“I’ll be happy when I lose all the weight.” This might just be one of the most heartbreakingly misguided beliefs we hear all the time from people struggling with weight loss. We know it is easier said than done, but feeling happy with yourself first is actually an essential ingredient to achieving your weight loss goals.
Being happy first will help you stay optimistic about and persistent with your weight loss activities. But how can you get happy first if you’re feeling low? Let us introduce you to a natural chemical in the body called serotonin that might be influencing your ability to feel happy in the present moment, and what you can do about it.
Serotonin does basic things like make sure your bowel function and blood clotting work properly, but it’s mostly believed to be a key component of mood regulation. Low levels of serotonin in the brain have been linked to mood disorders like depression, which is marked by decreased mood or irritability, decreased interest or pleasure, fatigue, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and disruption in concentration. You can imagine how difficult it might be for someone suffering from depression to get motivated to lose weight.
On the flip side, when brain serotonin levels rise, positive processes are set in motion to help you lose weight. Your brain sends signals to your gut, which tells your body to turn fat cells into energy. More energy will get you up and moving. The increased activity has a multiplier effect, generating more “feel good” hormones that improve your mood. Increased serotonin levels can also result in appetite suppression, helping you eat less. Once you get into that active cycle, you’ll likely catch that happy buzz to keep you moving forward with your weight loss efforts.
But how do you elevate serotonin levels in the brain? A natural option might be light therapy, which has been found to be effective in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). Another common approach is through the prescription of a class of drugs called SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These medications serve to improve the connections in the brain for the proper transmission of serotonin. However, this option may have the unwanted side effect of weight gain, which makes it less than ideal for those trying to lose weight. But only your medical provider and you can decide what is right for you depending on your personal needs. We strongly encourage you to schedule a discussion with your provider to discuss the benefits and risks of taking any type of medication or supplement, whether prescribed or over-the-counter.
However, an interesting thing to note is that as much as 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin is found in the intestinal tract, or gut, while only 5% can be found in the brain. Researchers continue to study how that kind of chemical distribution might alter the way we approach treatment of depression.
For instance, rather than rely on prescription antidepressants such as SSRIs, those suffering from depression might look to dietary solutions that impact serotonin levels in the gut. Eating foods high in a substance called tryptophan, like eggs and turkey, might have that desired effect. Taking a probiotic to balance gut bacteria may be an option as well.
It’s clear that the study of the relationship between mood regulating chemicals like serotonin and the weight loss process require a great deal more research to draw clear conclusions. But the takeaway message is, you will generally find greater success in almost anything you do when you choose happiness first. Everything will flow naturally from there.