It doesn't matter how much you exercise or how strictly you control your caloric intake - if the following seven barriers are not removed from your path, you will constantly fail in pursuing your health, wellness, or performance goals. But if these barriers are removed, your energy levels will soar, your fat-burning efficiency will explode, and you'll literally add years (quality years!) to your life.
1. Neurotransmitter Deficits
The body has several neurotransmitters that are actively involved in control of appetite and mental motivation. Dopamine is your body's pleasure molecule, acting to significantly affect desire for activity, eating satisfaction and food cravings. Inadequate dopamine increases the chances that you will have a decreased drive to exercise and be less effective at regulating your nutritional intake. Serotonin plays a significant role in the regulation of sleep, mood, and appetite. If serotonin levels are too low, one result is carbohydrate and sugar cravings, since these nutrients actually increase productin of serotonin. Another result is sleep loss, since low serotonin results in low melatonin levels, and melatonin is necessary for deep sleep. Low levels of another neuorotransmitter, GABA, can result in mood swings, sleep loss, anxiety, and lack of self-control. So what causes low levels of these key neurotransmitters? Stress, and lack of sleep. This makes for a vicious cycle, as you will see from barriers 2 and 3.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is secreted in response to repetitive negative stress. Although there are many harmful results from elevated cortisol levels, some of the more common effects include high blood pressure, decreased blood sugar regulation, a suppressed immune system, depression, anxiety, and excess fat around the mid-section. Not only can this subtract significant years from your life, but the high levels of the stress molecules released in conjunction with cortisol, called catecholamines, can decrease testosterone levels and sex drive. If you are the type of person who has difficulty with breathing throughout the day, has constant hectic deadlines or work projects, feel "spread too thin", and do not have time to relax until the wee evening hours, then you need to re-evaluate your lifestyle. Is *it* really that important?
3. Lack of Sleep
This is one of the easiest barriers to remove, but most people seem to place more importance on a favorite TV show, website, or unhealthy obsession with excessive exercise. Undercutting your necessary sleep by even one hour per night can decrease insulin sensitivity, decrease leptin levels, and increase ghrelin levels - all of which can severely affect your appetite and metabolism, thus increasing your propensity towards fat storage, diabetes, and obesity, among other chronic metabolism-related diseases. Furthermore, lack of sleep can increase cortisol levels, decrease key neurotransmitter levels, and give your body inadequate rest and recovery for muscle tissue and organ repair. Not giving your body from 7-9 hours of sleep a night is the equivalent of parking your car in a hailstorm every night. The long term effect is a battered and broken down body.
4. Nutritional Issues
There are two main considerations with nutrition. Lack of fruits and vegetables is the top deficit I observe in most diets. The resultant mineral and vitamin deficiencies can drastically depress beta-oxidation, which is the body's primary fat burning mechanism. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you have per day? If you don't know, the answer is probably not enough. The second problem I frequently observe is consumption of foods that cause an allergenic response. Depending on the individual, frequent food sensitivities include allergies to dairy, wheat, eggs, and soy. Although you may not have always been sensitive to such foods, a long-term allergenic response by the body causes a consistently increased immune system response, and eventually the body begins to experience noticeable changes, such as chronic inflammation and joint pain, mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, bloating, and headaches. Simply removing the offending foods from the diet can result in significant positive changes within a one to two week period.
5. Thyroid Function
Hypothryoidism, or low levels of active thyroid hormone, are consistently low in individuals who experience chronic stress, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition. This condition manifests itself with a depressed metabolism, skin problems, depress, chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel. Iodine is a major necessity for production of thyroid hormone, and high levels can be found in seafood. Including fish as a regular part of your diet can assist with hypothyroidism, but caution should be taken to avoid high consumption of seafood, due to consistently dangerous levels of mercury and PCB's. Increasing sleep and decreasing stress would be the best alternative.
Our bodies are constantly barraged by environmental toxins, primary found in processed and packaged foods, artificial sweeteners, pesticides and herbicides, industrial cleaners and chemicals, and even water. Since your body stores toxins in fat cells, one way the body deals with toxins is to increase fat cell production and storage. Another mechanism is decreased thryoid function, which can slow the metabolism by up to 30%, thus decreasing toxin damage. To avoid this "double-whammy" response, invest primarily in organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, non-chemical sweeteners, natural cleaning solutions, and a good water filter.
Insulin resistance is probably one of the most serious problems I encounter on a regular basis in my clients. Through constant consumption of refined sugars, processed flours, soda, high fructose corn syrup, energy bars, just plain "too much food" and chronic stress, our body's pancreas is forced to produce huge amounts of insulin, which takes the sugar and forces it into the cells and liver, where it is either used as energy or converted to fat. Constantly high levels of insulin overstimulates the body's insulin receptors and leads to insulin insensitivity and eventual resistance, resulting in an inability to burn fat cells, low blood sugar, joint and gut inflammation, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and obesity. One of the most effective changes you can make to defuse this ticking time bomb is to stop your daily consumption of scones, sweet coffee drinks, muffins, soda, bread, pasta, and fast food, while stepping up consumption of lean proteins, nuts, legumes, beans, fruits and vegetables.
If you found yourself reviewing this list and thinking about making these changes, you fit into the minority. Most people simply laugh, say "Impossible!", and continue in their daily routine of self-destruction. How much better would your life be if you had triple the energy, alertness, mental clarity, and physical performance that you currently have? How would it feel if this included a more toned and lean body? Does that make the decision easier? Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results...
(Originally published 2006-10-09)