Do you struggle to lose weight and keep it off? Things go along well for a little while with dietary change and exercise but eventually it all comes back on again?
If it were easy to keep the weight off, we wouldn’t have a trillion fad diets and weight loss supplements on offer to the general population. But these are merely cashing in our desire to lose weight in the hope that we will finally be happy in our own skin once we are happier with what we see in the mirror.
Unfortunately, there is no magic answer for the masses. It is far more complex but it comes right down to the individual who needs a tailored plan that takes into consideration the following:
* The right nutrition for that individual. With the correct ratio of energy intake vs energy expenditure.
* The right exercise for that individual.
* The optimal function of body systems, that include: digestive function, liver detoxification, hormonal balance, blood sugar regulation and thyroid function.
* Stress: a body under chronic stress may not want to let go off protective cortisol belly weight!
* Mind set and psychological factors: this is where emotional eating, food addiction and self-worth can come into play.
* Sleep: lack of sleep will imbalance the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
Studies have also shown that there can be some underlying imbalances within the brain and homeostatic control that could influence how successful your new weight loss plan may be….
The struggle is very real in terms of obesity, in Australia right now 63% of the population is considered to be overweight or obese! Statistics also show that 42% of adults are currently trying to lose weight but up to 80% of those who do manage to lose weight end up putting it back on within 5 years. With almost half the overweight population actively trying to shift weight surely there must be more to our unsuccessful lasting outcomes.
What is Body Weight Set Point?
The theory on body weight set point states that once the body has created a set point of weight as a controlled biological homeostatic measure, regardless of deliberate weight loss or gain, the body will adjust its hunger and energy expenditure to ensure that the set point of weight is restored.
This could explain why, so many people find it so difficult to shift weight even a little bit regardless of the food and exercise they engage in. In a person considered to be overweight or obese their body weight set point has potentially drifted too high, therefore their body will push back and resist any attempt to drop weight and maintain that loss.
Okay, so now I hear you ask…. How do we lower the body weight set point?
Seems like the next logical step! But first we have to understand how body weight is regulated. The main area in the body that is involved in controlling energy homeostasis is the hypothalamus. Appetite can be switched on and off by a particular area controlled within the hypothalamus. This area called the arcuate nucleus retrieves information from the periphery on fat stores and nutrient levels and this will relay the data to the hypothalamus. The arcuate nucleus contains particular neurons that are considered hunger neurons. In times where you may fast or calorie restrict this causes insulin and leptin (satiety hormone) to be low and this will increase the levels of these hunger neurons to signal to the hypothalamus to increase hunger.
There are also special neurons that act in the opposite way to induce a feeling of fullness after a meal. These two types of neurons also have some input into metabolic rate and desire to be active and they will activate to help maintain the set point of weight if it starts to deviate.
There is a hypothesis that has been seen in some studies that show inflammation of the hypothalamus (potentially caused by high unhealthy fats) can possibly be responsible for the increase hunger and over eating. This over eating over a long period of time causes the set point of weight to gradually increase. As a population we have in fact been consuming more calories than we actually need to support our level of energy expenditure. Think higher intake of processed foods combined with more sedentary lifestyles and office jobs. These extra calories will potentially trigger inflammation in the hypothalamus and drive up the set point.
What is hedonistic eating?
How many times a day or a week do you choose food simply because it tastes good or you get pleasure from eating it? This is called hedonistic eating and it’s all about activating the reward circuits in our brain that are triggers with calorie rich foods, the more calorie dense the food is the more dopamine is released from the brain, making us feel extra good! These rewards centres become increasingly activated the more weight we put on. This will keep driving the set point of weight up, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight and keep it off. The perceived failure of this despite efforts made will potentially cause the person to turn to food to console themselves with that dopamine hit, as the merry-go-round continues. The biggest culprits in activating this rewards centre are those foods that combine both a fat and carbohydrate (think donuts, hot chips, ice-cream, biscuits).
What can we do to help reset the body weight set point as a tool to support weight loss?
Firstly, we need to look at factors that may be driving hedonistic eating in the first place? What is going on emotionally for that individual? What stress are they under and how can they manage it more effectively so they don’t turn to food to get the dopamine release to make them feel good. This could be something deep seated such as childhood trauma or chronic and ongoing stress.
Principles that have been demonstrated to reduce the set point of weight:
* Low to moderate diet palatability (plainer foods, less rich foods)
* Good protein levels with all meals
* Reducing unhealthy fats
* Selective carbohydrate intake
* Good sleeping habits
* Introduction of regular physical activity
An individual plan that helps to support the individual on all levels will see improved outcomes. This may include regular practitioner contact, realistic goal setting, setting up for positive outcomes, accountability measures and a focus on mindfulness and mental/emotional health.
Emma Tippett is an enthusiastic and caring naturopathic practitioner. As a dedicated Melbourne Naturopath she believes that finding and maintaining your optimal health is the primary focus of your treatment. Working with the principle that we are all unique individuals, Emma will tailor a realistic health plan just for you while encouraging, motivating and inspiring you to experience a healthier body, mind and soul.