EP 32 – Eat This: The root causes of overweight

Obese, overweight, corpulent, pudgy, fat, heavy, plump, stout, well-padded, paunchy, beefy, pear shaped or heavy hips, apple shaped or rotund, beer belly, thunder thighs, big butt, thick waist and now the Quarentine 15 are all terms for carrying excess weight that could mean you’re not feeling so great about yourself when you step on the scale or put on anything other than your stretchy-non-waist-buttoned-leisure wear. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I know I need to lose weight, but…” I’d like, a millionaire. 

It’s hormones, says the woman with PMS or who is in perimenopause. My medication is to blame, says Mister on the meds after a heart attack. It’s genetics they all say, swiftly followed by my great-aunt Bessie was overweight her whole life and no matter what she did, she couldn’t lose weight. There are many possible reasons why anyone is carrying more weight than what is ideal, but why on earth could that be? Is anyone really a 24/7 cookie monster? Or can that life saving medication really cause that 20+ pounds that made you need a new wardrobe of clothes? 

While this topic is one that has about a thousand rabbit holes to go down, let’s focus on a few. 

Today on EAT THIS with Lianne, what I believe really is at the root cause of excess weight and the million dollar question… What can you do about it?

A medical paper hit the newswire this past week, and so I got to talk on radio and TV about some new medical guidelines on how doctors are going to treat and deal with obesity and the three ways they will tackle it. I get it, doctors who have excellent training in saving our lives and dealing with health issues, but don’t get the nutrition and dietary training needed to handle many issues, especially obesity, or just generally being overweight, so the recommendations are much needed. An article that I commented on said that they were going to get to the root cause of obesity with CBT or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, weight loss medication (which I can’t imagine what that could be) and bariatric surgery – aka, a gastric band, gastric bypass or Sleeve Gastrectomy –which is where most of the stomach is surgically removed, leaving only a banana-sized vertical “sleeve” in its place. Wow, that’s invasive. Time will tell if these trickle down to your doctors office and in the meantime, what’s a person to do? Of course there’s WW as it’s now known, about a million other diets and ways through fasting, deprivation, cutting calories, cutting carbs or fat or even adding more in. The revolving door of diets continues as we search for the next quick fix and holy grail that’ll take you to the bod you want and life to match. 

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Being happier when you are the next in line to be a swimsuit model or have the six pack abs for the sexiest men alive calendar? Whatever your goal and reason why, we have to dig deep for the root cause of why your body is how it is, how you got here and then move forward. If your shoulders just dropped because that sounds like work, and you just want to get to it, you know find that magic bullet… well in over the 20 years of working with clients, we always have to go back a bit first in order to move forwards, so stay with me. 

The key areas that I see that contribute to excess weight fall under the umbrellas of emotional, hormonal, physical and genetic factors. Oh and of course diet. I almost left that out because, it’s a given, right? Ok, let me break these down knowing each could be their own episode and just might be in the future. 

First up, emotions. Dealing with your emotions, trying to numb or override them using food rather than working through the hurt, anger, pain, rejection, and even abuse, and of course the self loathing, low self esteem, and shame that can be felt from carrying excess weight. This piece is one of the biggest that I see, because food can offer such pleasure. And in the void of feeling good, it’s an easier quick fix to use in an attempt to fill that void of happiness. It’s an outside source of momentary joy, can give some ease to life including having low self esteem and provide a distraction from the negative self talk, if only for a little while. Until that’s understood, until the connection is made and awareness that emotional eating is an attempt at filling an emotional void with food, the pattern often continues with the yo-yo of weight off then back on again. So I’ll say this… the momentary lift, that ease, that exhale from how you’re feeling, that dark or uncomfortable place that you want to escape with your next mouthful, it does not last. It’s temporary, short lived and does not deal with the underlying emotion that’s trying to be covered up. The sooner we can wake up to that, the more this root cause can get the attention it needs. Oh and and, yes, I too wish food fixed it all. 

Then there’s hormones – those messengers that control so much of what goes on in our body. You’ve heard of estrogen and testosterone, right? Well, they need to be in balance in both men and women. Adrenaline and cortisol, we know them as our stress hormones. Then there’s insulin that takes glucose from your food and puts it into storage called fat cells. That’s just a few of the hormones circulating our bodies. Oh and then further to that there’s how the symphony of the hormonal glands like your thyroid and adrenals are in tune with each other, and can so easily be totally off.  

