By Dr. Rachael Schindler
Learning how to lose weight is the number one reason my clients choose to make a nutrition appointment with me (especially around the holidays). They generally express frustration at not being able to lose the weight or keep it off. They may chronically yo-yo diet for lack of better guidance, knowledge, and even sometimes “tricks” of the trade.
What I do is specific to the person. I am hands-on and like to “solutionize” the problem from its source and not just the symptom (in this case, eating). Most people don’t fully comprehend the many layers and levels it covers.
So what do I do, you ask? I do what most nutritionists and dietitians don’t. I train you to work on speeding up your metabolism and understanding the key hormones in weight-loss regulation. Understanding, feeling, and experiencing how to change your body for life—as well as the psychological framework necessary to support your goals till the end. Most people don’t believe that your metabolism and some of your hormone levels are dynamic, not static, and can be modified, for better or for worse.
Isn’t weight loss about eating fewer calories than your body uses, or exercising, to create an energy deficit for any age and stage? As it turns out, the answer is no.
Metabolism is the process by which energy is generated in the human body and as a result, various “raw” materials are made and utilized in order for your cells to renew themselves. This is based on cell division. Its basic elements are about how a human body can live longer and do better despite environmental and genetic constraints. It is a complicated puzzle where brain, gut, and fat cells work together to regulate our body cells’ outcomes in response to specified hormone signaling.
So how important are hormones to metabolism? Really, hormones are the key! They tell our bodies what to do—very specifically. Some hormones inform you that you are hungry and some inform you that you are full. When you eat, hormones tell your body what to do with the ingested food—whether to store it or burn it as fuel. When you exercise, hormones are responsible for telling your body how to move and consume energy stores, and how to boost or shut down different parts of your body. The most important step for you is to get to know the key hormones in weight regulation. In this article (part of a series on this topic), I will focus on one hormone and the role it plays in metabolic function and other aspects of personal health, weight loss, and well-being. I will also contrast that with the pitfalls to optimizing your metabolism and hormone output so we can be clear on what we need to do to “fix it.”
In the beginning there was . . . insulin! Insulin deals the most with sugar metabolism. Whether you have a desire for sweets or not, too much sugar isn’t healthy for anyone. Those of you who have tried to limit your sugar intake (and this goes for kids too) realize that it’s in everything! Additionally, many people don’t know they have an issue. Some developed or were born with a predisposition to an issue, big or small, with their sugar metabolism. Some are heading for issues with signs along the way (especially over-exercisers).
Everyone has heard of insulin and may associate it somehow with diabetes. But in general, insulin’s most important function is to lower the concentration of glucose in the blood. For instance, when we eat a meal, glucose is quickly taken in and exposed to the beta-islet cells of the pancreas, the insulin secreting cells, and is viewed just as sugar. The pancreas sees sugar and as a result signals to cells in the body, via insulin, to “open doors” and let glucose in. This is like “logs on a fire” to fuel cell metabolism—like fuel to make a fire burn, namely, a metabolic fire. Shortly after we eat, our meal is broken down into simple sugars that are released into the bloodstream. At this point, the pancreas has released insulin to usher blood sugar in to the liver and to the muscles, where it is converted into glycogen. The glycogen is available for use by our muscles for future energy needs.
Insulin also helps to turn glucose into fatty acids and forces adipose (fat tissue) to store this energy reserve in the form of utilizable fats. This is the storage place for fuel for future needs. Food (glucose) that is not utilized immediately for fuel is stored as fat. That is why when we have too much fuel, greater than our metabolic expenditure, we gain weight.
In contrast, decreased insulin release causes impaired glucose tolerance in diabetes type 1 and type 2 (at the end stage). The majority of diabetic patients today have type 2 diabetes. This is the kind seen globally in adults and children. It results from many years of insulin resistance, obesity and inactivity leading to high insulin output, and finally pancreatic “burnout.” This elevated circulating insulin increases hunger and fat storage. Ultimately, this is at the expense of the hard-working pancreas, which is doing its best to keep up with glucose control, but eventually can’t keep blood sugar levels normal. Consequently, the pancreas fails and the clinical element of type 2 diabetes sets in, with slightly higher sugar levels being the hallmark from a blood test. People often ignore this—and you know that if you ignore a problem like this, it only gets worse.
Difficulty Losing Weight
I’ll tell you what makes matters even worse. I like facts. So here are some presented by the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center (July 13–14, 2011). Researchers addressed some of the issues that contribute to difficulty losing weight that compound your unique, fingerprint-like, metabolic and hormone weight regulators. Perhaps the following highlights can offer insights to your own behaviors (or your child’s) so that we may then focus on how your body’s metabolism and hormones react, to devise a plan of action.
