June 6, 2012 § 5 Comments
It hurts my heart to walk through the “Health” section of a bookstore and see the absurd number of well-meaning writers/health professionals promising the final word on forever weight loss.
Almost anything with the word “Diet” in the title will send a lil’ shiver up my spine, and any advertisement that includes an attractive woman in a sports bra gazing lecherously into the camera while holding a bottle of said promise can send me into straight-up neurogenic shock.
What “icks” me out the most is the propagation of the idea that this one thing is the answer to all of your weight problems. Not to mention your energy problems, emotional problems, and your propensity to ignore plants as a food group. Even if they put a lil’ asterisk somewhere mentioning the importance of diet & exercise, the message in the marketing is still patently misguided.
I just really really hope that at this point in our evolution there is enough knowledge out there for us to know better. That falling head over feet for the quick fix is a human feature of the past. We might not like it. We might kick and scream and tell Mother Nature it’s not fair. But eventually we must succumb to the fact that this lady moves at her own pace, and she’s got principles. Together we are the tortoise, and Hydroxycut is the hare.
I’m going to assume, dear reader, that both diet & exercise are understood as being fairly important when it comes to weight loss. So without harping this to death I think that Eat less & Move More is a decent encapsulation of this edict…with a few asterisks’ of course
Eat less should read, Eat Less Junk*. It does NOT mean judicious calorie counting or restrictions. It means avoiding foods that wouldn’t have existed when our grandparents were kids. Foods with endless & unread-able ingredient lists on the label, edible only after getting prettied up with enough sugar & chemicals to be stripped of it’s nutrient profile. Eat Less means smaller but more frequent meals (every 2-3 hours) that will usually include some fiber, protein and/or a high quality fat.
Move more means walking or biking when you might normally want to burn up some petrol instead. It means getting home from work, putting on your favourite song, and dancing aggressively around your living room to exhaustion. “Activity” beats “Exercise” every time, so move in ways you actually enjoy at a mild to moderate intensity for a mild to moderate length of time to burn fat best. Add in some resistance training to build bones & muscle (a more metabolically active tissue) to double your fat burning fun.
But besides food & movement other factors like our hormones play a major role in the shapes our bodies take. Dr. Natasha Turner’s The Hormone Diet is one “diet” book I judged too quickly by it’s cover. It’s a nice n’ easy n’ informative read for anyone looking to better understand their chemical messenger (aka. endocrine) system. Hormones control appetite, stimulate metabolism, affect our mood, energy, libido, and are key players when it comes to how we store and/or use our fat. Here are some hormone basics:
Thyroid – Stimulates metabolism overall and low levels are associated with trouble taking off weight.
Insulin – Moves blood sugar into our cells for energy (which if not used up will get stored as glycogen in the liver or as fat, often around the belly).
Glucagon – Works directly opposite to insulin to raise blood sugar (and aids fat loss by instructing the body to use stored fat and sugars as fuel).
Cortisol & Adrenaline – Give a quick metabolic boost and raises blood sugar in response to stress (which if not used up, will also get stored as fat).
Estrogen – A steroid hormone that increases metabolism, but also fat stores. (Fat itself makes estrogen).
Progesterone – Another steroid hormone which needs to be in a relative balance with estrogen, and plays a key role in insulin release and using our fat for energy.
Any one (and there are many more) of these hormones in excess or deficiency can potentially throw off the balance of another, drowning out or amplifying their usual metabolic message.
So for example, if you’re stressed out you’ll start to make more cortisol. If you’re chronically stressed out, over time your adrenal glands likely won’t be able to keep up with the increasing demands of production. In an attempt to maintain balance, your physiology will “steal” from progesterone to make more cortisol, creating a relative excess of estrogen. Insulin sensitivity will get affected too, and the body becomes a better fat-storer than burner-upper, tipping us into trouble with weight loss.
The effects of Stress (physical OR emotional) on appetite, cortisol, and insulin heavily influences our caloric intake by acting on the brain and really, can’t be emphasized enough. Cortisol in particular activates a response in the brain that matches our perceived stress with a desire to eat comfort foods – those tasty treats we associate with pleasant experiences and a boost of serotonin, resulting in an insulin spike and the accumulation of fat. We probably don’t need Pub Med to tell us that we crave delicious foods when we’re stressed…but it’s important to understand that eating these foods affects our hormones, and that managing weight is more than simply calories in = calories out.
A holistic approach to weight loss means working together with endocrine, nervous and digestive system functions to control metabolic rate, the accumulation & mobilization of fat, the management of blood glucose levels, and your individual stress response. It means a total boost of health so you that feel vital enough to commit to a program that integrates effortlessly into becoming your life (cheat days included).
If this feels like a lot, here are some simple ways to get started:
- Drink more water (start your day with a big tall glass, repeat often)
- Bulk up your poops with dietary fiber.
- Deepen your sleep with a bath, deep breathing, or a sleepy time tea.
- Have someone on your side. A friend. A Doc. A “life-stylist”. Whoever it is that keeps you motivated to keep making healthy choices and help monitor your progress.
- Cleanse your life of toxic commitments and chemicals (check out a recent episode of The Nature of Things for some fascinating research being done on the effect of endocrine-disrupting agents on obesity and genetics).
But most importantly, Dance Aggressively.