A Nutritionist's Experience: Chronicles of Weight Loss: Part 3
Hey Seekers of Wellness and those interested in what this crazy 45 year old has to say on the subject mentioned!
My last 2 posts have been introductory, to educate you on the complexity of body weight, loss, gain and maintenance...and why it's such a big dilema for many. Hopefully I did that with some success and eloquence.
So moving on today, I'm going to start getting a bit deeper into the topic by starting with one of my favourite topics - what I call the 3 Pillars of Health. These are our Mental, Emotional and Physical Health (In no particular order of significance). I describe them like the Olympic Games Medal platform - except they are all gold. These 3 pillars sit on top of a solid underlying platform - Nutrition! That's my little picture I like to explain to people and it seems to work well.
So lets dive into the first pillar - Mental Health. From some simple investigating it seems a chicken or egg scenario...That is, mental health disorders can contribute to weight related issues and weight related issues can contribute to mental health disorders!! As this series is about what impacts our weight, I'll discuss this from the standpoint that mental health disorders impact on weight.
Why is Mental Health a consideration in understanding weight?
Our brain is in constant communication with the status of our other body systems - no more so than with our gut. Ever heard of the gut brain? These 2 body systems are tirelessly monitoring each other through a nerve called Vagus, which is the messenger highway. So if we have poor gut health status, there's a good chance our neuro-capabilities are not top notch either, since many neurotransmitters, amino acids and co-factors are made in the gut for use in cognitive functions. Our hormones are also impacted by poor mental health status, which trickles down to our glands, organs and tissues. This means reproductive issues, thyroid and metabolism dysfunction, just to name a few.
Then there's also some other factors that usually accompany more serious mental health diseases (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). In their paper, "Obesity and Serious Mental Ill Health: A Critical Review of the Literature", Bradshaw and Mairs (2014) state, "Some have argued that weight gain in SMI is due to a complex interaction between genetic factors, environment, the mental illness itself and the effects of antipsychotic medication. Whilst others lay the blame for weight gain more firmly on the side effects of antipsychotic medication . This debate is further complicated by the potential effects of the unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., increased rates of smoking and reduced activity levels) that many individuals with SMI lead". (By the way SMI means Serious Mental Illness).
So you can see that everyone responds differently to each stimuli - environment, genetics, medication, lifestyle and it's a very complex beast.
Other Factors at Play
We know that even 30 years ago, lifestyles were very different to today. The pace, expectation, busyness, mobility and the way we relate to each other is so much faster, bigger and greater! This has far reaching ramifications on our nervous system as our body tries to manage all this ...stuff! This stuff translates to stress - which is now the biggest contributor to cancer and auto-immune disease manifestation. Have a read how this works at Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. (Wang & Jiang, 2017).
Stress puts our body into fight or flight autopilot which we were never designed to be in full time. It tells our body to produce more cortisol to manage an acute situation which was very useful in caveman times. But in the modern world, far from running away from tigers, we are in fight or flight mode all the time because we're hectic!! All the time!! This directly affects our weight because increased levels of cortisol tell our body to release additional insulin which causes us to crave sugary, carby, fatty foods. This constant inflammatory situation causes fat cells to attract other types of inflammatory factors (such as cytokines, macrophages and various peptides), further fuelling the fire of inflammation and leading to metabolic dysfunction and tight pants.
If left unchecked, metabolic dysfunction can eventuate into Metabolic Syndrome, characterised by central adiposity (mid section weight gain), type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure and abnormal lipid activity. All this just because we felt stressed!
Mental health can also be impacted in small ways by our outlook on life (glass half full/half empty idea), our relationships, change in any form, level of physical activity, the food choices we make, toxic exposure, our personality type, being a person who feels they have to say "Yes" all the time, not living to your purpose, having a deficiency, not digesting food ....the list is endless. The body is constantly putting out these small fires because it's smart and wants to keep you in a happy place of balance. But as you can see, that balance is easily tipped.
So what can we do to manage our mental health?
Good question. Seems the beautiful people from very old cultures have worked out a few things...or rather they've just kept doing what they've always done. They've maintained their social, cultural and lifestyle structures over the years and not fallen prey to the inducements of the western lifestyle. A very interesting fellow called Dan Buettner started noticing this group of people lived in certain parts of the world - a band around the earth he coined 'The Blue Zones '- places like Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Okinowa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece) and Loma Linda (California). If you want to know more about The Blue Zones, you can head over to https://www.bluezones.com.
Although culturally diverse in so many ways, there are a number of similarities in these communities, which has led Dan and many others in the medical world to examine and use these lifestyle fundamentals to teach us in the western world, how to live again. We can greatly benefit from adopting these principles to reduce rising mental health diseases around the world. The overarching principles are:
eat nutrient dense food
live by routine
get your sleep (most people need 7-8 hours)
keep life simple
have purpose and connection to yourself and others
incorporate incidental movement daily
But the big one, the thing that most impacts wellness and mental health - community. Being a part of something bigger than yourself, feeling part of something meaningful is what we seem to want more than anything. Check out this great TED talk on the matter. https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_pinker_the_secret_to_living_longer_may_be_your_social_life.
I promise you'll be excited and enthralled - there's so much we can do on a personal level to change our mental health status.
So, what are the basic takeaways to improve your mental health and in turn your long term weight maintenance?
Not feeling good? Seek help and get to the root cause of the problem
Let go of expectation
Find people that support and care for you
Downsize your life
Try saying NO!
Clean up your gut health
Eat food that's real
Create a lifestyle that works for you
This is by no means an easy road - we all know how hard change is. But if you want to make the most of your one shot at your special life on earth, start today. Small, simple, consistent.