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Far too many times, my initial consultation with clients represents a last throw of the dice for them. They've invested their time a a range of different diet plans and spent their money on an array of different gimmicks.
Of course, companies operating in this environment prefer it this way. They don't want you to think that you and your neighbour are different from one another and might require a different approach. They don't want you to question whether you should buy these 'amazing miracle' diet pills or the latest 'think yourself skinny' hypnosis CD. No, because if you thought this you might stop following the masses and start looking for what works best for you. And if you find it, you are lost as a customer forever.

However, one thing that the weight loss industry (and the medical industry, for that matter) fails to take into account is the differences in hormonal balance that exist between us. Hormones, made from the greek word hormon (meaning to 'set in motion'), are produced by various endocrine glands round the body, such as the thyroid, adrenals, testes/ovaries and the pancreas. They operate as chemical messengers, triggering particular responses at receptor sites. Hormones dictate our mood, our responses to injury and even our ability to park a car.

An imbalance of some hormones can make weight loss particularly difficult. In this regard, two hormones stand out as common obstacles. The first, insulin, is a peptide hormone released by the pancreas in response to eating carbohydrates. It activates GLUT4 receptors at cells, which stimulates them to take up the glucose in the blood. This mechanism avoids dangerous rises in blood sugar levels that are linked with damage of blood vessels so often seen in type I diabetes.

How is the weight loss problem in connection with insulin?

Problems occur in many individuals when they begin to over-secrete insulin. Excessive insulin does two things; first, it stimulates the storage of energy across the body's cells – primarily in the form of triglycerides in subcutaneous fat cells. Secondly, it inhibits the actions of an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase, one of the most important factors in breaking down stored fat so that it may be burned by the liver or muscles. In short, excessive insulin makes you fat.

Excessive insulin release may occur as a measured response from the body due to a diet too rich in carbohydrates, especially when intake involves a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugars. It may also occur due to insulin resistance, which can progressively occur as a result of changes to the sensitivity at cells. The two major causes lie in a loss of cellular sensitivity, which may result from an insufficient supply of omega 3 oils over a period of time, as well as a downregulation in GLUT4 activity which comes from a continual barrage of insulin that accompanies the high-carbohydrate feasts. Obesity also causes insulin resistance.

The best way to combat such problems involves a immediate and significant restriction of dietary carbohydrates, together with a generous supply of omega 3 oils (such as those found in flax seeds and fish), which can help lower insulin output and improve cellular sensitivity respectively. Replenishing iodine stores in the body also improve cellular sensitivity and may play an important role in this process.

Cortisol: the major offender in the hormonal blockage of fat-burning process

The other major offender in the hormonal blockage of fat-burning is cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It has several affects in the body, including the maintenance of blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation and the co-ordination of sleep/wake cycles. However, it also increases insulin resistance and activates lipogenic (fat-storage) enzymes. Dr Robert Kapolsky has covered the links between stress and weight gain in his book “Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers” but, essentially, the message is that cortisol makes you fat. The link between cortisol levels and excess weight are so strong that studies show almost perfect correlations between serum levels of cortisol and body composition.

Anyone who places their body under stress on a regular basis may be setting the scene for a cortisol-induced blockade of fat burning. This does not simply refer to the stressed-out executives lunging from one stressful meeting to another, but also individuals who don't feed themselves properly or the outwardly healthy people who never get a good night's sleep. Hunger and lack of sleep are just as potent triggers of cortisol release as psychological worries. Dehydration also stands out as a common cause of biological stress, underlining the requirement to take in enough electrolyte minerals as well as water.
There are lots of reasons why you might not be able to lose weight, and many of these may involve the basics; diet design and the aim of your workouts. However, beyond these initial factors, insulin and cortisol issues stand out repeatedly. These are the two background factors most likely to ruin the progress you make, and anything that triggers their release should be considered before any other changes.