We are living in a food carnival. Just take a look at the aisles of junk in the supermarkets. Junk is so easy and convenient to buy and eat . . . and eat. It’s often cheaper too.
Hormone receptors. Most people believe that obesity is a matter of willpower. It’s not that simple. In obese people, the brain’s response to food odors and flavors is often blunted. Compared with leaner people, they literally need more food to experience a positive brain response.
When stressed, most people seek high-fat foods, especially carbs, to provide serotonin as well as a sense of fake calm.
Metabolism. After eating carbs, the body is so busy digesting and storing the heavy food, your energy is pulled into that process. You feel like you took a break because blood flow is veered mostly to the stomach. That is distracting to your mind. But your body is working extremely hard to put the extra calories away. Probably on your hips or abs, I might add.
Impulsivity. This genetic trait is a risk factor for obesity. Obese people (more than their lean counterparts) tend to impulsively eat, let’s say, a whole plate of cookies. Food advertisements are designed to encourage compulsive consumption. (Note sizzling and crunchy-sounding commercials.)
Marketing. Food advertisers know that marketing “works”—and kids who watch TV are a prime target. The typical child sees an average of 13 food ads a day on TV. Most of these foods are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. For example, research with children who watched TV with four food ads ate 45% more Goldfish crackers (100 calories more) as compared with when they watched four ads for games. Those who liked the taste of Goldfish ate even more crackers! It is for this reason that kids enter adulthood on average 20 pounds heavier than in 1960. By the time kids are 4–5 years old, 60% of them have lost the ability to self-regulate food intake. Even more so, foods marketed with a character (such as Scooby Doo) sell better; 52% of preschoolers said the “character food” tasted better (as opposed to 38% who said the food tasted the same, and 10% who said food without the character tasted better).
How SAD. The standard supermarket and prepared food diet is rich in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. In yet another study, when rats were fed standard rat chow they maintained a normal weight. But the rats fed with a SAD (Standard American Diet) diet, ended up overweight—until researchers took away the food! I have so many clients who buy typical diet food and never lose weight for that reason. They spend a fortune but the food has way too much sodium, sugar, and saturated fats, as in light mayonnaise and fillers like potato flakes. There is little doubt that fats, sugar, and salt stimulate us to eat more than we need. (Hormone and metabolism at work.)
When the calories are listed near the food, as is happening with many restaurants and products, some people choose the foods with the higher calories and fat, believing they will be yummier!
Too many food choices. People make an average of 200 food choices in a day; all these decisions can deplete our limited mental resources that govern self-regulation. That’s one reason why, at the end of a hectic day, you can more easily overeat. You lack the mental resources to say “no” to that tempting cookie.
Sweetness. The food industry’s bottom line is always profits. Sugar tastes good and makes food brown and crisp. It makes us crave. In the war between Pepsi and Coke, Pepsi won the taste test because it was sweeter. Further tests showed most people didn’t finish the Pepsi can but did with the Coke, because it was less sweet. However, most people preferred the initial supersweet taste, as Pepsi knows. (Hormone and metabolism again.)
Sugar begets sugar—cake gorreret cake! Reducing refined sugar intake may not be enough, since foods have natural sugars of their own. Most people don’t take that into consideration with their tallies. It is recommended to only produce one insulin release daily, so as not to overwhelm the pancreas. Most people have 20 such releases—and after this list, it’s no wonder why.
In the next article I will outline more hormones and how they interplay with insulin. Hopefully your approach and perception of weight loss will be more balanced. Understanding this process and how to optimize it on an individual basis will lead to lasting success!
I would like to thank all of my loyal customers who enjoy my gluten-free, no-added-sugar cauliflower pizza and are making it a huge success! From all the testimonials and thanks I get from parents of kids, clients, even seniors, I feel great about making a healthy, vegetable-based, convenient, and yummy food that the whole family can enjoy together. v
Rachael E. Schindler, PhD., is a psychologist, founder of Litenlow.com, and The Five Towns Diet gourmet meals delivery. She is a noted lecturer and author, certified pediatric and adult nutrition counselor, certified personal trainer, and group fitness instructor and Pilates master for over 22 years, practicing in Cedarhurst and Manhattan. She specializes in fitness, food, and behavioral issues for both children and adults. She can be reached to order, for an appointment, or for questions and comments at Teichbergr@aol.com or 917-690-5097.