If you’re like most people, you probably think that losing weight is just a matter of ensuring that you burn more calories than you consume.
But what you may not be aware of is that inflammation in your body will actually prevent you from burning fat and losing weight.
Therefore, it’s critical to reduce the inflammation in your body first, if you want any chance of being able to lose weight and keep it off.
But what is inflammation, how does it affect your weight and what can you do about it?
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a normal bodily process that helps us fight things that cause us harm — viruses, bacteria, toxins, etc. When we are threatened by these things, our body releases chemicals that trigger a response from our immune system. This is called an inflammatory response and it releases antibodies and proteins as well as increased blood flow to the affected area, which helps our body heal and defend itself from harm
Inflammation can be acute (lasting anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days) or chronic (months or even years).
Acute inflammation is beneficial to our health, but chronic inflammation can be detrimental to our health.
Why is chronic inflammation a problem?
During chronic inflammation the immune system continues to send out white blood cells which may end up attacking nearby healthy tissues and organs. Research has shown that chronic inflammation is associated with serious health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes, arthritis, fatty liver disease, and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as a lowered immune system.
How it affects your weight?
Chronic inflammation leads to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Insulin resistance causes the body to have high glucose levels. It also contributes to accumulated fat in the liver. Both of these things contribute even further to insulin resistance, leading to a vicious cycle and more weight gain.
In addition, inflammation can interfere with your body’s response to leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite. This means that leptin levels remain low, triggering an increase in appetite and a slowing down of the metabolism, both of which make weight loss difficult.
To make things even worse, the combination of insulin resistance, leptin resistance and weight gain continue to influence each other, making weight gain easy and weight loss difficult.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Of course there are medical factors that can contribute to chronic inflammation such as untreated causes of acute inflammation, autoimmune disorders and long-term exposures to chemicals.
However, for most people, lifestyle factors are largely to blame for chronic inflammation. These include:
- a diet high in processed foods, especially trans fats, sugar
- excessive alcohol consumption
- chronic stress
- poor sleep
- living a sedentary lifestyle
Why is Omega-3 important for inflammation and weight loss?
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids that our body requires for optimal health. Because our body can’t produce them, we need to get them from our diet. However, it’s important that there is a balance between these two types of fatty acids because they not interchangeable and have very different roles in the body.
While Omega-6 fats are important, researchers believe that these promote inflammation. On the other hand, Omega-3 have anti-inflammatory properties.
The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is 4:1. However, most people’s diets are 25:1. Most people have 20-25 times more Omega-6 fats than they need! This imbalance explains why so many of us are inflamed.
The good news is that we can shift this imbalance and reduce inflammation by incorporating more Omega-3 into our diets, and addressing the habits that contribute to chronic inflammation.
What foods contain Omega-3?
As we mentioned earlier, we need to obtain Omega-3 from our diet. Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod, sardines, anchovies and other seafood such as oysters, lobster and scallops
- Seeds and nuts such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts
- Oils such as flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, and other fish oil
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, silverbeet, and lettuce
- Grains and beans such as soybeans and tofu.
While it’s important to include the above foods in your diet to improve your Omega-3 levels, you should continue to eat a diet rich in variety, colour and texture. Because eating real, nourishing food will boost your metabolism, help burn fat, strengthen your immune system and help you be more consistent with your weight loss. You can read about the best foods for weight loss in our blog The 14 best foods to lose weight.
What else can you do?
As well as increasing your intake of Omega-3 there are a number of things you can change to reduce inflammation in your body.
Reduce processed foods and added sugars
Processed foods and those high in sugar are also high in Omega-6 fatty acids, so reducing your intake of these will assist with the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3, and reduce inflammation in your body. These foods are also generally high in calories, so reducing them will also help you lose weight.
Rather than focusing on reducing these foods, look at why you might be eating them. Often people end up bingeing on these types of foods because they are restricting food or cutting out food groups. Other people turn to these foods as a way to deal with their emotions, while others rely on them because they are either time-poor and don’t make time to cook healthy meals or don’t know how. Working out your reason for turning to these foods will help you overcome the habit of eating them, and in turn help you eat more nutritiously.
For tips on how to incorporate healthy meals into your weekly plan, be sure to check out the Recipes on our website, or purchase a copy of our Recipe Book which contains over 100 easy-to-make, family-friendly meals.
Chronic stress leads to increased levels of chronic inflammation. By reducing the amount of stress in your life, and improving your reaction to stress (Hint: learning to let go of control is a big factor) you can reduce the amount of inflammation in your body, and improve your chances of weight loss. Stress greatly influences your weight in many ways and you can read more about it in our blog How stress and weight gain are linked.
Develop better sleeping habits
Poor sleep habits are linked to increased levels of stress as well as high levels of inflammation. When it comes to weight loss, the importance of sleep should not be underestimated. The better your sleep, the better your weight loss results will be, so aim to improve your sleep — both in quantity and quality. Read our blog Top tips to improve sleep to learn more. You can also read our blog Sleep and weight loss: the unexpected connection to find out how sleep impacts your weight.
Reduce alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol intake also increases inflammation in your body. If you drink regularly, then reducing the amount you drink will help reduce inflammation. Once again, if you do consume a lot of alcohol, examine why you drink because addressing the key reason for drinking, will help you reduce your alcohol intake. For example, if you drink because you’re worried about what others will think of you if you don’t, learning how to stop being a people-pleaser will mean you’ll automatically reduce your drinking. There are many other ways that alcohol impacts your weight and you can read about them in our blog Alcohol and weight gain: 9 ways drinking affects your body shape to find out more.
Increase your movement
A sedentary lifestyle is linked to high levels of inflammation in the body. Research has shown that uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in muscle loss and weakness in many diseases. However, regular exercise can help counter the effects of inflammation. The good news is that you don’t have to do hours and hours of strenuous exercise each week. The best results come when you spend just 3% of your week performing the right exercise. You can find out more about exercise in the following blogs:
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health, including your inflammation levels. If you smoke, speak to your health practitioner about taking steps to quit.
Start with one thing
If you feel that the above list is overwhelming, we encourage you to focus on one thing at a time, starting with the issue that you feel will make the biggest difference. For example, if you eat a lot of takeaway food or processed food because you don’t know how to cook nutritious meals, learning how to do so, along with the habit of weekly meal prep will make a big difference to you. Similarly, if you have poor sleep habits, working to improve them will go a long way to reducing inflammation and helping you lose weight.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to change their habits is to try to change too many things at once. This is usually overwhelming and is why so many give up. However, when you focus on one thing at a time, you’ll be more effective at changing your habits. We explain this in more detail in our blog The snowball effect, Why small things add up to big weight loss.
Ask for help
The truth is that changing your habits can take time and often you need someone to help you do this. But that’s where we can help you.
All you have to do is reach out and ask.