Beyond Calories

I’m continuing to build on my two previous posts regarding obesity. In my last one, I discussed the outdated approach of “eat less, exercise more” and advocated looking for other connections to obesity mentioned in Time magazine’s special obesity issue such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder.

An important item to add to the above list is hormones. You might ask what do they exactly have to do with our weight? In The Schwarzbein Principle II, Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. provides straight-forward, user-friendly information on the role three major hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin) and minor ones (growth hormones) play in our weight.

Insulin and growth hormones are used for rebuilding your body’s biochemicals while adrenaline and cortisol use up your body’s biochemicals: “The ideal is to have all you regeneration reactions in balance—what you use up, you rebuild. Since your hormones determine how your body regenerates, you need to balance the hormones that use up your biochemicals and the hormones that rebuild your biochemicals to keep these reactions in balance.”  Schwarzbein reminds us all hormones work together; for ease of understanding she considers the actions of the each hormone alone.

Thus, it’s a question of balance. Think back to when you were a kid, and with a friend, you tried to balance on a seesaw—keeping your feet off the ground. Not always an easy thing to do. Now think about keeping your body’s hormones in balance: “If you use up your biochemicals faster than your body can rebuild them, you are destroying your metabolism and accelerating your aging process. Therefore, you do not want to use up your biochemicals more than you can rebuild them for too long.”

For a brief example of how “rebuilding” and “using up” hormones interact, take a look at adrenaline/cortisol (“using up”) and insulin (“rebuilding”): “If the ratio of your adrenaline/cortisol levels is higher than your insulin levels, you will use up your biochemicals faster than you can rebuild them, especially if your insulin levels are low or normal. If the ratio of adrenaline/cortisol is lower than your insulin levels, you will rebuild your biochemicals faster than you can use them up, especially if your adrenaline/cortisol levels are low or normal.”

Schwarzbein continues: “If you chronically diet, overexercise, ingest too many stimulants and are under too much stress, you will use up you functional, structural and energy (including storage) biochemicals faster than you can rebuild them. If this were to go unchecked, you would not survive.”

Now, how does the “eat less, exercise more” approach hold up?

I used a number of quotes today. One of the purposes is for providing information, and another is to show how readable and user-friendly Schwarzbein’s writing is. By telling her own story as well as those of some of her patients, Schwarzbein creates a connection with the reader—“That’s me.” I highly recommend her work especially for an alternative perspective on our diet-crazed nation her books provide.

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