Weight-loss. It’s a topic we hear about time and time again, with fad diets and ‘quick fix’ approaches plastered across billboards, magazines, TVs and social media. Everyday, we are hit with a barrage of advice as to how we can ‘shed the kilos’ and achieve our ‘bikini body’. Whether it’s a low carb ketogenic diet, a juice cleanse, a raw vegan diet or a lemon detox, every ad, article and celebrity endorsement promises to hold the solution to finally reaching your weight loss goals and achieving the body you’ve always dreamed of.
Sadly, many of these approaches are unsustainable, unhealthy and in some cases, downright dangerous! What they promise in results, they lack in science and sustainability. In clinic, we often see patients who have been stuck on a long-term merry-go-round of quick fixes, dramatic weight-loss and rapid re-gain. Unfortunately, their health, nutrition and mental well being suffers in the process, as does their body image and relationship with food. Maintaining a healthy body composition is about so much more than achieving a six pack or getting a ‘bikini body’. It’s about:
- Increasing your lifespan
- Reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and liver disease
- Improving your fertility
- Ensuring healthy pregnancies and reducing your risk of miscarriage
- Maximising your bone density
- Protecting your joints
- Maintaining good mobility
- And so much more!
At PHF, we work to inspire and educate our patients about the role of food and nutrition in health, and establish habits conducive to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. We don’t teach our patients to diet, we teach them how to eat to achieve their ideal weight and maintain it for the rest of their life. When patients come in for weight-loss, there are so many factors we look at in terms of their dietary habits, health and lifestyle, as there is a lot more to weight-loss than simply calories in, calories out. In addition to the types, quantity and nutritional content of the foods they’re eating, some of the things we might consider include:
I cannot over-emphasise the role of stress in regulating our appetite, eating habits and body composition. When stressed, the body produces a hormone called cortisol, which increases our appetite, reduces our self-control and increases our desire for fatty and sugary foods.
Cortisol also affects the way we metabolise food and store energy, increasing deposition of body fat around the mid-section. For this reason, it can be difficult to achieve and maintain weight loss during periods of prolonged stress. Fortunately, there are herbs, nutrients and lifestyle practices we prescribe to help the body better respond to stress, to better regulate the body’s cortisol production and facilitate weight loss.
The microbiome refers to the micro-organisms growing in your gut. Although we’ve known about ‘good and bad’ gut bacteria for many years, research is only just beginning to scratch the surface of how the microbiome influences our health, as well as the extensive benefits of maintaining a diverse gastrointestinal eco-system! One of these benefits is weight control. Interestingly, research suggests overweight and obese individuals have a higher percentage of certain types of gut bacteria, while individuals in the ‘healthy’ weight range have greater proportions of another type. In cases of resistant weight loss, we often order tests on a patients microbiome to look at the different balance of bacteria, to establish what we need to do to encourage the growth of bacteria related to a healthier body weight.
Glycaemic Control – Learn about Insulin!
Glycaemic control refers to the body’s ability to regulate its blood sugar levels. One of the biggest contributors to weight gain is poor glycaemic control and insulin resistance. After we eat, our blood sugar rises, causing the body to produce insulin. Insulin tells the cells to take up some of this sugar for energy. Once the body’s energy stores are saturated, excess blood sugar will be converted to fat for storage. Fluctuating blood sugar levels also affects our appetite and makes us crave high calorie, fatty and sugary foods. We always run tests on our patients looking at their insulin levels, which is so often overlooked when people are searching for weight loss answers. A great place to start with weight loss is teaching our patients all about insulin and how to manage it well.
Hormones regulate many aspects of our health, including our metabolism, appetite and fat storage. Certain endocrine conditions such as diabetes, PCOS and hypothyroidism can affect our ability to gain or lose weight, and therefore identifying and managing these conditions can be an important part of weight-loss.
The quantity and quality of our sleep affects everything from our energy levels to our appetite, glycaemic control and food cravings. For example, when we are sleep deprived, our body produces more of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, which means sleep deprivation can increase our appetite and make us feel hungrier!
Tiredness also compromises the function of the frontal lobe, which is the section of the brain that controls impulses and decision making. This means that when we are tired, we have less willpower and are far less likely to stick to our diet, go out to exercise or refuse a second helping of dessert! Research consistently shows a relationship between sleep deprivation and weight gain, so it is an important factor we look at when helping patients achieve their weight loss goals!
No weight-loss article would be complete without a mention of exercise. Although you can never out-run a bad diet (literally and figuratively speaking), regular physical activity is so important for your physical health, mental wellbeing and ability to maintain a healthy weight. Not only does exercise increase your energy expenditure, but it has also been shown to improve your glycaemic control, insulin sensitivity and sleep quality, thereby supporting some of the other aspects of weight-loss already mentioned in this list. In general, we encourage a mix of cardiovascular activity (like walking, running and/or swimming) and weight-training exercise, to improve cardiovascular health, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass and support overall wellbeing.
The Take Home Message on Weight-Loss
If you need to lose weight, don’t start yet another fad diet. Learn about how the body works, learn what causes us to store food as fat, learn what causes us to crave certain foods, understand what your blood tests may be telling you and approach weight loss not as a diet, but as a new way of eating to achieve optimal health. If you’ve been struggling with weight-loss or weight-gain, our naturopaths are highly qualified in the field of nutrition, and can help you get off the weight-loss merry-go-round, so you can achieve your health and body goals.