In April, I attend a nutritional series hosted by my friend and Oakland Fitness Co’s nutritionist, Erica Favela. The 4th and last part of her series focused on how to gain energy and lose weight.
Her presentation touched on a topic that I experience often in conversations with clients, colleagues, and friends. Everyone wants to lose weight and tone up. They live active lifestyles and workout 3-4 times per week, but find that they can’t get rid of the extra weight and sometimes will even gain weight. Also, their energy levels tend to fluctuate and they often feel tired and fatigued.
Most of my female clients struggle with this. I understand their frustration and have been there myself. You feel like you're doing most things right, but the end results are missing because something is just not working.
Diet and Hormones
A key point in Erica’s presentation is that one part of the problem stems from long-term calorie restrictions. Unless you are morbidly obese, calorie restricted diets will unlikely work because it is actually slowing down your metabolism. When we don’t eat, our survival instincts kick in. Our metabolism slows down because the body doesn’t know when it will eat again, and it will naturally hold on to fat longer.
She recommends 6 healthier ways to improve metabolism:
- Daily detoxification (hydration, fiber, bitter foods)
- Proper Nutrition (whole foods)
- Identify & Eliminate Food Allergens (gluten, dairy, milk, corn, soy, peanuts/tree nuts, sugar, additives, eggs)
- Active Lifestyle (HIIT & weight training)
- Stress Management - Trauma & Emotional Support
- Stress Management - Spiritual Practice
The other important factor to pay close attention to is our hormones. Hormones play a huge role and is particularly sensitive to our diet and how we manage stress and sleep.
Ghrelin - The “hunger hormone” is released in the stomach. Ghrelin is triggered when we have low blood sugar and when we are stressed out or sleep deprived.
Insulin - Insulin is the “master hormone” and escorts glucose to cells and muscles. It is made in the pancreas and responds to carbohydrates. Insulin manages our blood sugar levels and low levels of insulin generally results in leanness and metabolic health. While high levels of insulin (insulin resistance) can lead to Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Leptin - The “I’m full hormone”, or satiety hormone, that helps regulate energy levels by inhibiting hunger. Leptin is released by the fat cells of our body. Some people have lower leptin sensitivity (they don’t recognize that they are full) due to genetics or due to excess insulin release. When too much insulin is released in the body, it disrupts the brain’s ability to read leptin activity and feel satiated. Think of leptin as a meek hormone with a small voice. When other hormones are out of control, Leptin is the first one bumped off of the brain's radar.
When it comes to keeping weight off, the biggest problem is managing our LEPTIN and INSULIN resistance.
Those with diets high in carbohydrates and high in refined sugars - lots of nutrient poor foods - will struggle with this the most because insulin is constantly released in the body. Nutrient poor foods result in high levels of glucose and triglycerides in the bloodstream. As triglycerides elevate, it impairs the brain from recognizing the leptin hormone. This person will end up eating more and develop leptin resistance. Leptin resistance spirals back into insulin resistance, which leads to more triglycerides in the bloodstream, and eventually gaining excess weight.
What can you do?
They key to long term weight management is a balanced neurohormonal system. Here are a few ways to help your hormones stay balanced:
1. Stay away from hormone disruptors
- Chronically overeating (overstimulates leptin)
- Refined sugars and starches
- MSG (packaged foods/spices)
- Aspartame (in artificial sweeteners & chewing gum)
- Stress and inflammation
2. Fight Insulin Resistance and Leptin Resistance
- Do weight training & HIIT
- Consistent, restful SLEEP
- Fish oil and sufficient amounts of Vitamin D
- Resist constant snacking by adding protein and fiber to snacks
- Eat scheduled meals with enough protein and fiber
- Cholecystokinin - inhibits ghrelin and makes you feel less hungry (slow cooked meats, Omega 3s, fermented foods)
3. Manage your Stress level and get adequate Sleep
This is a big one. We all know stress will kill you but it also raises cortisol and diminishes the body’s ability to build muscle. In addition, it lowers DHEA, which is the hormone responsible for anti-aging, libido stimulation, and fat burning.
Sleep and rest is also critical. If stress is high, serotonin (the happy hormone) is low. Research has also shown that sleep deprivation is associated with consuming an average of 300 additional calories per day.
Our body is an ever evolving complex system and many factors affect how we feel and perform each day. Erica’s presentation was an excellent reminder that we need to pay close attention to how our body and system is functioning.
When our system is not working - when we don't feel good and we’re not seeing the results we want from our current situation - it’s a perfect time to reset and reflect on factors such as our diet, stress levels, sleep patterns, and hormonal changes.
Write things down and keep a log. Experiment with your diet, sleeping patterns, and try new ways to manage stress. Introduce something new (drink more water) or take something away (drink less coffee) for an experimental period of time, 1-2 weeks, and see if it changes your mood and behavior.
Having awareness of these personal factors, coupled with making small lifestyle changes, can help you get better at finding your balance and ultimately closer to the results you’re looking for.
A shout out to Erica Favela for the AWESOME nutritional series she hosted at OFC in March and April. Thank you for the education and knowledge you've shared with the Oakland Fitness Company community! Learn more about Erica at www.mytruewellness.net.
A SUPER shout out to the UC Berkeley WorkFit U Grads of spring 2015. They’ve been working with me for the past 10 weeks and I’m so proud of their hard work and dedication to fitness and living a healthier lifestyle. You all did an excellent job in my class - thank you for bringing an open mind and positive energy to each workout! Congratulations!