There are so many different diet and exercise plans to help us lose weight—almost a new one every day. Why? Because none of them actually work. Think about it.
While there are certainly healthy ways to achieve your weight goals—the trick is to optimize your metabolism, the rate at which your body burns fuel—being overweight is a symptom. It takes more to address this than the one-size-fits-all programs you can read in a book or accomplish in a few weeks with some nutrishakes or low-calorie foods. Weight loss can’t be packaged and sold for cheap in bulk to the masses—with all the trimmings of catchy (if misleading) advertising.
Most health discussions group everyone into the same category. This couldn’t be farther from the truth: we are all individual, and different things work for different people.
It is not just our genetic makeup, or eating too much—although these play a role—our emotional scene, lifestyle and key environmental factors also play a part.
And herein lies the good news and the bad news. Bad news first: It takes time to heal whatever is at the core of weight loss issues—a holistic health approach makes sure to do this in a way that honors and respects the balance of your body. The good news is that regardless of your genetic makeup, the correct dietary and lifestyle choices will help you lose weight and keep it off.
Core systemic imbalances and weight loss resistance
The medical literature holds imbalances in six core systems behind problem resistant weight loss. These are:
- Hormonal imbalance (including thyroid dysfunction)
- Adrenal imbalance (chronic stress)
- Neurotransmitter/nerve imbalance (non-coordination)
- Digestive imbalance
- Systemic inflammation
- Impaired detoxification
And, correctly, some medical experts look for different reasons, different stressors, behind these imbalances. But unfortunately, those same medical specialists focus on each one as an individual problem. The best thing you can do for your health, including your weight, is ask yourself WHY? Why might one or more of these interconnected systems get out of balance?
What they all miss, is that each of these imbalances is due to having too much stress with not enough genuine building blocks to heal and repair.
What types of stress pack on the pounds? Distress!
All of them regardless of the reasons—illness and injury… relationship difficulties, work struggles, caring for an aging parent or ailing child… food sensitivities, allergies…
Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it. —Hans Selye
Distress, or unresolved stress, is the most important factor in “adrenal burnout” which manifests as chronic fatigue, memory problems, anxiety, immune deficiency… and stubborn weight gain.
Whenever we feel threatened—and it could be anything: running late for work, turmoil at home, low blood sugar, a dinosaur chasing us… anything—if we perceive stress, our adrenal glands secrete hormones that kick our body into gear to handle that stress.
It goes like this:
- You spot the deadly purple monster; your nervous system alerts the whole body to this threat.
- Your adrenal glands secrete adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol to start the “fight or flight” response; adrenaline gives you energy and strength.
- Cortisol prepares the body to fight-or-fly by flooding the blood with glucose, supplying an immediate energy source to large muscles.
- Cortisol also inhibits insulin production which keeps blood sugar high;
- Cortisol narrows your arteries while the adrenaline increases heart rate, both of which force blood to pump harder and faster. Cortisol changes digestion and immune function.
So far so good, Cortisol, released by the adrenal gland, directs key body systems away from long-term management to immediate survival (e.g., increases in heart rate, decreases in digestion, alterations in immune functioning); your body is ready to handle the emergency.
You kick that monster’s butt, take off your superwoman cape and then get back to your desk job. Perfect.
- All hormone levels return to normal.
But today’s monsters are more constant. For too many of chronic stress is a way of life, which means we are overworking our adrenal glands and have consistently elevated levels of cortisol.
Welcome expanding waistline:
Here’s where it gets interesting. How adrenal imbalance causes weight gain goes like this: with our ever-stressed, fast-paced lifestyle, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly. Cortisol should be in a specific range; too high (or too low—which happens later after exhaustion) and your entire hormone system becomes disregulated for a number of reasons.
Scientists have discovered that fat cells actually have special receptors for the stress hormone cortisol. Deep under our abdominal muscles is a layer of adipose called “visceral fat.” This fat sits right next to abdominal organs and has more cortisol receptors than anywhere else in our bodies! Cortisol does two things—helps these fat cells expand and mature; and signals them to make even more cortisol in an awful catch-22.
Fat is an active tissue that makes many other hormones too. Some of these control hunger and cravings. Now the body thinks it continually needs extra fuel, and typically stores that as fat around the abdomen, or as it’s commonly referred to, the old “spare tire.” When we remain under stress, we crave foods, we lose precious energy, and we gain weight.
Greetings hormone and mood imbalances:
The body has to make all this cortisol from something—that something is the building block nutrient cholesterol. Unfortunately, too many people bought into the low-fat/low-cholesterol story. A story for another time… it ends with your liver producing low density cholesterol in volume if you do not get your needs met through your diet.
Many, many hormones, in particular the sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, are made from cholesterol. The health of every cell in your body and the elasticity of your skin depends on having enough cholesterol. You need cholesterol.
With all this cholesterol being used to make cortisol… (and especially if you are among the many taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol) the body has no starting material for other hormones, for nerve health, for skin health, and more.
The dysregulation in cortisol and all systems has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, chronic melancholy, depression, even chronic pain, sleep disturbances and fatigue.
Any weight control solution must address the priority stressors:
Sometimes your body needs to solve a bigger problem before it can begin to lose weight; that’s why it is important to look holistically—at the whole body and all its complicated interconnections.
Find and Fix What’s Really Wrong: We could guess about the main sources of stress for months and years—or we could ask the body. I love Nutrition Response Testing for its ability to check all the possible weak links in your system and then narrow those down to the one (or few) that truly need to be addressed to achieve your health goals. Doesn’t that make sense?
And to truly support you, I’ve recently added the Eating to Restore Balance small group program to help cut through all the conflicting advertising and make truly healthy choices. As of right now this is available only in Anchorage—I’m working on an online program: Coming Soon! Can’t wait?
Contact me: I know how to fix this. [email protected]
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- Selye H. The general adaptation syndrome and diseases of adaptation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1936; 6(2):117-230.
- Guilliams TG, Edwards L. Chronic stress and the HPA axis: Clinical assessment and therapeutic considerations. A Review of Natural & Nutraceutical Therapies for Clinical Practice. 2010; 9(2):1-12.
- Selye H. Stress and the general adaptation syndrome. British Medical Journal. 1950; 1:1383 – 1392.
- Lansang MC, Hustak LK. Glucocorticoid-induced diabetes and adrenal suppression: How to detect and manage them. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2011; 78(11):748-756.