The Weight Loss Mystery



By Sherrill Sellman, ND., Naturopathic Doctor

‘Decades old dietary approaches, including taking in fewer calories and burning more, is a dismal failure…’

Obesity has gone prime time. We see evidence of its presence in every neighborhood, mall, school and workplace. Hardly a day goes by without a news report about the looming obesity crisis.

So what is going on? If people were to follow the advice offered by medical professional, public health officials and the experts from the weight loss industry, the problem should be easily solved.

Their call to action basically involves turning your back on all those sugary, high carbohydrate, processed, junk foods and switch to a low calorie diet fortified by plenty of exercise. They say it all boils down to a very simple equation: take in fewer calories and burn more.

Sounds logical. But this decades old approach is a dismal failure. For most people, it doesn’t work. Long-term success for attaining permanent weight loss is only achieved by only two to five per cent  of those very determined and lucky dieters.

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The traditional approach to winning the battle of the bulge does indeed seem insane.

It’s time to discover some of the missing pieces of the weight loss puzzle.


Extra kilos… compromise areas of brain that impact the ability to follow through on any kind of planning


Belly fat dims the brain

Do you value your brainpower?  The one faculty everyone wants to hold onto throughout all of life is a fully functioning, intact brain. Unfortunately, belly fat can deliver a serious blow to this aspiration.

Researchers set out to discover if being overweight posed a danger to the brain (using body mass index, an approximation of body fat based on height and weight). Their results were shocking.

Their research showed that overweight people had four per cent less brain tissue than people of normal weight. And, for obese people, the findings were even worse. They had eight  per cent less brain tissue than people of normal weight.

In addition, the study showed that as well as degenerating the brain, carrying extra weight accelerated its ageing.

The brains of overweight people looked eight years older than the brains of those who were lean, and 16 years older in obese people.

Type 2 diabetes, which is common in the overweight, is known to accelerate the ageing of the brain and the onset of dementia.

Further studies indicate that those with the most belly fat (visceral fat mass) suffer the greatest mental declines over time.

Obesity causes changes to the immune system, which fan the flames of inflammation throughout the body.

This increased inflammation can impact the brain and lead to a vicious cycle of gaining more and more weight: obesity leads to inflammation, which damages certain parts of the brain, which in turn leads to more uncontrolled eating, and more obesity.

Affects impulse control

Here is the sad catch 22. Those extra kilos impair brain function and compromise the particular areas of brain that impact a person’s ability to have a keen memory, control impulses and follow through on any kind of planning.

It therefore becomes more difficult to successfully commit to any kind of program, especially a weight loss program.

Because the impulse control part of the brain is affected, controlling those urges to help yourself to another donut or a second helping of mashed potatoes is a Herculean effort,  and generally doomed to fail.

‘If you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is critical to check your vitamin D levels’

Vitamin D and metabolism

Vitamin D truly deserves the title of superstar. Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the body, including the brain.  Optimal levels are absolutely necessary to ensure healthy bones, healthy arteries, a robust immune system, balanced moods, optimal cognitive function, protection from hypertension, allergies, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune conditions, fertility and PMS.

Most significantly, vitamin D has been proven to be protective against 13 different kinds of cancer. Optimal levels of vitamin D are critical for health.

Although Australia is described as  the ‘sun burnt country’ and is one of the sunniest countries in the world, a surprising number of its citizens severely lack Vitamin D. A recent report stated that as many as one in three  Australians may have low Vitamin D levels.

For all those on a weight loss quest, Vitamin D is one of the missing pieces you have been serching for.

There is overwhelming evidence that confirms the importance of keeping your Vitamin D levels up to get your extra kilos down. In addition, while helping achieve weight loss, it improves other risk factorsm such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and blood sugar imbalances.

If you feel hungry all the time no matter how much you eat, you might want to have your vitamin D levels checked.

Importance of leptin

What drives insatiable hunger is the relationship between low vitamin D levels and a hormone called leptin. Leptin is a messenger molecule made in fat cells that communicates to the hypothalamus, letting it know how much fat is stored in the body. It is the hormone that communicates that you are full.

Low vitamin D levels interfere with the effectiveness of leptin.

Researchers at Aberdeen University, Scotland, found that obese people produced 10 per cent less vitamin D than people of average weight.

The study discovered that low levels of the vitamin in blood interfered with the function of leptin, which tells the brain when the stomach is full.

Overweight people, shirking the sun or not taking adequate vitamin D supplementation thwart their dieting efforts in another way. Low vitamin D levels have been shown to increase fat storage.


How much less vitamin D does an overweight person make?

As it turns out, increased fatty cells can decrease the ability to make vitamin D by a factor of four. That means that if you are carry extra weight, you may make only quarter the amount of Vitamin D, when  compared with a leaner person.

Vitamin D is also an important factor in diabetes. Low levels of vitamin D has been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

After following more than 5000 people for five years, an Australian research team found that those with lower than average vitamin D levels had a 57 per cent increased risk of developing diabetes, compared to those within the recommended range.

Vitamin D also helps keep blood sugar levels under control. In type 2 diabetes the body can’t use the insulin it produces efficiently to control blood sugar levels. Vitamin D plays a role by increasing the release of insulin.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is critical to check your vitamin D levels.  The higher your vitamin D levels the higher your leptin levels ­­– and the more your blood sugar will remain balanced. Vitamin D helps your body respond to the correct metabolic messages.

High vitamin D levels increases the ability to lose weight and losing weight will increase vitamin D levels. All of which will reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, not to mention most chronic illnesses.

