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Obesity and The Hypothalamus

If weight loss were as easy as calories in vs. calories out then, it wouldn't even be something we talk about.

It turns out the brain regulatory pathways are a core reason why weight loss is so difficult.

Sitting in the brain is a key regulatory region called the Hypothalamus. About the size of an almond, is located below the thalamus and above your pituitary gland., the hypothalamus is involved with many endocrine functions; including fat loss or fat gain.

If we were understand the function of the hypothalamus in fat gain and loss, we can better understand how to direct approaches to obesity and weight loss resistance.

There is no better person to help us understand this then Stephan Guyenet ,PhD the author of *The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting The Instincts That Make Us Overeat who was recent guest on my podcast.

Dr. Guyenet is a Neuroscientist and obesity researcher who has become a leader in understanding the brains role in obesity. He also is the founder of Red Pen Reviews a website that distills and grades health related books based on number of factors. Listen in as we take the journey into the world of obesity including starvation responses, leptin resistance, hypothalamic inflammation, high fat diets, and the promise of glp-1 agonists.

Here are some highlights from the episode if you want to watch on You Tube.

Why is weight loss difficult? (00:10:02)

Attachment to weight loss methods (00:11:32)

Role of the hypothalamus in weight loss (00:16:22)

Starvation Mode (00:18:34)

Hypothalamic Inflammation (00:20:00)

Inflammation (00:21:16)

Leptin resistance and sensitivity (00:26:40)

Leptin issues and obesity (00:30:00)

Fruit’s impact on weight (00:35:42)

Diet-agnosticism (00:37:15)

High-fat diets (00:43:28)

Diet adherence (00:46:30)

GLP-1 agonists and weight loss (00:53:20)

Risk versus benefit of GLP-1 agonists (00:57:15) Guyenet, PhD Red Pen Reviews

What do do about helping the hypothalamus regulate fat and metabolism?

This is the billion dollar question.

Over the last year I have been blessed to have some good discussions on my podcasts with experts in answering this question including Karli Burridge, PA-C and Alex Leaf, MS and now Dr. Guyenet. And also some amazing conversations about body acceptance like this one with Mackenzie Zajonc ,MS, CN, LMHC

I have a few take-aways to share...

It is my opinion that this a very individualized decision and on that must fit the values and lifestyle of the person making the decision. There are some timeless principles however, such as regular movement, stress management, a whole foods diet, and quality sleep. If those are overlooked then long term hypothalamic regulation is likely to not be successful. The goal of any successful long term strategy is to be well-nourished and balanced. Starvation and extreme nutritional and lifestyle changes will end up rearing their ugly head and failing eventually.

Sometimes the metabolism is not ready for balance until other things are addressed first. My suggestion is to find the priority that is in most need.

In no particular order:

  • Relationship with food and body: This is an important factor that Mackenzie Zajonc, MS, CN, LMHC addresses. For a lot of us who have struggled with metabolism, even the topic is highly triggering. We may have been emotionally abused or physically abused and that may be related to behaviors around this topic. Its important to know this and seek help as often any efforts to help with weight will be thwarted unless this is addressed.

  • Sleep: Are you on a regular and consistent sleep schedule that meets your individual needs? Do you snore? Do you have sleep apnea? Do you need a sleep study or mind-body interventions for sleep?

  • Stress: Is your stress out of control? Relying on recreational drugs, food, and alcohol to cope? Is it disrupting your sleep? Do you need emotional support or counseling?

  • Food: How much of your food is calorically dense (ie. processed) vs. nutrient dense (non-processed)? Have you ever heard the term JERF?...Just Eat Real Food?

  • Movement: How much do you sit, sleep, recline per day vs. move?

If you are doing all of these things and still having troubles its likely time to dig deeper at other disruptors of the hypothalamus. Such as thyroid dysregulation, hormone imbalance, and heavy metal toxicities.

Having a conversation with a trusted provider , counselor, or coach that is not triggering or shame-based can be very helpful in figuring out where to start.


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