Challenges with weight management are too often regarded as personal failures. Too heavy? Eat less! Exercise more! Too thin? Eat more! Lift weights! Our cultural habit of weight-shaming isn’t just unhelpful, it can be extremely harmful. Weight management is most assuredly not as simple as “eat less, exercise more”.
Sometimes body weight is an indicator of an underlying health issue, and when that is the case, it’s key to sleuth out the causes and help the body return to homeostasis (healthy balance). Fat–burning and muscle–building habits in the body rely on intricate interplay between the nervous and endocrine systems; it’s not about fault, it’s about physiology! The good news is, we have the ability to change the messages our nervous system is sending to improve our overall health.
Homeostasis is achieved through electrical and chemical messages. It’s the nervous system’s job to handle all those electrical messages. To help us better understand what’s happening in the nervous system, it’s broken down into smaller systems. The Central Nervous System (CNS) is comprised of the brain and spinal cord, it controls functions and responds to stimuli. The CNS responds to stimuli because the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) links the CNS to all our sensory organs. The PNS is even further broken down into the Somatic Nervous System (SNS), which is the major player in causing muscles to contract, and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Because we all love a good flowchart, the ANS has been broken down even further and this is key, because this is where it communicates with the endocrine system.
The parts of the ANS are the sympathetic (arousing) and parasympathetic (calming) and they work in opposition to one another like the body’s cruise control. Once the cruise control is set, it works automatically to engage the gas pedal or the brakes of the vehicle. When those pedals are engaged, chemicals are required to finish their jobs – oil, gas, brake fluid – in the body, those chemicals are produced by the endocrine system in the form of hormones.
The endocrine system consists of glands and the glands secrete hormones, which are chemical messengers. The glands are body parts such as the pituitary, hypothalamus, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and testes. The hypothalamus resides in the brain and connects the nervous and endocrine systems. So, for example, when the nervous system sends the message “danger!”, the endocrine system responds immediately with adrenaline, which is tantamount to flooring the gas pedal. Among other things, the hormones of the endocrine system rule behavior, metabolism, and signals such as hunger and satiety.
As a picture of how these systems work together to control the body’s responses to its environment becomes clear, it’s apparent that if the nervous system is not functioning optimally, the endocrine system won’t, either. When the message that there’s been plenty of food fails, leptin, the body’s satiety hormone, doesn’t show up properly, and hunger persists. There’s evidence that the CNS is closely involved in insulin absorption and regulation. Those are just two examples in a galaxy of neurotransmitters and hormones creating homeostasis.
So how can an individual maintain or regain healthy nervous and endocrine systems? First, diet is key. Not only is it important to eat a lot of nourishing foods, but avoiding highly processed foods will help, too. Seek out fresh, organic vegetables and fruits in lots of different colors and shapes. Local is best, because as food travels, it begins to lose its nutrient value through a process known as respiration. When consuming animal products, look for those that were raised humanely (truly, it affects the level of nutrients!3) and organically. The nervous system loves good quality fats – nuts, fatty fish, avocados, eggs, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds are good sources. As much as is possible, avoid all added sugars. Sugar is inflammatory, addictive, and devoid of nutrients.
Next, stay hydrated! Every chemical process in the body is pegged to water. Aim for half your body weight in ounces on an ordinary day, more on very hot days or when exercising.
Develop good stress management habits. Modern humans are often stuck in the sympathetic portion of the ANS. Recall that’s the arousal mode, or what is commonly known as “fight or flight”. Our nervous systems should move fluidly between the sympathetic and parasympathetic modes throughout each day. Frequent or intense stress puts that fluidity is at risk, making it impossible to even digest food properly. Learning to handle stress well is not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity for good health. There are many ways to do this, including participating in exercise you enjoy, meditating, finding a cue to take deep breaths (at every red light, for example, take 3 deep breaths), singing and/or playing an instrument, creating something satisfying like art or a meal, or just finding reasons to laugh.
Take care of your nervous system by getting regular chiropractic adjustments. The job of the chiropractor is to find and remove subluxations. Subluxations, from the broadest perspective, are disturbances in the nerves caused by misaligned vertebrae. Chiropractic adjustments help get the nervous system back online, so to speak.
Finally, knowing what is putting stress on the body will provide insight into how best to help it heal. A Nutrition Response Testing™ assessment is a non-invasive way to determine precisely what is at the root cause of an out-of-whack body weight, and then help accurately determine natural ways to alleviate the issues.
Body weight is just one of many indicators of overall health. When it feels out of control, one of the first steps to take is to bring the nervous system into balance. Symptoms of illness are signs that the body has been out of homeostasis for a while, and may take time to reverse, so patience and tenacity are going to be necessary in the road back to the body’s natural state – absolute wellness.