Blood test for vitamin D

It is critically important to check your vitamin D levels. Taking a vitamin D supplement may not get you into optimal range, which is where you want to be. It is optimal blood vitamin D levels that count.

The proper blood test is called 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH), which is included in the basic blood workup. In Australia, optimal levels should be 150-200 nmol/L. In the US, optimal levels should be between 70-100 ng/mL

Do not settle for less than optimal levels if your goal is the best health possible.

Sleep Away Those Kilos

We all know about beauty rest but did you know about thinness slumber? Getting those zzz’s is another important piece of the weight loss puzzle.

Your carbohydrate addiction may be more the result of your sleeping patterns rather than your lack of will-power. Have you ever noticed that after a night with little sleep, you wake up ravenously hungry and want to devour everything in sight?  Why? Because your lack of sleep actually triggers food cravings.

An expanding body of scientific evidence has shown that the less sleep you get, the more cravings you have, the more calories you eat, the more belly fat you have and the higher your BMI.

Sleep-deprived people eat more carbohydrates than their more well-rested compatriots. Those with four hours of sleep were more likely to choose candy, cakes and cookies over fruit, vegetables or dairy products. It was also found that their ability to process glucose (sugar) in the blood had declined – in some cases to the level of diabetics.

Brain scans of people who get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night show that they have lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that is involved in impulse control, planning, judgment, and follow-though.

Decreased activity in this part leads to greater impulsivity, and more self-defeating decisions. It also made it much more difficult to successfully stick to any plan, especially a weight loss program.

The relationship between obesity and sleep in not just an adult problem. Since 1992, 13 studies of more than 45,000 children have supported the inverse relationship between hours of sleep and risk of obesity. As children sleep less, they are more at risk of becoming obese. Short sleep duration at age 30 months predicts obesity at age seven  years.

According to researchers, lack of sleep affects the brain in many ways, including impairing memory. Educating yourself on why sleep is so important would be worthwhile.

To support deep and regenerative sleep, the following natural approaches are helpful: melatonin, chamomile, valerian, kava kava, passionflower, hops l-theanine, 5-http, B-Complex, phosphatidylserine and magnesium.

Be cautious: all prescription sleep medications have serious side effects.

‘Obesity can be added to the list of health conditions caused by an overgrowth of harmful gut flora’

Do You Have Fat Gut Flora?  

It was once thought that we are what we eat.  But, to be more accurate, we are what we digest and assimilate. And more accurately, research now tells us that we are what digests and assimilates our food.

This has to do with the thriving population of the one hundred trillion life-promoting gut bacteria that take up residence within our digestive track from the moment of our birth.

More than 99 per cent of microbes living in our intestinal tract are a diverse group of bacteria, numbering between 500 to 1000 different species.

In a healthy person, they live in our gut in a balanced ecosystem, with each species inhabiting its appropriate place. However, with the introduction of antibiotics, steroids, and birth control pills, that delicate balance is radically alterered, and this profoundly affects our health.

Obesity is now one more adverse health condition can be added to the list caused by an overgrowth of harmful gut flora.

We also know that there is a strong connection between what we eat, how much we eat, and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut.

Effects of gut microbes

It has been observed that there is a distinctive change in the gut microbial populations found in obese and lean humans and mice. The microbes in the guts of obese mice are different from the microbes in the guts of lean mice. The gut microbes in obese humans differ from the gut microbes in lean (or even dieting) humans.

The bacteria in the gut of obese mice are more efficient in processing carbohydrates. Thus, obese mice get a ‘bigger bang for the chow’– ingesting calories from food that in lean mice would normally go unprocessed. So the fat mice get even fatter.

Obese people have a distinctive mix of bacteria in their digestive systems that also seems  to make them prone to gaining weight.

Microflora ecology

There appears to be a causal link between obesity and the type of microflora that inhabit the gut. The difference in the structure of microbial ecology of our digestive tracks may create greater susceptibility to obesity.

When mice with typically human gut bacteria were switched to a high-fat, high-sugar diet, lasting changes occurred in the microbes that promote weight and fat gain. This altered the way food and drugs were metabolised.

Scientists took mice raised in a germ-free environment, which had no native gut bacteria of there own, and transplanted human gut bacteria in to their digestive tracks.

When these ‘humanised’ mice were placed on a high-fat, high-sugar diet designed to mimic those common in Western societies, the contents of their gut bacteria changed drastically – literally overnight.

Switching from a low-fat, plant polysaccharide-rich diet to a high fat, high-sugar ‘Western’ diet shifted the structure of the gut microflora within a single day. The mice showed an increase in types of bacteria linked to obesity and also increased their body fat.

The researchers then transplanted microbes from the guts of these mice into other germ-free mice. These animals also put on weight, even when fed a low-fat diet.

Solving the puzzle

Your food choices have an instantaneous effect on the balance of gut flora. Feed you gut healthy, nutritious food and you will be adding yet another successful piece to your weight loss puzzle.

You can also add probiotic supplements to help support and enhance healthy gut flora.

Maintaining a healthy brain, ensuring you have optimal vitamin D levels, committing to a regenerative sleep routine, and supporting the growth of healthy gut flora are some of the new pieces that are helping us solve the weight loss puzzle.

SherrillSellman2013smSherrill Sellman, ND., Naturopathic Doctor (Board Certified in Integrative Medicine), is an educator, women’s natural health expert, psychotherapist, international lecturer, host of two weekly radio shows, senior editor and contributing writer to numerous health publications and journalist in the field of women’s health.

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