I’m sure that the majority of hypnotherapists see more people struggling with their weight than with any other one condition, and, unlike many smoking cessation clients, there are few overweight people who don’t genuinely want to bring about changes.
Recent reports have taken task with people who have, apparently, “not helped themselves” to lose weight and they are seen as a burden on the tax payer who will pick up the medical bill for their inevitable health problems. Amusingly, I recently saw the opposite view being given: that the healthy, fit, non-smoker is likely to become the greater economic burden on society, as they keep drawing their state pension throughout their lengthy retirement!
Increasingly, however, the media seems to vilify obesity, treating Type 2 diabetes, as a self-inflicted disease and preaches to the overweight how simple the equation is:
Weight loss = eat fewer calories + burn more calories
Whilst, in theory the equation is simple, it seems that unless people have a good grasp of where those calories come from, they often become stuck in steady progression of continued weight gain that may lead to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, in the United States and UK, it’s estimated that by the time a person reaches the age of 55, 80% of them will be pre-diabetic or diabetic.
So, how has this come about? Can it just be that we are eating larger amounts and exercising less? Yes, in some cases that is what’s happened, but there is a hidden cycle that many people find themselves trapped in that makes them vulnerable to increasing weight gain despite the fact that they are eating no more calories than another person, and despite attempts at weight loss.
In our western diet, carbohydrates feature extremely highly in our regular meals and particularly in our snacks. We often build our savoury meals around potatoes, rice, pasta, bread and / or pastry; and, our desserts are packed with sugar. If you consider the snacks you consume, they rarely contain anything other than carbohydrate. Of course, carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet – in moderation, and in the correct form. It’s been the abuse of this quantity and quality rule that has led to the current epidemic.
If we look at what should happen when we eat carbohydrates, we can then see where it can go so wrong.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN?
Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates so, when we eat them, they are digested in the small intestine and enter the blood stream in their smaller molecule form as glucose.
When we’ve just eaten a meal full of carbohydrates, our blood sugar increases above the necessary level that’s required for the everyday functioning of our brain and vital organs, and triggers the pancreas to produce insulin that stores the excess glucose in the cells of our body.
Once all the excess glucose has been stashed away, the pancreas stops producing insulin until we next eat a meal. In the meantime, our energy needs can be met through the release of the stored glucose and, when that’s used up, stored fat is burned. When our blood sugar drops and a source of energy isn’t easily found within our body, we start to feel unwell, feeling tired, irritable, with poor concentration, and we usually feel the need to eat. It’s a remarkable balance that, more often than not, works perfectly.
Type 1 Diabetes is caused when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin resulting in soaring blood sugar levels that the kidneys try to deal with by removal along with urine. The symptoms are profound: insatiable thirst, weight loss, frequent urinating, blurry vision, extreme tiredness, fungal infections and slowly healing cuts and grazes.
The pathway to Type 2 Diabetes is rather more complex, and has been made far worse by eating fads of the recent decades.
In the 1980s in the United States, there was a low fat health policy that soon found its way across the Atlantic and people were encouraged to eat meals low in fat and high in carbohydrates.
In many foods that were naturally high in fat, the fat portion was replaced with bulking agents, made out of carbohydrates – take a look at “low fat yoghurts”, and you’ll see this in the labelling. Many of the carbohydrates eaten on both sides of the Atlantic were, and still are, highly processed into rapidly digested, simple starches that hit our blood stream in one enormous hit immediately after eating, creating a peak of insulin release to deal with it. The lack of fat in our diets has meant that we have missed out on the benefits of the fat as well as increasing the quantity of carbohydrates; the benefits being, the slowing of the overall digestion of a meal, leading to a gradual release of glucose into the blood stream; and also, the satisfaction of hunger pangs.
As the pattern of eating – digestion – excess blood sugar – insulin release – sugar storage, is repeated time and time again, the pancreas starts to anticipate the excess blood sugar, and produces higher and higher levels of insulin to try and deal with it. Eventually there is more insulin in the blood than is necessary, and less glucose in the blood than is required.
The stored sugar in the cells is prevented from being released by the still-present insulin and instead, we become aware of our low blood sugar through poor concentration and irritability and experience a craving for more sugars and carbohydrates. This continued low blood sugar caused by excess insulin is called “reactive hypoglycaemia”.
The presence of the insulin in the blood stream also prevents any fat being burned, and along with the accompanying tiredness and continued craving for carbohydrates, weight gain becomes almost inevitable.
Another factor starts to come into play: “adrenal fatigue”. One function of the adrenal glands on the kidneys is to sense and control the blood sugar levels in the blood. The continued attempt at balancing the levels leads to them getting tired and ceasing to function as they should. One symptom of adrenal fatigue is waking in the night craving food – it’s a life-saving mechanism that stops you from slipping into a coma due to low blood sugar when you’re asleep.
The next step in the pathway towards Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance of the cells of the body as they are constantly bathed in insulin. As the blood sugar can’t be stored in the cells as normal, the body comes up with another mechanism of storage, converting the sugar to triglycerides in the blood and storage as fat.
So now, your high insulin level has caused you to start storing sugar as fats and is preventing you from burning any fats or stored sugar, increasing your weight gain further. Your low blood sugar makes you feel continually hungry as your blood sugar is only sufficient immediately after eating.
Another difficulty experienced at this stage can be metabolic syndrome that creates a hormonal imbalance. In women, this leads to high oestrogen and testosterone levels, seen as the development of facial hair, weight gain, and thinning hair in male-pattern baldness. In men, there is an increase of oestrogen and a drop in testosterone levels, again causing weight gain seen as a beer belly and increased breast tissue.
As the body struggles to convert the blood sugar load into fat, it reaches a point when the blood sugar starts to backup. Although the pancreas is trying to produce more insulin, it’s having little effect on reducing the blood sugar and it eventually “gets tired” resulting in Type 2 diabetes.
This progression is common but not inevitable. If it was recognised that, for most people in the western world, we have consumed a lifetime’s worth of carbohydrates by the time we’re 35, and that the remainder of our years of sugar consumption are going to start putting a strain on our system, then maybe we would manage our blood sugar more effectively. Avoiding highly-processed carbohydrates and reducing the amounts that we eat, will allow us to recover our sugar / insulin balance and to start reversing the process. Carbohydrates with a low “
What can we do as hypnotherapists? We can help people understand why they’re experiencing the apparent stalemate in weight loss that leaves them feeling stranded in their bodies. We can help people deal with the cravings that they may experience along the way, to break the habits of a lifetime, and to know that they can do this and help them see why it’s important that they do so. And, we can offer them support in this world that vilifies people who really want to change, but just don’t know how.