Tipping the Scales: Understanding the Complexities and Root Causes of Weight Gain
For many, the climb to achieving weight loss is thwarted by unending plateaus and unsurmountable summits. The journey can be discouraging and confusing—and far more complex than simple arithmetic, i.e., weight loss = less calories consumed + more calories expended. Balancing—and shifting—energy input (calorie consumption) and energy output (calorie expenditure) is impacted not only by diet and exercise, but also by a host of biological factors including genetic composition, age, metabolic and thyroid abnormalities, hormonal imbalances, nutrient malabsorption, and lifestyle influences such as sleep and stress.
At the heart of the energy equation is the calorie—how it’s consumed, how it’s stored, and how it’s utilized and expended. Simply put, a calorie is a unit measuring the amount of energy released from food when it’s digested and absorbed. Calories primarily come from three main macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. A gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrate each yield four calories worth of energy, while each gram of fat yields nine calories of energy. These calories fuel the daily activities in which we engage—including essential bodily functions such as breathing, growing and repairing cells, and circulating blood. The more calories a food has, the more energy it provides. When we consume more calories than our body needs, our body stores these excess calories as fat.
Diet and exercise are the most visible factors impacting the balance of caloric consumption and expenditure. A healthy diet comprises nutrient-rich foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, and legumes high in vitamins and minerals) and limits starchy, fatty, and sugary foods; these foods are high in empty calories—calories that do not have any added nutritional value. Although our body burns calories at rest, remaining calories are expended by engaging in exercise and activity. When we expend more calories than we’ve consumed, we create a caloric deficit and lose weight. However, it’s important to note that tipping the scales of weight loss is far more complex than a simple computation of caloric intake (diet) minus caloric expenditure (exercise).
Several factors—less visible and more elusive than diet and exercise—significantly impact our propensity for weight loss. Metabolism, age, genetics, thyroid dysfunction, and hormone imbalances impacting fat breakdown and blood sugar levels all influence how our bodies maintain weight—and are often interconnected. “The factors impacting weight are very much connected,” says Health Coach Kendra Eisenbraun of Anodyne’s Pain & Wellness Solutions Clinic in St. George, Utah.“Even just one factor alone—such as stress or a lack of sleep—can trigger a negative cycle of habits that perpetuate a patient’s weight gain.” The key, Eisenbraun shares, is to methodically and thoroughly examine every aspect of a patient’s life—from diet and exercise to sleep patterns, relationships, and even career choices—to determine the root cause of weight issues. Additionally, testing—including blood, stool, and hormone testing—provides the opportunity to examine and address weight factors that exist below the surface.
For example, hormones play a significant role in weight shifts. While some hormones regulate the breakdown and storage of fat, others regulate metabolism. Specifically, the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate our metabolic rate. When the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, a number of health issues—including weight gain—can arise. Issues also can arise when insulin levels are chronically elevated. Insulin enables our cells to take in blood sugar for energy or storage based on our body’s needs at the time. As the body’s main fat storage hormone, insulin also directs fat cells to store fat and prevents fat from being broken down. Another hormone imbalance that can contribute to weight issues is cortisol. Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is nicknamed “the stress hormone” because it’s released when our body senses stress. High cortisol levels can lead to weight gain.
Metabolism is also intrinsically linked to weight in that metabolism influences our body’s basic energy needs and is the process by which our body converts what we consume into energy. In effect, our metabolism controls how much of that energy our body uses. Several factors influence our metabolism including our body size and composition (greater muscle mass burns more calories at rest); our gender (men tend to have more muscle mass than women and so tend to have higher metabolisms than women); and our age (metabolic rates tend to decrease with age). Weight gain as we age is universal and is primarily attributed to a decrease in lean body mass and physical activity level. Subsequently, our body decreases the amount of energy (i.e., calories) it expends while at rest or active—resulting in weight gain. Genes also play a role. Genes may affect the amount of fat our body stores as well as where our body stores that excess fat.
Tipping the Scale
Today, says Eisenbraun, healthcare providers recognize the complexity and multiple dimensions of weight management. “We’ve learned to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us,“ says Eisenbraun. “And, we’ve learned what’s good for one patient, isn’t necessarily good for another. For this reason, treating each case individually is necessary.” Increasingly, patients who have exhausted resources of traditional weight loss services are participating in doctor-assisted, weight loss programs. At Anodyne’s St. George, Utah clinic, patients begin their program by meeting with Dr. Justin Lane, DACM, LAC to examine life factors and to determine appropriate testing. Patients then have access to a team of collaborative providers—from health coaches to acupuncturists—who work together to drill down and address the underlying complications responsible for a patient’s weight issues.
“After really analyzing lab work and getting down to the root cause of weight gain, with great effort and hard work, patients are seeing remarkable results,” says Eisenbraun. “Our clinic’s ‘Win Board’ shares one amazing story after the next. Patients who, for years, have been unable to lose weight are hitting their weight loss goals half through the program. And, patients are not only seeing weight changes but share that they also see improvement in their energy levels, mood, and quality of sleep.”
To learn more about Anodyne Pain & Wellness Solutions’ collaborative and holistic approach to patient weight loss visit https://anodynepain.com/ today.
Whether you’re struggling to diagnose a chronic pain condition or you’re pursuing wellness treatments to stay healthy and feel great, we’re here to support you at every step of your health care journey.