In last week’s column we examined the role of exercise for weight loss and improved body composition. We learned that exercise plays a crucial role in successfully improving body composition. We learned that there are 3 main components for exercise to be beneficial. Exercise should be fun, effective, and have support from friends, teammates, or trainers. We also learned about the most effective exercise-related weight loss strategy. This strategy involves combining weight bearing activities with cardiovascular activities to encourage prolonged periods of fat burning. In this week’s column we will investigate how the health of your hormones can affect your weight.
Insulin is perhaps the most important hormonal marker for overall health and it plays a crucial role in weight management. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas in response to carbohydrate and sugar consumption. The main function of insulin is to escort sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of the body in order to provide energy to the cells and prevent extended periods of high blood sugar in the arteries. It is produced in high quantities during and after meals that are high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates or sugar.
We learned a few weeks ago that the most important dietary concept to understand is that excess sugar makes us fat. Excess refined carbohydrates keeps insulin levels high, which leads to more and more sugar getting into the cells. The higher the amount of sugar that gets into the cells the higher the conversion of sugar to fat.
Not only do high levels of insulin lead to the increase in fat deposition in cells but insulin also prevents the breakdown of fat for energy. Insulin is a hormone designed to build not break down. When insulin is high the body is in a storage mode and is much less likely to burn fat for energy.
Type II diabetes is one of the most common and significant chronic diseases in North America. For the most part, it starts with excess refined carbohydrate consumption and increased insulin production. Over time, the cells of the body become resistant to insulin and the blood sugar remains high, which creates many problems in the body including weight gain, cardiovascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, impaired vision, and retinopathy to name a few.
Human Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone has received a lot of attention in the last 10 years in the anti-aging and athletics communities. HGH is an anabolic hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Its major functions are to rebuild and repair. HGH strengthens bone, increases muscle mass, promotes the burning of fat, and enhances the immune system. You can see why HGH supplementation has peaked the interest of many athletes and anti-aging researchers. However, HGH supplementation is not currently legal in Canada.
What we do know is that there are things we can do to increase our own native HGH production. First of all, weight bearing exercise is an excellent way to stimulate HGH production. Weight bearing exercise creates micro tears on the targeted muscles and stimulates the pituitary to produce an increased amount of HGH to repair that damage. This creates increased lean muscle mass, which increases the body’s overall metabolic rate. Secondly, sleep patterns greatly affect HGH production. Getting to bed before 11pm (optimally before 10pm) and sleeping through the night until the next morning promotes optimal HGH production. HGH is produced largely during sleep and the longer and deeper we sleep the better our production is likely to be. Thirdly, avoid eating food within 2 hours of going to sleep. When we eat just prior to bedtime we delay our release of HGH. Normally, HGH begins to be released about 2 hours after going to bed and winds down a few hours before waking as we exit deep sleep. When we eat before bed we further delay the release of HGH and significantly narrow the window of time where it is produced.
Cortisol is the major stress hormone that has gained attention in recent years. It is produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress, especially chronic stress. Cortisol production should be highest in the morning upon rising and then gradually decline through the day. It should be lowest during sleep and this is one of the biochemical reasons we get tired and fall asleep. However, for those who have less than optimal stress coping mechanisms cortisol levels will go up during stressful periods of the day. This could be at a morning meeting, on the way home from work, at the end of the night when we are adding up the bills, or any other time.
Simply put, high cortisol levels will likely lead to weight gain and poor body composition for most people. Cortisol directly causes the deposition of fat in the abdomen and upper neck, breaks down bone and muscle mass, and inhibits the activation of thyroid hormone. These 3 factors make it extremely difficult to lose weight or improve body composition in the face of stress.
The key is to develop strategies to prevent, manage, and cope with stress better. Over time this will encourage the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol in a healthier manner. Remember, cortisol should be highest upon rising and then gradually decline as the day and night go on. It may also be important to support the adrenal glands, especially for people who have had chronic stress for a number of years. There are many Naturopathic treatments from oral supplementation to intravenous vitamin, mineral, and homeopathic infusions that are very successful at supporting and repairing the adrenal glands.
In next week’s column we will investigate many of the most common weight loss programs that most of us have tried before in the past. We will examine why most weight loss programs don’t work and what we need to do to increase your chances of success.
