In many of my blog posts and FB posts, I share the latest thoughts and research on weight management with one primary focus at heart: that keeping weight off is easier than losing it.
I have discussed ad nauseam the Mediterranean Diet, low carbs-high protein diets, and the roles exercise of various types – resistance or weight training and cardio or aerobic and anaerobic training. I have discussed the various roles of various hormones and neurohormones like leptin and ghrelin.
I have noted that once you become obese your body strives to preserve its weight even if it’s extra fat it holds onto. Like the pancreas and insulin, which become dysfunctional in Type 2 diabetes and starts showing these dysfunctions in obese people who are developing metabolic syndrome, leptin receptors in the brain become less sensitive to its signals to stop eating. According to some of the research, it may take 2 years for the brain to become appropriately re-sensitized to leptin to shut down appetite. Likewise for ghrelin in the gut.
But even as I have aspired to restore common sense to discussions about weight and weight management/loss, I have continually encountered mass media’s influence on the thinking of readership that ensures that my career choice was wise:
People will latch onto all kinds of mini-factoids to create a system of thought that, like a life saver, gives them the sense that doing this one simple thing will change their world forever, and they, too, can be svelte.
Two recent articles in the respectable Washington Post (WaPo) inspired this blog. One is titled “To get a flatter belly, start getting enough sleep” and the other is titled “Can eating fat help you lose weight?”
The sleep article points to the pretty well-agreed idea that excess cortisol – a stress hormone – contributes to disturbed glucose metabolism….and lack of sleep boosts this hormone as your body compiles the stress of life with the stress of sleeplessness.
The other article posits the benefits of a ketogenic diet, one heavy on fat consumption, moderately high on protein and very low on carbs, even veggies and fruit. This is akin to the Paleo diet or Atkins diet.
Now the first article is bothersome because lack of sleep is so common in our culture, even among kids and teenagers. And obesity rates in youngsters is surely climbing.
But how do you tease out the other contributors to overweight-ness in youngsters like TV and screen time, lack of PE in schools, reduced outdoor time and spontaneous play, organized sports to presumably take the place of play time, and all the crap foods in the cupboard and frig?
With all these factors at play, even though the correlation with elevated cortisol from lack of sleep is relevant, where do we start – as parents and health care providers – in trying to help kids manage their weight?
As for the ketogenic diet, let’s face it: few people can sustain that kind of diet for the long haul. It may work physiologically and metabolically, but it is difficult to make it palatable and nutritious. And even if you can keep it up for a while, and yes, you will lose weight, it may have nothing to do with the amount of fat you eat.
It may have more to do with the total calories you don’t consume as the diet is so dang boring.
So what are the take home messages from all this chatter and media attention?
First, diet is not a kind of food or schedule of food consumption; it is part of a lifestyle, defined by your food preferences and limitations (cultural, digestive, timing, etc.)
Second, sleep is part of a lifestyle plan centered around getting rest, rest from stressors like life itself, work, family, exercise, and the news. (Sorry, I had to throw in some commentary.)
Finally, how much you eat or how much you sleep does impact how readily you gain, lose or maintain your body weight but does not, in themselves, determine it.
Your genetics and your lifestyle do.