Weight-loss – the lessor known factors behind being able to drop those extra kilos
We all know (or should know) that we need to eat a balanced diet, exercise portion control and to do some physical activity if we want to maintain a healthy weight. But did you know there are other factors that can hinder weight-loss attempts that are not food related? We believe in using an understanding of our bodily systems and working with them, not against them, to make lifestyle change. Get these things right and you may well see the kilos drop off a lot easier!
Bet you never heard anyone prescribe sleep for weight loss? Well they should! According to Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience & Psychology University of California, “dieting or attempts at weight loss while getting less than 8 hours sleep a night is futile”. Here are a few reasons why:
Our hunger and satiety hormones are interfered with when we don’t get enough sleep. Leptin is a hormone that gives us the sense of feeling full and Ghrelin gives us the sensation of hunger. When sleep deprived Leptin decreases and Ghrelin increases – not ideal! This means your hormones are telling you you’re hungry when you’re not and that you do not feel full when you are.
To add to the hormone disruption, sleep loss also increases naturally occurring circulating endocannabinoids (similar to cannabis). Endocannabinoids stimulate appetite and increase desire to snack.
Further to this, your pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for thoughtful judgement and controlled decisions) is silenced by sleep deprivation and more primal deep brain structures are amplified which will mean your food choices are likely to not be good ones.
So in summary, when you are tired, your body is producing chemicals to tell you to eat, you will likely not be able to resist the desire to eat and you are more likely to eat high calorie foods. If you do happen to lose weight, the weight loss will likely be lean muscle rather than fat which is also not what you want. A sleep deprived body will cry famine in the midst of plenty!
The human body did not evolve to undergo long term or chronic stress. Our stress response was designed to fight or flee from predators and for that response to be over within a relatively short amount of time, when the threat was over. In our modern world however, many people experience stress of varying degrees on an ongoing basis – work, worrying about kids, money, COVID, elections, ill family members and the list goes on. Our body’s stress response was not designed to be ongoing and when that happens it makes us sick and fat.
When our stress response is activated our blood sugar goes up to make sure we have instant energy to get away from the “threat”. But we aren’t running from or fighting a threat these days so this increased blood sugar gets stored as fat, usually around the stomach.
When we are experiencing stress we also slow down our metabolism (the rate at which we burn calories and fat) which is obviously less than ideal if you are trying to lose weight. You are also likely to have high sugar or high calorie food cravings as well to keep up that blood sugar.
Something which might be considered a bit “woo woo” is that unprocessed emotions can make it harder to lose weight. Hear me out. Society has taught us that it isn’t socially acceptable to express certain emotions like anger or sadness. We try and hold our tears in and we suppress our anger because it looks ugly but when we hold all this emotion in it is stored in our body as stress.
Your gut. Goodness, gut health is the most talked about thing at the moment it seems and with good reason. Our gut is home to trillions of symbiotic bacteria which altogether are known as the gut microbiota. These little guys have many roles within hunger, digestion, metabolism, stress, mental wellbeing and more. What you put into your body can influence the bacteria in your gut and this can affect the likelihood of weight gain or staying lean. A balanced microbiome can help maintain a healthy body weight, but an imbalanced one may add on extra kilos.
Yet another buzz word in the wellness space at the moment – sorry! But mindful eating is actually a thing. Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits. It has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, and help you feel better. It involves eating slowly and without distraction, listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full, engaging your senses by noticing colours, smells, sounds, textures and flavours, appreciation of food – where it has come from, who produced it, as well as noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure and more.
There are many distractions that have shifted attention away from the act of eating and towards televisions, computers and smartphones. Eating has become a mindless act, often done quickly. It can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to realise it is full so if you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much. This is very common in binge eating.
By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one. What’s more, by increasing your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, you are able to distinguish between emotional eating and true, physical hunger.
What you eat and how much you eat obviously make up a large part of a weight loss plan but the above need to be factored in too. Why make life harder for yourself when we know these things will have an effect on how hard your weight-loss journey will be, how successful you are and on the likelihood of keeping the weight off long term. The best part is that all of the above factors, when managed and factored into your lifestyle will have flow on benefits that extend far beyond weight-loss.