In last week’s column we examined how stress can lead to weight gain. We learned that stress hormones, especially cortisol, cause the deposition of fat in the abdomen and inhibit the activation of thyroid hormone. This is a major reason why so many people have difficulty with abdominal weight. We also learned that detoxification is a very important strategy for weight loss. This is because toxins are to a large degree stored in fat tissue. As we removed toxins and metabolic wastes from the body we encourage healthy weight loss. In this week’s column we will examine the role of exercise in weight loss and body composition programs.
How Important is Exercise?
Most physicians would agree that exercise is a crucial part of any weight loss program. However, it is important to note that exercise is a relative not absolute activity. Exercise is not just about how long you do it for, how many calories you burned, or how much you sweat. It’s about transitioning toward healthy activity. Where you start depends on individual characteristics and exercise history. If you have never exercised before you will start at a different place than someone who stopped exercising five years ago. The key is to start and not compare yourself to anyone else. In the next few paragraphs we will begin to learn where to start.
Fun! Effective! Support!
I am a firm believer that for exercise to be of value it must meet three main requirements. First of all, exercise should be fun. It may not be enjoyable for every second of the activity but overall exercise should be activities you genuinely enjoy taking part in. If exercise is fun then it is highly likely that you will continue to do it and you will receive so many other health benefits because you are enjoying what you do. Secondly, exercise should be effective. This means that it is helping you achieve your goals, whatever those goals may be. In the next section I will show you how to make the most effective exercise program for improving your body composition. Thirdly, you should have support with your exercise program. Very few people can do it all on their own. Exercise with a partner, join a gym, play a team sport, or hire a personal trainer to support you.
The Right Exercises
There are two main types of exercise that are both very important for encouraging weight loss and improved body composition. Cardiovascular exercise involves activities like walking, jogging, elliptical trainers, and other aerobic activities. People burn lots of calories when they do these activities. However, the first 20 minutes of aerobic exercise actually utilizes stored sugar for energy not fat. After 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise the body primarily burns fat for energy. Therefore, it is important to understand that the first 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise doesn’t actually encourage significant weight loss.
Weight bearing exercises like weight lifting, elastic band training, and body resistance exercises encourage the development of lean muscle mass. As lean muscle mass increases the overall metabolic rate increases. This leads to increased fat burning not only during weight bearing exercise but all day long.
Fortunately, there is a very effective way to combine these two types of exercise together to maximize your efforts, energy, and time. If you start your workout with 20-30 minutes of weight bearing exercise you will not only build lean muscle mass but you will also prime the body for burning fat during cardiovascular exercise. Immediately after your weight bearing exercise you can do any kind of aerobic exercise and begin burning fat immediately. Changing your exercise routine to incorporate weight bearing activity prior to cardiovascular activity should improve body composition better than any other strategy.
*It is important to consult with your physician or health care practitioner prior to starting an exercise program.
In next week’s column we will examine how hormones affect weight and body composition.
In last week’s column we investigated many of the most important dietary concepts for weight loss and improved body composition. We learned that sugar consumption is the most important dietary factor because excess sugar/carbohydrate intake leads to increased fat storage. We also learned that timing is extremely important. We discovered that when the body goes for more than about 4 hours without food it shifts into a fat storage mode. Finally, we discussed the negative effects of large portions on blood sugar, insulin secretion, and nutrient absorption. In this week’s column we will discuss the most important lifestyle changes we can make to encourage weight loss and improved body composition.
Stress Leads to Weight Gain
High levels of stress, especially chronic stress over years or decades directly leads to the deposition of abdominal fat and overall weight gain. High stress and/or insufficient stress coping mechanisms causes the body to produce high levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to perceived emotional or physical stress. It is an essential hormone and without it we could not live. However, in excess it has significant consequences on the body and has the potential to be dangerous.
Cortisol, through a largely unknown mechanism encourages the deposition of fat in the abdomen and upper back. It also inhibits the activation and proper function of thyroid hormones, which reduces overall metabolism. These 2 properties cause many people to gain weight and have great difficulty losing weight despite their best efforts with nutrition and exercise.
