Here is an article that I recently wrote for an Alternative Medicine magazine – hope you like it!
Restoring your mental and physical equilibrium will help you achieve the best version of yourself
By Shawn Talbott, PhD, LDN, FACSM
Americans are tired, depressed, and overweight. We spend more than $100 billion on energy drinks, antidepressants, sleep drugs, and other products designed to help us feel different. But they don’t necessarily help us feel better. Most of the problems we experience in our wellbeing and vitality are because we are out of balance biochemically – our internal equilibrium is off. Our diets and environment, as well as our physical, emotional and psychological health, can cause biochemical changes in our bodies that drive how we feel, how we look and how we perform on every level.
The solution is to restore the equilibrium in body, mind, and spirit. Once you get back in biochemical balance, brain fog fades, replaced by mental clarity. You start losing weight, especially in the abdominal area (belly fat). You sleep better and daytime energy levels return to youthful levels. That feeling of emotional engagement and wellbeing returns. And as you get yourself into a more positive cycle, you click into the groove. It gets easier to stay there. You start making good choices that keep your biochemistry going in the right way.
Your age is stressing your body
People are surprised to learn that even the process of aging represents a stress on the body because of the slow and progressive disruption of metabolic balance. Cortisol (a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress) levels rise and testosterone levels fall about one percent each per year after your mid-30s. Eventually, we all age ourselves into metabolic imbalance, but stress exposure and sleep loss accelerate the process and lead us (faster) to a state of low vigor where we gain belly fat while we feel more tired, more depressed and more confused.
While every day can bring different challenges to our equilibrium, especially for working moms, there are numerous factors within our ability to control. Tactics such as natural dietary supplements, lifestyle programs, aromatherapy and even brain training can help restore equilibrium so you look, feel and perform better. These strategies are in line with how your body is intended to operate. The whole idea is restoring your equilibrium is to give you the foundation and opportunity to get whatever is out of your grasp, whether it’s weight loss, energy or something else.
How to get you started on your rebalancing journey
The side effects to the following tips might include losing some of that belly fat, feeling less fatigued, and having fewer episodes of the blues. You may also become more active, and might even smile more often.
- Do what you can to make the sources of your stress more predictable, or learn to develop more control over those stressors. Start by identifying patterns. If morning rush hour always causes your first headache of the day, consider changing your morning routine so that you can leave 10 minutes earlier. One of the fundamental biochemical facts you need to know is that chronic stress robs you of vigor. The unrelenting, chronic stress that most people put up with every day can wreak havoc with your sleep, weight, and general health.
- Control the rust. When iron is exposed to air, oxygen triggers a chemical reaction called oxidation. During oxidation, renegade oxygen molecules called free radicals chip away at the composition of the iron. In our bodies, similar free radicals form as byproducts from the “burning” of food for energy and the breakdown of toxic substances, such as cigarette smoke and other pollutants. Manage oxidation by consuming plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, green tea and cocoa. (I really don’t have to remind you to quit smoking, do I?)
- Manage inflammation. Inflammation is blamed for many chronic diseases. Reduce it by eating fewer fried foods and more healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon and tuna.
- Stabilize your glucose. You don’t have to completely understand the glycemic index to know that spikes in insulin (the result of flooding your body with glucose) aren’t good for you. It can lead to food cravings and more serious conditions. Help level it off by giving up full-sugar soda, switching from refined grains to whole grains, and eating proteins with your carbs.
What foods to avoid?
When it comes to diet, biochemical balance and health, researchers know a great deal about what not to do. This comes down to avoiding or limiting your intake of highly refined carbohydrates, sodas and processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and trans-fat (usually listed on the label as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil). Why do you need to avoid these types of highly processed foods? Because they set off a biochemical chain reaction in the body that leads to unhealthy elevations in blood sugar, insulin, cortisol, cytokines and free radicals – all combining to disrupt equilibrium and generate the majority of our first-world health problems including obesity, diabetes, depression, fatigue, low libido, attention deficit, and many others.
These biochemical events are not only bad for your long-term health but also bad for your long- and short-term ability to heal and rebuild tissues. For example, chugging a sugary soda leads to microscopic tissue destruction via a number of the following related events:
- Spiking blood sugar and insulin levels lead to protein glycation and destruction of collagen and elastin (key structural proteins in healthy connective tissues such as skin and joint cartilage).
- Elevated cortisol levels lead to imbalances in the inflammatory process in favor of pro-inflammatory cytokines (which lead to further damage to tissues and blood vessel linings).
- Inflammatory cytokine signaling elevates free-radical destruction of cells and tissue membranes throughout the body.
And, all these events are detrimental to your level of vigor (how we feel and perform) but also to how we look and how long we might live.
What to eat?
The proposition that poor dietary choices can lead to so much destructive metabolism in your body is scary. However, we all make these choices many times a day when we choose what we eat. Very good scientific evidence helps people choose diets that provide ingredients that not only reduce these detrimental biochemical chain reactions but also prevent and reverse the effects of oxidation, glycation, inflammation, and all the rest of the negative factors on health.
Some of the easiest routes to controlling these metabolic marauders are the following:
- Eat healthier (omega-3) fats and fewer unhealthy (omega-6) fats.
- Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and more whole-grain carbs.
- Eat more antioxidants from brightly colored fruits/veggies and balanced supplements.
- Reduce stress or control your exposure to the stress hormone cortisol.
A few words about testosterone
Both men and women should be concerned about having sufficient amounts of this hormone. Our testosterone levels peak in our mid-20s to early 30s, and dip to about 40-50 percent of youthful levels by about the time we hit age 60. Stress, poor diet and sleep patterns, and lack of exercise can cause those levels to decrease even further. There are many benefits to maintaining youthful testosterone levels, including high psychological vigor (mental/physical energy), improved muscle mass, less body fat and improved general well-being.
Connecting the dots: stress, cortisol and testosterone
One of the major problems with today’s “late to bed, early to rise” lifestyle is that your cortisol levels never have enough time to fully dissipate as they are supposed to overnight. As a result, your body never has a chance to fully recover and repair itself from the detrimental effects of chronic stress. That overexposure to cortisol throws a monkey wrench into your ability to maintain biochemical balance. And when your biochemical balance is out of whack, it puts your overall metabolism into a downward spiral, accelerating the breakdown of tissues and sending your energy, mood and mental focus into a tailspin, leaving you with low vigor.
Not only is it possible to begin shedding the “blahs” and kick start the quality of your life today, it’s a great deal easier to implement than most people understand. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time giving the same old standard recommendations. By now, you know all about the importance of physical activity, eating balanced meals and getting enough sleep – but few of us do it because of a lack of understanding about the importance of internal equilibrium to our levels of physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being. Instead, I am excited to talk with people about improving their equilibrium and vigor, so that they can all become even better versions of themselves.
Biography: Dr. Shawn Talbott
Dr. Shawn Talbott holds a MS in Exercise Science from UMass, an EMP in Entrepreneurship and ACE in Management from MIT, and a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from Rutgers. He is a Fellow of both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American College of Nutrition and has educated elite-level athletes in a variety of sports including at the United States Olympic Training Centers. He is the author of hundreds of articles and 13 books on nutrition and fitness – and his work has been featured in media outlets around the world, including at the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity and a variety of segments on The Dr Oz Show.