In our plight to shed those unwanted kilo’s, many of us find our ability to lose weight does not simply stem from energy out exceeding energy in. The theory that eating less and exercising more is the primary means for losing weight, is about as outdated as the conventional food pyramid! If this was the answer to everyone’s weight loss, then I’m sure many of you are probably scratching your heads wondering why on earth you’re still carrying weight around your middle, despite slogging it out at the gym for hours each day! I have heard this complaint from hundreds of women over the years, “why can’t I lose weight when I’m eating less than ever and exercising like a demon??”
It seems everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with information on how to stimulate our metabolic rate….. ‘join boot camp, train for a marathon, run on the treadmill for an hour each day, take a caffeine supplement, drink this magic protein shake’, but the reality is, many of these weight loss methods can negatively impact your metabolic rate, making you fatter, or at least unable to shed any extra kilo’s.
The body’s metabolic rate is driven by the function of the thyroid gland, which also has a major influence over our energy levels and body temperature amongst other things. You could say the thyroid is your built-in thermostat. But when insufficient levels of certain thyroid hormones are present, the biological consequences can be dramatic, not just on the body’s metabolic rate, but on numerous other body systems and functions, ranging from fertility to neurological activity – all of which influence our day to day function and general health and wellbeing.
Many of us do not realise that the function of the thyroid gland is directly connected to the activity of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands ( which are located over the kidneys) are responsible for the production of your stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol – which are released in times of stress. When we are exposed to prolonged periods of stress, our thyroid gland can respond by reducing the production of thyroid hormones, (used to regulate the metabolic rate) in attempt to conserve and preserve energy. This is where you might say ‘stress can make you fat’.
Living in a western society has become synonymous with a high stress way of life, triggering a constant stream of excess stress hormones. So although our body is designed to handle certain levels of stress, it is not designed to cope with prolonged periods of stress. In these situations many of us eventually become oblivious that we are even under chronic stress, as we mentally and physically adjust, viewing this state of being as the new norm. But over time, prolonged stress will eventually weaken the immune system, reduce muscle mass and down regulate thyroid function, along with our metabolic rate. So if you find yourself constantly battling the bulge, despite regular exercise and a reduction in caloric intake, then perhaps you need to consider just how much stress you experience on a day to day basis, instead of counting how many calories you are ingesting.
Skipping meals, whilst upping the caffeine intake through stimulants like coffee or guarana drinks in an attempt to lose weight, will only slow your metabolic rate further, making it even harder to lose weight down the track, possibly even leading to further weight gain when you return to your old eating habits. So whilst consuming healthy portion sizes at mealtimes plays a role in weight loss, it’s also critical to make the right food choices. When stress is the major culprit in the cause of your weight gain, or inability to lose weight, it will be very difficult for your metabolic rate to reignite, even with the consumption of a healthy diet -unless you address the stress side of things! If the cause of your stress is an ongoing issue, then changing your response to the stress in your life is something you need to consider. Meditation and learning the art of being present, has been scientifically proven to reduce the excess production of stress hormones, as has getting adequate sleep each night. I wrote a recent post about the importance of sleep and it’s influence on your weight and overall health here.
The next step in helping your body to lose weight when diet and exercise are not enough, is to support your thyroid and adrenal gland function against the effects of stress. This can be achieved through supplementing with the appropriate nutrients. These include taking enough B vitamins, in particular B12 and B6, magnesium and vitamin C as well as certain adrenal support herbs.
But taking these nutrients in isolation is not enough to improve your metabolism if you are not eating a healthy diet! Everything you put into your body will either be feeding the stress levels in your body and brain or combatting it! You can find a complete guide to healthy eating in my e-book Eat Yourself Healthy where I explain about the health properties of each food, and how much and how often you should consume which foods as well as how you can fix your gut and detox your liver for a better metabolism.
And lastly, a word on exercise, when your body is under chronic stress, it’s important to avoid high intensity forms of exercise, as this will only stress your adrenal glands further, down regulating your metabolic rate further. Consider enrolling in restorative yoga or pilates classes, as these forms of exercise are not only great forms of resistance exercise, but they also help to regulate healthy cortisol production. When it comes to stress and exercise “less really is more”.