If stress is an issue for yourself it is vital to find ways to decrease your overall stress load and improve your stress coping mechanisms. This may involve re-organizing certain aspects of your life, working with a counsellor/life coach, talking with friends, acupuncture, massage, meditation, deep breathing or any other technique that helps.
Toxins are Stored in Fat
Most environmental toxins and metabolic waste products are fat soluble. This means that they have an affinity for hanging out with other fat soluble substances. Therefore, if we are exposed to or consume toxins our bodies are prone to store these substances in fat cells. Toxins may also be stored in fat cells in order to dilute their toxic effect on the body. There is a phrase that describes this scenario: “the solution to pollution is dilution”. This means that the body places the toxins in the fat cells because fat cells can grow and as the fat cells grow the toxins become more dilute.
It is important to reduce or eliminate your exposure to toxins. It is also important to ensure that your organs of elimination are functioning well. The liver, kidneys, lungs, bowels, and lymphatic system are the most important organs of elimination. I recommend assessing these organs at least once or twice a year and undergoing a medically supervised detoxification program when support is required.
In next week’s column we will investigate the role of exercise in weight loss and body composition treatments.
In last week’s column we began our five-week investigation into Naturopathic treatments for healthy weight loss. We learned that there can be a significant difference between weight loss and changes in body composition. In fact, we discovered that it is much more important to focus on changes in body composition than just on losing weight. This is because of the long-term health benefits of increasing lean muscle mass, decreasing fat mass, and maintaining these positive changes. We also learned about seven major factors that make losing weight difficult for most people. In this week’s column we will discuss the most important nutritional changes you can make and strategies you can employ to encourage healthy weight loss and improved body composition.
SUGAR MAKES US STORE FAT!
By far, the most important piece of nutritional information I can pass along is that excess sugar and carbohydrates leads to an increase of fat mass. We have been told for many years that fat leads to fat mass gain. However, sugar is the bigger culprit. As the consumption of fat has decreased over the past 20-30 years we as North Americans have become larger and larger. A major reason for this is because we are on average eating more sugar and carbohydrates than previous generations.
So, why does sugar lead to fat gain? Sugar is the major source of energy we use to run our body’s operating systems. Fat is the storage form of energy we have on hand for use when sugar is deficient. When we eat too much sugar/carbohydrates for our body to use immediately the excess sugar will be converted into fat and stored in our fat cells. The only way that the fat in our fat cells will get used is if we don’t have enough sugar at our disposal for energy. This is when our body breaks down the fat in our fat cells for energy.
This information may lead one to think that avoiding all sugar/carbohydrates or skipping meals will lead to weight loss. As you will read in the next section you will see that this is not true. As for fat, it is very important to consume adequate amounts of not just the essential fatty acids but the other healthy fatty acids as well from sources like olive oil, coconut oil, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and organic meats (if you eat meat). There are many different schools of thought on how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates to consume in a day. In general, I recommend eating about 20-30% of your calories from protein, 20-30% from healthy fats, 40-50% from complex carbohydrates, and less than 10% of calories from refined carbohydrates/sugars.
TIMING, TIMING, TIMING
The timing of our food consumption is extremely important when it comes to losing fat mass and improving body composition. When we go more than about four hours without a balanced meal or snack our body shifts into a fat storage mode. We may think that eating less frequently will lead to weight loss but this is for the most part not true. The longer we go without food the more likely it is that we are burning fat for energy. However, when we do have that next meal our body stores a much higher percentage of the calories as fat. This is because the body has been put through a “feast and famine” cycle where during feasts the body decides to hold on to as much energy as possible in order to make it through the future famines.
How much you eat may be as important as what you eat. I have met a number of patients who eat very healthy foods and for the most part avoid the unhealthy foods. However, their most significant problem has been with portion control. Remember the old saying that too much of a good thing is not a good thing. In the case of nutrition this is true. Excessive portions often lead to blood sugar spikes, elevated insulin levels, and indigestion. Large portions also encourage people to eat less frequently, which as we’ve seen leads to increased fat storage.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Start your day with a good breakfast with a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Eat 4-6 small-to-medium-sized meals or snacks roughly every 2-4 hours. Avoid large portions, don’t skip meals, avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed, and make sure every meal or snack contains adequate protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
In next week’s column we will investigate the most important lifestyle modifications we can make to encourage healthy weight loss and improved body composition.
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