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Weight loss through the three cornerstones of good health

by Elizabeth Hartland [email protected]

Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health. This is the third in a series of monthly articles on nutrition.

For many people, trying to lose weight is a very difficult and, often, painful task to tackle. So often past efforts to follow the latest ‘fad’ diet have resulted in failure. Many advisors still advocate over-eating to be the only cause of being overweight and continue to advise the calorie approach to weight loss.

Unfortunately such an approach is rarely effective in the long term. Repeated dieting can reduce the rate at which your body is able to burn food for energy (the metabolic rate). So, over a number of years it becomes more difficult to lose weight, even though you may be practically starving yourself from time to time.

Dieting can also reduce the level of sugar in the blood and the level of certain chemicals in the brain, which can lead to binge eating and mood changes.

The only successful programme for achieving and maintaining an ‘ideal’ body weight is to focus on the three cornerstones of good health:

1. A positive mental attitude

2. A healthy lifestyle, including a regular exercise routine

3. A health-promoting diet

The dieting obstacles

In order for an individual to lose weight, energy intake must be less than energy expenditure. This equation is, however, not as simple as it may at first appear. Everybody is individual and will have individual factors affecting their own ability to lose weight including; low serotonin levels, the set weight theory, allergies to certain foods and an under-active thyroid.

Low serotonin levels:

A considerable body of scientific evidence demonstrates that brain serotonin levels have a major influence on eating behaviour. Serotonin, an important brain chemical, is made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan.

One important function of serotonin is to signal to the brain when the body has eaten sufficient food (the satiety mechanism). When animals and humans are fed diets that are specially prepared to be deficient in tryptophan, appetite is found to be significantly increased, resulting in binge eating especially on carbohydrate rich foods.

The intake of such carbohydrate rich foods allows more tryptophan to be delivered to the brain, resulting in the manufacture of more serotonin, Such a scenario has led researchers to the idea that low serotonin levels in the brain can lead to ‘carbohydrate cravings’. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that concentrations of tryptophan in the bloodstream, and subsequent brain serotonin levels, fall when a person is dieting.

The brain responds to this drop by putting out a strong message to eat that is hard to ignore. Such a strong message may range in severity from the desire to nibble on a piece of bread to uncontrollable binging. Such a situation may help to explain why many diets fail.

For those struggling to lose weight as a result of such ‘carbohydrate cravings’ the inclusion of foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan in their daily meal plan may provide an important support.

Further, in addition to its role as a natural appetite suppressant, serotonin also improves mood and raises energy levels making it much easier to stick to a diet and follow an exercise plan.

The set point theory

The ‘set point’ is the weight that a body tries to maintain by regulating the amount of food and calories consumed.  Research has indicated that each person has a programmed ‘set point’ weight controlled by the individual fat cells.

When the fat cells become smaller it sends powerful messages to the brain to eat. Those that are overweight will generally have both more and larger fat cells. When calories are cut in an attempt to lose weight the fat cells become smaller leading to an overpowering urge to eat as the body tries to maintain its ‘set point’ weight.

The existence of such a strong weight controlling influence by the body may help to explain why diets so frequently fail. While the impulse to eat can be fought off for a while it eventually becomes overpowering leading to a need to overeat and a weight gain that can often exceed the previous weight.

Exercise and a dietary structure designed to ensure a stable blood sugar level is the key to overcoming such a control by the body to maintain a set weight.

Food intolerance

There is no question that for some people weight problems are associated with food intolerance. Common food allergens are wheat and dairy products. Eliminating such culprits from the diet may, therefore, be of benefit to some individuals, especially when previous efforts to lose weight have not been successful.

Underactive thyroid

Weight gain which seems uncontrollable and inexplicable can be one of the most upsetting symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. The under functioning thyroid does not directly cause the weight gain but leads to symptoms such as tiredness, lack of energy and sugar cravings which in turn can lead to weight gain. For those suffering from an underactive thyroid, diet and lifestyle intervention can be of great benefit and thus aid weight loss.

To book an appointment, please contact Elizabeth Hartland on 282427652, 916384029 or [email protected]