Typically, when we want to get our weight or health back on track, we develop a plan to optimize our nutrition and make a pledge to start hitting the gym. This is a great start. Sedentary lifestyles and inappropriate food choices definitely play major roles in our nation’s obesity and health epidemics.
The problem is there are many other areas of our lives that can affect both our weight and our health.
When working with clients, I look at six key areas to identify the most glaring weaknesses and correct those first. We already touched on two of the key areas, exercise and nutrition. The other four areas are sleep, stress management, vitamin D, and social relationships.
This is arguably the most important area to fix first. One night of sleep deprivation can alter our hormones and increase our caloric intake by up to 600 calories without us even realizing it.
According to research, over the course of a week, sleep deprivation of roughly 5.5 hours per night increased caloric intake with no change in energy expenditure. It also altered the leptin and ghrelin hormones, setting the stage to promote obesity.1 Leptin is the hormone responsible for telling us when to eat and how much fat to store. Ghrelin tells us when we are hungry. Both hormones have been implicated in obesity.
All of our hormones function on a circadian rhythm controlled by a part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Our circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour cycle for our hormones. If we do not get enough sleep, our body gets confused about where we are in that cycle and our hormonal rhythms become dysfunctional.
“One night of sleep deprivation can alter our hormones and increase our caloric intake by up to 600 calories without us even realizing it.”
Our SCN controls this 24-hour rhythm by following the cycle of light and dark. The SCN knows it is night when the lights go down and it alters the hormones accordingly. However, if we are in front of too much artificial light, it can confuse our SCN to thinking it is earlier in the day and our hormones get out of whack.
If our hormones get out of sync and drive hunger cravings, we will most likely reach for foods that are not ideal for our goals. How often do you crave broccoli when you’re tired? Most of us will crave our favorite treat.
So, ditch the artificial light sixty to ninety minutes before bed or get some amber sunglasses to filter out the blue light. Make sure you are getting seven to nine hours of sleep in a completely blacked-out room. This will make sure you are recovering from workouts and help make a switch to eating real foods easier due to the decrease in hunger and cravings.
2. Stress Management
Many times in my practice, people say that exercise is their stress management. Exercise is important to help us recover from stress, but it is also a stressor itself. To balance this, we need to actively take part in activities that reduce our stress levels.
Our body is built upon a checks and balances system. We need balance between our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight) and our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest). Exercise elicits a response from our sympathetic nervous system, while activities such as mindful meditation, deep breathing, and going for a walk while listening to relaxing music elicit a response from our parasympathetic nervous system.
I just recently discovered this Brainwaves app for the iPhone. I now use it religiously and feel it helps. Magnesium salt baths at night are also a nice way to relax and recover from workouts.
3. Vitamin D
Most of us have probably heard that vitamin D helps prevent osteoporosis, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. New research also suggests that vitamin D may play a vital role in how much food we eat.
“Get your vitamin D checked twice per year and make sure the values fall between 40 to 60ng/ml.”
Researchers injected vitamin D directly into the hypothalamus of the brain of rats. These rats lost 24% of their weight with no change in physical activity and also ate three times less food.2 This research suggests to me that vitamin D may play a role as an energy homeostatic hormone in the hypothalamus by telling us how much food to eat.
All of this is important because anywhere between 40 to 75% of the population may be deficient in vitamin D. So, get your vitamin D checked twice per year and make sure the values fall between 40 to 60ng/ml.
4. Social Relationships
This is the last area, but certainly not the least important to our health and well-being. A meta-analysis looking at social relationships and overall mortality concluded by stating that social relationships are as important as other lifestyle choices, such as smoking.4 So, it’s vital to our health to spend time with family and friends.
The reason social relationships may be so important might be due to a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin may play a role as an immunoregulatory hormone. It has been shown to be released during times of infection and interact with inflammatory markers.3
“It’s vital to our health to spend time with family and friends.”
This is important to understand when undertaking a new nutritional plan. All too often people make drastic changes to their diet that can lead to social isolation. Make sure you explain to your friends, family, and coworkers why you are making changes and ask that they be supportive of your work to better your health. If you are having trouble finding supportive friends, there are plenty of communities and groups of like-minded people you could seek out to create positive social relationships.
Fix The Weak Links
When attempting to take control of your health, there are a number of areas we need to pay attention to. Exercise and nutrition are important, but so are sleep, stress management, vitamin D, and social relationships. These areas, if neglected, can lead us to eat more and have higher mortality rates.
Take a quick assessment of your life and see how you are performing in each of these areas. Fix the weakest inks and pay attention to how you look, feel, and perform. I think you will be happily surprised with the results.
You’ll also enjoy:
- Are You Sure You’re Getting Enough Vitamin D?
- It’s Time to Skip the Bedtime Wine: 6 Tips for Better Sleep
- Stress Shown to Impair Recovery From Workouts
- What’s New on Breaking Muscle Today
1. Calvin, Andrew, et.al., Abstract MP030: “Insufficient Sleep Increases Caloric Intake but not Energy Expenditure.” Circulation 2015. Retrieved on March 28, 2015.
2. Endocrine Society. “Vitamin D can lower weight, blood sugar via the brain, study finds.” Science Daily 2014. Retrieved on March 28, 2015.
3. Berczi, Istvan, et.al., “Vasopressin, Oxytocin and Immune Function“. Advances in Nueroimmune Biology 2012. Retrieved on March 28, 2015.
4. Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, et.al., “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review“. PLOS Medicine 2012. Retrieved on March 28, 2015.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.