It is not uncommon to hear a friend or family member say that they are trying to lose weight. In fact, the vast majority of us spend our entire lives struggling to maintain a weight that is healthy or desirable. There are certainly many people that are over-eating or under-exercising for their caloric requirements. But what about the rest of us? For some individuals, it doesn’t matter how little we eat because the weigh scale doesn’t seem to budge! Weight loss can be quite complex with many contributing factors and the simple reality is that cutting calories is not a clear solution for losing weight. Here’s why.
Calorie Counting Is Good… In Theory: When we eat food, we are consuming energy. When we exercise or create movement, we are burning energy. When attempting to lose weight, the simplest goal is to eat less energy relative to the amount of energy that your body outputs. In fact, it has often been stated that an energy deficit of 3500 kcal will lead to fat loss of exactly one pound because that’s how much energy is provided when you break down fat. And this will work in many people. But this simple equation does not take into account the type of macronutrients or micronutrients that you are actually consuming, nor does it consider the strong influence of hormones as we’ll discuss below.
A Calorie is Not Just a Calorie: Most people that have done their own dietary research know that the human body does not respond to refined carbohydrates (ie. added sugars) the same way that it does to protein, fats or even complex carbohydrates. When we eat natural sugars found in fruit that are paired with the high fibre content, we have a blunted rise in blood glucose and insulin. If you eat the same number of calories from a donut, your sugar spikes and excess sugars become converted and deposited into fat. Similarly, low-carbohydrate diets have consistently shown greater weight loss when compared to low-fat diets with equal caloric intake. Physiologically, the body treats fats, proteins and carbohydrates quite differently.
What About Hormones? The thyroid is largely responsible for maintaining a proper metabolic rate, meaning that it dictates how fast or slow our cells burn energy. This explains why those with low thyroid function can present with weight gain or the inability to lose weight. If you haven’t had your thyroid function checked by your doctor, this is a great place to start. However, just as your thyroid needs to be balanced to maintain a healthy weight, so does your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. Factors such as stress, poor liver function and nutritional deficiencies can all imbalance these crucial hormones.
The Importance of Stress: When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that tells the body to release sugar into the blood. This is great to provide energy to get through a short stressful event, but what about when cortisol is elevated for days, weeks or months at a time? Imbalanced sugar levels can lead to fat deposition over the long haul! Stress management is so important, in fact, that some research has found stress-management programs with no dietary changes to be more effective for weight loss than dietary changes alone.
Sleep and its role in Weight Management: A large-scale study examining sleep habits in over 86,000 postmenopausal women found a strong association between both lack of sleep and excess sleep with obesity risk. Other studies have found shorter and longer sleep durations to be associated with greater body mass and greater abdominal fat measurements.
Sleep deprivation’s association with obesity appears to be due not only with behavioral changes (such as exercising less when you’re tired), but also to hormonal dysregulation. Sleeping less than 6 hours per night results in blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance and, ultimately, widespread inflammation in the body.
Environmental Toxins: There is now a mountain of evidence to show that toxins in our environment can play a great role in body size. Ongoing exposure to chemicals with names like hexachlorobenzene, polybrominated biphenyl and phthalates can wreak havoc on your hormones and your weight loss attempts. Start eliminating the plastics and use glass containers or water bottles instead. Reduce your daily makeup and cosmetic exposure when possible. Avoid unnecessary air-fresheners, chemical-laden cleaners and pesticides. These small changes will all add up.
As you can clearly see, there is much more to consider than just calories in and calories out when it comes to weight loss. Eating real food, getting restful sleep, avoiding toxic chemicals, improving relationships and minimizing stressors in your life will all help to normalize your hormones and improve your weight in the long-run.
Got some weight loss tips? Let us know below what has worked best for you!
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