As a Naturopathic Doctor, weight loss is probably one of the most common reasons people venture into my office. Many of us struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and a multi-million dollar weight loss industry can give of us poor advice. There are so many expert opinions and fad products floating around, it is hard to know what is useful and what is simply a myth. At times you can be making all the right choices but still not losing weight, suggesting some physiological roadblocks. Here are the myths, the roadblocks and the game changers when it comes to building natural weight loss wisdom.
Extreme low calorie diets are necessary for weight loss.
Will you lose weight from going on an extreme, reduced calorie diet? Absolutely. Will you keep the weight off when you return to your typical diet? Questionable. I always tell my patients you don’t only need a diet change, but a lifestyle change as well. When making changes to your diet ask yourself this question: “Can I eat like this for the rest of my life?”. It is an important question because the diet that you are forming needs to become your everyday diet, for the rest of your life! Not a 3 month plan, not 6 month plan but a lifelong plan. This is a common trap of many “yo-yo dieters”, who successfully lose weight but never seem to keep it off. Stop crash diets and start building a long-term sustainable dietary plan.
Eating six small meals a day will increase my metabolism.
This myth is more a question of calories and portions, then the number of meals. I often have patients eating six meals a day come in to my office and I ask them, “Are you hungry six different times a day?” Their responses have been typically: “No. But I want to keep my metabolism up”. There is no research supporting that six small meals instead of three moderate sized meals increases one’s metabolism. The issue with eating six meals a day is that it increases one’s risk of consuming more than the required calories, leading to weight gain! Now if you are a “grazer” (i.e. someone who is often hungry throughout the day and eats small meals to curb that hunger) then by all means, but don’t eat when you are not even hungry. Most of us can achieve a healthy weight with three moderate sized meals a day.
My emotions have nothing to do with my weight.
We all have emotional attachments to food. ALL OF US. Socially we use food as a means to bring people together. Holidays, birthdays and celebrations are all times we get together around a huge amount of food and usually over eat. What does this tell our brains? The feeling of being over fed is attached to feelings of love and comfort. In the future, when we have an uncomfortable emotion (e.g. sadness, disappointment, boredom), we will possibly turn to food and the sensation of fullness to make us feel better. Almost everyone I treat for weight loss uses food as a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions and stress. A great read on this topic is “Women, God and Food” by Geneen Roth. This is a great place to start learning about emotional eating.
This magic pill will melt your fat away.
To date, there is no magic pill on the market that will make you lose weight without proper nutrition and exercise. There are some supplements that can be helpful when someone hits a plateau in their weight loss journey. One of the best supported supplements is simply fibre. One study showed that people who ate one apple a day (i.e. a great source of fibre) consumed 15% fewer calories than the control group, who skipped the apple. When someone eats 35-45g of fibre a day, they have an overall reduced appetite and consume fewer calories. Some great sources of fibre include ground flax seeds, psyllium husks, legumes, and chia seeds.
THE ROAD BLOCKS
How healthy is your liver?
A damaged liver can have a dramatic effect on weight gain. This is especially true if you are gaining weight around your stomach or upper abdomen, these are signs that you may need liver support. Taking medications for long periods of time, diets high in unhealthy fats (i.e. trans fats) and other toxins (i.e. pesticides) can cause your liver to function poorly. A liver support program is sometimes what a person needs to kick start their weight loss.
Are you chronically inflamed?
Inflammation is the hidden internal heat which is released by our immune system as a response to trauma, infection or damage. Great in the short term but detrimental in the long term. If your inflammatory factors are elevated for long periods of time this could lead to major difficulties losing weight. Inflammatory markers like hs-CRP and ESR are inexpensive blood tests and are great ways to track the inflammatory process. However, they are only general indicators and the root cause of the inflammation needs to be understood. Symptoms like achy joints, chronic fatigue and digestive issues can be signs of chronic inflammation.
Do you have food sensitivities?
Many people experience food sensitivity reactions, meaning that certain food groups are triggering an inflammatory response. Uncovering these foods can be difficult because the reaction can be delayed, taking up to three days to have a full effect. As already stated, chronic inflammation may make it difficult to lose weight. A food sensitivity can be the root cause of this chronic inflammation. Getting tested for food sensitivities and building a diet without those foods can be an important tool in your weight loss goal.
Are you suffering from a hormone imbalance?
When people are struggling with weight loss hormonal issues should be tested. Having an elevated cortisol level, a sluggish thyroid or high estrogen levels can all inhibit weight loss. Understanding the root cause is vital. Lifestyle factors such as high levels of stress, environmental toxins, heavy metals or poor dietary choices can influence hormone levels. Make sure you know your hormonal levels, especially if you are having difficulty losing weight.
THE GAME CHANGERS:
1) Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
2) Don’t eat 3 hours before you are going to sleep.
3) Switch up your exercise routines. Try new activities, keep it interesting.
4) Only eat until you are 80% full.
5) Try to do something active each day.
6) Don’t drink your calories, stick to herbal tea and water.
7) Make sure there is protein and fibre in every meal.
8) Have breakfast, everyday.
9) Strive for 5 servings of vegetables each day.
10) Drink a glass of water 10-15 min before each meal.
Make your goal to be healthy and weight loss will simply be a desirable side effect. When you focus on being healthy for the rest of your life, the changes you make are long term and the weight loss, permanent. Keep in mind that in order to lose significant weight, changes need to be made to your lifestyle. Do not get overwhelmed and remember that every long journey starts with a single step. Many little achievable changes, like “The Game Changers” list above, will add up and the scale will soon start to change.