‘Weight set point’ is a theory, which goes like this. Your body has a weight at which it prefers to remain, and will do so for long periods as a result of complex physiological feedback control mechanisms. This weight may be set by your genes, and can potentially be raised, or maybe even lowered, by lifestyle factors. What your brain wants you to weigh and what you actually (or would like to weigh) may be at variance! How much body fat you carry is the brain’s future fuel supply, and it seems it is prepared to work hard to defend its resources. No doubt this is why it is hard to lose weight and even harder to keep it off.
If we eat a diet high in processed foods — white bread, white rice, white pasta, many cereals, pastries, cookies, etc — we are on a rollercoaster, to produce sufficient insulin to deal with the raised blood sugars, that eating these foods in particular causes. If there is insulin in our bloodstream, energy only goes one way....storage of fat into our cells.
Excess chronic overproduction of insulin can cause the master controller of our weight, the hormone leptin, to malfunction. Leptin’s function is to signal that we are full, and no longer require any more food. However, eating these processed foods seems to be able to override our natural hormone balance system, and we are able to eat much more than our body actually requires. When did you last binge on broccoli? Conversely, do you remember a meal where you really felt stuffed but then managed to eat ice cream? This style of eating, whereby the body may develop ‘leptin resistance’, can have the same metabolic effects as if leptin levels have been reduced by weight loss, illness or famine (diet). The body will defend its desired weight, or even a little higher.
Appetite and fullness is controlled by hormones (these are extremely powerful) and are designed to keep our weight at the brain’s perceived safe weight set point. They also drive metabolism down to conserve energy to achieve the same objective.
Leptin is produced by our fat cells to give the signal that we have sufficient fuel reserves and so don’t need to eat any more. It is argued that this regulatory message can become faulty due to high insulin and lots of inflammation in our bodies, due to consuming the typical Western diet: those white carbs! The brain perceives a lack of leptin and switches to survival mode — you have guessed: increased appetite and lowered metabolism. This leptin resistence can be reversed by changing the quality of food we eat.
The human body’s survival mode is an incredibly powerful response, as witnessed in the Netherlands following the famine of 1944-45. Thirty years following the famine, children who were born to women during the famine were studied. Children born before or after this period to these women were looked at as a control group. The babies born to the women during the period of starvation were smaller than expected at birth but once they reached adulthood they were significantly more obese than their siblings. Researchers believe the mechanism behind this is the babies were able to turn on a switch in their DNA which gave them a survival advantage. Thus the babies experienced ‘starvation’ in the womb, and adapted for a world in which they had increased appetites and lowered metabolisms. Except this wasn’t the environment they grew up in, for food was abundant again; so they got fat. Although we cannot change our DNA, through the new science of epigenetics, we know that environmental factors can influence/switch the programme.
Thus we can see epigenectics (or the switches for gene expression) are impacted by what you eat, and other behaviours. It makes chemical modifications to the way your genes work, potentially switching them on or off. This means you can influence your genetic destiny, through ideal nutrition and lifestyle choices, to control the expression of your DNA. Recent research suggests epigenetic information carries through for up to fourteen generations.
How may you be able to flip your switch to helping you towards a leaner body, and lower your set point to maintain your new weight? The answers from the experts are as follows:
• Set realistic expectations
• Understand the problem and how to fix it (this article)
• Prepare your home environment
• If not already doing so, channel the inner chef
• Reduce stress (stress equals raised cortisol levels and a raised set point)
• Sleep well
• Prepare your mind (mindfulness and mindful eating). Take time to invest in yourself, and above all be kind to yourself
• Intermittent Fasting
• Exercise and moving
• Eat well! (Avoid sugar, wheat, corn and fruit juice — our usual suspects)
Also, on eating well, some food researchers are arguing that we need to get the right proportion with our fats, balancing the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. Some go as far as to say that, since fat has been demonised as the root cause of heart disease, various dietary guidelines have seen a shift towards consuming foods which are detrimentally much higher in omega 6, resulting in a raise in inflammation in our bodies, which can have a profound effect on our metabolism and weight. The increase in vegetable oils, grains, processed food and the promotion of low cholesterol and heart healthy foods are all seen as contributing to this dietary imbalance.
• Omega 3, is the sunshine food derived from chorophyll in plants. Thus eating green plants or anything which also eats those leaves will give you omega 3.
• Omega 6 is the autumn food, found in grains and seeds, nuts, poultry and eggs.
• Both omega 3 and 6 are found in oils.
Maybe the optimal advice is not to try too much omega 3 but to keep both relatively low.
Avoid oils high in omega 6
• Cotton seed
Use oils low in omega 6
• Olive oil
• Butter — grass fed; ghee
• Coconut Oil
• Palm oil (sustainably harvested)
It takes some time to deplete the body of omega 6, which may explain initial slow weight loss on transition to a more wholefood-based diet.
Fat has a vital role in maintaining bodily functions; our brain and nervous system are predominantly made of fat, as are hormones, and fat is what constitutes the lining of our cells.