By Caroline Mackey, RNCP, ROHP, CNP, PTS and Dr. Marika Berni, ND
As the holiday season approaches many of us may be in a panic about the wonderful temptations awaiting us, and the effect the inevitable indulging will have on our waistline. It is important to realize that it is possible to get through the holidays and not gain weight! Weight gain is about more than incoming and outgoing calories. Many other factors have an influence on weight gain and weight maintenance. Thyroid dysfunction, insulin resistance, insomnia or improper sleep habits, improper dietary habits like skipping meals, stress and high cortisol levels all contribute to weight gain. Theoretically, you could have a wonderfully balanced diet but if you are not sleeping, have hormonal imbalances, or are very stressed out the likely hood of you losing weight is slim.
5 areas to support in order to optimize weight loss:
The thyroid has been referred to as the “Master gland” because of its many different functions in the body. Its sole function is to produce thyroid hormone for our body. Thyroid hormone has an effect on nearly all tissues of our body and increases cellular activity and therefore has an effect on our metabolism. Signs of a hypo functioning thyroid are weight gain, fatigue (still feeling tired in the morning despite a solid 8 hour sleep), cold hands and feet, hair loss, dry skin, menstrual irregularities, digestive disturbances such as constipation, and muscle aches and pains. Assessing thyroid function is an integral part of a naturopathic assessment in a patient presenting with weight concerns.
Sleep disturbance includes insomnia, not getting enough sleep (staying up too late to get a bit of “me time”), falling asleep but then waking through out the night, or having a restless night with tossing and turning, or even being woken in the middle of the night by crying children. When our sleep is disturbed multiple hormones are affected. Serotonin decreases, cortisol increases, insulin is affected as are the hormones ghrelin (our hunger hormone) and leptin (our satiety hormone). Without an adequate sleep growth hormone will not be secreted in the proper amounts which will decrease our ability to maintain muscle mass. Changes in all of these hormones results in increased cravings and hunger and the inability to feel satiated. When we inevitably do reach for the food we crave (usually carbohydrates and sugar) we will have a decreased ability to process and deal with it.
Unfortunately our days are go, go go. With the responsibilities of family life, work and social commitments we barely have time to take a breath. This results in the excessive secretion of stress hormones, one of which is s cortisol. It is important to understand that stress doesn’t necessarily have to be external. It can also be internal, such as a nutrient deficiency. Iron, or vitamin B12 deficiencies or thyroid dysfunction can all cause an increase in cortisol as your body tries to function sub optimally. (It important to have your naturopath check these levels regularly.) Signs of high cortisol are weight gain especially around the mid section, feeling irritable, anxious or wired most of your day, an interrupted sleep (usually waking between 2-4 am), fatigue, and cognitive impairment.
4) Insulin resistance
This is a pre-diabetic syndrome, where your body is producing insulin but it’s not absorbing it correctly. An overabundance of glucose causes cells to become desensitized and the body releases more insulin. This causes the body to become insulin resistant. Insulin is a hormone that is fat-storing, so when there is an over-abundance of insulin that is not being absorbed correctly, the body will store extra insulin as fat. One indicator of insulin resistance is stubborn belly fat. To combat insulin resistance you need a regular food eating pattern that balances blood sugar, which consistently includes quality protein, good fats, lots of vegetables and only a small amount of healthy starches/grains. You may even consider going grain-free while correcting this imbalance.
5) Improper dietary habits
Often, we accidentally set ourselves up to have challenges losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, sets up the body for blood sugar challenges. This means low energy, a much higher likelihood you’ll reach for sugary food and drink, and an inability to regulate your appetite properly. Having a breakfast high in processed carbohydrates like toast or cereal (even the healthier options) can also cause blood sugar imbalances throughout the day. Not drinking enough water, having too many processed foods, and not eating enough fibre are also major causes for weight challenges.
What can I do?
As the holiday season approaches do your best to resist the urge to over indulge, but keep in mind the other contributors to weight gain. Look into getting your blood work assessed and follow a program which helps to support any possible imbalances such as thyroid, and insulin dysfunction, and nutrient deficiencies. Aim to reduce the stress in your life, but if that proves difficult (ie you can’t give away your children or quit your job), try to support your body with important nutrients and botanicals, which help to lower cortisol and reduce its’ damaging effects on your body. Get 8 hours of deep, restful sleep every night. Think of all of those hormones, which need to be replenished while you sleep. If you are struggling with sleep speak to your Naturopath to find out which supplements can help you to have a restorative sleep. A nutritionist can help you with meal planning, food choices and managing cravings. Ensure that you balance your blood sugar by eating healthy meals regularly, drink lots of water, and keep processed sugars to minimum. This will keep you from grazing too much on the holiday sweets.
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