The summer is a time of year when many of us desire to get into better shape and lose weight. It seems like a great time of year to do this. The temperature is warm, the daylight is longer, and there are so many activities to take part in. However, many people have difficulty achieving their weight loss goals for reasons that are unknown to them despite their best efforts.
Over the next five weeks we will examine the healthiest ways to lose weight and change body composition. We will examine the causes of weight gain and the many reasons people have difficulty losing weight and maintaining that weight loss over the long run. We will look at the use of dietary modification, nutritional supplementation, exercise, stress management, acupuncture, intravenous nutrient infusions, and neural therapy in the treatment and support of healthy long term weight loss. In this week’s column we will focus on some of the key background concepts I believe we need to embrace for healthy weight loss. We will also discuss the problems with excess weight, and the causes of excess weight.
What is Healthy Weight?
Ideal weight is the weight at which your risk of dying prematurely is lowest. Obesity occurs when a person’s weight is 25% or more above ideal weight. Overweight can be defined as being somewhere between ideal weight and obesity. So, how do we know what someone’s ideal weight is? There are many different opinions and ways to calculate this and there is no overall consensus. Many health care practitioners, especially in the conventional system use the body mass index (BMI) to determine weight status. BMI is a measure of weight and height and has several limitations. For example, it does not take into consideration the distribution of weight in the body or fat percentage. Recently there has been a lot of evidence to suggest that the most important measure is hip to waist ratio, which is a measure of abdominal fat. I believe the most important way to determine ideal weight is to examine a person’s body composition including hip to waist ratio and fat percentage.
Weight Loss vs. Body Composition
For healthy weight loss to occur I believe it is vital to understand the difference between weight loss and changes in body composition. Weight loss is simply losing weight. This can come from fluid, muscle, bone, organ tissue, or fat. Changes in body composition come from an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and an overall decrease in body fat percentage. Weight loss is not necessarily healthy. Starvation diets often result in drastic weight loss but come at the expense of the body’s organs and tissues. Improved body composition is inherently healthy and has been shown to reduce the risk of acquiring several diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, various cancers, sleep apnea, and various pain syndromes.
Causes of Weight Gain
Over the next five weeks we will address each of the following causes several times with several different strategies to treat them.
Nutrition: The most significant contributing dietary factors include high sugar intake, poor portion control, eating late at night, and poor digestion. Putting together an individualized dietary plan is crucial for success. There is no one-size-fits-all diet and all successful programs must hinge on individuality and the unique characteristics of each person’s physiology.
Lifestyle: The most significant lifestyle factors include lack of or ineffective exercise and activity, exposure to toxins at home, work, or in the environment, and sleep difficulties. Addressing these lifestyle issues are crucial for success.
High Insulin: Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas to shuttle sugar into cells. It is produced in abundance when we consume high sugar foods and leads to excess sugar stored in cells as fat. It also inhibit the breakdown and burning of fat on a cellular level.
Low Human Growth Hormone: Human growth hormone (HGH) is a hormone naturally produced in the body to stimulate muscle growth and tissue repair. It increases the amount of lean muscle mass one has in their body and thus helps metabolize fat. HGH is increased by resistance exercise and sound sleep.
Low Albumin: Albumin is a protein that escorts many hormones, chemical messengers, and fats in the body. In fact, albumin plays an important role in fat metabolism. High albumin levels suggest the body is healthy and functioning well. Low albumin levels suggest a problem. The most common reason for low albumin is low protein intake. The next most common reason is chronic infections. This shifts the protein balance in the body towards making immune system proteins instead of albumin.
High Cortisol: Cortisol is a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress. High or inappropriate secretion of cortisol has several side effects that leads to weight gain. These include the production of abdominal fat, the breakdown of muscle and bone mass, the inhibition of thyroid hormone, and the inhibition of the immune system.
Psychoneuroendocrinology: This is a fascinating new discipline of study that examines the role that diet, stress, and lifestyle play in the selection of DNA inside cells. The message to take away from this is that the way we eat, think, interact with the environment, deal with stress, and exercise directly alters the DNA our cells selects. This in turn alters our body composition.
In next week’s column we will begin examining the role of dietary modification in healthy weight loss and body composition treatment programs.