For years doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, and other experts were all giving the same advice: to lose weight, you need to concentrate on calories-in versus calories-out. By taking into account what you eat and how physically active you are, you can control weight loss.
But if you have ever struggled with losing weight, you are all-too-familiar with the inaccuracy of this idea. In recent years, scientists have found the premise of “calories-in-calories-out,” also known as CICO, to be wrong all along.
We all have those friends who can eat anything and not gain a pound while other friends eat healthy, but just cannot get the scale to budge. You may have even grown up with the same diet and activity level as a sibling, yet one of you ended up being much heavier than the other.
Researchers have discovered something that may be the key to understanding why some people have a harder time losing weight than others:
There is a link between the bacteria in your gut and how much you weigh.
In one study on 77 pairs of twins, they found the overweight twin had less diversity in the bacteria inside their gut (known as the gut microbiome), compared to their skinnier twin.
The researchers concluded that the wrong combination of gut bacteria can have a direct impact on your body weight.
And the inverse is also proving true. When your gut has the right combination of bacteria, losing weight becomes easier.
But what’s the “right combination of bacteria,” and how does bacteria in your gut have an impact on your weight at all?
Meet the Microbes Sabotaging Your Weight Loss
Inside each of our digestive tracts, there exists a world of trillions of microbes, some good, some bad. Collectively, they are known as our gut flora, gut microflora, gut biota, gut microbiome, or gut microbiota, and they are just as important to our health and wellbeing as we are to theirs. This community consists of over 100 times the genes of the human genome, making us genetically more microbe than human!
Most of our gut microbiota are “commensal bacteria,” meaning they benefit us while we benefit them. We provide them with food and shelter, while they provide us with vitamins, feel-good chemicals, protection from disease, improved digestion, and more. These commensal bacteria live in our guts alongside viral DNA, fungal species, and other organisms.
While most of these creatures are beneficial or neutral to our health, there are others known as pathogens. These can take the form of bacteria, virus, or fungi, and they can do quite a lot of damage if there are not enough good-guy microbes to fight them off.
From leaky gut and depression to irritable bowel syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, scientists are discovering the health of the microbiome can have a dramatic influence on the health of the host. By learning how to promote a healthy, diverse gut microbiome, you can take one step closer to being in control of your weight, mood, and even your health.
G-BAD: How Your Gut Controls Your Weight
The most promising research on how our gut influences our overall health is focused on something called the Gut-Brain Axis. This is a two-way connection, with your gut and microbiome on one side, and your brain on the other.
Together, they are supposed to make decisions like when to store fat, what foods to crave, and other important factors around your weight. But when your microbiome is out of balance (like we’ve talked about here), it’s known as Gut-Brain Axis Dysfunction, or G-BAD.
Let’s take a look at the different ways G-BAD can influence your weight, and if you want to know more about G-BAD, check out our article here.
They Control Your Cravings
Many of us identify ourselves by the types of foods we love or hate – maybe you love chocolate, steak, white bread, or salads. But what if I were to tell you it isn’t you, but your microbes, that love these foods?
Different species of bacteria feed on different foods. This means there are communities of fiber-loving organisms (which is high in plant foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains), those that love simple carbs (think white bread and rice), those that love sugars, those that feed off of fats, and so on.
If you have a gut microbiome made up of microbes that love sugar, fat, and simple carbs, you are more likely to crave (and therefore eat) these foods. These tiny creatures send chemical messages to your brain when they are hungry, telling you to eat a donut or a cheeseburger. And the more you feed them, the more they grow in number and power!
This is one of the reasons why it is so hard to change from eating unhealthy foods to healthy foods. It can take some time to starve out the fat-lovers and sugar-lovers and to nurture and grow those that love fiber and other healthy foods. Fortunately, you can use this knowledge to push through the difficult initial period of changing how you eat, knowing that with time, it will get easier!
They Regulate How Hungry or Full You Feel
The main hormones your body uses to signal it’s hungry or full are leptin and ghrelin, respectively. Incredibly, research shows that the bacteria inside your gut are capable of producing peptides that are structurally very similar to these hunger-regulating hormones. That means your gut bacteria can make you stay hungry on a hormonal level.
They Dictate How Many Calories You Absorb
This is where it gets really interesting, and where the whole calories-in vs calories-out premise falls apart.
People who easily put on weight have a more efficient gut microbiome than those who don’t. This means those who have trouble losing weight actually absorb more calories from the exact same meal than those who lose weight easily.
Not only will these microbes make sure you absorb more calories from every meal, but they impact how energy is stored, causing more of what you eat to be stored as fat!
When it comes to losing weight, a more efficient microbiome is not your friend. These studies show that an identical meal eaten by two different people is not identical when it comes to “calories in.”
They Change Your Mood and Motivation Level
When you’re having a great day, it’s much easier to make healthy food choices and get yourself to the gym. But when your day has been stressful, or you’re suffering from anxiety, brain fog, or depression, it’s much harder to find the motivation to go to the gym or the energy to make a healthy and home-cooked meal.
