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Summer is a logical time to focus on weight loss. The start of the swimsuit  season causes many to cringe in fear. Even so, the temptation to give into those carbohydrate cravings can sometimes be overwhelming. Even when we resist temptation and stay faithful to our diets, sometimes the extra pounds refuse to go away. This can become especially frustrating, since being overweight is far more serious than a cosmetic issue. Obesity is a risk factor for type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol as well as ischemic heart disease, cognitive decline, and strokes.

The Cortisol Connection

There is little doubt that a sedentary lifestyle and eating processed and sugar filled foods contributes to overweight and obesity. However, obesity should not be considered as a simple result of overeating and lack of physical activity.
One under recognized reason for gaining unwanted kilos is excess levels of the hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex gland though when produced under continuous stress over an extended period of time, can cause health problems. The stress can be associated to the physical, environmental, chemical or emotional influences. The human brain for example is hard wired with automatic responses to protect the body from harm. It is proposed that cortisol's primary purpose is to mobilize the body's defenses against water-losing intestinal diseases (diarrhoea) and corticosterone's against serum diseases.

They do this by inversely controlling those immune cells, enzymes and hormones that affect survival during infection. These glucocorticosteroids affect fight-or-flight mobilization as an adjunct made possible because most processes that enhance immunity have a reverse effect on fight-or-flight response.

In the "fight or Flight" response, the adrenal glands enlarge and secrete large quantities of adrenal cortical hormones. These hormones suppress inflammatory responses and mobilize the body's energy reserves. This puts the body on red alert and diverts all of the body's biochemical resources to immediate survival. The body's self healing mechanisms are arrested (healing diverts energy and raw materials away from immediate survival), the immune system is suppressed, glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue are mobilized to raise the blood sugar level and digestion and assimilation are inhibited. The stomach lining becomes thin and the thymus gland and lymphatic tissue shrinks.

This "Fight or Flight" response works well when dealing with physical danger, but it is not suited for our modern lifestyle. Battling traffic, competing for parking spaces and watching the evening news produces the same physiological responses as surviving physical danger. Unfortunately, many of us have not learnt the art of consciously bringing our body’s to its balanced state easily and effortlessly.

Much research has been done on the effects of cortisol. Researchers have shown that cortisol levels and plasma levels of the appetite-controlling hormone leptin are related to each other in negative and positive environments. In other words, when cortisol decreases, leptin decreases and when cortisol rises, leptin rises. In addition, stress is the most commonly reported trigger of binge eating, and high cortisol levels correspond to both central body fat and food intake after stress. After stress, increased cortisol levels have been associated with increased food intake and no doubt associated to the serum leptin levels ultimately leading to increased weight gain.

Excess cortisol also impacts greatly on what is referred to as insulin resistance; the inability of the cells to up take glucose due to the an over responsive reaction to insulin. Since cortisol promotes the development of obesity and has a direct negative impact on insulin function throughout the body, even a modest sustained increase of cortisol production may have the potential to increase the risk of insulin resistance and ultimately increase the risk of developing diabetes II.

Adapting to stress for improved Weight Loss

As discussed, when we experience distress due to stress, our bodies respond by stimulating a number of hormone glands (endocrine system) throughout our body releasing hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that trigger the fight or flight response. This leads to the release adrenaline as well as unwarranted amounts of cortisol which ultimately change how our body's deal with the mechanisms associated to improving weight loss. Stress management therefore needs to play an important role in any weight loss program.

Fighting Stress

Cortisol is the body's chief stress fighting hormone produced by the adrenal gland and is high during periods of stress and low when relaxing. Unnaturally high levels of cortisol can result in blood sugar irregularities creating fatigue, immune system deficiencies, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Even if the original stressor disappears, the body may remain in continuous or "hyper" state of anxiety purely from the thought of that stressor.

Comfort Eating

Stress also inhibits the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects appetite, mood, learning, and memory. Carbohydrates help increase serotonin levels, producing a calming affect. It is little wonder that high-carbohydrate foods like breads, pastas, and sweets are sometimes called "comfort foods." Unfortunately these are also the culprits when eaten in excess that contribute to weight gain.

Much research has been done on this issue and from the results of the research it is suggested that there is a biological link between stress and the drive to eat. Comfort foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories seem to calm the body's response to chronic stress. In addition, hormones, such as cortisol, produced when one is under stress encourage the formation of fat cells. Using natural stress relievers as well as incorporating self relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and help control overeating and obesity.

