01 Aug Factors of Weight Loss
In a nation where over 60% of the population is overweight, it’s a well-known fact that America has a serious weight crisis on their hands. And, while I could sit here all day discussing why the Paleo diet is best for weight loss, long-term maintenance and overall health in general; this subject has been covered over and over again. Today I’d like to discuss the other factors that often result in sluggish metabolism, unwanted weight gain and inability to lose weight.
With stress levels in today’s society climbing as fast (if not faster) as our obesity epidemic, this is certainly a factor that goes hand-in-hand with excess weight. When stressed, the body produces adrenaline and cortisol (aka the“stress hormone”) in the adrenal glands. Cortisol in particular has been directly linked to increased food cravings, insulin resistance, slowed metabolism, poor sleep patterns, and increased belly fat. There were times when we needed our stress hormones to protect our hides from sudden impending danger such as running from a sabre toothed tiger, however these days our source of stress is most often caused by running to keep up with the daily grind, deadlines, and our fast paced world. While today’s challenges are certainly real, they rarely require the extreme energy expenditure of racing to save one’s skin, yet the brain stills sends cues to replace energy stores in times of stress; thus stress equals food cravings, increased hunger and weight gain. 1,2 While shorter bouts of stress are perfectly normal and even healthy, this chronic prolonged state of stress can wreak serious havoc on the metabolism over time. The thyroid is possibly one of the most important systems in the body when it comes to controlling metabolism (and ultimately body composition). When the adrenal glands become tired or weakened from pumping out cortisol and adrenaline due to chronic stress, the thyroid gland steps in to help by also overproducing hormones. Like the adrenals in time the thyroid can become weakened or sluggish when stress is not properly managed, thus resulting in not only adrenal fatigue but also thyroid dysfunction and an impaired metabolism. While only one factor leading to slowed metabolism and weight gain, maintaining a stressful lifestyle certainly contributes to the vicious cycle of impaired metabolism and further health issues over time.
Another major system in the body affected by stress is the digestive system. When in the state of “fight or flight”, the body naturally shuts down digestive functions by shunting blood flow away from the digestive system to best handle the stressor at hand. For those under constant stress, this leads to a chronic state of poor digestion and can eventually lead to dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiota), inflammation, and intestinal permeability (or “leaky gut”), to name just a few outcomes.
While stress is a common cause of intestinal permeability, other causes include poor diet, bacterial overgrowth ofthe small intestine (SIBO), substance abuse, NSAIDS and other medications and environmental toxins. This “leakygut” syndrome is responsible for a plethora of conditions including increased inflammation, weight gain, hormoneimbalances, food allergies and sensitivities and autoimmune diseases. (3)
As mentioned, the “flora” of the gut plays a vital role in regulating energy balance, managing toxins, synthesizing vitamins, fighting disease, maintaining the immune system and aiding in digestion. Those with gut dysfunction are often unable to properly digest and absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals from foods, thus leading to vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. With vitamin and nutritional deficiencies we begin to see symptoms like fatigue, low energy, and even depression; consequently resulting in relentless food cravings and poor dietary choices (as the body seeks the energy it is lacking) and… viola… more weight gain. As you can see, having proper gut function is absolutely vital for maintaining weight and overall health and failing to address the causes and consequences of gastrointestinal dysfunction only leads to additional health issues.
In today’s world it is not uncommon to swap out those much needed hours of rest for a late night meeting, movie or computer game and an early morning triple shot of caffeine. We’ve all heard just how important it is to get those 7-9 hours of rest each night; however those struggling with excessive weight should listen up as studies from around the world continue to show a consistent increased risk of obesity among both children and adults chronically lacking in adequate sleep. (4) Sleep deprivation has been linked to alterations in glucose metabolism, increased appetite and decreased energy expenditure (5) and some studies show that a lack of sleep actually causes impaired judgment and willpower when it comes to food choices. We all have nights where getting a full 7-9 hours of sleep just isn’t possible, however for those unsuccessfully striving to improve body composition, assessing quality and quantity of sleep could help immensely.
The diet certainly comes in to play when it comes to weight loss; however there is much more to consider than calories-in vs calories-out. Sure, an excess of calorie consumption over time often results in weight gain, and reducing those calories will likely result in at least some weight loss; however all too often we fail to recognize the importance of the quality of those calories. With an abundance of poor quality calories the body experiences a steady increase in inflammation as well as weight gain. Inflammation and weight gain go hand-in-hand as excess adipose tissue is extremely inflammatory while excess inflammation can result in unwanted weight gain. One way to combat this vicious cycle is to manage inflammation by reducing those inflammatory processed sugar, grains, GMO’s, chemicals and food additives; thus often reducing both body fat and inflammation simultaneously. One major reason so many diets fail is because they simply swap out processed junk with other chemically-loaded, low fat, highly processed garbage; thus while they are lower in calories (oftentimes too low in calories) they are also higher in inflammatory components.
Other common causes of inflammation include chronic stress (6), food allergies or sensitivities, gastrointestinal damage and environmental toxins… are you seeing a pattern here? When it comes to the body and common health conditions such as obesity and weight gain, the most important thing to remember is that the body is a system and when one part of the system begins to malfunction, others will follow suit.
All too often I see people striving for weight loss by religiously counting calories and cranking up exercise. While this may work for some, oftentimes the most efficient way to truly (and permanently) combat excessive weight is to take step back and begin pinpointing the systems in the body that may be malfunctioning and contributing to an impaired metabolism. In the upcoming months, I will be covering each of the above mentioned topics in depth and discussing ways in which hormonal imbalances, gastrointestinal dysfunction, sleep issues and chronic inflammation can all be addressed in order to combat these common issues head-on. In the meantime, for those struggling to improve body composition, despite a strict diet and exercise regimen, I encourage you to take a step back and fully assess your habits and lifestyle. Are there simple lifestyle changes that you can make right now that could reduce stressors, increase sleep quality, and clean up your diet and environment?
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS
(1) Teitelbaum, Jacob, M.D. How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight. Total Health Vol 25. no. 5. Oct/Nov 2003.
(2) Corey Resnick, ND, Natural Journal Medicine, March 2010 Vol. 2 Issue 3
(3) Sleep. 2008 May;31(5):619-26.
(4) Sleep Med Rev. Jun 2007; 11(3): 163–178. Published online Apr 17, 2007. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2007.01.002
(5) Carnegie Mellon University. (2012, April 2). How stress influences disease: Study reveals inflammation as the culprit.
(6) ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 3, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.html