Weight loss can be a challenging journey, it's not uncommon for people to become discouraged when the number on the scale does not budge, despite their best efforts. It is important to remember that weight loss is not always linear, and changes in the body can take time to become visible. We are going to cover some common challenges which impact body composition and weight management and discuss some of the ways we can overcome them.
Why is it that we overeat? Besides the fact we live in an 'obesogenic' environment, where external factors such as portion sizes, and accessible and cheap fast food make it so much easier to consume more, internally there are also processes working against us. Our body may not be functioning the same way it was ten years ago, and we need to treat it differently.
Leptin resistance occurs when the body becomes less responsive to the hormone leptin. Leptin is released by fat cells and signals the brain to regulate appetite and energy balance. However, prolonged exposure to high levels of leptin, sometimes due to excess body fat, can lead to decreased sensitivity of the brain to its signals.
One mechanism behind leptin resistance is the impairment of leptin receptors in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for appetite control. Continuous exposure to high levels of leptin can lead to a downregulation of these receptors, making them less responsive to the hormone. As a result, the brain does not receive the necessary signals to reduce appetite and increase energy expenditure.
Inflammation also plays a role in the development of leptin resistance. Inflammatory molecules can interfere with the normal functioning of leptin receptors, impairing their ability to transmit signals effectively. This disrupts the balance between appetite and satiety cues, leading to increased food intake and reduced energy expenditure.
It is common for those struggling with weight management to be too narrow in their focus. Body composition is affected by multiple factors, in the following we break them down and we can go about improving our lifestyle habits to help you in your journey:
Insufficient sleep can cause our bodies to produce and release less of the anabolic hormones that positively impact our body composition through muscle growth and recovery. Further, missing out on sleep can cause our body to produce more cortisol which leads to increased muscle breakdown.
High cortisol levels were associated with less healthy body composition (specifically, higher body fat and lower muscle mass levels).
Your body uses the calories you get from food to fuel your basal metabolic rate (BMR), digestion, and physical activity. When the number of calories you consume matches the number of calories you burn, your weight will remain stable. You need a calorie deficit to lose weight. Focus on eating an anti-inflammatory diet which is a well-researched approach. Among all the diets evaluated in this study, the Mediterranean diet had the strongest and most consistent evidence of an improvement in weight, body mass index (BMI), and cardiometabolic risk factors.
Building more muscle mass is one thing that can increase a person's metabolic rate. Your BMR is largely determined by your total lean mass, especially muscle mass. One of the reasons muscle cells burn more calories is that they require energy to contract and relax. This means that even when you're not moving, muscle cells are burning calories. BMR accounts for about 60% of our body's energy expenditure. So if your workout routine mainly revolves around cardio, it might be time to implement some strength training exercises for maximum results!
As you may have noticed, a problem with any one of the above can lead to a negative cycle. Ensuring that you address any shortfalls you may have in terms of balancing your lifestyle habits is a great place to start.
Research conducted at Duke University has found that nearly half of our waking habits are habitual, meaning that they are strongly ingrained in our neural pathways and feel effortless to perform. This phenomenon is known as 'behavioural economics.' Healthy habits can fall into this 45%, making them feel easy and natural to maintain, such as morning exercise for those who have established it as a routine.
Conversely, many unhealthy habits have also become part of this 45%, making them difficult to break. Habit change requires significant effort, but it's important to strike a balance, as too much effort may lead to giving up altogether. The key is to make habit change as easy and manageable as possible.
The following steps are tried and tested, they are developed and recommended by fitness and nutrition expert Amelia Phillips:
Establish a clear intention and a concrete motivation behind the desired habit change. Consider the potential benefits to yourself and others, such as improved health for the sake of being a better partner or parent. Identifying a purpose beyond personal gain can offer an added incentive.
Pinpoint the specific factors that trigger the behaviour you wish to modify. These may include location, time of day, emotional state, social environment, or a preceding action. Once identified, find ways to mitigate these triggers and facilitate positive change.
Develop a small, attainable micro habit that requires less than a minute to complete and serves as a building block for the larger habit you aim to create. This first step or two should be concise and precisely defined. The micro habit should be designed to make progress towards the ultimate goal easier.
Practice small, incremental steps toward the larger habit change, with frequent repetition. Consistency is key. Repetition builds momentum and solidifies new habits, leading to long-term success.
Plan for potential setbacks or obstacles that may arise, as even the most motivated individuals encounter stumbling blocks. Anticipating such challenges allows for the creation of a recovery plan that can quickly get you back on track.
For those seeking to deepen their commitment to weight management, biomarker tracking provides a valuable tool to aid in this pursuit. Leptin is not the only biomarker affecting weight management. The following biomarkers all play a role in body composition:
You can learn more about these biomarkers here.
Monitoring Leptin levels can serve as an effective tool to aid in weight loss, as Leptin biomarker levels decrease up to 2 months before visible weight loss occurs. By tracking certain biomarkers, you can remain motivated and focused on your weight management goals, even when the scales may not yet reflect progress. The WellBeing Test is a private finger-prick blood test that does not require a referral and is done from the comfort of your home. Learn what your blood reveals about core health areas such as energy, sleep, stress, inflammation, fitness, and body fat composition.
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