Updated: Nov 16, 2019
If you’re trying to lose weight you just need to eat less calories, right?
You’d think that would be logical. We know that we get energy from the food we eat, so if we eat more energy than we use then we gain weight. It’s as simple as ABC – except it’s not.
There are many factors involved in the way your body utilises the energy it gets from food and obviously the amount that you eat is one of them but if you are finding that this solution is not working for you, here’s a few things to consider:
The majority of the energy used by your body comes from your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This makes up the energy your body uses to survive and includes processes such as digestion, blood glucose regulation, breathing, temperature control and the list goes on. It is regulated by your brain and also involves organs such as your thyroid gland. One of the common reasons that women struggle to lose weight is because their thyroid is not working optimally, and this can sometimes be due to nutritional deficiencies. When this is the case, following a strict diet that restricts food intake can actually make the situation worse.
Many of the diets that are recommended for quick weight loss contain very few nutrients and can be based on synthetic ingredients that your body cannot recognise or, importantly, utilise. Often these provide a short-term energy boost but can lead to cravings and hunger. The other very important factor to consider is that very low energy intake actually increases cortisol production and causes the body to produce an inflammatory response. This is counterproductive for weight loss as the outcome is often the opposite with women finding that despite eating less food, they are gaining weight. Our body is very intuitive and when it senses a deficiency in energy it will conserve its resources and store them as fat.
The other hormone that can alter how your body utilises energy, especially from glucose, is estrogen. We know that during a women's lifetime, her estrogen levels fluctuate and that from around 40 years of age there can be declining levels followed by spikes. This is called perimenopause and it is often around this time that women find that they begin to gain weight or struggle to lose it. Estrogen plays a very big role in the way your body metabolises estrogen and declining levels influence where your body stores fat and can impact your BMR. Once a women is menopausal, fat distribution has changed markedly with increased central adipsosity and the risk of developing chronic conditions such as Insulin Resistance, Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. It is at this stage that diet becomes very important with the need to ensure that your blood glucose levels are regulated.
The energy we gain from food comes from 3 types of macronutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fat. Although all 3 provide us with energy, carbohydrates give us the quickest access to energy because our bodies are really set up to use glucose. I should mention here that carbohydrates actually come in a variety of forms with glucose being the simplest. This category also includes fibre which can help to slow down glucose absorption making it a really important factor in
. Protein and fat also provide energy, but your body needs to work for it. They are harder to digest and absorb, and this is why they keep us feeling fuller for longer.
Protein is made up of amino acids that are the building blocks of our bodies and so their intake is vital for our health. The flip side of this is that eating too much protein can be detrimental for our health with by-products of their metabolism associated with kidney conditions and neurotoxicity. The amount of protein needed by your body is determined by various factors including your body weight, muscle mass and age. Different life stages also play a role including pregnancy, adolescence as well as the amount of exercise that you do. Understanding your individual requirements is really important for your health.
Fat contains the most energy per gram. Like protein, it is harder to digest and although your body can use it for fuel this is not easy and requires energy. Fat also contains nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins A, E and D, and some contain cholesterol. Unfortunately, the only information we tend to hear about cholesterol is that it is bad. What you should know is that cholesterol plays a very important role in your health including cell membrane structure, hormone production (did you know that oestrogen and cortisol need cholesterol) and so some cholesterol is needed in your diet. Much of the fat that we consume as part of a western diet is saturated and this can contribute to increased cholesterol levels as well as producing an inflammatory response in the body (remember that can lead to weight gain!). Omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated forms balance this effect and including them in your diet is really important to support weight loss. When body fat increases, the fat-soluble vitamins I mentioned earlier can end up being locked away in fat cells and are unavailable for use by your body. These vitamins are so important for your health and deficiencies can be associated with conditions such as acne and osteoporosis. The latest research advises that eating a diet high in calcium, or even taking calcium supplements is useless is you are deficient in vitamin D. It also appears that vitamin D acts as an umpire for your immune systems and can counteract inflammation.
It’s not just about the macronutrients though, there are many micronutrients that are needed by your body to function optimally. When these are missing from your diet, organs such as your thyroid, liver and even your digestion cannot function properly, and this can lead to poor health. Nutrients such as vitamin B (3,5,6,9 and 12) are essential for energy production as well as liver detoxification pathways. Magnesium and iron are needed as cofactors for thyroid hormone production and antioxidants such as selenium and vitamin C provide protection against oxidative stress that causes inflammation. Many of these nutrients are found in vegetables as well as whole grains and legumes. The benefit of eating these foods is that they also provide other nutrients such as fibre and protein. This is why they are referred to as wholefoods.
It can be really tempting to severely restrict your diet when you are trying to lose weight, but not only can it be counterproductive and actually lead to weight gain, it can also lead to poor health outcomes due to deficiencies in essential nutrients for your body to function optimally.
Instead, focusing on eating wholefoods that provide you with complex carbohydrates containing lots of fibre and protein, as well as good fats with omega 3 fatty acids will support long term weight loss and optimal body function.
If you're struggling with your weight and have tried lots of different diets and exercise programs, make a booking for a consultation today and get your body back in balance.