January is definitely one of the times of the year that many people are talking and thinking about weight loss. This article will not provide you with a special weight loss diet, but rather show you some of the areas that as a Naturopathic doctor I am checking to help you reach your optimal weight and best health.
- Get enough sleep: Your body needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to maintain a healthy metabolism. The reasons are 1) sleeping too little causes cravings for foods to keep your energy up when you are tired; 2) sleeping less than 6 hours per night puts your body into a state of ‘insulin resistance’, where you are storing calories from carbohydrate foods (read more below); and 3) most people do not make sensible choices around food when they are tired. If you are not sleeping well, it is essential for your health and vitality that we address this!
- Address stress hormones: Prolonged high levels of stress cause a rise in the production of a stress hormone called cortisol. When your cortisol is elevated for too long, abdominal weight gain happens. High cortisol also tends to increase your carb and sugar cravings, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If you have been under stress for the past months or years, and carry extra weight around your central abdomen, cortisol is likely the hormone to address.
- Correct an imbalance in gastroinestinal flora (especially yeast): There have been many studies lately showing how the balance of flora in your intestinal tract can affect your weight. When you have an overgrowth of yeast for example, your cravings for sugar will be strong and hard to fight. This type of imbalance typically happens after many rounds of antibiotics (even if it was in early childhood). Re-balancing your intestinal flora will change your food cravings and result in sustained weight loss. In North America right now, most people have an imbalance in their intestinal flora – this is a key area to address not only for weight and digestive health, but also for mood, energy and immune system.
- Test for food intolerances: Foods that the body is intolerant to cause inflammation, which can show up as digestive upset, skin problems, mood or energy issues, body aches or pains, or be related to autoimmune conditions. When there is inflammation, there is stress on the body, which then affects stress hormones, and as mentioned above – when stress hormones are high, weight goes up. For many of my patients, identifying food intolerances is key to weight loss, especially with gluten-intolerance.
- Treat insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a condition where the body over-reacts to high-carbohydrate foods with a spike in insulin. This causes more cravings for high-carb foods, and also easy weight gain. Insulin resistance is a pre-pre-diabetic condition, which is reversible with diet changes. If you have a family history of diabetes especially, or have been overweight since childhood, exploring this condition is an important step to optimizing your metabolism.
- Deal with inflammation: Inflammation anywhere in the body can affect your weight. Inflammation is the underlying cause of many chronic health conditions ranging from joint pains to cardiovascular disease. Inflammation can result in pain, and can disrupt the function of a body system. If you have any type of chronic inflammatory condition, an anti-inflammatory diet is the best place to start, as well as identifying food intolerances as an additional cause of inflammation.
- Stop over-exercising: It appears that we are still living in a time of ‘more is better’ with exercise, and with women’s hormones especially, over-exercising can result in weight gain instead of weight loss. This all depends on a woman’s stress hormones. If you already have a high-stress, high-demand life, and also exercise very intensely, you may not see the results that you are aiming for! The key is to test for stress hormone imbalances – are your cortisol or DHEA levels too high or too low? In many cases, a moderate exercise plan is the best path for weight loss and management.
I hope this article has been of assistance to those of you struggling with weight, or frustrated when changes to diet and exercise are not working. If you require more assistance with any of these issues, please discuss at your next appointment.