We often talk about weight loss being all about reducing calories and increasing exercise but is this all there is to it? There are many reasons why weight gain occurs and its not all about the food we eat and the exercise we do, although this is a factor, but it may be from something going on inside that we can't see.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas to help regulate your blood sugar levels. Insulin helps transport glucose into the body’s cells for use as energy. When blood glucose (sugar) levels rise, insulin is released to store that excess sugar as glycogen. Unfortunately, our body can only store a little glycogen at any one time. Once you have filled up your glycogen stores, any leftover sugar will be stored as fat. Insulin also blocks the breakdown of existing body fat. So, it becomes virtually impossible to lose fat if you have raised insulin levels.
High levels of dietary carbohydrates, also known as high glycaemic load foods (e.g. sugars and starchy foods, such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes) increase your production of insulin to ‘switch off’ fat burning and increase fat gain. If you have constantly high levels of insulin, you can develop a condition known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes excess weight and obesity.
For many of us, daily life is often a juggle, as we try to keep many balls up in the air at once. All this ‘juggling’ can contribute to feelings of stress, tension and anxiety. Unfortunately, too much stress can actually reduce your ability to burn fat and lose weight. Stress affects your body by increasing cortisol levels; cortisol is often referred to as the body’s ‘stress hormone’. Increased cortisol levels can adversely affect blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and can stop you burning fat. This is because cortisol stimulates the release of insulin, the hormone which plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar levels. This increased release of insulin often tends to encourage people to overeat and crave foods high in carbohydrates and fats. When you increase your consumption of these foods it directly causes weight gain, especially in the abdominal area.
Hormonal imbalances can affect your ability to lose weight. If you are suffering from persistent fatigue even when you are getting plenty of sleep, are having unexplainable mood swings, are peri-menopausal, or stressed, you may be suffering from hormonal imbalances.
There are many different hormones that can affect weight loss, including:
• Cortisol: When you are under stress, cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase. This in turn increases your appetite and more fat is stored around the waist, and this decreases metabolic weight so you don’t burn calories as effectively.
• Insulin and Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter released in the brain that makes you feel good, feel satisfied and prevents cravings. When you are stressed, depressed or have anxiety, serotonin decreases and can trigger cravings for high carbohydrate foods that give serotonin a quick boost. Long-term this raises insulin, which is the hormone that makes you store more fat and leads to a cycle of cravings and over-eating.
• Oestrogen: In women, oestrogen is another hormone that can fuel weight gain, particularly around the hips. If you suffer from premenstrual symptoms or menopausal problems, your oestrogen levels may be out of balance, which could be affecting your weight loss.
• Testosterone: In men, low testosterone increases body fat that tends to accumulate around the stomach.
Did you know poor thyroid function can affect your weight loss?
Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, situated in the front part of your neck, which produces hormones needed for normal metabolism. Thyroid hormones set the pace for most of your body functions; they regulate your metabolic rate and how fast or slow your organs and tissues function. Thyroid dysfunction can affect weight, energy levels, appetite and mood. When your thyroid is under-functioning, your body’s metabolism slows down and weight loss becomes very difficult. If your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone (thyroxine), you may experience symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue and weight gain. If you are suffering from these symptoms, perhaps your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally.
Inflammation can produce localised pain with redness, heat and swelling (e.g. as seen in arthritis), but can also be ‘silent’ and less obvious. If you are trying to lose weight and have some inflammation in your body, this could actually be slowing down your fat burning!
In fact, inflammation predisposes the body to store fat, and when your body is inflamed, chemicals are released that stimulate the secretion of a hormone called leptin from fat cells. Leptin, in normal amounts, is responsible for helping regulate appetite and energy production. However, high levels of this hormone are a problem because they further increase inflammation; interfering with the entry of glucose into the cells and with the body’s insulin response. This may, in turn, lead to insulin resistance and more fat storage. When you have an increase in fat storage, this will then heighten the inflammatory response and so the vicious cycle continues.
Ghrelin acts areas of the brain to stimulate a feeling of hunger and promote feeding. When a person sleeps, leptin levels normally rise, decreasing the need to eat by telling the brain that energy reserves are adequate for the time.Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels, while at the same time lowers leptin levels in the blood. This leads to the brain messaging the gastrointestinal tract to say it needs to eat, even though there is no real need to. Studies show that even two nights of poor sleep leads to this increase in the hunger hormone, so next time you have poor nights sleep see how your hunger is the next day.
So there are many reasons why we find it hard to lose weight even though we exercise and eat well. Often some deep questioning and some basic blood tests can come up with some helpful information to improve weight loss outcomes.
In health & happiness,