The Science of Weight Management
At its core, weight management is a basic math equation: calories in – calories out = weight gained or lost. To lose weight and maintain low levels of body fat requires a tightrope walk along that energy deficit line. Although there are a multitude of contributing factors, ultimately the primary determinant in weight management success is managing hunger. Understanding that you have eaten enough may be the primary barrier between you and your body composition goals because usually, you have overeaten before your brain tells you that is true. Basically, you do not need to put on your plate as much as you typically do.
When you consume food, several internal mechanisms are initiated. As food makes its journey from your line of sight and smell, to your mouth, through the pharynx, to the esophagus, and then to the stomach, several different receptors induce responses and regulate communication between your gut and your brain regarding the current level of fullness.
The mechanical factors controlling overeating revolve primarily around the physical volume of food and sensory cues. The perception of fullness is largely determined by the distension of the proximal stomach. Located in parallel series on the wall of the gut reside gastric mechanoreceptors that measure the elongation of the stomach. As the stomach fills, these receptors can induce hormonal secretions, modulate the rate of fat metabolism, regulate gastric emptying, and influence gut-brain communication to mechanically influence your feeling of having had enough. Eating foods that are both voluminous and low in energy density (specifically whole unrefined foods, especially those high in fiber) fills the stomach, inciting the gastric mechanoreceptors to signal that you are physically full. As common sense would suggest, the satiety response from 100 calories of kale is significantly greater than that of 1,000 calories of sugary cereal, simply because it takes up more physical space.
Sensory cues also play a role. Studies into nasogastric feeding (bypassing the mouth by inserting a tube directly into the stomach) have exposed how these cues influence feelings of fullness. When smell and taste are bypassed, as occurs in nasogastric feeding, satiety (fullness) and subsequent energy intake are progressively less affected as the volume of liquid food increases. This is because of the cephalic phase, the stage of digestion before food enters the stomach, when sight, smell, thought, and taste communicate with the brain’s appetite centers. The longer food is exposed to these senses before entering the stomach, the greater the feeling of fullness. Therefore, smelling food before eating, using smaller plates, and chewing for a long time are suggested to decrease caloric intake; you are tricking your brain into thinking that more food has entered the gastrointestinal tract than the mechanoreceptors have measured.
Like most physiological processes, this involves a balancing act between opposing hormones. Satiety involves the interaction of a huge number of hormones and neurotransmitters, but it is ghrelin and leptin that are primarily responsible. Also known as the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin is a peptide hormone produced in the gastrointestinal tract that is secreted when the stomach is empty. Responding to metabolic triggers, ghrelin secretion increases when fat stores decrease so you don’t starve to death. Its counterpart leptin is often referred to as the “satiety hormone” because it regulates energy balance by obstructing hunger, mostly through neuropeptide secretion to the brain. Together, the feedback loop of ghrelin and leptin work to maintain specific levels of energy stores, in the form of adipose. In a normal state, low levels of body fat induce ghrelin secretion and suppress leptin. As your body fat levels decrease, hormonal changes make maintaining that necessary energy deficit a progressively steeper uphill climb.
1) Consume a diet based on the consumption of whole foods. The foundation of almost any healthy goal begins with proper nutrition. The more food is externally processed, the less it needs to be internally processed to be utilized by the body. Whole foods are more nutrient dense, less energy dense, contain higher amounts of fiber, and take longer to be processed. Whole foods also contain high concentrations of beneficial compounds, such as Appethyl®, a spinach extract shown in clinical trials to reduce hunger cravings. Skip the bag and box aisles and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store.
2) Don’t forget your protein and fats. Protein and fat require more time to breakdown into their usable parts than do carbohydrates, increasing that cephalic phase of digestion, but their ability to increase satiation is more complex than that. A recent study in Cell Press mapped out the signals between your gut and your brain, finding that protein increases satiety through modulating mu-opioid receptors. These receptors regulate brain-gut communication. When combined with primarily carbohydrate meals, dietary fat has been shown to slow digestion in the small intestine.
3) Drink more water. Your gastric mechanoreceptors can’t differentiate between food and water, they only respond to the volume of the substance passing through. Water quickly passes through without the need of processing, but still can temporarily trick your body into thinking it is full. If you have hunger pangs but have already met your energy needs for the day, try a glass of water first.
4) Utilize sensory cues. Smell your food before putting it in your mouth. If you have ever cooked a meal for many people and it has taken you a few hours to prepare, you know that you will not eat as much because your brain is telling you that you’re already full. Use a smaller plate, chew your food for a while before swallowing to maximize the oral sensation. All these small things prolong the cephalic stage and subconsciously increase food satisfaction.
