Calorie counting, watching portion size, exercising more, and consuming foods “in moderation.” If you have tried losing weight in the past 50 years, you likely used any or all of these methods, right? A large degree of weight loss advice continues to be along those lines.
How has that been working for us though? Have you ever reached a point where you just don’t understand why you can’t lose weight, or why you can’t keep it off?
Side note: I don’t even like using the words “losing weight.” I actually hate talking about weight in general. If you have excess fat on your body that is causing harm to your health it is important to address that but doing so by weighing yourself to see if the number is going down is just not my favorite way to go about this process. But I’m going to continue to use the terminology of losing weight in this article just because that’s what so many people are trying to do! Okay, back to what I was saying…
Some people have great success just cutting back on calories and exercising more. But what about when you’ve been doing that for years and still not having success? Some would probably tell you you’re not trying hard enough! You need to “be better” about what you eat and workout 6 times per week. And if that still doesn’t work, then I guess you’re doing something wrong.
The thing is, for many many people, that simplistic view of weight loss just does not work.
Well, for starters, the human body is not simplistic. Do a little reading about hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, microbiota, organs, glands, etc. in the human body and you will quickly learn that we are extremely complex and intricately made beings. So to think that it is as simple as “eat less, move more” in order to lose weight in a healthy way that leaves you feeling good, energetic, and vibrant is pretty short-sided, I think.
You are wired for survival. Your brain is just trying to keep you alive at all times. There are many systems in place to ensure this happens and these systems will do whatever they need to do to continue survival. So when you look in the mirror and feel disgusted that you can’t fit into clothes you used to wear anymore and try to start will-powering your way into weight loss, your brain is not really on that same page.
Instead, your brain is and has been sending out commands via various messengers to ramp up hormones and processes and turn down others in response to different situations. When your brain perceives a stressful situation (whether that’s work stress, crazy family life, traffic, a lot of screen time, etc.) it switches you into utilizing the sympathetic branch of your nervous system. This is an automatic process and it’s important for survival.
When the human body is threatened (stressed), our brains think that we need extra energy to get through that stress. The sympathetic nervous system ramps up some functions and suppresses others. More energy is shuttled to the extremities, stress hormones are increased, blood pressure is raised. Things like digestion, fertility, and detoxification are not important in the moment when your brain is just trying to survive.
This is a good thing when it isn’t happening all the time. In acute situations when something bad is happening, you need that burst of adrenaline and cortisol. You need the energy in your muscles and not in your digestion. We never would have survived without this automatic process controlled by your sympathetic nervous system.
The problem is that this is constantly happening because of the nature of our busy lives. Humans did not always live the way we do, running from jobs to errands, to taking care of families, all while existing on little sleep, too much exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins, and a total lack of quality nutrients.
We become exhausted, run down, and often the weight seems to pile on.
There are several negative effects of this perpetual state of fight or flight, and most of them end up becoming a vicious cycle.
One particular effect that constantly being in fight or flight has is increasing inflammation in your body which has many implications for your health.
Once again we find ourselves in a situation where our biology doesn’t match up well with our modern lifestyles.
Like the body’s ability to tap into various nervous systems as a method of surviving, the body also has the ability to inflame and anti-inflame. This process is a good thing and serves as a form of protection for your body. But, just like being stressed too much is a bad thing, being inflamed too much is also a bad thing.
Your immune system ramps up in times of inflammation. This is good because it protects you from harm. But when the immune system is constantly being called upon for protection, it can cause problems such as autoimmune diseases, brain and mental health issues, IBS/IBD, and even weight gain.
When it comes to weight gain, there are a few ways that this chronic inflammation plays a role and makes it hard to lose that weight. When your body is inflamed for a prolonged period of time, inflammatory compounds called cytokines are released. These cytokines inhibit the proper signaling of insulin, the hormone responsible for getting glucose (sugar) out of your blood and into your cells to be used for energy. When your cells aren’t properly receiving insulin, the pancreas has to pump out more of it. This leads to fat storage because insulin is a storage hormone. Its job is to store energy (glucose) so the more insulin being released, the more your body is going to store energy (fat).
Another way chronic inflammation leads to weight gain or makes it harder to lose weight is by messing with the proper signaling of the hormone leptin. Leptin is produced by fat cells and is one way your brain gets the message to ramp up or turn down hunger and your metabolism. When leptin levels are high, the brain gets the message that there is plenty of fat (energy) and you don’t need to keep eating all the time. When leptin levels begin to fall, your brain gets the message and ramps up hunger and slows down your metabolism to make sure that you then get enough energy to survive. Because again – all your brain is trying to do is survive.
Chronic inflammation inhibits the proper functioning of leptin by gumming up the receptor sites in your brain where lepin messages are received. So you may have plenty of fuel storage (body fat) and leptin levels may be high but your brain isn’t actually getting that message. So your brain continues to ramp up hunger hormones, turn down satiety hormones, and slow down your metabolism so that you can conserve energy.
So what we get here, is a vicious cycle. And which came first, the inflammation or the weight gain? It’s hard to say but here’s the deal. We CAN absolutely shake up this cycle and get things working optimally again. The best way is to reduce the sources of inflammation going into and on your body, and increase your body’s ability to anti-inflame through the proper diet and lifestyle modifications. An overweight body is generally overburdened and under-nourished. The typical advice to eat less and move more only serves to exacerbate that problem.
If you think this stress – inflammation – weight gain connection could be a problem you’re facing, I’d love to chat with you about how you might be able to start feeling more like yourself again.
Consultations are free with absolutely no strings attached. Sign up here today for your free 15 minute discovery call. I would love to chat with you! (I work with folks local but also virtually so it doesn’t matter where you live!)