“We are indeed much more that what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” Adelle Davis
Some common weight loss 101 questions I hear in my practice as a naturopathic doctor include, “Is losing weight as simple as less calories in then calories out?” ” What is a calorie? ” “Are carbohydrates really evil?” “Why can’t I lose weight past a certain point?”
These questions typify many of what people ask when they begin to restructure their lifestyle habits to resume or achieve a better sense of health. This quest often starts with the pursuit of smaller waistlines. People generally get a sense of how their physique is based on how they feel in their clothes, and of course just by looking at themselves in the mirror. This quandary is further emphasized in the summer time as people begin to panic by the thought of wearing a bathing suit or more revealing summer clothing.
Weight loss, like weight gain, however, is multivariable. This means that many things influence it, and it influences many things. Changing your weight or waist line involves trying to address as many of the variables that you can, and depending on your goals, making your approach as sustainable as you can. The following are just some basic principles of how the body regulates weight.
- Metabolic efficiency – Your body’s ability to preserve body weight with energy fluctuations. For example, those with high metabolic efficiency are better able to preserve body weight during negative energy balance (less calories in then out) & conversely better able to gain more weight with positive energy balance (more calories in then out).
- Social implications of food – Many social interactions are centred around food.
- Sedentary lifestyle – The current North American lifestyle emphasizes longer work hours and less physical activity.
- Genes – The blueprint provided by your parents may impact your ability to moderate hunger, feel satiety, and or lose weight.
- Hormones – Complex interconnected pathways that impact food intake, (i.e. insulin, glucagon, neuropeptide Y, leptin, etc.) and energy expenditure (i.e. thyroid hormone, cortisol, etc.) These are altered and impacted by factors such as inflammation, stress, and toxic load, to name a few.
- Set point – The ideal weight your body likes to be at, so changes to the set point need to be slow and steady (assuming realistic set point) as to not put the body into a state of shock.
- Gastrointestinal health – If nutrient absorption is a problem, then hunger may persist even with adequate caloric intake.
Now how do we take all that we are made of (genes, habits, lifestyle, hormones, toxins, etc.) and create a weight loss program that achieves a sustainable weight? Ideally, an individual approach that susses out these parameters and finds the best way for each person to meet their target goal is best. Generally, however, there are some rules that are pretty safe and recommended for the masses. Here they are.
- Baseline – Knowing where you are makes your goals and visions much more tangible, especially where weigh loss is concerned. Some great baseline measurements are as simple as height & weight, BMI, and circumferences (abdomen, hips, arms, thighs). Other parameters include tests for body composition (fat, lean muscle), blood lipids, blood sugars, and hormones. Examples of baselines you can discover yourself can be found by jotting down everything you eat in a week. Look for what, when, and how you are eating. Not eating until noon? Eating mostly carbohydrates? How much caffeine are you consuming? Be real with yourself as to what you are eating to get a general appreciation for how many calories you per day you are consuming.
- Exercise – Move you body as much as you can. Aim for 150 minutes of cardio at least, each week. Blend in some weight bearing exercise 3 times per week. Make sure that when you are working out that you are breaking a sweat.
- Goal setting – Set a few goals. Tier them so you have what you would be ecstatic about, happy with, okay with, and disappointed with.
- Breakfast – within 30 minutes of waking. Just do it. This is not only linked with lower daily caloric intake but its a must to balance hormones and mood. If this is difficult for you, slowly increase the amount of food you are eating each week until you are consuming about 500 calories for breakfast.
- Protein – Include it with every meal. Protein is essential for cell health which translates to whole-body health. It is crucial to include protein when eating foods that spike blood sugar quickly as they tend to balance blood sugars.
- Vegetables – when in doubt or when not in doubt about what to eat, eat your vegetables, everyday. Mix the colours and types of veggies that you eat to maintain variety. Your body will love you for it.
- 80% – eat until you are 80% full. The Japanese refer to this as Hara hachi bu. It takes a while to master but doing it will no doubt leave you with more energy and a healthier body mass index.
- Portion – Eating portions that will lead to adequate nutrient and calorie intake. This is important to help train the body to not overeat.
- Timing and Presence – Eat throughout the day, whatever makes sense to you. For example 6 small meals versus 4 meals or 3 meals with snacks. Whatever you choose, only eat when you are eating. This means no multitasking, no taking 2 hours to finish a meal while you steal bites while working through a task. Sit down and digest. Aim to finish eating 3 hours before you go to bed. This will also encourage better breakfast eating behaviour which as mentioned earlier is paramount to health and ideal body size.
- Patience – Changes take time, the body adapts better to small changes over time. Have faith in yourself and take that eager excitement we all have when we first start something and spread it out so it lasts. With shifts in metabolism it is truly the tortoise that will win.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss, considering so many factors come into play. It would be my pleasure to assist you in achieving your weight loss and overall health goals using an individualized and sustainable approach. If you feel you are lacking adequate support, don’t hesitate to set up a free 15 minute consultation to see if my services may be of use to you!
Yours in health,
Dr. Sarah Kent is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor specializing in your health. She blends traditional knowledge with current scientiﬁc understanding to generate wellness within her patients. She has received specialized training in naturopathic sports medicine, applying the principles and tools of naturopathic care in treating athletes. With these skills she’s helped patients improve their sport performance, rehabilitate & prevent injury
- BMI calculator – http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm
- Calorie counter – fitday.com
- Portion sizes – http://www.webmd.com/diet/printable/wallet-portion-control-size-guide