by Dr. Will Cole
With every passing year, more Americans become overweight or obese and this metabolic epidemic accounts for 21 percent of all health care costs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 1/3 of Americans are obese and another third are overweight, meaning that less than a third of us are in a normal healthy weight range. From diabetes and heart disease to cancer to debilitating arthritis, obesity is linked with an increase in almost every chronic disease plaguing western society. For the first time ever in 2011, chronic disease killed more people than infectious disease. Is this our new reality?
Of course, there are plenty of so-called solutions out there. The weight loss industry is a multibillion dollar juggernaut, offering countless ways to “get skinny quick!” with the next popular magic plan, pill, or product. So why isn’t it working? Why does the problem keep gaining on us (so to speak)? In my opinion, the problem is the desire for a quick fix or an easy and immediate solution. Of course, the truth is that there are no magic pills that will suddenly erase excess weight and restore health.
Conventional wisdom tells us that the key to weight loss is based on the rough concept of “calories in vs. calories out.” That is, if you take in fewer calories than you burn, you will win the weight loss war. Easy, right? Just eat like a rabbit, and you can look like a supermodel. But deep down, we all know this isn’t how it really works. Experience tells us that this method brings the yo-yo dieter short-term success at best. At worst, eating a low-calorie diet may not help at all, especially in those with weight loss resistance, a condition that makes weight incredibly hard to lose.
Are we doomed as a society to creep towards obesity? I don’t believe so. There is a missing link between lifestyle and a healthy body weight. As a functional medicine practitioner, my goal is to look at the underlying causes of chronic issues like weight gain and weight loss resistance, and what I know from years of experience with patients who have these problems is that there is no one reason for it, and no one solution either. As with any chronic condition, weight issues are multi-factorial. There are many pieces to the puzzle. But there is one key that I see in play again and again, especially when weight loss resistance is the problem. Here’s a clue: It has to do with the part of you where most of your immune system resides. Yep, you guessed it: your gut.
The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, and this community of critters is collectively known as the microbiome. Your body is comprised of 15 trillion human cells, and about 90 trillion bacterial cells. The bacteria in our bodies contain at least 150 times more genes than our human genome – in a way, you are more bacteria than human! And as it turns out, the composition of your microbiome has a distinct effect on how much you weight, and you influence that composition of bacteria every time you make a dietary choice.
For example, the standard Western diet, filled with refined grains, sugar, inflammatory fats (such as canola, vegetable, corn, and soybean oil) and food additives, can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can in turn lead to gut lining permeability (leaky gut syndrome). This increased gut permeability allows endotoxins from bacteria to escape the protective gut lining and circulate through the body, causing systemic inflammation. This systemic inflammation can also affect your brain (known as leaky brain syndrome), affecting the hypothalamus, which can lead to leptin resistance.
Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, is supposed to tell your brain to burn fat for energy and to tell your body when it is full, cueing you to stop eating. With leptin resistance, the brain doesn’t get the message. You store fat and stay hungry.
These are the conditions that define weight loss resistance. For some people, the struggle begins in childhood and may be triggered by a C-section birth or frequent antibiotic use. We acquire the seeds of our unique microbiomes during our trip down the birth canal, and from that moment on, our guts depend on our environments – what we eat, how often we are outside, what we are exposed to, what pets we have – to provide the diverse bacteria that keep us healthy and at an optimal weight. But when food is poor, and we are rarely exposed to the dirt and germs of the world, our beneficial bacteria may be reduced, and will be taken over by more pathogenic species. In short, our processed diets and sanitized lifestyles may come with a price tag: more chronic disease and obesity.
What can we do about this problem when the odds are against us? Fortunately, functional medicine has a solution:
- Begin by requesting comprehensive gut diagnostics to uncover underlying gut issues so you know what you are dealing with.
- Use food and natural medicines to correct yeast, fungal, parasitic, or bacterial overgrowth.
- Repair the gut mucosa with functional foods like gut-healing bone broth.
- Repopulate your own gut with friendly flora by eating more naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
- Feed your body to restore full healthy liver function for optimal detoxification, so your body can eliminate toxins properly.
Finally, always remember this: Being overweight does not cause poor health. Poor health causes weight loss resistance. Weight gain and weight loss resistance are symptoms, and weight loss alone is not the secret solution to health issues. The key to resolving weight issues is to get healthy first. Get healthy to lose weight, rather than losing weight to get healthy. This is the best and most sensible way to resolve problems like gut dysfunction and leptin resistance, which can help you finally achieve optimal health and your ideal weight.
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