We all want to look better and feel better. There are lots of ways to get rid of the fat but not all of them are the best ways to ensure lasting results. In order to realistically accomplish this, the right nutrition plan and an effective exercise program together are necessary. Although the science of exercise and physical activity is fairly straightforward, the diet and nutrition equation for fat loss isn’t as clear. Knowing what foods to eat (and how much) to achieve your ideal body shape and size can be a confusing and overwhelming task. If you walk into the health and fitness section of Barnes and Noble you will see stacks of books on weight loss. A book to your left may tell you to eat lots of carbohydrates for energy while one to your right says they will make you tired and gain weight. With all of these conflicting messages, how is it possible to know what to eat to get positive results?
To make it simple, there are 9 factors essential to helping the body access fat and use it for energy:
- Stress hormones
- Sex hormones
- Thyroid gland
- Gut bacteria
The more often the body uses fat for energy, the less likely it will store it in the form of body fat. In this four part series, we will discuss each of these factors in more detail to provide information to help you make good choices about your diet, exercise and current lifestyle.
The calories that we eat and the calories we use when we are physically active are only two components of energy balance, but there are several other variables to consider (many that may be out of our control). Because of these uncontrollable variables it is easy to understand why calories can’t be balanced like a checkbook, and why people never seem to gain or lose as expected when they use the “calories in = calories out” calculation (the Law of Thermodynamics).
Consuming more calories that your body uses each day results in gaining weight (primarily gaining body fat). With that being said, if you eat well, exercise regularly and still have difficulty losing unwanted body fat, there are other factors at work. Other factors come into play that affect your biochemistry and the inner workings of the body.
We all have moments of indulgence where we eat more than we know is best for us. The challenge is knowing “why” we feel the need to overeat and making the necessary changes to ensure the body doesn’t gain weight over time. Keep in mind these behaviors may also be motivated by more than just biochemistry and can be due to an emotional response (i.e. stress, depression, etc.).
2. Stress Hormones
The human body makes two dominant stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenalin is our acute stress hormone while cortisol is our chronic stress hormone. In other words, when we are exposed to stress for long periods of time, cortisol becomes the dominant stress hormone affecting our body.
Historically, the release of cortisol was meant to save your life in times when food is scarce. Ironically, in a world where the majority of North Americans are surrounded an abundance of food, cortisol still plays a primary role in our lives because of long term environmental stress. As a result, cortisol sends a message to cells of the body to slow down the use of energy (metabolism), preserve the fat already stored in the body and wait until the stress levels decrease so that cortisol levels can go back to normal.
When people gain weight, the most common response is to go on a calorie-restricted diet. Based on what we now know about the body’s response to calorie restriction and cortisol it is important to understand the importance of the appropriate reduction in calories to avoid an increase in cortisol. A significant calorie restriction can actually slow down your metabolism and make it even more difficult to lose the desired weight. It is not only important to determine the right caloric restriction for your body, you also need to maintain the right balance on cortisol in the body.
To determine estimated caloric needs per day, click here.
In Summary …
Fat loss is more than just exercise and eating less to get to your ideal body weight and size. Weight gain is typically due to consuming more calories than we expend through physical activity and movement. There are many factors that result in overeating, primarily biochemical and emotional. Long term stress can also affect how our bodies hold onto fat. Increased cortisol levels in the body decrease metabolism which makes it more difficult to lose the extra body fat (typically found around the waist, hips and arms). The next article in the series will include more valuable information on fat loss, with a focus on sex hormones, the thyroid gland and insulin.