*So here is an interesting concept for you to digest… What if I told you that your moods and subsequently your weight loss success are affected by the health of your gut! What? I know, sounds like something out of Star Trek where there is a civilization inside you that is controlling how you see the world outside. But that is exactly what I am saying. Not just me, mind you, but some pretty interesting research in neuroscience.
I first came across this concept about a year ago when a friend of mine recommended I read a book by Dr. Mark Hyman called the UltraMind Solution. This is a great read and definitely explores the age-old adage that “we are what we eat.” One of the concepts, he talks about in his book, is how more and more research is being conducted by neuroscientists exploring the effect that our microfauna (bacteria in our intestines) has on our brains and its ability to process information.
Chicken or Egg?
Over the last several months, I have been reading a good amount on this concept and wanted to explore a bit of it with you. The question, like the chicken or the egg, is which comes first poor gut health or our mood, such as depression or anxiety, and how we eat. Considering that 60% of people who are overweight also suffer from some level of depression, one could infer the question now becomes, what comes first: poor gut health or overweight? In other words, by consuming an unhealthy diet, do we start to exhibit signs of depression because of poor gut health, which has us eating more unhealthy foods eventually leading to weight gain or do we gain weight over time and then as our gut health declines we start to feel more depressed leading to more food and weight gain?
Based on my own experience, after a weekend of cookouts where my food intake becomes borderline excessive, I start to get back on a cleaner diet but notice the self-talk in my head starts to skyrocket. All my doubts and insecurities come crashing back and takes me usually three to five days of “clean living” before the self-talk diminishes.
Now, if you extrapolate my experience and I do not go back to “clean living”, the self-talk would eventually become louder and I would eat more to ease the anxiety I was feeling. In other words, I would be self-medication through comfort foods. As time progressed, I would start to regain my weight and the self-talk would keep me on the couch or working late hours to offset the anxiety I was feeling. So, in my case, poor gut health would lead to weight gain.
What does the research say?
Research is finding more and more that not only we are what we eat, but also we are what we think because of what we eat. So let’s leave the world of my opinion and venture into the world of science and reason.
John Cryan, a neuroscientist out of Ireland’s University College Cork, has done some pretty interesting research with mice that are raised in a clean room environment. Meaning, the mice lack all intestinal microbes. The interesting part is that these mice do not recognize one another. What Dr. Cryan suggests is that the bacteria need animals to be social in order to spread the bacteria from one to another. When we lack the bacteria, we minimize our ability to socialize. As in the case of the sterile mice, when they lack intestinal bacteria, they are unable to recognize one another and lose their social abilities.
Another bit of research performed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Sudo out of Japan’s Kyushu University demonstrated they could predict and affect the level of anxiety mice experienced when put into a confined space. “Clean” mice had higher levels of anxiety hormones secreted when confined versus the control mice that had a healthier balance of bacteria. Here comes the amazing part, the research team was able to decrease the anxiety levels of the “clean” mice by introducing one type of bacteria into their intestines. This was the first time, science demonstrated the ability to alter mood through the use of intestinal bacteria. I love science!
Last fascinating finding in this blog comes from a team led by Dr. Bercik and Dr. Collins out of Ontario’s McMaster’s University. They found that they could get a mouse to take on the personality profile of another mouse merely by populating the mouse’s intestinal bacteria to that of a mouse they were trying to mimic. In other words, they were able to change the personality of the mice by merely changing the bacteria contents of their intestines.
Gut Health and Obesity
So, where does this lead us? And why is LightenUp Fitness interested in this concept? I was under the impression that it does not matter what we eat and drink in order to lose weight (See Consumer Store Diet). All we need to do is find out our target metabolic rate and eat/exercise accordingly. Though in principle this will allow us to achieve the weight targets we desire, overtime the food choices you make may be influencing your likelihood for success.
For example, say I wanted to lose weight and targeted a certain daily calorie intake. However, I only achieve my calories by eating unhealthy processed foods, one could conclude that I would start to lose weight. However, as I continued to eat this diet of processed foods or foods that have been treated with antibiotics, my gut health would start to decline. As my gut health started to decline, my self-talk on how I can’t do this or no one wants me to do this, starts to amplify due to my poor gut health. You see where this is leading, right? I eventually give up on myself and go back to my old ways.
This is why it is so important for us to be careful not to have a diet filled with sugar, red meat and processed foods. Those foods do two things: kill the good bacteria and promote the bad bacteria’s health.
In summary, your food choices do matter when you are attempting to lose weight. They set you up for success. When you are in a state of heightened self-talk and self-doubt, your ability to lose weight and stay the course becomes severely compromised. Please keep this in mind, the next time you are at a cookout and reach for the burger before reaching for the vegetables!
In good health,