Wouldn’t it be nice to start 2017 without thinking about going on a diet? Without facing the prospect of denying yourself all the food you crave? Without feeling miserable?
Over the last 20 years, I have recognised that a by-product of the work I do to help fertility is that many clients seem to lose weight. But, and I stress, this is a side-effect and not the main focus of what I do. I take an Health At Every Size (HAES) approach to weight however, and will never care or ask you about or focus on your BMI – I’m only going to be interested in if you’re happy, enjoying your life, and have a joyous relationship with food and exercise which makes you metabolically healthy. It doesn’t matter what the shell is like, only what the insides are doing – at every level. Metabolic health is the key factor and skinny women are just as, if not more likely, to be metabolically unhealthy as fat women. As the years have passed and my focus has narrowed to complex and Autoimmune disease (of which PCOS is one, alongside other conditions such as Endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage, multiple failed IVF cycles, Urticaria or Allergies, Lupus, Lichen Sclerosus and Ulcerative Colitis for example), it has become more and more obvious that the connection between the treatment that I am giving and the results I am getting lies in addressing the issue of inflammation.
Let me ask you some questions:
- Do you lose weight when you diet, but the second you have even one meal which isn’t perfect, all the weight seems to go back on?
- Do you yo-yo? One week lots of weight loss, then the next week nothing at all?
- Do you bloat up (not just your middle but your arms, legs, breasts and even face) so that from one day to the next you look different and are forced to choose your clothes according to which size fits?
- Do you stack on weight around your middle, tops of your thighs, back of your upper arms and under your jawline?
These to me are classic signs of inflammation. They require not an act of will to lose weight, but a deeper understanding and treatment of the hormonal and metabolic interaction in your body, gut and brain. If you can re-educate your brain, repopulate your gut, and re-programme your hormonal and metabolic responses, then you improve your body’s ability to regulate weight gain and speed up your metabolism. I think the first best way to do this is through joy – joyous eating, joyous movement, joyous acceptance and appreciation for your body. But the road to joy and the body is often a hard one. Reaching out for help around this, and the research behind what I’m saying, is a good place to start. Nicola Salmon, who runs Fat Positive Fertility, is someone I’d recommend working with to help you find your joy and put down the fat-phobic structure that you may have taken on as a result of living in our society. This will reduce your inflammatory levels far more than not eating a donut which brings you joy!
There are a number of studies (here and here for example) which show a long-term correlation between weight gain and inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP); when the tracked weight was lost, the CRP markers decreased. If your brain has immediately gone to weight gain and given you an image of a fat person though, then ask yourself why? Weight gain happens to everyone of all sizes at times in our lives. People living in smaller bodies often have inflammation which is less visible, but is nevertheless very much there.
But, why does inflammation happen? When you gain weight, the fat cells in your body stretch. And, they leak as they stretch. This leak causes an inflammatory reaction which causes immune cells called macrophages to be driven to the site of the leak to try and mop up and decrease the immune and inflammatory response. But, in their reactivity, they can also release further inflammatory chemicals into the tissues they are cleaning up. The body tries to offset this response, by producing more anti-inflammatory chemicals, and these in turn interfere with the function of a hormone called Leptin (read more about this in a previous blog). And, the function of leptin? Simply put, Leptin helps you to recognise when you are full (better portion control), and helps your body convert your food to energy rather than storing it as fat.
Let’s talk about shame.
Common patterns in inflammation and weight-gain:
- Easting too many simple carbs
- Eating lots of sugar
- Skipping meals
- Yo-yo dieting
- Fasting and binging on food
- Feeling bad about your relationship with food
- Always feel hungry
- Never eating to satiation unless it is associated with junk or ‘bad’ food
If you recognise yourself in the patterns I describe above, then the first place to start is to understand the relationship between the emotion of shame, and the impact of this emotion on inflammation. It’s not the food I’m interested in when I see clients doing this, but supporting them to look at why their relationship with food or their bodies has led them down this road. And, using the HAES approach help clients to understand that these patterns are most often directly caused by dieting. Dieting leads to bingeing and not listening to your hunger cues and this perpetuates a cycle of shame, weight gain, additional adipose tissue and inflammation. So the solution is not to stop doing this – those behaviours in themselves are symptoms – but to look at how society views fat people and understand the impact of this judgement and phobia on you. Fat and weight are neutral things; it is society which brings prejudice and shame to the table.
The result of this shame is an increase in inflammatory responses, messed up leptin levels, and aggravated insulin resistance. There will also be fundamental, but not irreversible, changes to the bacteria in your gut. I’ve written about this before in my blog; if the bacteria in your gut isn’t optimal, you will gain weight easily, and struggle to keep it off, leading to poorer metabolic health.
People who aren’t nourishing themselves tend to also be subject to leaky gut. This is a phrase which is bandied about a lot, but what it really means is that the lining of the gut has become damaged (remember, 60% of your body’s immune system lies directly under this lining) and allowed this barrier which is supposed to deal with the toxins in your digestive tract to become leaky. Your immune system begins to attack the partially digested food particles which make their way through this leaky gut which is how you develop slow and silent but persistent food allergies which my clients are often unaware-of, but which cause massive problems. Therefore to regain optimal health, we also have to take care of your gut; healing it to heal your immune system in return.
So, let’s think about weight differently. Not as a matter of willpower. Not a matter of starving yourself. Not a matter of stress. But, instead, as a hormonal and metabolic matter – a matter of learning how to fuel the machine that is your body correctly, and no matter what the size of that body, unlearning the shame and patterns that society has imposed upon you so your inflammation levels decrease and you get a chance to re-programme your body and your brain so you feel great!
I’ll help by equipping you with the tools to change your health on a metabolic level while we treat you with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine to regulate your hormone levels, and we work on mindset and nutrition and joy. Once we are done, you’ll have the tools you’ve learnt for life and you will have to tools be able to get, and keep, yourself on track.
If you’d like to talk more about this with me, just get in touch. Give me just four months, and we can change your body and brain forever.
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