HPA-axis

Skipping the Carbs Could Be Messing With Your Weight Loss Efforts

By Kim Banting, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Going low carb may sound like the answer to your weight loss issues, but the consequences could cause you to actually gain weight!  WHAT????!!!

 That’s right.  If you are one of those women who have tried or are trying a low carb diet for weight loss and it isn’t working, there may be a reason why.

The HPA-axis, or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-axis is a negative feedback loop in your body that helps manage stress of all kinds:

  • Physical stress from an injury or illness,
  • Psychological stress from having a fight with your partner or feeling anxious and
  • Metabolic stress which is not getting enough energy from food to satisfy your body’s needs (specifically for workouts).

All of these will activate the HPA-axis which is designed to protect your body from danger.  Your body wants to protect you from death at all costs, so when this system is activated, it will downregulate anything not necessary for survival like thyroid function, digestion, sex drive or fertility.

Here’s the other thing that’s going to thwart your weight loss efforts: when you restrict carbs, your thyroid function slows and your cortisol levels rise, causing weight gain around your middle. Other side effects from restricting carbs are fluctuating testosterone levels, muscle breakdown, poor immune function, low energy and impaired memory and cognitive function.  These symptoms don’t happen right away, but eventually you will begin to feel tired, spacey, moody and just generally lousy, plus your risk of getting sick will be greater.  Just wonderful.

As if that weren’t enough, we have another hormone in the mix: leptin.  Leptin is an appetite suppressant hormone.  It signals when our body has gotten enough energy from food.  However, it is influenced by insulin.  When we eat carbohydrates, we secrete insulin to make sure that the glucose moves from our blood into our cells and when insulin levels go up, it signals leptin levels to rise to tell you that you are full.  If you are eating a low carb diet, you are producing less insulin, and as a result, less leptin; therefore, no satiety signal and you may still be hungry after eating an appropriate volume of food. Leptin is also associated with our fat stores: the more fat you have, the more leptin you will produce.  So, picture this: let’s say you are fairly lean (ie: you have less than 10 lbs to lose), you don’t overeat and you are eating low carb; you may be sending stress signals to the HPA-axis telling it to downregulate because your body thinks you are starving!  This means that your metabolism will slow down, so that normal amount of food that you are eating will cause you to gain weight.  Crap!

That all being said, there are definitely carbs we want to reduce.  Refined, white flours, sugary foods and fried foods are all bad choices for our health. These foods will raise our insulin to very high levels which causes stress on the body as well.  This raises our cortisol, which increases belly fat and will also lead to poor sleep, poor concentration, low thyroid function and estrogen/progesterone imbalances.

The women who should watch their carb intake are:

  • Those with estrogen dominant conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids
  • Insulin resistance or type 2 Diabetes
  • SIBO or yeast overgrowth
  • You have more than 10 lbs to lose
  • You aren’t very active
  • You are fighting cancer
  • If you have a neurodegenerative disease

You need to eat more carbohydrates if:

  • You have difficulty sleeping
  • You have a low functioning thyroid
  • You are highly active, HIIT training, always on the go
  • Have less than 10 lbs to lose
  • You aren’t getting your period or your cycles are irregular
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding

Now, all this begs the question: how much carbohydrate should we be eating?  That isn’t an easy answer, because we all have very unique needs.  I would begin in the range of 200 grams a day and either reduce or increase based on your energy levels.  This takes time and you may need the help of a qualified nutrition coach. Always stick to whole foods and good carbohydrate choices like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beets, whole grain bread or beans and lentils.  These will help to keep your blood sugar stable, which keeps insulin levels balanced and prevents weight gain around the middle.  In fact, beans and lentils have been shown to be amazing at keeping blood sugar levels balanced not only with the meal they are consumed, but at the following meal as well.

Healthy and Happiness,

Kim

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