We've already discussed how certain behavioural components (including nutrition) can have some impact on body weight. However, if the solution to weight management was as simple as just eating healthier and modifying specific lifestyle elements, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post!
In our previous blog post, we talked about how managing body weight is not as simple as ‘calories in’ versus 'calories out’. As noted, the problem with this equation is that it implies that diet and exercise are the only two things that influence body weight. In fact, we know that body weight is also affected by a whole host of other factors that we may or may not have much control over.
So what else affects body weight?
This is an area that often gets neglected when talking about weight. If you have poor quality sleep or inadequate sleep duration (whether it’s medically driven like with sleep apnea or related to other factors like pain), this plays a significant role in our overall health, how you feel, and how your body manages weight.
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing is disrupted or paused on multiple occasions while sleeping. This affects how the body transports oxygen to our vital organs. Did you know that having sleep apnea can increase your risk of having a heart attack, developing high blood pressure, and can affect your mood or cognition? Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, falling asleep during the day, irritability, and poor concentration (amongst others). If you suspect that you have sleep apnea (or possibly your partner has elbowed you one too many times in bed), speak to your family doctor about getting screened.
While sleep apnea can affect sleep quality and duration, it’s important to consider these factors separately themselves. Sleep is a necessary state that the body must experience on a daily basis to restore and rejuvenate itself. So when you don’t sleep well or you don’t sleep long enough, the hormonal balance in your body can be impacted. Not only can you feel slightly ‘off’ and fatigued during the day, this can change hormones that can increase your appetite and food cravings. You may also feel too exhausted to engage in physical activity, which may negatively impact your health and overall well-being.
Who isn’t stressed? How many times has your healthcare provider suggested ‘reducing stress’ as a solution for a plethora of health issues? Well, if it was that easy to fix, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We’re not going to lecture you about the importance of reducing stress. BUT…we will tell you about how stress can affect weight (because that relationship isn’t always crystal clear). Hormones again! We seem to talk a lot about those, don’t we? Specifically, we want to tell you a little bit about cortisol (otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’). Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol mainly helps your body switch into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode when it needs to, but it also assists in metabolism, the release of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream, regulating blood pressure, controlling sleep cycles, and boosting energy to help you manage stressful times. Unfortunately, when you're under constant stress, there is no ‘off switch’ for cortisol and it goes into overdrive. This can lead to a number of health concerns, including increased hunger and food cravings that can lead to gradual weight gain.
Have you ever felt hungrier when taking a specific medication? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your clothes are starting to feel more snug? Have you ever felt more intensified food cravings when starting a new medication? It’s not in your head. Many medications can affect how the body manages appetite, cravings, and body weight in response to hormonal influences. Just to name a few, if you take certain contraceptives, steroid products, or medications to manage your mood, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider about the impact of these medications on your weight and whether there are more ‘weight neutral’ alternatives. Please remember never to stop medications on your own without first speaking to your healthcare provider.
When thinking about body weight, the environment is not usually an obvious consideration. How can everyday surroundings possibly affect your weight? Well, it’s complicated because there are so many sub-factors to consider. Let us list a few:
Food marketing and advertising (TV commercials, billboards, food packaging)
Convenience: Multiple fast food and restaurant locations, meal service delivery apps, online grocery shopping and delivery, standard inclusion of cup holders in vehicles
Where you live: Urban versus rural living (location and accessibility to grocery stores, restaurants, etc)
Where you work: Do you eat at your desk alone or in the lunchroom with colleagues? Do you work with or around food? Are you able to take meal breaks? Do your colleagues frequently bring treats to the workplace?
Who you live with/household triggers: Does your family like to snack in the evening while watching TV? Do you have a variety of high calorie foods that are easily accessible at home?
Socioeconomic Status & Food Security
Eating well is not typically viewed as cheap or attainable for everyone. Social status, upbringing, and finances can all play a major role in the quality and accessibility of food in the diet. Even the interpretation of ‘healthy eating’ can vary considerably from person to person. It’s important to recognize that everyone has their own unique viewpoint based on their own real life experiences. For example, an individual may not routinely eat fresh vegetables because they are (1) too costly, (2) not enjoyed (possibly related to cooking preparation, childhood exposure, etc), or (3) not attainable or available (lack of accessibility to fresh produce at food banks, living in extreme northern climates, etc).
SO NOW WHAT?…
The purpose of today’s post was to help shed light on the big picture when it comes to managing weight, including many of the factors that are not nutrition focused. We discussed how sleep, stress, medication, food environments, socioeconomic status and food security all play a role in influencing weight and food decisions. After reading all of our previous blogs on managing weight, it should be quite apparent that body weight is driven by a variety of factors (many of which we can’t control). What should also be obvious is how complex weight management has become. If you've only ever really focused on food, it might be time to consider some of these other factors too.
The solution isn’t simple, but having the right support in navigating this complex realm is vital!
In support of your endeavours,
Adam, Sarah, and Stephanie