Weight Loss Program Part 1: Take a common-sense approach to weight loss
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Note: see Part 2 my Weight Loss Program articles.
When it comes to losing weight, it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin.
The growing number of diets, diet books, diet supplements, and proclaimed techniques for weight loss don't make matters easier. Some say to simply follow the suggested servings in our food rainbow (or pyramid) guides. Others say that all you have to do is eat fewer calories and exercise more.
Shedding pounds, however, can remain difficult despite excess exercising and calorie counting. Other diets that restrict certain food groups such as reducing carbohydrates or fat, or increasing the amount of protein are often too narrow in scope to follow long-term.
The key to losing weight is to understand and address your predispositions to gaining weight. This involves treating underlying causes that are contributing to hormone imbalances and lowered metabolism.
Causes for weight gain & what you can do about it:
Our state of mind, whether relaxed or stressed, directly effects hormone balance and can cause weight gain.
Chronic stress causes excess cortisol (a stress hormone) that increases sugar levels in the blood. Cortisol can also decrease the amount of active thyroid hormones, thereby lowering metabolism. Both can contribute to weight gain.
Addressing the root cause of the stress and learning adaptation techniques that suit each individual is paramount. Exercising, taking breaks, socializing, going on vacation more often and finding a better work-life balance are all great ways to decompress.
Choose whatever way works best for you. In conjunction with lifestyle changes, specific vitamins and herbal remedies in medicinal doses can be administered for those who find it difficult to adapt to everyday stress.
* Low thyroid function:
The thyroid gland, which is located in the throat area, produces hormones that controls how quickly the body burns energy.
Underactive thyroid (a condition called hypothyroidism) is an important cause of lowered metabolism and therefore weight gain. Decreased levels of thyroid hormone can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- exposure to chemicals such as heavy metals and chlorinated compounds -- both found extensively in our environment
- various nutritional deficiencies including protein, tyrosine and iodine
- excess intake of foods that contain goitrogens (i.e. chemicals that block the thyroid's ability to use iodine) such as soy and raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, bok choy, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and cauliflower (note that this occurs only in susceptible individuals)
- autoimmune disease where our own antibodies start attacking thyroid cells.
Aim to decrease your exposure to environmental chemicals. Place a water filter in your shower to decrease the amount of chlorine inhalation. Ask your dentist about alternatives to mercury fillings. For those with confirmed hypothyroidism, reduce your intake of goitrogens.
Also, work with your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor to investigate a possible autoimmune cause for decreased thyroid function. Simple laboratory tests can evaluate for the presence of auto-antibodies and levels active thyroid hormone in your blood.
For more info, please read Dr. Gleixner's latest article on thyroid function.
* A disrupted pancreas:
The pancreas produces insulin (a hormone) that regulates sugar levels and its storage in the body. If the pancreas stops working properly, it causes blood sugar imbalances. Excess weight can lead to changes in the way your body produces and responds to insulin.
Liver and muscle cells for example, stop being able to use sugar for energy, causing excess sugar to be stored in our hips, bums and abdomen.
In addition, your pancreas produces digestive enzymes. A burned out pancreas can also lead to poor digestive ability and decreased nutrient status.
Restoring proper pancreatic function and improving the way that sugar is metabolized in your body is essential for achieving your ideal weight. Dietary suggestions, exercising, as well as medicine herbs provide the foundation for improving sugar metabolism.
* Poor liver and digestive system health:
When liver function and digestion slows down, metabolism slows down. The liver cleans our blood while our bowels move out material that the body no longer needs. A sluggish liver and constipation can both contribute to weight gain.
The liver and the digestive system are intimately related. The health of one affects the other. Since the liver dumps its detoxification wastes into the small intestine, it's important to ensure that the bowels are moving first. As always, look for the underlying causes for constipation. Use herbal laxatives only as a last resort. Several herbal remedies can also be very useful to improve both bowel and liver health.
Here are some additional tips to help you shed weight. Try as many of the following techniques below as possible. Circle ones that interest you and try one this week.
* Adopt an eating plan:
Use a food plan that has been developed with the goal of not only weight loss, but also maximizing your health. By improving your health status, your organs will function better and, therefore, your metabolism will improve. This will accelerate weight loss.
Certain restrictive diets that focus only on weight loss often lead to many nutritional deficiencies thereby preventing optimal health.
Work with your naturopathic doctor or nutritionist to devise an individualized eating plan.
* Read food ingredients:
Check the ingredients of everything you eat, including any diet products. Food chemicals such as artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, 'spices,' natural flavours and artificial flavours wreak havoc on your metabolism.
Many of these substances are addictive and increase appetite. Use this simple rule: if you can't pronounce the ingredient, don't buy it.
Also, it is important to avoid high fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, transfats, and enriched bleached wheat/white flour, as they can significantly accelerate weight gain.
* Implementing movement within every day activities:
Exercise is an essential component of health optimization and weight loss. Walk as much as you can.
* Sleep more:
A study of more than 1,000 people published in Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that people getting less than the optimal number of hours of sleep (i.e., eight hours) show a decreased ability to lose weight.
* Eat organic food:
Buying organic is especially important in naturally fatty foods, such as meat and dairy products. Non-organic versions can contain growth hormones and pesticides; both which can disrupt metabolism and increase body weight.
Meat, eggs, cheese, yogurt and grain products that are free of synthetic chemicals can be found year round at our local markets. During summer months, fruits and vegetables that are locally grown without the use of pesticides are also found.
* Treat yourself in different ways:
Depriving yourself doesn't work long-term. Look for recipes that are both satisfying and optimize your health. If you find yourself eating when you are not hungry or because of stress or emotional reasons, try social interaction, fresh air or exercise to displace stress and fill your emotional needs.
* Don't eat worry:
Do your best choosing healthy foods but avoid obsessing about it. Once you make a dietary change, try to stick with it for two to three weeks, the time it takes for a new habit to take hold. Avoid flip-flopping back and forth as this can be quite stressful.
The most important way to lose weight is to first figure out what is preventing you from losing it in the first place. Determine and address the root cause by working with your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor.
As noted by Leslie Beck, "when it comes to losing weight -- or preventing weight gain -- it's the small changes that make the biggest difference."
Start somewhere and the rest will follow.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday July 22th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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