5) Experiment with meal timing and frequency. Contrary to conventional belief, studies have demonstrated that skipping breakfast has no negative effects on satiety, and may result in a reduction in caloric intake. Intermittent fasting like cycling between extended periods of fasting and shorter periods of feeding has been gaining in popularity and there is plenty of scientific research to back up its efficacy. Experimenting with meal timing and frequency can help you find the meal regimen that works best for you.
The Science of Proper Nutrition
There are many ways to measure health and wellness—some people measure wellness by how they look and feel, while others define their health by numbers like cholesterol levels and weight. Truthfully, being healthy is measured by a combination of many objective and subjective elements including energy levels, exercise habits, diet, stress levels, exposure to toxins, and simply how we feel. Many of these elements are easily measured in quantitative forms, such as blood pressure or body mass, while other factors are more subjective and difficult to assess, like emotional health or energy levels. Whether you are a “by the numbers” person, or tend to judge your wellness levels by how your body looks and feels, it is important to be informed about how your body is functioning, areas where you can improve, and practices that will help you maintain good health.
Obstacles that impede wellness in our modern society
In addition to personal risk factors (both in and out of our control), we face an onslaught of challenges to our health simply because of the world we live in. In our modern society, high-stress jobs and jam-packed schedules that leave little time for exercise and quality sleep have become the norm. We have endless access to processed foods and are accustomed to a diet that lacks many of the important nutrients our bodies need for good health. The products that we use may increase our exposure to toxins, further endangering our health. As mentioned, health status is based on many different factors, some of which we can control and others we cannot, but living in today’s world presents extra challenges for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What happens when daily nutrient requirements are not met?
For those who think that daily diet doesn’t have a serious bearing on how your body functions and feels, it is important to point out the possible negative effects of not meeting daily nutrient requirements. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to more serious issues, or make existing conditions worse. Depending on the type of deficiency, the body may suffer from a wide range of problems including fatigue, weak bones, threats to cardiovascular health, and more. Every time you consume the proper amount of a vitamin or mineral, it provides specific benefits to your body. Therefore, when those nutrients are missing, it can cause adverse effects because the body isn’t receiving the resources it needs to function properly.
So, what is the solution? For many, supplementation is a useful way to provide the body with adequate vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can be used to support healthy function. Let’s face it we usually take better care of our cars or homes than we do our own bodies. Just like a car we need to maintain ourselves. I’m sure you see that if you don’t put the proper fuel in your car, or change the oil at regular intervals, or replace the brakes and windshield wipers you place the health of your car in jeopardy. And while it may continue to operate it will fail sooner because it wasn’t maintained properly. Well, it is the same for you. You may feel fine, however, if you’re not doing all the things necessary to maintain your health you will fail sooner rather than later.
Why take supplements?
While the use of dietary supplements is a widely debated topic (and has been for years), the fact remains that many people are not receiving the nutrients their bodies need through food alone. As is evident by the information above, while there are many food sources that provide vitamins and minerals, many American adults are falling short in their daily nutrient requirements.
For many people, overall health would improve by making dietary changes, removing stress, exercising a few times each week, getting adequate sleep and the list goes on and on. However, making these changes isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Unfortunately, our health often takes a back seat to other tasks like taking care of our families, work, and just keeping up with everyday demands. Rather than simply falling short in maintaining good health, many people turn to dietary supplements to help promote better overall wellness.
It is important to note that supplements are not a substitute for exercise and healthy eating, but can help promote a healthy body when used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. In addition to satisfying nutritional deficiencies that may be lacking in our modern diets, many people choose to supplement as they combat personal health issues. Some supplements are designed to support heart health, while others are useful for promoting healthy bones. With a wide variety to choose from, many people choose to take supplements to help them address specific health concerns. For others, supplements provide a healthy way to handle the aging process. As is expected, many individuals notice that they feel different as they age, and choose to use supplements to promote overall wellness as the body goes through these changes.
Whether you are using supplements to make up for nutrient deficiencies, to combat personal health concerns, to help with concerns about aging, or just to round out a healthy lifestyle, they can be useful for a variety of people throughout different stages of life. The number of American adults who are not reaching their daily nutritional requirements for specific vitamins and minerals is staggering. At 94 percent and 95 percent, most American adults are not reaching their daily requirements for vitamins D and E. Nearly half of Americans (or more) do not fulfill nutrient requirements for magnesium, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin C.
One last note about maintaining your health. I have found that herbalists, along with massage therapy, chiropractic care and even acupuncture, in addition to everything mentioned in this article can be of significant benefit too.
To sum it up, remember that your gut is your 2nd brain and if it is not functioning properly and not digesting your food completely your not getting the nutrients needed. And you have a choice, because it’s your body to be healthy or not. There is no quick fix and no magic potion only proper care.