For years the public belief was that if you want to lose weight you have to eat less and exercise more. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people, who try to lose weight this way, and they are not getting the result that they are looking for. The reason that the old myth of eat less, exercise more does not work is due to our body’s ability to adjust itself. When our body does not get enough energy, calorie, it starts to slow down the metabolism and it goes into the starvation phase, hence slowing and eventually stopping the weight loss. When we exercise for a long period of time, and don’t get enough fuel our body goes into stress, hence create more cortisol. More cortisol, means higher insulin levels, which in turn causes your blood sugar to drop and ends with cravings for sugar. Hopefully this super short explanation has convinced you that eating less and exercising more does not work.
My goal here, however, is to help you figure out what really works and how it does work, so you can create and follow a diet plan that really works for you and in order to do that we need to begin with explaining what really causes weight gain.
Spoiler alert: it is far more than just eating too much food.
Studies suggest that Obesity results from a chronic imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. Hperphagia, a low metabolic rate, low rates of fat oxidation and an impaired sympathetic nervous activity are four main reasons for weight gain and obesity. Let’s break this down and explain each one of these four.
Since it would be super hard and confusing to explain all of these four and how to fix them in just one post, I am going to break them apart and explain them separately.
I believe the function of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is very important and mostly forgotten, when it comes to weight loss, therefore I have decided to start with this one.
What is the Sympathetic Nervous System or SNS?
The sympathetic nervous system Originates in the spinal cord. It goes into action to prepare the body for physical or mental activity. In response to a stressor, the sympathetic nervous system orchestrates what you familiarly call the fight-or-flight response. It is faster-acting than the parasympathetic system (the rest and digest system), and moves along very short, fast neurons. The sympathetic nervous system activates a part of the adrenal gland named the adrenal medulla, which then releases hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones activate the target muscles and glands, causing the body to speed up and become tense, as well as more alert. Functions that are not immediately essential (like the immune system) are shut down to some degree.
Upon activation of sympathetic nervous system, the body goes through a number of changes:
- The heart rate goes up
- The bronchial tubes in the long dilates
- The pupils dilate
- Muscles get tense and contracts
- The mouth gets dry due to reduction in saliva
- Digestion slows down
- More glycogen is converted to glucose
As you can see, all of these changes are designed to make you more ready to fight or run. Nonessential systems like digestion and immunity are given much lower priority, while more energy is made available to your muscles and your heart rate increases.
What is Parasympathetic nervous system?
Before we get farther lets talk about another system that works hand in hand with SNS in normal situation to help our body keeps its balance and tranquility. The Parasympathetic nervous system works alongside SNS. Parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest helps the body to get back to its calm state and allows it to relax and repair. Once the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated we see:
- Increase in Saliva
- Release of digestive enzymes
- Drop in heart rate
- Constriction of the bronchial tubes in lungs
- Relaxed muscles
- Constriction of pupils
- Increase in urinary output
What causes SNS activation?
SNS gets activated, when we are faced with a stressor that presents an imminent physical danger, but we actually see many of these changes in response to lower level stressors too. In normal situation every time Sympathetic Nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system work in harmony, SNS helps us to deal with the stressor and Parasympathetic helps us to restore the peace.
The problem occurs when we are facing chronic stress, such as when we face multiple of the stressors listed below:
- Emotional stress – Like loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of job, depression, bad and unhealthy relationships, etc.
- Cognitive stress – in summary trying to do it all and be the best at everything. Unrealistic expectations and not being happy with what you have and where you are.
- Sensory stress – chronic pain, loud noise, constant stimulation from external sources. Examples, kids crying and yelling, constant phone ring, text massages, email alerts etc.
- Metabolic stress – syndrome x, too much exercise, pH, blood sugar, hypoglycemia.
- Toxic stress – what we come in contact with, in our environment. It includes things like heavy metal toxicity, amalgam fillings, mercury in your food, air pollution, electrosmog, pesticides, herbicides, mold mycotoxins, disinfectants, perfume, air fresheners etc.
- Immune stress – food allergies or sensitivities, inflammation, autoimmune disorders.
- Endocrine and neurotransmitter stress – adrenal glands, cortisol, thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, menopause, andropause, insulin, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA etc.
- Purposelessness stress – I call this spiritual stress. Lack of meaning and purpose in life, the inability to find gratitude, lack of love and empathy, not connected to the Universe, loss of self, materialism.
- Infectious stress – Candida, parasites, viruses, bacteria etc.
- Oxidative stress – veins and arteries, lack of fresh air, sleep apnea etc.
- Energetic stress – electromagnetic fields from cell phones, electronics etc.
- Structural stress – spine alignment, posture, TMJ, physical trauma, etc.
As you can see this list is pretty long and there are things that we are facing all day, every day, which means our SNS system is turned on all day. As you might recall one of the systems that slows down, while SNS is turned on, is the digestive system. So no wonder we are seeing an increase in obesity and being overweight.
How can we help our Parasympathetic nervous system to restore balance in our body and to deal with these stressors?
Remember when we are experiencing one or two of the stressors listed above for a short period of time, Parasympathetic nervous system will help to return the body back to its calm state. The problem occurs when we are facing chronic stress.
We have to turn off the sympathetic nervous system and return to parasympathetic state. We can do this by:
- List everything that causes stress in your life. You can use the list above to help you. Deal with each one accordingly. Some are easier to avoid than others. For example, if you have high metal toxicity in your body, ask your health care provider about the ways to detox your body. Get tested for food allergies and avoid foods that you are allergic to. If you are facing relationship issues, get help from a professional and try to resolve the issues. There is no shame in asking for help.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep- this can be hard, but sleep is not optional anymore. Study after study has proven the importance of sleep in our health and well being.
- Be aware of your diet- you are what you eat. Too much sugar, preservatives, pesticides, food colorings, too much caffeine and chocolate all trigger SNS. Know what foods you are allergic to and avoid them. Make sure you are getting all the nutrition that your body needs from the right sources. To avoid pesticides, eat organic.
- Most commonly used chemicals in household cleaning products, perfumes, air fresheners, pest controls, etc., contain harmful toxins that activate SNS. To avoid these toxins try to use more natural cleaning products. There are many DIY recipes for making home cleaning products on web, that can be used to make natural non toxic cleaning products. There are also many companies that offer natural non toxic cleaning products (my favorite company, which I have been using for years, is The Honest Company).
- It is important to exercise, but too much exercise can cause stress and hence activate SNS. Avoid supper intense exercises that are super long.
- Breath and meditate- I think this one is self explanatory.
- Finally, get to know what calms you down. Is it gardening that helps you relax, or listening to music, or reading, etc.? Do more of what makes you calm.
One of the reasons behind obesity and excess weight is overactive SNS. You can turn off SNS by turning on the Parasympathetic nervous system.
Next post we will talk about metabolic rate, until then,
Stay happy and healthy