It is important to recognise that diet is usually the major factor in weight gain. Our modern diets are full of sugar, as well as processed foods that have minimal nutritional value but are high in kilojoules. Consuming modern foods makes it very easy to put on weight! Most of the time, adjusting your diet will be enough to help you lose weight and stay healthy. But there are times when people do not respond to dietary modifications. When this happens, it may indicate a problem with a person’s hormones or their endocrine system, or suggest malnutrition, digestive problems, toxicity or illness. Further investigation by a health professional may be needed. The best way to start is to keep it simple by eating natural unprocessed foods. These foods are easily digested by your body and contain no preservatives or other additives.
Stress is a major offender when it comes to your health. In order to properly digest and assimilate your food, you need to be relaxed. When you eat, a division of your autonomic nervous system – a control system that works largely unconsciously to regulate bodily functions – needs to be switched on: namely, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is often called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system. But when you are stressed, another part of your autonomic nervous system is usually switched on – the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the ‘fight and flight’ response. As you can imagine, it is difficult to digest food when your body is on high alert! Most people admit that when they’re under stress, healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain. Whether it involves eating to meet an emotional need or grabbing fast food simply because there’s no time to prepare something healthy, a stressed-out lifestyle is rarely a healthy one. Prolonged stress wears us out and interferes with the digestive process, ultimately bringing down our health. But weight gain when under stress may also be at least partly due to the body’s system of hormonal checks and balances, which can actually promote weight gain when you’re stressed out. Cortisol is a critical hormone that undertakes many actions in the body. It is typically secreted by the adrenal glands in a pattern called a diurnal variation, meaning that the levels of cortisol in the bloodstream vary depending upon the time of day – normally, cortisol levels are highest in the early morning and lowest around midnight. Cortisol is important for the maintenance of blood pressure as well as the provision of energy for the body. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and it also stimulates insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The end result of these actions can be an increase in appetite. What does this have to do with stress? Cortisol has been termed the ‘stress hormone’ because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress. This disruption may not only promote weight gain but may also affect where you put on the weight. Exercise is the best method for lowering cortisol levels that have risen in response to stress, and it has the added benefit of burning calories to stimulate weight loss. Skipping caffeine, listening to relaxing music and hanging out with funny and positive people will also help you lower your cortisol levels, as will using vitamin C and bioflavonoid supplements.
THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
Together with the nervous system and the immune system, the endocrine system helps the body to cope with different events and stresses. The endocrine system is a complex network of nine glands in our body, together, they regulate activities from reproduction, metabolism and development to mood, energy and mental abilities. The endocrine system glands secrete over 100 chemicals called hormones into the bloodstream or surrounding tissues. Hormones can be thought of as chemical messages, communicating with the body by targeting a cell to bring about a particular change or effect. They can also create changes in the cells of surrounding tissue. Few people really appreciate the endocrine system and the important role that hormones play in our lives. We need to balance our hormones because they all influence weight – that includes insulin and our sex, stress and mood hormones. Did you know there are over 16 different hormones that affect our ability to lose weight? Just one hormonal imbalance will sabotage your efforts! The key point is that if you’re struggling to improve your metabolism’s efficiency in order to lose weight, it is critical to look at your hormones. We consider one in detail below.
HORMONE – LEPTIN
Leptin is an important hormone which is produced naturally in the body and influences your appetite and weight. It is secreted by the body’s fat cells and is involved in your feelings of hunger and satiety. Leptin acts as a messenger to the hypothalamus region of your brain, telling you when to eat in order to increase the amount of energy available when stores are low. Leptin also tells your body when you are full from eating. Basically, your appetite decreases when leptin levels rise, and it increases when leptin levels fall. One major issue associated with this hormone is leptin resistance. Leptin levels in the blood must stay within a certain range in order for leptin to work optimally. To achieve this, it’s vital to know what lifestyle factors affect these levels within the body. Sleep, for instance, can significantly influence leptin levels – getting a good night’s sleep will keep leptin at optimal levels. High-intensity interval training is another good way of regulating leptin levels. This type of exercise increases the production of human growth hormone, which puts your body into fat burning mode and in turn regulates leptin levels. Another thing to be aware of is your intake of carbohydrates. Try to avoid large amounts of carbohydrates or sugary or high-GI foods, as these will result in increases in insulin and consequently in leptin too. Antioxidants such as taurine and acetyl-L-carnitine may also assist in preventing leptin resistance.
Researchers and scientists have long concluded that a diet high in nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables and fruits is the key to health and wellbeing. That being the case, it’s clear that nutritional deficiencies can significantly impact the effective functioning of your body. For example, a simple lack of iron can impair your stomach acid. Low stomach acid will cause the maldigestion of proteins, making your iron deficiency worse. Also, you may experience bloating and develop even more nutritional deficiencies that ultimately bring your health down. This is why dieting can take such a toll on the body. Many of us have become so obsessed with the idea of losing weight that we end up forgetting that our primary goal is healthy living. As we cut back on calories and reduce our daily intake of proteins, fats or carbohydrates, we can end up feeling tired and lethargic rather than healthier. Moreover, studies have shown that even the best foods may not have all the nutrients we need, in the relevant quantities. For example, some food has been grown in soil that is deficient in key minerals, or the nutrient content of food may be lost during its transportation and storage. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid dieting-related nutritional deficiencies: by taking multivitamins/multiminerals. Taking a good-quality supplementary vitamin B complex (contains all B vitamins) as well as vitamins A, C, D and E, and important minerals, will allow your body to perform at its best while you are restricting your dietary intake.
When your body’s ability to detoxify itself is compromised, you can no longer properly deal with the abundance of toxins arising from your environment, the by-products of your metabolism, or your digestion. As a result, your body will naturally trap the toxins in fat cells and store them until such time as you can deal with them again. To sustain a healthy weight, it is important to regularly detoxify your body and at the same time not introduce too many new toxic substances such as those in cigarettes, alcohol, processed foods and food additives. Undergoing a detoxification diet once a year and maintaining a good, clean daily diet should be sufficient to help you stay at a healthy weight, and to sustain your general wellbeing.
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