I sometimes get frustrated at folks in our society who judge people who are overweight. The popular belief seems to be that if such people would just get off the sofa or stop eating doughnuts and cereal, they would shed those unwanted pounds and feel great.
Sadly, this is often not so. I know many people who struggle with their weight, even though they eat minuscule portions on a Paleo diet; maybe a few greens and some meat, and exercise regularly. Many such people struggle from chronic health conditions that affect weight, such as chronic fatigue, heart disease, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease.
But being overweight isn't just a problem of the chronically ill. In America, weight problems are epidemic, even though lots of us follow these great diets and exercise regularly. Yes, some people really don't eat right, but here's my red alert of the day for the informationally-underprivileged: weight is influenced by many other factors besides diet and exercise.
A few years ago, I went on a strict diet for about eight months, to get rid of a fungal infection in my body. I eliminated all fruits, grains, sugars, dairy and anything that remotely resembled a carbohydrate (well, except for non-starchy green vegetables) for eight long, arduous months, and guess what- I gained ten pounds!
The obvious reason why is that the diet completely stressed me out, but I also probably wasn't consuming enough calories and my body went into starvation mode. When this happens, the body conserves every little calorie it can, because it doesn't know when the next meal is coming.
If you skip meals or don't eat enough at mealtimes, you can gain weight as a result of your body going into starvation mode.
If you don't sleep enough or go to bed late, you can also gain weight. I never had a weight problem in my life until I went through a severe 3-year battle with insomnia and put on 20 pounds in three years. Thankfully, I was a bit underweight to begin with. Sleep deprivation affects the body's levels of leptin, ghrelin and human growth hormone (and probably others), all of which affect weight. Also, studies have shown night shift workers to be heavier than those that work during the day. Maintaining a proper circadian rhythm plays a crucial role in weight management.
If you have adrenal fatigue, you can gain weight. When your adrenals are exhausted, your body slows down its metabolism in an attempt to compensate for your tired adrenals. Thyroid hormones, which regulate the metabolism, require cortisol, an adrenal hormone, to function properly in the cells. So if there isn't enough cortisol to go around, then the cells won't be able to properly use thyroid hormones. What's more, doing thyroid hormone replacement therapy will further exhaust the adrenals and cause more weight gain, if the underlying cause of hypothyroidism is adrenal fatigue.
Exercise can make you fat, too, if you have adrenal fatigue. Yes, you heard right. If you over-exercise or stress your body beyond its capacity to function, you will burn your adrenals out even more, which is a set-up for weight gain.
If your gut isn't healthy (which is most of us in America), you can gain weight. Studies on mice have found that different species of bad bacteria in the gut affect metabolism and appetite. Any change in gut flora-which mostly results from infections, eating toxic food or taking antibiotics- can increase the rate at which we absorb fatty acids and carbohydrates, and increase calorie storage. Pathogenic bacteria can even directly cause weight gain by increasing insulin production (leading to insulin resistance) and causing inflammation in the body. Stress, food toxins, antibiotics (and other drugs), and infections all mess up the gut.
In my 2014 book, Foods That Fit a Unique You, which I co-authored with Dr. W. Lee Cowden, Dr. Cowden discusses the crucial role of gut health in metabolism, and how to get your gut healed so that you can properly absorb your nutrients, and eliminate any pathogens there. We also discuss the importance of following a diet that is right for your unique metabolic type and which takes into account your current health condition, as there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet that will help you to lose weight.
If you have an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, you can gain weight. Estrogen dominance in common in our society because many of the toxic chemicals to which we are exposed act like fake estrogens in the body, which causes an imbalance that leads to weight gain.
If you are stressed, you can gain weight! When under stress, the body releases excessive amounts of cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels, causes insulin resistance so glucose can't get into the cells, makes you hungry, suppresses other hormones related to weight management; increases the rate at which you store fat, and increases fatty acids and triglycerides in the blood. Just to name a few problems!
If you are toxic, you can gain weight. The reasons why are numerous. Toxic chemicals from the environment disrupt the hormone signaling system that regulates metabolism, and the body stores chemicals in fat and actually creates fat cells as a way to manage toxins and keep them from overloading the organs. Toxins also damage enzyme systems and compromise the liver's methylation processes, which also play a crucial role in metabolism.
If you have unhealed emotional wounds, which have caused issues of rejection or abandonment, especially those which result from sexual or physical abuse, you can gain weight as a means of "protecting" your body against further abuse or assault.
If you are exposed to too many electromagnetic fields, you can gain weight. Gary Sconyers, ND, of Health Resource Center has found that many of his female patients gained weight when exposed to excessive levels of EMFs, and contends that EMFs cause insulin resistance, which leads to weight gain.
So if you struggle with your weight and are feeling overwhelmed by now, know that at least there are answers to why your current diet may not be working, or why you are gaining weight, despite doing all the "right" things.
Trust me, I understand your frustration. It doesn't feel fair when you eat less than 1,000 calories a day, exercise, maintain a nutritious diet and yet find yourself daily "battling the bulge" and enduring the judgmental looks or words of others who admonish you to just eat Paleo, quit your doughnut habit and get up off the sofa. Great advice for those whose metabolisms still work, but not for those of us who have struggled with a chronic health condition.
In my books, I discuss how to resolve some of the causes of weight gain, especially those related to toxicity, hormonal dysfunction, gut health and infections. However, the issues underlying weight gain are complex, so I encourage you to also consult with a good local integrative or naturopathic health doctor who understands how metabolic issues in chronic illness affect weight, to help you heal your metabolism.
Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 11 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Beyond a Glass of Milk and a Hot Bath: Advanced Sleep Solutions for People with Chronic Insomnia. (March, 2017). She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world's best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.