I have a confession. I sometimes eat foods that are not ideal for my health. Do I do it regularly? No, but do I enjoy it when I do cheat? YES! Our relationship with food is especially important. From a young age we are taught about food. We learn what is healthy and what is not. Then we get confused by social health. What diet is ideal? Will that diet work for me? So, and so lost so much weight, but I’m getting no-where! I do not like using the word diet. When I approach gut health and healing the thyroid, I discuss meal plans that become lifestyle changes. Diets may or may not work short term and usually once we finish this diet, we end up back where we started.
The story of many patients is that they have been battling that weight for months. No matter what they do, the scale seems to only increase. This has them feeling defeated, tired and above all feeling unhealthy. This is not them. This is not you. Have you been feeling this lately? I know I did for a long time. And some days I feel that I’m heading down that pathway again. Life is busy. we will get to whatever we do for our health tomorrow. Today, it is not going to fit into our schedule.
But our plan for tomorrow does not happen. It gets pushed yet again. So, what can we do TODAY!?
Let us start with small change. And let us start with the one thing we do each day. The food we eat! We need to eat to survive. We can skip a meal here and there but most of us cannot go a full day without consuming something. Instead of looking at what we can stop doing, we can simplify this change by adding to our daily meals. Let us add greens. Let us make that salad so much more satisfying with some additional greens that give it the “umph” we were looking for. Let’s add in a good amount of protein and fat to it as well. Small changes make big differences. Start there!
What is weight? What do we mean when we have gained weight? As a noun it is defined as the body’s relative mass or the quantity of matter contained by it, giving rise to a downward force, the heaviness of a person or thing. As a verb it is defined as to attach importance or value to something.
We know that when we discuss weight, we are discussing how heavy (or light) we are. However, it is equally important to understand how we attached the importance or value of this “weight” to our life. Weight is especially important for many of us. We directly connect weight with health. If we “look” good, which usually means we are not overweight, then we are healthy. Otherwise we are unhealthy.
Weight issues are related to many issues within the body. But did you know a lot of our weight stems from our gut health? The gut, as we have discussed previously, plays an integral role in the digestion and absorption of foods and drinks we consume. If our gut is unhealthy and dysfunctional (usually showing up as pain, indigestion, bloating and similar), we won’t nourish our body. And over time we can see the weight increase amongst other issues. One major flaw in this thought process, is that we put the “weight” of this on how we look rather than how we feel. And because of this, I believe that we need to emphasize the importance of weight on how we feel. .
And how we feel goes back to our foundations – the gut. How do we digest? How do we absorb the foods we eat? How do we nourish our body and cells? It’s through the foods we eat and the health of our gut.
Many of us rely on processed foods. Processed foods which includes majority of sweet and savory snacks are marketed and created (it’s not really food) to be pretty, tasty and shelf stable. And processed foods have a major impact on our weight and gut health. They are full of sugar, and this stimulates the reward centers in our brain. Processed foods and sugars are highly addictive – they can even be compared to addictions to drugs such as alcohol and cocaine. Have you seen an adult or child trying to wean off sugar? .
If we have consumed the right foods – the balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates – we can easily switch off our brain from thinking it needs that donut or those chips. When our body is nourished, we do not have cravings. We can eat in moderation and choose the right foods for our body. When we are overworked, overstressed, and not carving out time to eat healthy meals, we tend to crave sugary foods to spark our energy and this begins the vicious cycle of undernourishment, exhaustion and consuming foods that are not good for us.
Now on top of busy schedules we have stress. We are stressed more than usual. Your mind is wandering. You can’t concentrate. You stomach aches all the time, no matter if you’ve eaten or you haven’t. And these last few months have been stressful overall. It’s ongoing. You haven’t changed how much food you are eating but somehow you are gaining weight. .
Wondering why this is happening? Well at this point we have a few things going on.
- Stress à mental or physical stress causes inflammation in the gut. This affects the digestive and absorptive function creating reduced ability to feed and nourish the cells of your body. The inflammation in the gut alongside the reduced nourishment of the body leads to decreased function of the endocrine glands – the thyroid specifically. And when the thyroid isn’t functioning it causes changes in metabolism leading to weight gain. With stress the adrenal glands also are affected – always in a state of excitement (at least in the beginning) leading to the cortisol belly – increased weight gain around the belly.
- Stomach pain à in Chinese Medicine, the stomach works with the spleen to digest and absorb nutrients from the foods we consume. When we are stressed out, the liver organ is affected affecting the free flow of qi. The liver attacks the stomach and spleen leading to stomachache and changes in appetite and bowel movements. .
When we aren’t getting all the good stuff from our food, we aren’t nourishing our body and so we feel exhausted and unable to concentrate. Stress relieving exercises are important – enjoying the outdoors, meditation, yoga, journaling – are a few examples of ways to reduce stress.
