The True Power of Good Nutrition – Case Study December 2007

This month’s case study is ‘Lisa’ who came to the Clinic wanting to lose weight.

Lisa’s story:

I had always been very slim and a size 10-12 throughout my twenties and thirties and since reaching my forties I had been gradually gaining weight and finding myself buying size 14-16 clothes. My lifestyle had always been very rushed – working long hours in London, commuting and not always eating the right foods because of lack of time.

What I couldn’t understand was why the excess weight was accumulating around my middle, and nowhere else. All my clothes felt tight and my waistbands very uncomfortable. I had tried several diet books and slimming programmes, none of which worked in the long term and have all been very difficult to maintain.

I was on the train coming home from work one night with the usual tight feeling around my waist and I read an article about ‘Fat Around the Middle’ by Dr Marilyn Glenville. As I was reading it, I found I could really relate to it and it just sounded like me – high stress levels, eating on the go and constantly on and off diets. This was the prompt I need to do something about it!

I called the Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic and booked an appointment. I had read all about the link between high stress levels and gaining weight around the middle so I decided to perform the Adrenal Stress test before my initial appointment. The test kit arrived and all it involved was providing 4 saliva samples over a 12 hour period, which measured the stress hormone called cortisol.

I also had to fill in a very comprehensive questionnaire and return before my first appointment. The questionnaire enabled me to give my full medical history, symptoms I was experiencing apart from weight and importantly my current dietary habits. It was actually really valuable writing down my food intake and made me realise just how erratic my eating habits were.

My first hour appointment was broken down into sections. It started with the practitioner gathering information about me; explaining why I had been gaining weight, and then giving me dietary recommendations and a course of nutritional supplements. What I didn’t realise was that being ‘fat around the middle’ or apple shaped could actually be dangerous to my health, increasing my risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and certain cancers. This really worried me because there is quite a strong family link with diabetes.

The practitioner explained the main reason some people gather more fat around their middle than others is specifically because of the action of the stress hormone cortisol and she explained that a fundamental reason for this weight gain is poor blood sugar control. When blood sugar increases (a result of the stress response or from what you have eaten), our body releases insulin to help move the glucose out of our blood and into the cells to actually provide them with energy. But if we don’t need that energy the body will store the glucose as fat.

If the stress continues (it usually does) cortisol levels remain high, so the body triggers the breakdown of sugar stores in the liver and muscles to provide further fuel. Out comes more insulin to deal with the extra blood glucose. It made such perfect sense as she explained that over time, the body simply can’t respond to insulin the same way it used to. We then become intolerant to insulin – or insulin resistant. It was recommended that I follow some basic dietary principles to help me lose the weight from around my middle. The main principle was to keep blood sugar stable during the day by always combining protein with carbohydrate (i.e. fish or beans with vegetables and brown rice) which I rarely did because I lived on pasta with tomato based sauces because it was low fat so I thought I was being healthy!

The second principle was to eat breakfast otherwise cortisol is produced and the whole blood sugar/insulin roller-coaster starts. Again, I rarely ate breakfast because I was always running late for the train or just not hungry. I suppose I had got so used to living like this my adrenals were just allowing me to ‘run on empty’. Something that surprised me was having to give up coffee and fruit juice. I thought I was being good by having my glass of orange juice each day and surely if my lattes were made with skimmed milk there are virtually no calories?!?

She explained that fruit juice is very concentrated which increases blood sugar and consequently more insulin needs to be produced and we’re back to the roller-coaster effect again. The same is true of caffeine – I had no idea that caffeine stimulates the same blood sugar response as sugar! So I had been doing everything wrong! I had been more concerned with counting calories and fat and eating a lot of starchy foods like bread and pasta which I then realised were not helping to keep my blood sugar levels stables and in fact were exacerbating my sugar cravings. The adrenal stress profile really helped me to understand what was happening to my body and the link between cortisol and the weight around my middle.

Each cortisol reading throughout the day was significantly higher than it should be which meant I was putting too much strain on my adrenals. In the longer term when the cortisol levels have been depleted, it can end up as to total exhaustion where symptoms of chronic fatigue can appear. I think seeing my results in black and white gave me the motivation to really make a change.

Finally, the practitioner recommended some specific vitamins and minerals and herbs to support my adrenal glands, blood sugar and cravings and weight loss. She also asked me not to weigh myself and rather judge my success by how my clothes fitted. This made so much more sense than hopping on the scales every day, which in fact was very soul destroying.

One month later I had my follow up consultation. In this time I had been keeping daily diet diaries that really kept me on track! I was definitely losing weight from around my middle as I could see some shape to my waist and my waistbands did feel more comfortable which psychologically made me feel more positive and motivated. I couldn’t believe that I was actually eating more food and losing weight!?

I was having breakfast, lunch and dinner with a mid morning and afternoon snack. My energy levels were also better and I felt less stressed and anxious, so better able to cope with the day to day work/life pressures. Three months on and I’m looking and feeling great. People have commented on the ‘new me’ and it’s given me a real boost to my confidence. I now realise that this is a way of life for me and I’ll never be tempted to follow quick fix diets!

Marilyn’s comments:

Lisa’s story is such a classic example of the women we see at the clinic where they have lead busy lives during their twenties and thirties, holding down stressful careers or bringing up their children and not really looking after themselves and really ‘living’ on their adrenals.

When they reach their mid to late forties the weight suddenly creeps up because they have pushed their adrenal glands to the limit. Of course it is not just purely down to lifestyle, because with age we lose more muscle mass which is essential to help us burn fat.

Although the diet is the most important area we focus on, we do recommend nutritional supplements and exercise to support and enhance how successful your outcome is. Successful weight loss is about looking at all aspects of your life, i.e. diet, lifestyle and stress and activity levels and making changes for the best outcome. So if you are caught up in the yo-yo dieting trap and you want to take control of your weight and life, then please do contact the Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic. If you are interested in having the Adrenal Stress Test mentioned please click here.

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