People frequently seek out nutritionists, health coaches and trainers for exercise programs to help lose weight, increase energy and feel better.
Unfortunately, strategies employed in the past by most of our clients to lose weight include calorie-restricted or starvation diets full of processed foods (bars, shakes, packaged meals) and overdone cardiovascular workouts. Both these misguided approaches lead to short-term weight loss and in the long-term damage one’s metabolism to the point where future weight gain is inevitable.
As Personal trainers, Health practitioners and Nutritionists we are up against incorrect but widely accepted notions of how to lose weight and we frequently have clients that are experiencing weight loss resistance. For these people employing all the fad diets and spending hours in the gym does not help them meet their weight goals. In reality in order to lose weight in a healthy manner people need to adopt multiple lifestyle changes and address all three body systems for an integrated approach to getting fit.
The Three Body Systems and Weight Loss
The three body systems include the hormonal system, the digestive system and the detoxification system. For most people there is no simple, single solution for losing weight, all three body systems need to be addressed along with a program incorporating exercise and lifestyle changes. The hormonal system regulates our metabolic rate and controls how we burn body fat, the digestive system provides us the nutrients we need to burn body fat and the detoxification system, when not working properly, prevents the burning of fat stores. Most weight problems are brought on by years of poor lifestyle choices such as inactivity and lack of sleep combined with hormone imbalances, digestive and detoxification issues.
The Hormonal System
With regards to the hormonal system, most weight gain can be traced to the adrenal, or stress, hormones. The adrenal hormone cortisol, best known for its pivotal role in responding to stress, also promotes the burning of body fat, helps regulate emotions, and counters inflammation — all part of the body’s “fight or flight” response to threat. Cortisol levels rise under stress, but if stress continues without enough rest for recovery, as often happens with our modern pace of life, the adrenal glands become exhausted and cortisol levels drop. This has a chain-reaction impact on metabolism, slowing down our metabolic rate resulting in increased body fat. The more stress we are under, the more body fat we store.
The Role of Cortisol
Cortisol is secreted in response to any stress in the body, physical or psychological. Excess cortisol leads to a breakdown of muscle protein, which releases amino acids into the bloodstream that are then converted by the liver into energy, our fuel for running away or fighting. After the stressful event has passed, cortisol levels return to normal. With chronic or repeated stress the body continues to produce cortisol. If the call on the adrenal glands to produce cortisol perpetuates, the glands eventually weaken, leading to adrenal fatigue and ultimately exhaustion or adrenal burnout. Adrenal exhaustion leads to increased body fat, fatigue and depression. In fact, according to scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health, adrenal exhaustion is the leading cause of depression in the United States.
With stress, a surge of cortisol prepares the body to fight off an attack or flee. For millennia this mechanism operated under conditions that would be followed by long periods of rest and full recovery. Today, however, we are essentially locked in a culture-wide “fight or flight” state. Poor diets, lack of exercise and sleep, and long work hours leave bodies in a chronic state of stress, with many restorative functions continually sacrificed or impaired.
Adrenal exhaustion leaves people feeling lethargic and fatigued. An abnormal adrenal rhythm also impacts:
- Skin regeneration, causing wrinkles and premature aging
- Sleep quality, leading to trouble falling and staying asleep
- Bone health, which creates osteopenia or bone loss
- Muscle and joint function, leading to achy arthritis-type joint pain and neck, shoulder, and lower back pain
- Immune function, leading to frequent illness
Reversing adrenal burnout requires a well-designed exercise program, improved sleep habits, stress reduction and a dose of self-realization regarding the importance of our emotional and spiritual lives. If left unchecked, fluctuations in cortisol have a profound impact on the sex hormones, leading to problems in women such as PMS and menopausal symptoms and to low sex drive in men.
The Digestive System
The second body system, the digestive system is referred to as the “mother” system because it feeds our body tissues with the nutrients we need to function. Intestinal fungal overgrowth, which triggers over consumption of carbohydrates and sweets and digestive tract infections such as parasites and food sensitivities play a part in weight gain. Moreover, a perfectly functioning digestive system is an important first step in any weight loss program, as your body needs to absorb key vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids to properly regulate metabolism and burn fat. In the majority of patients I have treated, weight gain has been connected to a fungal, bacterial or parasitic infection in the GI tract.
Food allergies are another important digestive system factor affecting the success of weight loss programs. Sensitivity to gluten (found in many grains) is the most common food reaction triggering hormone imbalance and weight gain, yet it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. If untreated, gluten intolerance can bring low energy, depression, obesity, and diabetes as well as high risk of osteoporosis. Gluten intolerance is also seen in the majority of people with eating disorders.
Problems with the digestive system and hormonal system are the most common underlying causes of weight gain in the patients I have treated. In other cases the underlying cause is found with the body’s third major system, the detoxification system.
The Detoxification System
Detoxification pathways remove harmful chemicals generated from normal body functions such as physical exertion and breathing, which create waste products that need to be removed from the tissues. Detoxification pathways are also busy removing alcohol and metabolizing (breaking down) medications, chemicals in our food such as pesticides and herbicides, along with pollutants we are exposed to in our air and water. If you are taking in more toxins than you can flush out through the liver, kidneys, stool, and skin, you will have a backlog of waste products in the body that can cause a number of symptoms including fatigue, skin problems, irritability and poor concentration or memory.
Toxicity also leads to weight loss resistance. Toxins are stored in fat tissue in the body and people who are overweight will hold on to fat tissue tenaciously in an attempt to protect the body from the damage that would be caused by the release of these stored toxins. In addition, liver toxicity leads to weight gain through fluid retention and bloating as the body attempts to buffer or neutralize the negative effects of toxins on the body. I have had countless patients quickly lose five to ten pounds of body weight that is simply excess fluid flushed out of the body as they dump out toxins. Ironically, if you are dehydrated you will also tend to retain fluid. As I’ve heard Dr Bob Rakowski say many times in reference to drinking enough water, “The solution to pollution is dilution.”
Toxins build up in the body as by-products of what we consume including alcohol, prescription drugs and over the counter medications. Additionally in our daily lives we are exposed to environmental toxins in our air, water and food supply. These chemicals accumulate over the course of a person’s life and contribute to clogging the liver detoxification pathways, which are alternately helped by eating healthful sources of protein and vegetables. Vegetarians who eat insufficient protein are at risk for detox problems, as are people who do not eat enough vegetables. Liver detox pathways can be corrected through an organic foods diet and simple lifestyle changes such as increasing water intake.
Improving the Three Systems
All three body systems — hormonal, digestive, and detoxification — can be improved by applying the principles presented in our Nutrition & Lifestyle packages. These changes will lead to healthy weight loss in most people. In cases where multiple problems may have been brewing for years, overcoming weight loss resistance may require further functional testing, such as food allergy testing, designing herbal or nutritional programs and possibly working with other healthcare professionals. This can range from dentists who practice mercury removal to chiropractors, osteopaths or doctors of natural or oriental medicine.
It certainly takes some detective work to diagnose the causes of each persons weight gain and to determine the best course of treatment, and it takes determination on the client’s part to stay with a program and maintain it for the long term. But what better reward is there than good health?