio of muscle to fat. Thin looking people can have more fat – dangerous, hidden and visceral – than a sumo wrestler.
2) Balance Your Hormone Levels
Stress hormones can block fat loss. The body interprets sustained stress as linked to the likelihood of famine – historically common – and so hoards fat for emergency fuel. Your Adrenals (see website TIPS) secrete a large number of hormones. Cortisol helps you when under threat by swiftly converting Protein into energy and releasing stored blood sugar. This can be life-saving, but simmering stress can lead to high cortisol (anxious; thin; unable to relax); depleted cortisol (depressed; plump; worn out) – or you can alternate. Cortisol can inhibit the neurotransmitter serotonin (Free Medicine) needed for calm, Sleep, and pain control. When serotonin is low you crave more carbs as a brief boost. Poor sleep, refined carbs, Caffeine, Sugar can stimulate more cortisol spikes – so your problems intensify.
Adrenals produce sex steroids such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and youthfulness-promoting DHEA, which need to be in the right balance to each other (Sex Hormones). For both men and women high estrogen levels encourage fat, rather than the muscle production that testosterone promotes (except if in excess, as with PCOS). This is a highly estrogenated world, hence the rising incidence of hormone related cancers.
Agrochemicals, other food production practices (especially Modern Milk), some Medications (eg oral contraceptive, HRT), ordinary toiletries and cleaning agents act as xenoestrogens or hormone mimics (Chemicals). The #1 way though to create excess estrogen is to have too much fat compared to muscle. Body fat produces estrogen. Regular exercise – at least 6 x 30 minutes per week – will tidily help regulate blood sugar; improve muscle to fat and thus estrogen ratios; process stress; lessen cravings and benefit sleep.
Estrogen, progesterone, adrenal and Thyroid hormones are in intimate relationship. When thyroid function is impaired then weight soars or plummets despite the best of diets. High estrogen and low progesterone are linked with menstrual, Fertility and Menopausal problems. This impaired ratio may block the action of thyroid hormones and lead to lowered function despite normal looking thyroid test results. Poor thyroid function can lead to poor adrenal function or vice versa. Another adrenal hormone – aldosterone – affects fluid levels.
With stress or inflammation some people retain fluid (leading to puffiness and weight gain). Others urinate too frequently, which eliminates calmative minerals (chiefly Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium) critical to lowering stress, assisting digestion, sleep and thus cortisol levels. The Liver is meant to break down unwanted hormones and eliminate them in bile, which also contains excess LDL cholesterol, cellular wastes and toxic heavy metals. Bile mixes with your food when it leaves the stomach. But only if there is soluble fibre in that meal does it form an inseparable bond with those wastes enabling disposal – otherwise they return to the liver for storage.
3) Lower Inflammation and Stress
First observed with cancer research, Inflammation is now associated with obesity, hormonal problems, arthritis, dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Allergies, headaches, digestive complaints, poor immunity and more. Pain, discomfort, redness, heat and swelling are indicators. As biochemist Dr Jeffrey Bland says, “…stimuli such as bacterial infection, trauma, ischemic events [restricted blood flow], stress related events, toxic exposures, allergens and chronic viral infections activate the inflammatory response.” Stress causes inflammation and illness; and inflammation and illness cause stress.
Disturbed cortisol, estrogen, insulin and body fat levels are inflammatory. Check for common contributors such as allergies and sensitivities. These damage tissue (commonly respiratory, Gut, Skin) via toxins (eg nicotine); inhalants (eg pollen); topicals (eg deodorant); excitotoxins (eg MSG); or poorly digested food fractions (eg Gluten) which pass into circulation triggering hormonal, blood sugar and immune response to fight the invader (contact this office for an allergy test).
About 80% of immune system forces lie along the gut wall. Pathogenic overload (viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic) even from long ago can compromise you systemically. Some intolerances trigger opiate receptors in the brain stimulating self sabotaging food choices, compulsive behaviours, and mood disorders (Moods and Foods). High toxicity and free radical levels ramp up inflammation via smoking, pollution, x-rays, medicines, sun damage, street drugs, tattoos, piercings, chemical fumes and topicals, and eating damaged fats (The Fats of Life).
4) Eat According to Your Body Type
Use The Shape Diet questionnaire to work out your metabolic body-type. This determines whether you are best suited to low fat, high plant protein, small breakfast (true for DRIVER, SENSUALIST); or low starchy carbs, sufficient animal protein, substantial breakfast (critical for ENTHUSIAST, ANALYSER). Find out which key body systems particularly need your attention; which specific foods, meal times, exercise and supplements will tend to work for – or against – your ability to metabolise for peak vitality, health and ideal weight.
5) Dine Deliberately
Basics matter too. Restaurant portions in the United States (and its dietary allies) are 1/3 larger than those of the French – a fact illustrated by public girth. If you eat more on one day, immediately eat less the next. Observe how you eat. Dine mindfully to make supportive choices, slow consumption (the stomach takes 20-30 minutes to signal fullness to the brain), aid digestion and sense of satisfaction. Honour body, mind and mood with:
The 4 Rules of Fine Dining:
#1 Savour up to 3 distinct meals daily (no grazing) including breakfast (can help regulate metabolism). Note that if weight gain has been long term, some people benefit from Intermittent Fasting, which restricts the hours of eating. Aim for at least 14 hours without eating; eg breakfast at 8 am and dinner at 6 pm. There are also stricter types of fasting that can help you explore your relationship with food. Be alert though to using diet as a form of self-punishment.
#2 Decide basically what you will eat and how much before entering kitchen or café; at parties have only 1 small serve of each food offered;
#3 Eat food from a plate when seated at a table; pause between bites to savour fully;
#4 Turn off TV and devices and accompany with conversation or orderly, calming music (try Telemann’s Table Music).
6) Identify Self Sabotage
Mind and body are aspects of one whole. Some researchers consider the body to be the subconscious mind. This is a repository for all imprints from your earliest associations – personal, familial and cultural – with beliefs about food, love and survival so pervasive you may not know you hold them. As psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “What you do not acknowledge controls you”.
In the process of working through physical concerns in points 1) to 5) you can better observe what is more biochemical or more psychological in origin. Changes in diet and other long held habits help shake you out of the familiar and enable new perspectives. Start with what you are drawn to; work in one area enhances another. If you are prone to food and drink choices you regret then use the 4Ds designed to help smokers: Delay. Deep breathe. Drink water. Do something else. When a compulsion arises your neurons fire most dramatically for the first 90 seconds. These simple strategies help you access frontal cortex reasoning centres and respond appropriately.
Enjoy your multi-course experience of nourishment and pleasure.