Have you ever experienced the frustration of doing everything you thought was necessary to lose weight or “get ripped” or “lean out” or (insert your favorite term here)? I ask this question knowing the answer is yes for 95% of you. It’s certainly yes for me and everyone I know. Your body is a moody, complicated, pain in the ass! Mine too! Sometimes it responds to my efforts beautifully and other times is just won’t listen. Why is that? I hate that! Well, its several reasons and I want to discuss 2 of them today.
First, your body is like a complicated bio-computer and it responds to the stimuli (or data) of it’s environment to determine the best way to “survive” given the information it is working with. The way your body interprets and responds to it’s environment is all communicated through your hormone system. Hormones are like chemical messengers that tell the body what’s going on and what to do about it so you can survive another day and hopefully make babies to propagate our species. (Might not be your goal right now, but it is mothers natures primary goal.)
It is this complicated hormone system (endocrine system) that lets the body know what food is coming its way and what to do with it. This system also controls your ability to and the quality of your sleep, handle stress, your mood and much more.
- Insulin is the hormone that tells your body to store the carbohydrates you eat when they’re not used for immediate energy needs. Excess carbohydrate is stored for future energy needs in the form of glycogen (storage form of glucose) in your muscles and certain organs. If your glycogen stores are full then it will be stored in the form of triglycerides (storage form of fat) in your fat cells. From an evolutionary biology point of view, this is to ensure you have the energy you need to “fight another day” sort of speak.
- Glucagon is the hormone that tells the body to start using stored fat for energy. Commonly thought of as fat burning but really it is fat mobilization – getting stored fat out of your fat cells and using it for energy.
- Leptin is the hormone that tells you that you are no longer hungry (you have consumed enough energy for now) and compels you to stop eating.
- Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you that you need more energy and it is time to eat.
- Melatonin is the hormone that tells you it is time to sleep to repair and restore from the toil and stress of the day.
- Serotonin and Cortisol are the hormones that let you know that the sun is coming up and it is time to start the day feeling good and full of the energy you need to take on the toils and stress of today.
- Adrenalin and Cortisol are 2 examples of hormones that respond to the stresses of the day and give you the bursts you need to take on anything that pops up.
- Testosterone, Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor are just 3 of the hormones that tell the body to grow muscle tissue and repair damaged tissues.
There are well over 50 hormones at work in your body. It’s complicated and very sensitive to what you are telling it about your environment so it can respond accordingly. From a dietary perspective this is very important to understand.
If the foods you eat are telling your body one thing, but you desire a different outcome, you need to eat different foods to get the results you want!
If lack of sleep or too much stress are sending signals that you need more energy you’ll get the signal to eat even though it’s not food you need; it’s rest. To make matters worse because your body thinks it needs energy NOW, you will crave all those quick burning carbohydrates that make fat mobilization impossible.
In order to encourage your body to stop storing fat and start using it for energy you need to keep insulin levels relatively low by eating foods that moderate your body’s insulin response. These are proteins, healthy fats and slow burning carbohydrates like veggies and fruits that contain enough fiber to blunt the insulin response to the sugar these fruit contain.
This approach will go along way, but if you are not sleeping and stressed out all the time, it will only do so much. Improving your sleep and managing your stress levels are posts I have written before. You can access them here and here. But there are several great articles written by many talented holistic and Paleo bloggers. Those 2 topics require separate posts entirely.
The bottom line is you’ve got to stop sending your body dietary signals that are telling it to store fat rather than use fat. In the absence of high glucose and thus high insulin levels your body will begin to do just that. Here’s the big question. How many carbohydrates should you be eating? The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on your goal, your activity level and your genetics.
- As a general rule, under 50 grams is pretty low and most people will start using fat for energy once the body adapts to change.
- Some folks have severe insulin resistance and need to go even lower. More like 30 grams or less for a short time.
- Others will get to their goal at under 100 grams a day.
- Some lucky others have no problems with fat storage at all and it’s the quality of carbs that matter, not the amount that keeps them lean and healthy.
- If you are super active then your carbohydrate “prescription” will be different from someone who sits at a desk all day and rarely exercises.
There is are so many nuances to this. This little break down is massively over simplified.. This doesn’t even bring into play the fact that not only are you different from everyone else but the “you” today is different from the “you” of the past. This brings me to point number 2!
My second point is the “You” who may have been able to guzzle beer and eat trash without packing on pounds and still work or go to school without too many issues, is different from the “You” today. As you age, your body’s ability to remain healthy under unhealthy conditions lessens over time.
The longer your body is fed the wrong diet, is denied adequate sleep, or is on constant guard due to chronic stress, the more inflammation builds until your aging body just can’t repair itself the way it used to.
Here’s another confounding issue. Once you either gain or lose a significant amount of weight your body is now significantly different that is was say 20 pounds ago. If you added or lost muscle vs. added or lost fat, those are different variable too!
Or if you are under far more stress than a month ago or are getting far less sleep (like having a new-born at home) these variables impact your hormone system, your ability to lose weight and support your immune system.
The point to all this is to help you think through the process you are going through to reach your goals. Are you sending your body the right signals? (i.e. providing the right data?) Maybe you think you are, but you aren’t getting the results you want. If so, then there is a confounding factor somewhere. What is it? What has changed? How can you make some adjustments to get started again?
I implore you to not give up. The answer is within you somewhere. In many cases, it is difficult to find the answer on your own. This is where a holistic doctor or health or nutrition coach can be very valuable. 5 years ago when I had become so sick, it wasn’t the many doctors who gave me medications to treat my problem who healed me. It was the naturopathic practitioner who EMPOWERED me and worked WITH me that made me better. The answer was within me. I just needed to send the right dietary and lifestyle signals to my body that told it, “Relax, good nutrition is here. You can sleep now. You can heal now”
The basis of the Paleo diet is about nutrient density first. It’s about natural whole foods that your body actually recognizes as nutrients. It is flexible enough to use to meet your own goals. The person using it for weight loss will use it differently than the person using it to treat an auto immune condition or to improve athletic performance. It’s applications when used appropriately is endless and more effective than any drug.
“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
He also said…
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little not too much, we would have found the safest way to health. “
Until next time,
Mom Gone Paleo