Stress also creates bad relationships with food to emerge. Improper eating habits emerge. Skipping meals, not eating enough, and even eating disorders begin to become part of our lives. Our gut is affected. Our body is malnourished. Our cells and tissues can die or be destroyed. Issues with weight stem from our dysfunctional gut. By healing and nourishing our gut we can provide our body with the nutrients and vitamins needed for our body.
When we hear the word diet, we automatically think a restrictive meal plan. It means we are doing it for a short-term period so that we can lose weight. However, diet should be interchanged for lifestyle. We need to eat for long term health. We need to eat for nourishing our body and cells properly.
Why do we feel hungry? Why can we go hours without eating? How does this all work?
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that have been recognized to have a major influence on energy balance. Leptin is a mediator of long-term regulation of energy balance, suppressing food intake and thereby inducing weight loss. Ghrelin on the other hand is a fast-acting hormone, playing a role in meal initiation. Our gut health and the foods we eat can play an integral role in the balance of these two hormones. The major hormone that is discussed with obesity is leptin and the issue is best described as leptin resistance. .
Leptin is produced by fat cells and its blood levels increase with higher fat mass. In healthy individuals, high leptin levels are lined to reduced appetite. And when it is working properly it should tell your brain how high your fat stores are. When you eat, your body fat goes up, leading your leptin levels to go up. Thus, you eat less and burn more. Conversely, when you don’t eat, your body fat goes down, leading your leptin levels to drop. At that point, you eat more and burn less.
In leptin resistance this communication isn’t happening. And the control of food intake and fat storage goes awry. The brain doesn’t see the high levels of leptin and therefore the inhibitory response is not activated leading to increased food intake. Over time this leads to weight gain and other health issues.
Another hormone that is a key player within our digestive functions is insulin. Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by the pancreas. It is considered to be the main anabolic hormone in the body. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting the absorption of carbohydrates, especially glucose from the blood into liver, fat and skeletal muscle cells.
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar levels go up. Insulin resistance syndrome includes a group of problems like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. .
The foods we eat can affect our blood glucose levels that can either lead to healthy insulin response or erratic insulin responses. And this can lead to weight gain amongst other problems. Your meals should be colourful. A vibrant array of coloured foods means that we are nourishing our body well.
Many experience issues such as pain and indigestion and believe that’s normal. This is not true. Your digestive system should function without any hiccup. You should be able to enjoy your meals all the time.
Symptoms to keep in mind include:
- cravings for foods – such as sugar and caffeine
- weight issues over time
- mood changes
- fatigue and exhaustion
- skin irritations
We usually see weight gain, digestive complaints, skin irritations, and mood issues arise from those who rely on sugar and have thereby become addicted to sugar. It gives us that increase energy as it provides glucose that can be used right away by the body. Then we crash and for many it’s more of a crash and burn! While sugar can taste good, that addiction is a sign of a deficiency in the nutrients and vitamins that our body requires for optimal health. It also indicates an under functioning of the body.
If you are addicted to sugar you want to ask yourself:
– Am I eating the right types of food?
– Am I eating enough for my body type and expenditure?
– Am I dealing with a gut issue?
– Am I stress/emotional eating?
– What is my body missing?
– Have I been sleeping enough?
By addressing what we may be missing, we can overcome sugar addictions and work on optimizing our health, our gut health and our weight.
Over time, if we don’t address our dysfunctions, we can see changes leading to decreased energy, increased weight, food cravings, and similar. I find this quite interesting. When we are stressed out … what do we crave? Desserts! And stressed spelled backwards it desserts. We use food as a coping mechanism especially with our emotions. Whether we are stressed out, feeling down, or anxious. .
It is important that we are mindful during these times especially if we have already existing habits of turning to food as a coping mechanism. This type of behaviour can easily affect our goals of healing our gut, keeping our weight at a healthy level, and feeling our best. If you do give in – don’t get down on yourself. Determine what was the factor that drove you to choose food to cope. If we can find this underlying factor, we can begin to change our behaviours so that we are making healthy choices as often as we can!
With weight gain, we also see its effect on the other systems within the body. There is increased risk of cardiovascular issues, blood sugar dysfunctions, and increased inflammatory responses within the body. We can see changes to the laboratory findings with increased blood glucose and the emergence of type 2 diabetes. We can also find changes in blood pressure, with it rising higher and higher, and changes in the balance of good and bad cholesterol. Altogether this is known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the name for these risk factors that raise your risk for heart disease and other health problems such as diabetes and stroke. .
By addressing our foundations, we can begin to allow the body to heal. This means we are changing the way we eat, we are including more movement in our daily routine, we are getting more rest, reducing stress, and finding joy in our lives. This can mean small changes or can signify approaching these changes in steps to make the big difference in your health and wellness.