Insanity? If you always do what you have always done, you always get what you always got. So why are so many people still drawn to fad diets and quick fixes that are not only unhealthy but unsustainable? The majority of people who approach me about weight loss are looking for that miracle pill or super diet. I don’t use a “diet” per se. As you will see below, excess fat stems from a complex range of factors including hormone imbalances, poor nutrition, stress and even sleeping patterns. My weight loss programs as based on each individual’s health history, lifestyle, behavior patterns and existing nutritional knowledge. It includes appropriate natural supplements, extensive nutritional education, and an exercise program. Below I will highlight some key considerations for those thinking about weight loss.
A balanced approach. Any good weight loss program must take our hormone imbalances into consideration. Insulin, in particular, is the major fat-storage hormone. If insulin levels are high the message to our body is STORE FAT. Chronically high levels of insulin are more common that we might think. This often precedes the onset of diabetes. The most common contributors to high insulin are refined carbohydrates, poor fiber intake and chronic stress.
Sleep is Key. Many of us don’t associate good sleep with weight control. However, human growth hormone, released during our deepest stage of sleep, sends a strong signal to the body to repair and mend and to release stored fat for energy. Poor sleep patterns must be addressed as part of any weight loss program.
The Thyroid Gland. Further on the subject of hormones, the functioning of our thyroid gland is critical. It controls our metabolic rate. Many adults, especially menopausal women, have poorly functioning thyroid glands that may not be detected in ordinary blood tests. This is often revealed by a simple body temperature test done by most naturopathic doctors. A ‘sluggish’ thyroid will slow down your metabolism. Weight gain can also sometimes be related to more serious medical issues such as polycystic ovaries and Cushing’s syndrome. All of the above health issues should be ruled out in those with chronic weight problems.
Now let us talk about food. Are carbohydrates really so evil? Yes and no. Good carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables are invaluable to our health. Firstly, they provide us with fiber. The decline in fiber consumption in North America has correlated with an alarming rise in colon cancer. High protein fad diets may accelerate this problem. Did you know that the brain’s primary food source is carbohydrates? If deprived of enough brain food your body will compensate by shuttling necessary sugar away from the rest of the body’s cells to the brain. In a round about way this occurs by developing something called insulin resistance (chronically high levels of insulin). Again, this contributes significantly to fat storage.
On the other hand, refined carbohydrates definitely cause weight gain. In my experience the overwhelming majority of carbohydrates most people eat are refined. These breads, pastas, pastries, crackers and other flour based products have very little fiber. Read the label. If the serving size has less than 8 grams of fiber it’s probably not a good choice. You should have at least 30 grams of fiber daily. Oatmeal is a great source of fiber. There are other wonderful whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth and millet that many people are not aware of. Without fiber, carbohydrates enter the blood much too quickly. This leads to a quick rise in blood sugar and spike of insulin to follow. As explained earlier, insulin causes fat storage.
What about proteins? Proteins stimulate a hormone called glucagon which tells the body to burn fat. However, this does not mean everyone should be consuming large amounts of proteins. Everything must be done in moderation. A high protein intake means a low fiber intake. Low fiber intake is linked to colon cancer, estrogen excess, and other health problems. Long term ingestion of high proteins, especially animal proteins, will increase ones risk of heart disease. Animal products are acidic and cancer thrives in acidity. While they are fine in moderation, try introducing more beans, nuts and seeds into your diet. They have fiber and healthy fats not found in animal products. For the majority of people I feel high protein diets are dangerous in the long run, especially in the absence of good nutritional knowledge.
And then there are fats, the most vilified of all. This is a complex topic. Essentially, the problem with fats stems from our over consumption of rancid poor quality fats (commercial salad dressings) and toxic fats (margarines). On the other hand, most of us are highly deficient in important essential fatty acids that have far reaching health benefits including their ability to help our body burn fats. These essential fatty acids can be found in non-farmed salmon, flaxseeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
The importance of exercise and muscle mass cannot be overemphasized. Did you know that one pound of muscle tissue can burn 50 or more calories daily? Many fad diets cause a loss of muscle and fat. In the long run this contributes to the common trend of gaining more weight back on. Doing 20 minutes of light weight training prior to cardiovascular exercise will be much more beneficial than aerobics alone.
Did you know stress can cause weight gain? Many things are stressful to our body from emotional stress to lack of food nutrients to starving (low calorie diets). Stress causes the body to increase its production of the hormone CORTISOL. Cortisol, if chronically raised, puts the body in a state of catabolism. This causes the breakdown of muscle, and therefore decreases our calorie burning capacity. Stress also leads to the production of insulin. We already know that chronically raised insulin levels signal the body to store fat.
So what is a sensible weight loss program? Firstly, it should include a personalized health evaluation. Following this your body should be supported in order to rebalance hormones and support organ systems, such as your thyroid, that have contributed to weight gain. Secondly, it should incorporate education about healthy eating. This should not entail obsessive calorie counting and scales, especially in a society where eating disorders are rising. Avoid diets focusing on purchased meal plans rather than education about food preparation. Be cautious with any diets that emphasize one particular food group at the expense of all others. Diet often implies a short term change of eating habits. Learn to eat well and protect your body from the detrimental stresses of dieting. If you are overly concerned with finding a weight loss pill or tea you may not be ready to make the necessary lifestyle changes for safe weight loss.