I don’t believe in diets. After all if we are eating a healthy diet and exercising we shouldn’t have a problem with managing our weight – right?
Why is it – as we get older – the things we use to do to lose a few pounds are no longer effective. We seem to have to eat even less food and exercise even more for half the result! Surely if we are eating less calories and burning more, we would lose weight – or so we have been led to believe. Unfortunately our body is not a bank account so the whole ‘calories in, calories out’ theory doesn’t work. We are more like a chemistry lab, governed by hormones.
So, let’s have a look at what can impact our ability to lose weight. Firstly,
When we go into an acute stress response we release adrenalin, which is designed to help us get out of danger fast. You’ve all heard the analogy of running from a tiger. Typically adrenalin causes the blood supply to be diverted away from the digestive tract to your arms and legs to help you get out of danger. Adrenalin tells your liver and muscles to convert stored glycogen to glucose and it is then released into your bloodstream to fuel your ‘flight or fight’ response.
This type of stress is meant to be short-lived. When the stress becomes long term, as psychological stress often does, cortisol becomes the dominant stress hormone. Cortisol is released every 12 seconds for as long as the body thinks there is a stress. The cortisol levels will start to reduce when the adrenal gland is exhausted which can lead to extreme fatigue, excess body fat, particularly around the stomach, lowered immunity and poor digestion.
Previously long term stress revolved around scarcity of food, for example, famines, as opposed to the ones we experience today, in the form of relationship concerns or financial worries. In response to long term stress the body slows down the metabolism, breaks down muscle mass and can lead to feeding frenzies – all hampering our weight loss efforts. It also messes with our reproductive hormones.
Stress may influence our hormone levels. Remember cortisol is released by the adrenal gland for as long as the body perceives a stress or until the gland becomes exhausted. Let’s back up a bit. Cholesterol is converted into pregnenolone, which goes on to produce the majority of the rest of our hormones. It can either be converted to progesterone, and then cortisol, or DHEA, from which all our other sex hormones, at least from the adrenals, are produced. So when the body gets stressed pregnenolone is shunted into making cortisol at the expense of making other sex hormones. This is known as the ‘pregnenolone steal’. Therefore stress can lead to hormone imbalance.
Toxins can also impair our weight loss efforts and let’s face it, they are everywhere…in our food and water, in our skincare products and in our household cleaners. Many of them are endocrine disruptors because they can:
- Imitate hormones
- Increase the production of certain hormones
- Decrease the production of others
- Interfere with hormone signalling
- Turn one hormone into another
- Compete with essential nutrients
- Accumulate in organs that produce hormones
The EPA can test chemicals only when there is direct evidence of harm. Not so easy when we are exposed to so many different chemicals…up to 60,000 that have not been regulated.
Ones to avoid:
BPA – found in plastic, including some children’s toys, and thermal paper in cash register receipts.
Atrazine – a herbicide that can feminise frogs (Go to youtube.com. and type in ‘atrazine male frogs’ for an enlightening (and entertaining) talk.
Dioxin – from industrial processes involving chlorine and bromine
Phthalates – found in fragrances, personal care products and plastic food containers.
Fire retardants – in clothing, furniture and household dust.
Lead – in old paint and drinking water
Arsenic – Food and drinking water.
Mercury – In our air from burning coal and in our waterways, accumulating in seafood.
PFC’s – On non-stick pans and stain and water resistant coatings on carpets and furniture.
Glycol ethers – From solvents in paints, brake fluids, cleaning products and cosmetics.
The bottom line…. Avoid as many of these as possible and transition to an organic diet. Don’t get discouraged. Every small change makes a difference.
LACK OF SLEEP
Cortisol also follow a daily fluctuation. It is designed to be high in the morning when we wake up to assist with energy levels. Between 6pm and 10pm it gradually drops to help promote restful sleep. Chronic stress, lack of sleep and shift work all impair this natural flow. Have you ever been wide awake at 2am and slumped over at your desk at 2pm? Chronic sleep debt has also been shown to increase food intake and appetite due to decreasing leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full and by increasing grehlin, the hormone that tells us we are hungry. Not the best combination when we are struggling to lose that spare tyre. Chronic sleep debt may also increase chemicals in our blood that can create inflammation. These alterations combine to increase our risk of cardiovascular disease – all because we stayed up a little later trying to ‘get everything done.’
Eating food we are intolerant to may also hamper our weight loss efforts. An allergy to a food can cause anaphalactic reactions that threaten our lives but food intolerances can be much harder to detect. If your body is aggravated by a food it can lead to food sensitivity and weight gain. Food sensitivities can differ from person to person and they can be hard to identify because they may be foods that we ingest every day. Wheat, corn, eggs, yeast and milk are probably the most common culprits. As well as weight gain, headaches and mood disturbances can commonly result.
The resulting inflammation in the gut has a tendency to make our gut ‘leaky’ or porous. Your gut is a hollow tube that is basically meant to keep toxic food particles, environmental chemicals and bacterial waste outside your body. It’s job is to selectively allow nutrients and certain molecules through the barrier. When the gut tissue starts to break down foreign particles can leak through the barrier triggering immune responses and promoting inflammation not only locally but in other parts of the body. The circulating inflammatory chemicals create an inflammatory environment, making lots of processes more sluggish and thus impairing our weight loss efforts.
As we get older we lose muscle mass at a rate of about 1kg/year and as a result burn less calories. Weight training helps us to reverse this trend, helping us to regain muscle mass and as a result, burn more calories.
If we do low intensity cardio like walking, we generally burn about 75% of our calories from fat and 25% from carbohydrates. With high intensity, like running at 70-90% of maximum heart rate, we burn a lower percentage of fat and higher percentage of carbs. You’ll be burning up glycogen stored in your muscles. Glycogen holds fluid so with the glycogen gone the fluid is lost as well leading to a biggish loss on the scales in the first week or two. If you are eating a high protein diet, protein will also be broken down from your muscles. High intensity cardio with a calorie restricted diet may lead to adrenal fatigue, excessive cortisol levels and hormonal imbalances, not to mention loss of more muscle mass.
High intensity interval training is a viable option. Dr Mercola recommends 30 second sprints followed by 90 seconds at a lower intensity repeated 8 times. Adding a few minutes warm up and cool down should have your cardio needs met in about 20 minutes twice a week.
So, as we get older, spend more time doing weights and less time on the treadmill.
Does this mean that gaining weight as we age is inevitable? NO!! Addressing these areas as well as education around correct food choices for your individual chemistry lab, can see us lose weight, improve our metabolism and our health as we get older.
A discussion on weight loss would not be complete without mentioning emotional health. Our feelings about ourselves and our bodies can drive our food choices and make weight difficult to shift. Working on our emotional selves can have flow on effects to a physically healthier body. Learn to love and accept your body now….just the way it is and that alone can help us make better choices in general, not just in relation to our choices around exercise and food.
If you need guidance in the treatment of this or any other condition, please make an appointment with one of our practitioners.
This article is for information purposes only. Please refer to our Medical Disclaimer policy for more information. The opinions expressed here represents the author’s and not necessarily those of Realize Health. In addition, thoughts and opinions change from time to time due to updates in research and as a necessary consequence of having an open mind. Views expressed in out-of-date posts may not be the same to those we hold today.
Laposky AD, Bass J, Kohsaka A, Turek FW, 2008, Sleep and circadian rhythms: key components in the regulation of energy metabolism, p. 142-151