Obesity and being overweight constitute the second leading cause of preventable death, after smoking, and are considered to be the most common nutritional disorders in the industrialized world today. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population has a weight problem. The picture is much the same in Canada with data provided by the Canadian Community Health Survey between 1990 and 2001 showing that 48 percent of the Canadian population is packing too much poundage, and 15 percent is classified as obese.
Pharmaceutical companies are pumping billions of dollars into new weight-loss drugs to fight the war against fat. Geneticists try to unlock and manipulate the genes that make us fat – one day hoping for a vaccine that will keep us thin. Yet the secret, as you will discover in this section, may be more complicated than reducing calories and exercising more often – our hormones may be the contributing to our fatness.
Old theories about weight loss were based on the “calories in, calories out” rhetoric. Simply put, if you ate less food and exercised more, weight loss would occur. Those who exercise daily, eat salads and carrot sticks, drink glass after glass of water and still don’t lose weight can vouch that weight loss is not that simple. And we all know the person who can eat whatever they wish, has never set foot on a treadmill and doesn’t put on a pound. There is a complex interplay of hormonal, biochemical, genetic, physical and lifestyle factors that are causing our battle with the bulge.
Basal Metabolic Rate: Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the rate at which your body burns calories when you are at rest. Thyroid hormones and how much you exercise are two factors, among many, that have an effect on what your metabolic rate is when you are doing nothing. Metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that take place inside our cells to create energy. All the fuel (which includes carbohydrates, fats, essential fats and proteins) in the food we eat is broken down to produce the energy the body needs to maintain our body temperature, help us breathe, move our muscles and more. A peak operating metabolism can burn up a lot of fuel (food) and create plenty of energy, or conversely a slow metabolism will store the fuel as fat. Thermogenesis is the process that burns stored fat.
Liver Function: If you have been dieting for years and were never told a healthy liver is essential for fat loss, it isn’t any wonder you may not have reached your fat-loss goals. The liver is the most important organ in the body, filtering blood, processing and packaging hormones, removing toxins, metabolizing proteins and carbohydrates into energy, manufacturing cholesterol and breaking down fats, among hundreds of other vital functions.
Excess weight around the middle, whites of the eyes that are dotted with fatty yellow bumps, fatty cysts and skin mottled with “age spots” are all signs of a congested liver, more commonly called a “fatty liver.” Clogged bile ducts, inadequate secretion of bile, not enough bile, or an overwhelmed or congested liver from too many prescription drugs, toxins or alcohol can all contribute to a fatty liver. These factors cause our liver to inadequately break down or emulsify fats, and our fat cells to store too much fat, promoting weight gain or resistance to fat loss.
Hormones That Make Us Fat: Any disruption of the liver detoxification pathway contributes to excesses or imbalances in hormones, toxins and our ability to lose weight. The liver is also responsible for conjugating or combining estrogens and other steroid hormones, certain drugs and chemical compounds. Too much estrogen (also called estrogen dominance) is one reason why women have a difficult time losing fat around the abdominal area. A decreased rate of estrogen excretion via liver detoxification contributes to what we commonly call “estrogen belly,” which is simply too much fat around the middle, promoted by too much estrogen due to faulty excretion of excess estrogens.
Too much fat on our body also increases our estrogen levels, as fat cells are a storage site for estrogen. Contributing to our fatness is the fact that fat cells also manufacture estrogen. This sets up a vicious cycle of too many fat cells manufacturing and storing too much estrogen which creates high levels of estrogen which maintains our increased fat.
Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, may be the main culprit contributing to our fatness. The standard, excessively high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet is disrupting our body’s ability to regulate blood sugar adequately. When we have too much insulin being pumped out to reduce abnormally high blood sugar, we inevitably gain weight, become fat and our cells become very resistant to insulin and fat loss. Everyone who is overweight has insulin resistance, and insulin resistance puts us at higher risk of heart disease, cancers and diabetes.
Another deadly aspect of high insulin is that it increases the secretion of cortisol, our stress hormone. High cortisol causes a corresponding drop in the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA helps increase muscle mass and improve immune function, is a precursor to other hormones and has been called the anti-aging hormone. Most importantly for fat loss, we know that more muscle mass causes increased fat burning and a reduction in insulin. As we can see, high insulin promotes a very negative cascade of effects.
Leptin, a hormone produced by body fat, is critical in telling the body when to eat and when it is satisfied. We know that in some people the message of satiety is not heard, and the fat cells send out more and more leptin, causing resistance to leptin, increased food cravings and the desire to continue eating. In other people, leptin levels are low due to zinc deficiency.
Unrelenting chronic stress is another factor that promotes weight gain. Research performed at Laval University in Quebec shows that chronic stress causes our fat cells to become resistant to fat loss, especially fat cells around our abdomens. Cortisol activates fat cells – all fat cells – to store fat! But those that are called central fat cells, found mainly deep in the abdominal wall, have four times the cortisol receptors on their cell membranes. Each time you are stressed as many cortisol-fat mechanism turns on and your body stores more fat to handle all the stress you are experiencing.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain made from the amino acids found in proteins, is also involved in notifying your brain that you are satisfied and can put down your fork. Neurotransmitters are messengers that communicate between cells. Low serotonin causes depression, obesity, lethargy and a preference for refined carbohydrates and overeating because the brain senses it is starving. Those that are hyper-secretors of cortisol exhibit suppressed serotonin levels, which may lead to problems managing weight. We know that in vulnerable persons depression promotes weight gain. When we diet and restrict protein-rich calories, our serotonin levels also plummet. The connection between serotonin, cortisol and weight gain is being heavily researched. Simply by lowering cortisol levels through stress management and the use of specific serotonin-enhancing nutritional supplements, including 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), you can begin to regain control over your weight.
Revs up fat burning, helps control appetite, and balances blood sugar
To rev up your fat-burning furnace, eat protein for breakfast. This will increase your metabolism by 25 percent and that increase lasts for several hours.
Quantity of food is given most of the credit for our weight woes; the quality of the food we eat plays an equally important role. Saturated fats, trans-fats, fake fats, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, processed meats and cheese, diet foods and sodas conspire to make us fat and disrupt our hormones. Eliminate all of these toxic foods.
Have your thyroid checked. See Thyroid.
Keep insulin levels normal by eating small, protein-rich meals throughout the day and eliminating the white foods: white sugar, white flour, white rice, white pasta, white potatoes (See Diabetes).
Allergies and sensitivities to food also contribute to increased bloating, poor digestion, weight gain, water retention and an overall puffy appearance. Leaky gut syndrome is caused by years of food allergies, bacterial over-growth in the gut, Candida and stress (high cortisol). The term “leaky gut” refers to when waste, bacteria and partially digested food are allowed to pass into the bloodstream from a damaged or leaky gut. The foreign substances that should have stayed in our digestive system are now in the bloodstream, causing additional stress on the liver as well as fluid retention, with some individuals packing around 10 to 15 pounds of extra fluids. Our body is approximately two-thirds water, found in all our cells and tissues (where it is essential for all bodily functions). But when water becomes trapped in tissues and around cells, detoxification and proper cell function, including the movement of fat into and out of cells, is inhibited.
Exercise for 10 minutes with weights every day.
The dinner plate is too big. The amount of food we should be eating at a meal fits on the side plate.
In addition, I recommend you look for my book A Smart Woman’s Guide to Weight Loss (2010) or visit my website at hormonehelp.com.
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