Metabolic syndrome comes in here too with a situation called insulin resistance, when buckets of insulin are needed to do the job and your pancreas that makes insulin, is tired and can’t keep up anymore. One of the stress hormones called cortisol causes belly fat when it’s high. High cortisol is linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disruption and simply feeling dissatisfied or overwhelmed. It’s linked to loss of memory, muscle mass, libido, and bone density. Feeling stressed, eating too many carbs and too much sugar, emotional eating, blood sugar highs and lows also causes abdominal fat – even in people who are otherwise thin. Can you relate? Yea, me too. High cortisol is almost like an avalanche to our bodies because it causes a drop in growth hormone, it’s linked to low testosterone in men, inhibits the function of thyroid hormone–the master of our metabolism and worst of all it is proven to make us hungry for high-fat, high-carb comfort foods that perpetuate belly fat, even after we are full. So you will know when you are in this hormonal and metabolic state because you’re constantly hungry and craving. Ugh. Now I think that the menopause and man-o-pause need their own episodes so although I’m not specifically getting into that now, all that I am saying is that hormones are relevant to any age and while these situations would have typically hit men and women from around 50 plus, we are now finding that age is almost irrelevant for such imbalances. 

Moving on to the physical aspect of being overweight comes down mostly to muscle mass. Our muscles play a huge part in our metabolism which is how fast we burn calories. Having enough muscle for your frame is vitally important for maintaining metabolism, the ability to beat belly fat, to maintain strength and energy. Movement and exercise is one of the best stress busters that can improve your cells sensitivity to insulin that counteracts insulin resistance I mentioned before, because well diabetes and insulin resistance are tied together. When you think about muscle mass, that involves exercise, lifting weights, having strength to your core, legs, arms and of course your heart muscle. Some exercise and just do a bit and some go overboard. Resistance training, whether that’s with weights or using your body weight as in a plank or yoga postures, movement and using your muscles is key. There’s also a fine balance of exercise. You don’t want to go out there and do weight training in the morning and a HITT class after work, because too much can also increase cortisol, so it’s about the balance of working out and allowing your body to repair after that counts. Overlapping here is how your digestive system and liver are doing and although both can ultimately be more to do with hormonal imbalance, inflammation from IBS, gassiness and many digestive symptoms can be a key factor that touches on so much of our health. Inflammation will stop you from movement too, you won’t want to move or exercise if you’re in pain. Taking medication for health issues or even pain medication gives the liver more work and when the liver is overworked, it can’t deal with insulin and messes up your fat metabolism. Believe me when I say that this is all tied together, not always in a straight line, but the domino effect from your gut bacteria or microbiome, how much fibre you eat, the amount of probiotics you take, inflammation in your gut, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and more all tie into how your liver is functioning, and what your body does with the food you eat and the meds that you take. 

Let’s move onto genetics – they can be a great scapegoat at times. If you think that your state of weight has been passed down to you from your parents and that you’re pre-programmed to be how you are, may not be your scapegoat. Really, it’s thought that 25% of your genetic makeup is hard wired, and the rest is epigenetics and environmental factors including your choices. Quick sidebar, there’s an episode on genes and epigenetics in the works for more on this, so hang tight on knowing what that’s all about if its new to you.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “on a very simple level, your weight depends on the number of calories you consume, how many of those calories you store, and how many you burn up. But each of these factors is influenced by a combination of genes and environment. Both can affect how fast you burn calories for instance, as well as the types of foods you choose to eat. The interplay between all these factors begins at the moment of your conception and continues throughout your life. If you can believe it, 400 different genes have been implicated in the causes of overweight or obesity, although only a handful appear to be major players. Genes contribute to the causes of obesity in many ways, by affecting appetite, your sense of fullness, metabolism, food cravings, body-fat distribution, and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress.” 

