Weight Loss for the New Year

A woman sitting in the lotus position with her legs crossed.

Jennifer Pham-MacMillan Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end. That is generally how we like to approach a fresh new year, especially having wound up all the festivities and indulgences of December.

New year’s resolutions have been made. We all want to look better, feel better….be better. Weight loss and healthier lifestyle are top on the list of priorities and good intentions, yet it is so difficult for many to achieve. I often hear, “I’ve tried many diets, they don’t work – I lost the weight, and gained it all back…and then some “. It doesn’t seem like it should be rocket science – but I hope to impress upon you that in some cases, it just may be.

Weight loss, and more importantly fat loss is not as simple as counting calories in/out. Our body’s are so individual and complex, that you need to understand what is going on with the whole person in order to shift the weight and fat loss.

There are many reasons why it can be difficult to lose weight. Starting with the most simple, let’s consider what we put in our bodies. I often hear, “I heard Kale (or replace with the latest fad) is good, so I’m eating it”. This may be true in general, but what is more important to understand your relation to the food and ask is, “Is this food good for me?” If a particular food makes you feel obviously ill, it is easy to avoid. But what if a food (you think is good for you) is causing you more harm than good? This is known as a food intolerance, which can cause inflammation in your body causing you to hold onto excess weight and/or make you feel unwell. Food intolerance testing can be done to determine what may be the causing inflammation.

But to take it few steps further, it may be the toxins in your gut, or you may not have good gut flora so you can better digest food, and eliminate waste and toxins. Already the picture of weight loss is seemingly far more complicated. A simple thing that everyone can do decrease the toxic load is cut out the processed foods, that is anything that comes in a box. This simple step can take you well onto a weight loss journey. However, the catch is, if you return to eating processed foods, you should expect to gain back the weight and fat. Most processed foods have loads of sugars and preservatives, that make them so addictive, and therefore, easy to put the weight back on. They are also score low on the nutritious side. In my opinion, it is the overconsumption of processed foods that we have seen a rise in obesity and diabetes. By removing processed “foods” from your diet, you are doing a simple detox, and the side effect is you will probably lose some weight. There are more intense detoxifications available but should be determined through individual assessment.

The next obvious thing to consider is exercise. Yes, exercise is essential. It doesn’t need to always be intense. It is important to keep moving – at the very least 30-45 minutes of walking a day. Weight/resistance training has been shown to be more effective at maintaining/building muscle mass, thereby keeping fat mass lower. Being in the fitness industry for 15 years, I have witnessed many who do extensive cardio for years, and do not achieve their fitness goals. I can only theorize as to why, but I attribute it to lack of resistance training, and muscle building.

Nutrition and exercise were the obvious things to consider. An equal player in the game is lifestyle. I am a true believer in the simple things: good nutrition, exercise, water, sleep and decrease stress. We have briefly discussed nutrition and exercise above. Hydration is paramount to feeling well, and helps to flush the toxins out of the body. And it doesn’t hurt that it can make you feel fuller, and it’s cheap – free in some cases.

Sleep is so important when it comes to healthy weight loss. Lack of sleep is a stressor on the body, so I will discuss sleep and stress together. Lack of sleep and other sources of stress can fluxuate hormone levels in the body that affect your weight. Hormones such as cortisol, insulin, melatonin and serotonin all play a role on weight. Other hormones that play a role on weight are sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone; if these hormones are out of balance, weight gain is the result. Another hormone worth mentioning is the thyroid hormone, which regulates your metabolism. Many conditions that are associated with being overweight are related to the hormones above: diabetes type 2, insomnia, anxiety, depression, menopause, andropause, fatigue, and hyopthyroidism.

Trying to meet nutrition and exercise goals in a weight loss plan is a challenge in itself. If you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned above, that challenge will be amplified. Weight loss can be achieved, but the condition/hormone imbalance must be addressed for you to get optimal results.

In my 10 years as a naturopath, and 15 years as a fitness instructor, I see results in clients when they finally understand that weight loss is not a simple equation, and not short term. Success is achieved when they are ready to examine where they are on the health spectrum, and adjust their lifestyle accordingly to get where they want to be, and stay there.