Overweight and Obesity

To add insult to injury, research has found that high cortisol levels are linked to a tendency to store excess fat in the abdomen (rather than in the hips, thighs, and buttocks). Abdominal fat is particularly dangerous as it places a greater strain on the heart and is also associated with increased risk of cancer and diabetes. Even healthy-weight individuals who are "high-stress responders" have been found to store extra abdominal fat.

Cortisol and Insulin Resistance

The ability of elevated cortisol to promote insulin resistance may explain why high cortisol is linked to weight gain and how stress is one of the precursors to this modern day problem. Research has shown that high cortisol levels are directly associated with the increase of plasma glucose and plasma insulin concentrations. The high cortisol also increased rates of glucose production and the rate at which the body used the glucose. Stress eaters for example tend to gain more weight and have increases in nocturnal levels of insulin, cortisol and blood levels of total HDL cholesterol ratio and ultimately weight management issues.

Insulin Involvement and Weight Loss

High insulin is the enemy of dieters because insulin is critical for glucose metabolism, storage and maintenance and ultimately wasn’t meant to occur in excessive levels. When food is consumed, the digestive process converts carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar, which is absorbed into the blood stream. The pancreas releases insulin in response to blood glucose. Insulin then enters certain cells and triggers events that cause the cells to absorb glucose from the blood.

The consumption of excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar, however, can result in insulin resistance, the gradual loss of sensitivity to insulin by many tissue cells. The body responds by producing even more insulin, which results in high levels of insulin, glucose and other unabsorbed nutrients circulating in the blood stream. Because of cortisol’s ability to elevate insulin levels when normalizing cortisol levels to achieve weight loss it is also helpful to stabilize blood sugar through a reduction in carbohydrate intake.

Reduce Carbohydrates to Lose Weight

For several million years humans existed on a diet of animals and vegetation. It was only with the advent of agriculture that humans began ingesting large amounts of sugar and starch in the form of grains (and potatoes) into their diets. In more recent times with the production of foods laden with sugar and heavily processed ingredients has the problem of weight become a major problem in or communities. Indeed, 99.99% of our genes were formed before the advent of agriculture and it would appear that our biochemistry is still that of the hunter-gatherers.

While the human shift to agriculture produced indisputable gains for man from a primarily meat / vegetation diet to one high in cereals and sugars in more recent times its impact has been reflected in higher nutritional deficiencies and ultimately an increase in chronic ill health.

Contemporary humans have not suddenly evolved mechanisms to incorporate the high carbohydrates from starch- and sugar-rich foods into their diet. In short, we are consuming far too much bread, cereal, pasta, corn (a grain, not a vegetable), rice, potatoes and processed fast food with very grave consequences to our health and weight. Making matters worse, most of these carbohydrates we consume come in the form of processed food.

The fact is that 65% of Australians are overweight and 27% are clinically obese. In a nation that in the past had pride in its sports, sun, surf and exercise its seems quite ironic that we have become as a nation addicted to sesame seed buns for that hamburger, with a side of french fries and a coke. No wonder our children are over weight . Why is it that so many Australian adults do not understand how their actions are not only causing immediate short term weight gain problems but ultimately poor health in the future.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, chances are very good that the excess carbohydrates in your body are, in part or whole, to blame:
Excess weight
Fatigue and frequent sleepiness
Brain fogginess
Low blood sugar
High blood pressure
High triglycerides
We all need a certain amount of carbohydrates but its through our addiction to grains, potatoes, sweets and other starchy and sugary foods that we are consuming far too many. The body's storage capacity for carbohydrates is quite limited. Keeping the issue of excess consumption really simple what happens is excess carbohydrates are converted via insulin into fat and stored in the adipose, or fatty, tissue.

Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates generates a rapid rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers the glucose. Insulin is essentially a storage hormone evolved over those millions of years of humans prior to the agricultural age to store the excess calories from carbohydrates in the form of fat in case of famine.

Insulin, stimulated by the excess carbohydrates in our overabundant consumption of grains, starches and sweets, is responsible for all those bulging stomachs and fat rolls in thighs and chins.

Even worse, high insulin levels suppress two other important hormones called glucagons and growth hormones that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively. So insulin from excess carbohydrates promotes fat, and then wards off the body's ability to lose that fat.

