Blood Sugar Dysregulation
Insulin is a hormone involved in blood sugar regulation. When we ingest food, our blood sugar raises as that food is absorbed and the pancreas pumps out insulin to help shuttle the blood sugar into cells where it can be burned as fuel or stored as potential energy. Irregular blood sugar due to hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia causes insulin levels to fluctuate, and generally will result in an overproduction of insulin, ultimately promoting fat storage around the waist line. The solution is to maintain stable blood sugar levels through a low glycemic index diet, a daily routine of physical activity and a solid stress-reduction plan. I use FirstLine Therapy in my practice to promote healthy blood sugar levels.
The Stress Response
Practically all of us live with chronic stress – balancing school, work, children, our spouse, relationships, and our financial situation, not to mention internal stresses which generally go ignored or unnoticed: digestive dysbiosis, blood sugar swings, toxins, coffee, lack of relaxation, inflammation, smoking, prescription drugs, allergies, lack of sleep, alcohol, and negative attitudes and beliefs. These all affect our adrenal gland’s production of cortisol. When cortisol raises and stays high, it causes glucose and insulin levels to rise, which contributes to poor eating habits and obesity. I cannot overstate the effect stress has on our bodies! In my humble opinion, no weight loss strategy is complete unless it addresses this stress response. My favorite additions to a program aimed at altering body composition are yoga, meditation, journaling, nature walks, playing with pets, deep breathing exercises, tai chi, massage therapy, social support, visualization exercises, regular physical activity, and creating art. Not that you have to do them all! Ideally, one or more would appeal to you and you would find space in your week to incorporate some form of these on a daily basis.
Here it is. The “calories in” part of the equation. The math is clear: excessive caloric intake without a simultaneous increase in energy expenditure will (unfortunately!) result in excessive body fat. For you to lose one pound a week – which is a very healthy goal – you would have to decrease your caloric intake by 3500 calories each week. Also to note, the energy your body uses to store excess triglycerides is 0-2%, for carbohydrates it is 6-8%, and for protein it is 25-30%. This means a higher intake of healthy, lean protein will burn more energy than a diet high in carbohydrates. Also, while on the topic of animal protein, I’d like to add that alternative sources of protein such as nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils and protein powder shakes, encourage weight loss, and reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Along with proper nutritious, eat behaviors must be taken into account. North American portion sizes are some of the largest in the world – commit to cutting portion sizes in half and eating more regularly throughout the day as opposed to three large meals. Slow down when you chew. Be present with your food – note it’s color, taste and texture with every bite. Eating slower encourages a sensation of satiety earlier in a meal.
Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances need to be assessed or tested for. Gluten and dairy sensitivities are the most common seen in practice. Allergies affect the immune system and create a state of chronic inflammation; they affect the adrenal gland by increasing cortisol production, and imbalance the body’s water balance – promoting edema and encouraging weight through water retention.
If “all of nothing” isn’t in your personality description, you may do far better by breaking down your health aspirations and planning small, attainable goals that you can implement, soon to become habits. For example, on week one you may want to eliminate soda and fruit juice. Week two may begin with avoiding all white-flour products: muffins, cookies, cakes, donuts and scones; perhaps replacing these with the occasional homemade spelt, bran and blueberry muffin (served with coconut oil in place of butter). As you work your way into week three, your next achievement could be to eliminate all sugar from your diet entirely – replacing white and brown sugar with healthier versions such as unpasteurized honey, black-strap molasses or real maple syrup. When the sweet cravings threaten to overcome you, put to use your creativity and kitchen skills and experiment with healthy desserts such as banana ice-cream. Then, as you start to gain energy and momentum, you could finish off your first month by creating an exercise plan in week four – perhaps walking for 30 minutes four times a week – with the intention to add to this in the coming months. As you master the implementation of healthy habits, your self-esteem and confidence will surge, paving the way for future progress.
Diet alone is not enough; regular physical activity is an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight. This should become as nonnegotiable as brushing your teeth. It doesn’t need to require a ton of time – simply creating the space to have a brisk walk for half an hour every day is enough. This may mean walking during lunch hour, getting off the bus several stops early, walking the dog as soon as you get home from work, parking the car farther away and walking to the grocery store. The crucial word here is walk. Get your body moving! It is so simple and natural to do as a child but as life overwhelms us with all of its obligations, we absolutely must create the time to move our bodies. Make it a priority. Get a physical trainer to get you started, join a fitness club, attend cardio kickboxing, let a boot camp whip you into shape, take up hiking on the weekends – I’d love to see you on the Grind! If you must do “the lazy”, pick up a pair of hand weights while you’re sitting in front of that TV. As the sun finally shines it’s beautiful rays over Vancouver, there are no excuses to stay indoors and put off physical activity.
Often this small gland stands in our way of shedding pounds and increasing lean muscle mass. The thyroid regulates metabolism and due to various factors such as nutrient deficiencies, toxic overload, autoimmunity and digestive disorders, it can become imbalanced and not perform as it should. This is essential to get checked out, and to dig deeper then simply getting a TSH tested by your medical doctor. I’ve written about the thyroid gland before; it’s a very complex topic and something of a personal interest to me as a close family member has an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease.
I discussed protein versus carbohydrate intake above, but fat metabolism can’t be overlooked. Fats are absorbed in our small intestine and travel through the blood to be either used as energy or stored in the liver, muscle and adipose (fat) tissue. The body requires key nutrients in order to burn fat: Vitamin B3, B6, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, omega 3’s, and lipotropic factors such as choline, methionine and inositol.
There you have it! The keys to a successful weight loss program in which the main goal is to positively alter body composition (ie. decrease fat mass and increase lean muscle mass) and the end result being a decrease in risks associated with carrying excess weight (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, etc.). Now, all you need to get started is a commitment to the process and then you can put your plan into action.
Interesting article: how low-carb diets compare to the Mediterranean diet for weight loss