With so any diets out there, it is interesting that obesity remains at an all-time high. Why do so many people find it difficult to lose weight? The answer may lie in the fact that weight loss is not just about diet.
There are many things that can affect our weight, for example lack of sleep means the hormones that control hunger can become unbalanced, with those lacking enough good quality sleep producing more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and less of the appetite suppressing hormone leptin. There is also some evidence that eating a diet rich in whole grains or rich in protein suppresses ghrelin as opposed to a high fat diet.
Sleep deprivation also causes cortisol levels to rise, activating parts of the brain that make us want to eat. This combination of ghrelin and cortisol cause the part of the brain that makes us feel satisfied to shut down. Studies published in Nature Communications and Psychonuroendicrinology found that just one night of deprived sleep is enough to impair activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, that controls decision making, with lack of sleep causing us to choose larger portions.
Digestive problems can also adversely affect weight. If motility is slow, we may absorb more calories, so eating foods rich in fiber will encourage faster movement of food through the digestive system. It is also important to chew our food thoroughly, as digestion begins in the mouth and unchewed food arriving in the stomach will not be broken down properly. Therefore, we may not absorb the nutrients efficiently, leaving us hungry.
In addition, a poorly functioning digestive system, may lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria. Research is beginning to show that people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an imbalance of gut flora and that supplementing with probiotics may help to manage anxiety. The gut and brain are closely connected and can affect each other by sending signals to each other, therefore we may experience an upset stomach as a result of anxiety, or low mood as a result of a poorly functioning digestive system.
Eating a healthy diet, high in fiber, low in processed carbohydrates including sugar and drinking plenty of clean water not only promotes healthy digestion. Clean eating leads to clearer thinking as we become more able to focus. This was shown to be true when one of my clients, a young man of seventeen, noticed a profound improvement in his ability to study after replacing ‘junk’ food and sugary drinks with pure foods and water; this included clearer thinking and increased enthusiasm and motivation.
Stress is often a major factor in weight gain and can make eating a healthy diet a challenge. When we are stressed, we are more likely to make unwise food choices, possibly reaching for sugary carbohydrates for comfort. The problem with this is that it spikes our blood sugar levels which temporarily make us feel happier. However, blood sugar that has risen due to refined sugar and carbohydrates quickly falls, often resulting in us feeling down again and guilty for our indiscretion and thus begins a vicious circle. If this continues for many years, it can lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Good nutrition is vital if we are to lose weight in a healthy way. Starving our body of nutrients is likely to make us crave unhealthy food and will negatively affect our health; not a route to sustainable weight loss. Vitamins and minerals all play vital roles in the body and without them, the body cannot function properly, and we will become ill.
Portion sizes are probably one of the biggest issues with many of us. Consider that a portion of a plate sized pizza is one quarter! How many of us eat the whole thing? The truth is that we have got used to larger and larger portions over the last few years and they have now become the norm for many people.
Exercising our body is necessary to keep bones strong and joints healthy and it is also good for our mental health. This does not have to amount to hours spent in the gym, just simply moving around, going for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking instead of taking the car when possible or going for a swim are all ways that even the busiest people can exercise.
So, what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of losing weight?
Ensure that we get seven to eight hours of good quality sleep each night, avoiding the use of mobiles and tablets for at least an hour before bedtime. Looking at bright screens reduces the sleep hormone, melatonin, meaning that we will be more awake when we should be going to sleep. Getting plenty of daylight, especially early morning light helps to establish a good pattern for sleep.
Take steps to ensure that we give our digestive system the best chance of working optimally. Chewing food well, sitting at a table to eat so that we are upright and not slouching. Foods such as live yogurt and sauerkraut are good for establishing good bacteria in the gut, which can be helpful for weight loss, along with the avoidance of sugar, refined carbohydrates as this can encourage yeast overgrowth, the cause of many digestive problems. It is also vital that we drink enough clean water.
There are many ways of relieving stress and anxiety. Sometimes simply spending time doing something we enjoy is enough, but if not, we could try swimming, exercise, meditation, massage, hypnotherapy or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Seeking the help of a reputable therapist may be helpful if symptoms are severe.
Avoiding any diets that deprive us of vital food groups will help to ensure we have a balanced diet. We need protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Protein should be sourced from lean meat, fish, poultry, beans, lentils, soya and tofu and nuts (not peanuts).
Carbohydrate should be found from foods such as: wholegrain bread, brown rice, brown pasta, oats, quinoa and pulses such as lentils, peas and beans.
Fat is necessary for a healthy body, but it is important to concentrate on good fats such as: omega 3 fats from oily fish, avocado and olive oil. Even good fats are high in calories, so it is important to be mindful of this when planning meals.
Vitamins and minerals are abundant in fruit and vegetables, although they are also present in wholegrain foods. Carbohydrates can also be found in this food group. The phrase ‘eat the rainbow’ could not be more appropriate to ensure that we are getting a balanced mix of fruit and vegetables.
Fiber is also vital and can be found in wholegrains, beans, pulses, nuts, fruit and vegetables.
Ensuring that we eat breakfast is vital for weight loss. Missing out on nutrition at this stage of the day will mean we are more likely to snack later as the body attempts to catch up on lost calories. Breakfast should consist of complex carbohydrate and good quality protein.
Along with good nutrition, observe portion sizes. There is much information available online regarding portion size for a variety of everyday foods.
Exercise whenever the opportunity arises. This is especially important if we work in an office and have a sedentary lifestyle.
As we can see, weight loss is much more complex than simply cutting calories, which is perhaps why many diets fail, because if we do not address the connected issues, we are only fulfilling one part of the puzzle.
The book, The Weight Loss Puzzle by Jacqueline Rayment (available from Amazon), looks at this in more detail and is full of advice and tips on how to achieve sustainable weight loss. There is also a section containing quick, healthy recipes.