Excess weight and obesity lead to heart disease and a wide variety of other diseases. But the ill effect of grains and sugars does not end there. They suppress the immune system, contributing to allergies, and they are responsible for a host of digestive disorders. They contribute to depression, and their excess consumption is, in fact, associated with many of the chronic diseases in our nation, such as cancer and diabetes.

So What Now?

Without being too specific, the diet below is an excellence guide line and a great place to start for those really committed to not only loosing weight but wanting good health. So lets start!

Foods you can eat below can be eaten in any combination as long as two meals in a day have protein (about 30%). Eat three times a day and if hungry have a small amount of fruit suggested below only between meals. There is no particular menu plan. Eat flavors and amounts to your desire though if you have a tendency to eat large portions reduce them by 25% to ease the digestive load…..Do not miss a meal and take time to have breakfast preferably with a small amount of protein such as eggs or chicken, etc….as a part of that meal. Include well steamed vegetables such as zucchini & carrot for their high fibre and important base line carbohydrate content.

These foods should be avoided for time on the program.


Foods to Avoid

Fresh fruit juices or packaged juices

Breads that include yeast, wheat and rye
Dairy products (except butter)
Apples, pears grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, prunes, dates or any dried fruit.
Wine, champagne and beer
No fermented foods, such as Miso and tofu
Wheat, Oatmeal and rye: You will find these in crackers, cereal, breads and pasta.
Avoid salt.
Absolutely NO SUGAR in any form
No honey, molasses or maple syrup.
Avoid Aspartame (NutraSweet, Sweet-N-low)
Tea or coffee, caffeine-free or herbal teas (except those mentioned)
Tomato or Barbecue sauce.
Avoid raw and cold foods (except salads)
Absolutely no vinegar, mustard and mayonnaise in salad dressings
No canned or fried foods.
Avoid refrigerated leftovers, especially meat as they can become damp and mouldy overnight


These foods should chosen as you preference foods for time on the program.


Foods to Eat

Liquids Bottled / Purified / Filtered Water. Peppermint and chamomile tea only

Lemon juiced squeezed in water (cold/hot)

Juices Freshly squeezed vegetable juices from the list below Cranberry juice (unsweetened). Wheatgrass juice.
Fruit: (to be eaten between meals only) Coconut Lemons

Honeydew Melon

Guava Mango Papaya
Vegetables & Salad Items Asparagus Avocado

Alfalfa sprouts

Broccoli Bamboo shoots Baby Spinach
Brussels Sprouts Beans (string, etc) Bean Sprouts (all types)
Carrot Chicory Cabbage
Celery Pumpkin


Cucumbers (all types) Chives Cauliflower
Capsicum (red or green) Green Beans Lettuce (all types)
Mung Sprouts Onions Parsley
Radishes Spinach Sweet Potato
Summer Squash Shallots Tomato
Turnips Turnips Zucchini
Grain and Flour Brown Rice (boiled) Barley (boiled)  


Breads: Barley Bran Bread Corn breads

Rice Bread

Unleavened (yeast free) breads
Herbs and Spices Fresh and / or dried herbs and spices of all types. Garlic Italian Herb mixes
Rosemary Mixed spices Turmeric
Meats and Protein Beef Chicken Eggs
Fish including Tuna, salmon, cod, sea bass, trout, etc Lamb Turkey
Salmon Veal  
Nuts, Seeds and dips All seeds Brazil Nuts Cashews (Raw)
Flax Seeds (Linseed) Hommos Pecans Nuts
Flavourings, Cooking Oils,  Sweeteners & Spreads Natural Chicken Stock Butter (dairy only) Avocado oil
Olive Oil Linseed (Flax) Seed Oil  

So what happens now that you have lost the desired weight?


If this diet has made a difference to your health, your weight and your sense of wellbeing then your on the right track to a healthy and vital life-style. From here you could remain on the diet and leave it at that. Or, if you feel you need to increase your carbohydrate intake you can do so only in relation to how good you feel and if you weight remains the same as the reduction you have just achieved.


Should I consider supplements?


The discussion of supplements in regards to weight loss has always and will most probably in the future be a discussion of contention amongst experts in nutrition and health alike. Personally, in my experience, is if an individual requires the support of supplements to make a choice for better health then the investment is worthwhile.

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