As a medical doctor with over three decades of experience, I was truly moved by your recent post on “5 Steps to Feeling So Much Better, Despite No Motivation.”
If I may build off your experience, I would like to make a few points that can help make a meaningful difference in the lives of your readers—by helping them understand the deeper mechanisms behind weight loss—and good health in general.
First, weight loss and/or the maintenance of weight is an exceedingly complex hormonal, biochemical, behavioral, psychological and emotional matter—and there is no single easy answer that works consistently or continuously for everyone.
However—one thing is exceedingly clear to me as a health practitioner—the big problem is not knowing what to do but rather doing what we know.
Most of us know what works for us and what doesn’t work. It’s true we’re always looking for little tips and “secrets” to make it easier and faster—but like all great skills in life—lasting success lies in practicing the fundamentals … over and over again.
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That said, it is vital to realize that all weight gain (and virtually all chronic illness) results from something we call allostatic load. This is the fancy technical term for “total body stress” and it involves seven critical systems which I will briefly discuss in just a moment.
But first, let me say that when your allostatic load is too high, your mind/body/spirit goes into “overload” and a host of mechanisms arise that tilt your metabolism and physiology toward weight gain, illness and general body breakdown (something we call “catabolism.”)
The actual physiological and hormonal mechanisms resulting from allostatic load are complex and varied—but the end result is that when “total stress load” is too high (allostatic overload), it causes low grade inflammation, which leads to breakdown (catabolism) of protein stores from your muscles and your gut lining—all in order to ramp up the production of inflammatory cytokines (proteins like hsCRP, fibrinogen, myeloperoxidase and more), cortisol and gluconeogenesis (blood sugar production through the breakdown of amino acids).
Ultimately this redistribution of protein from muscle mass and gut lining leads to lower metabolism, food sensitivities, immune system disorders and the biggest bugaboo of all—insulin resistance. For it is—in large part—the resulting elevated levels of insulin that promote both fat storage and weight gain (as well as poor immunity, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.)
What are these stressors that trigger allostatic overload? They are: 1) hormone imbalances: like cortisol, insulin, ghrelin, adiponectin and more 2) inflammation and/or infection 3) digestive disorders: like gluten sensitivity, food allergies, gut infections, dysbiosis (imbalance of healthy gut bacteria) 4) detoxification problems, due to environmental exposure to toxins like mercury, household chemicals, bisphenol A from plastic bottles and many, many more 5) energy imbalances: like poorly functioning mitochondria (the power plants of every cell) or eating too many calories which leads to energy excess and insulin resistance 6) nutritional or neurotransmitter deficiencies: like lack of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, essential fatty acids like Omega-3’s, serotonin, dopamine, GABA and more—and lastly 7) good old fashioned stress: like mental stress, social stress, financial stress, work stress, time stress, emotional stress and spiritual stress.
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When it comes to psychological stress, it is important to understand that toxic thinking alone can cause inflammation in the body—in particular by raising the levels of the inflammatory protein interleukin-6—and that inflammation adds to the allostatic load that can predispose us to insulin resistance and weight gain—as well as a vicious cycle of frustration, lack of motivation and even low grade depression, which ultimately leads to poor choices and fuzzy thinking that only compound the problem.
The world’s leading scholar in stress—Dr. Bruce McEwen—says that “Stress begins in the brain . . . Only humans can become stressed out from things that exist in idea only”—like rehashing an old argument, holding on to resentments, excessive worry, beating ourselves up and feeling shame or guilt. You beautifully identified how you were feeling down, stressed out and thinking negatively—with your motivation zapped. All these psychological stresses you experienced contribute to the allostatic load that leads to weight gain, illness and the micronutrient and neurotransmitter deficiencies that only make you feel worse.
This is the power of the mind/body/spirit connection—you cannot effect one system without all the other systems being affected. When you eat, move and supplement better, you will think better. When you think better, you will eat, move and supplement better.
Notice that every one of these 7 items contribute to allostatic load and the predisposition towards weight gain, illness and depression.
Though poor diet can certainly lead to neurotransmitter deficiencies (that then create anxiety, mood swings and depression)—it is—in my medical experience—much more common to have negative thinking (like low grade depression, guilt, shame and excessive worry) lead to allostatic load that then leads to poor eating choices that then leads to nutrient and neurotransmitter deficiencies, insulin resistance, fat gain and decreased immunity.