Researchers have recently discovered the key to an optimal mood and clarity of mind lies not in your head, but in your gut. Your gut microbes may be to blame for brain fog, apathy, depression, anxiety, and more. What’s more, the same microbes that encourage you to eat fatty, sugary foods are believed to be the ones that promote depression, troubled thinking, and other mood problems.
Now you can see what you’re up against when it comes to G-BAD and losing weight: an unhealthy gut microbiome leads to cravings for unhealthy food, increases the amount of fat you store from that food, and kills your energy and mood at the same time.
All in all, when your gut isn’t balanced, losing weight becomes a seemingly impossible, uphill battle. But thankfully, we have some simple tools at our disposal to turn the tides in the fight for our gut health and our weight.
How to Kick Bad Bacteria To The Curb And Kickstart Your Weight Loss
The good news is, you have a lot of control over the makeup of your microbiome! With a few small changes, you can have a real impact on your weight, from the inside out.
Add More Plants to Your Diet
Rather than trying to change your diet completely, we recommend slowly swapping out unhealthy food choices with healthier, whole food options you enjoy.
And remember – the more of any food you eat, the more you will crave it! This means, if you want to start enjoying salads, the more salads you eat, the more you’ll crave them!
It all starts with small changes you can stick with. Here is a list of some ideas to get you started:
• Snack on celery sticks with your choice of nut butter
• Take apples, grapes, or other delicious and easy-to-eat foods with you to work each day
• Raw or roasted and lightly salted mixed nuts are a great option for on-the-go foods
• Swap out a Starbucks breakfast with a smoothie or bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with berries, nuts, and local honey
The best way to boost your gut microbiome is to form new habits and make changes that last, so there is no need to go on a restrictive diet you can’t sustain.
Instead, start small and work up from there!
Find Fermented Foods that You Enjoy
Fermented foods are amazing for your microbiome health. They are packed with probiotics, which are strains of healthy bacteria. Some common examples include:
• Fermented soy products (miso, tempeh, or natto)
• Yogurt (opt for unsweetened, and add in fruit and honey at home)
One important tip: be sure that the fermented foods you buy state that they have “live cultures.” Unfortunately, most of the fermented foods you find at your local grocery store have been heated or processed in such a way as to kill off the beneficial bacteria that were originally in the food.
It is easiest to find these options at health food stores, such as Whole Foods.
Take a Psybiotic Supplement
Psybiotics, also known as psychobiotics, are an exciting new class of supplements proven to balance not just your digestion, but your entire gut-brain axis! If you’re suffering from G-BAD, taking a psybiotic supplement may be the single biggest thing you can do to fix it.
Psybiotics are supplements that contain probiotics (live bacteria) and prebiotics (the food for probiotic bacteria) that enhance mental health through strengthening gut health. While they are most famous for fighting depression, anxiety, stress, apathy, and brain fog, some psybiotic strains have been found to decrease hunger and increase weight loss.
In a landmark human study, researchers set out to determine the effect of the psybiotic supplement Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LPR) on weight loss in humans. In this placebo-controlled trial, participants took either two psybiotic capsules or two placebo capsules daily for 24 weeks. During the first 12 weeks, participants followed a moderate energy restriction diet, and for the last 12 weeks, a weight maintenance plan.
Women in the LPR group lost more weight at 12 weeks when compared to women in the placebo group. The women in the LPR group continued to lose weight and fat mass during the 12 weeks of weight maintenance, while the women in the placebo group actually gained back both fat mass and weight over the same period of time! What’s more, at the end of the 24 weeks, the women in the psybiotic group had lower levels of leptin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry.
Diets are tough thanks to hunger and a lack of lasting results. The simple addition of a twice-daily psybiotic supplement may be the difference between a successful diet and an unsuccessful diet. With the exact same amount of effort, you are likely to feel less hungry and lose more weight!
Psybiotics have the potential to improve your digestive health, help you lose weight, change how hungry you feel, and improve your mood. In fact, taking a psybiotic is the easiest thing you can do to see significant results.
When shopping for a psybiotic, you want to look for a supplement with both probiotics and prebiotics. The prebiotics are fuel for the probiotic bacteria, allowing them to work their magic! Specific probiotic strains that have been shown to perform the best. Some of these include:
• Lactobacillus rhamnosus
• Lactobacillus plantarum
• Lactobacillus acidophilus
• Lactobacillus salivarius
• Bifidobacterium longum
• Bifidobacterium bifidum
Psybiotics work best when they are taken daily. Taking it with breakfast is ideal as it can encourage good digestion throughout the day.
It’s Time to Take Back Control of Your Weight from Pathogenic Bacteria
The next time you feel a craving to go eat something you know you shouldn’t, remember that this craving isn’t coming from YOUR brain, but from pathogenic microbes that have hijacked your gut and your cravings!
This knowledge is power. Now you know that you can change your cravings and your gut microbiome just by eating more healthy foods, like fermented foods, veggies, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Over time, those pathogenic bacteria will no longer have a say in what you eat or how you digest your food.
Adding in a daily psybiotic supplement can speed up this transition, supplying your gut with the good bacteria it needs to give you the energy and positive mood to help you achieve your fitness goals.
For a deeper look into how psybiotics can alter your energy, mood, and microbiome, check out our article on psybiotics here.