And last but not least diet. You’ve likely heard me say this before, but that processed, fast and packaged food that seems to make life much easier, really is messing us up more than anyone would like to admit. As Harvard explained, the balance of calories in and out is one thing, but it’s also about where those calories come from. It doesn’t get any sexier than eating whole foods, some protein, some good fats and high fibre whole grains. You know that there are many adaptations of this with higher fat in the Keto diet that have saved people from their overweight state. Then there’s the vegan plant based movement on the other side, that I believe acts more like a big fat cleanse for a time, but isn’t any more sustainable than Keto is. I believe the ultimate and healthiest diet is based on the Mediterranean diet of eating many plants, fish and lean protein, fibre, oils and nuts and seeds. Sound boring? Sure at times it can be, but what’s the trade off? How do you feel as you are, and how is what you’re doing right now working for you. I think on one or many levels, it’s likely not. 

Phew, ok lots there to unpack and digest there. You may need to listen to that a few times but likely there’s something that triggered an ‘Ohhh, that’s me’ in something that I shared. 

So to get to the juicy bit of what on earth to do about all this? I know you want answers, and I do too. It’s not necessarily that easy. Going through the four aspects of what I look at when it comes to weight loss, weight balance and maintaining a good feeling and healthy weight starts here. 

So you’re not left hanging, your to-do’s include the following, no matter where you are right here, right now. And know that I work individually with clients to get to the root cause and make specific suggestions in priority. Right now I’m going to be general so you have just a few things to focus on, because in my many years of doing this, giving clients more than one to two things to focus on at a time doesn’t get them results. Master one thing at a time and then move on. It’s truly the only way. And a quick reminder here to head back to episode 28 on Intuitive Eating if you want a new way of eating to follow. It was a truly eye opening episode for me and many others. 

First, drink more water. I know, I know. Give me the 100 reasons why not and I’m still going to tell you to do it, so just go get a glass of water and get it down ya. Then repeat. Drink one litre for every 50 lbs of your weight. And if you drink pop, fancy coffee or other sugar laden drinks, either stop or drink more water to compensate. 

Next, look at your breakfast. Is it carb rich like a bowl of cereal because that’s what you ‘do’, or how about a piece of toast, or a bagel? I want you to swap those carbs for protein. If you stick to a high-protein breakfast, it increases thyroid aka metabolism hormones and sets your feel good dopamine hit with levels for the day – which means that you will enjoy better appetite control and be craving-free while avoiding that mid-afternoon slump. This means breads, cereals, bagels, etc. are not on the menu or meal plan. The first few days may feel challenging, but I promise it will quickly become second nature after that. Have eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, fish, chicken, tofu, nuts and seeds and their butters like almond butter, they all work here. Go to sproutright.com/breakfast for a download of make ahead breakfast recipes and add in more protein. Some of the recipes have grains so use the granola in small amounts on top of your cottage cheese or Greek yogurt. If you can’t live without bread just like that, make the overnight french toast or blender pancakes. It will help. 

And third, keep a food diary of what you eat and drink, with timing. It’s the most telling thing that shows you what you’re eating when, because let’s face it most eating other than meals is mindless and we don’t pay attention to it, it just happens. This will tell a story of your day, and of your eating patterns. Then outside of that you can have a look back and see what was an emotional choice, see how you were feeling at that moment and choose differently next time. This is also where I start working with a client, so it’s a first step to getting to the root of what’s going on and adjusting your habits. 

The number one supplement I recommend you take here is a probiotic. Your gut needs good bacteria to support health and weight. So if you want to start there, head to sproutright.com and order the TAKE THIS by Lianne Bio Boost. 

This episode is truly scratching the surface of a complex situation for so many, so if I haven’t talked about what you’re living, know that I see you and there are layers to this and quite possibly more going on.  

To round this up in a nice, neat and tidy parcel–I can’t. Aspects of your emotions, how you feel, how you feel about yourself and your life I see as the biggest factor to becoming overweight. Then there’s your hormones that can be a beautiful symphony orchestra of a Bach concerto played perfectly, or they can be a shit [BLEEP] show including high cortisol that impacts the stunning symphony like a toddler learning to play an electric guitar, with his feet. Our muscle mass needs to be in check, so yes that means resistance training of some kind. Understanding that genetics are part of the puzzle that could need some more digging to uncover this aspect.

You know that you can reach out for help, that you can check out working together at liannephillipson.com or sproutright.com and that I answer emails and messages, so don’t sit there and think I’ll do it later or tomorrow. Change happens when you decide to do differently and getting to the root cause can cause you to freeze if embarking on this on your own, so reach out. If you’re going it alone, all the power to you, and keep in mind as I always say to EAT THIS one mouthful at a time.

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