Check which of the following apply:
___Do you avidly seek the latest guru to give you the magic answer to weight loss?
___Have you endured liquid diets, high protein diets and low protein diets not to mention cabbage soup and grapefruit diets?
___Does your home bookshelf feature more diet books than amazon.com?
___Can you name the number of calories in dozens of different foods?
___Do you combine, measure and weigh your food so often that you wish you’d majored in biochemistry?
___Does your brain hurt from constantly trying to remember exactly what amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fat are optimal to melt your fat away?
Healthy eating was never meant to be this complicated. This year forget about counting calories, calculating your BMI and physical over-training. If you really need to lose weight, it’s time for a radical, new approach: Common sense. The tips that follow, taken from my experience and that of other holistic nutritionists, can help. Before we get into these practical tips, however, let’s look at why diets are problematic and why so many people are overweight.
Recent government studies indicate that over 50% of America’s adult population is overweight, and a staggering 30% of everyone over the age of 40 is obese. (Obesity is defined as 20% over the normal weight for your age.) In all my years as a clinical nutritionist, I have never seen such confusion about a subject as there seems to be over weight loss. More people than ever are attempting to avoid the foods that will make them fat. Ironically, as statistics show, more of us are fatter than ever before.
Maybe you’re one of the 80 million Americans who went on a diet last year and failed to keep the weight off, as 95% of us do. If so, you may be asking for trouble. Chronic dieting can lead to gallstones, arthritis, edema, high cholesterol, damaged liver function, pancreatic complications, disordered heart rate, abdominal pain, gout and decreased libido. If that’s not scary enough, check your wallet. Annual revenues of Weight Watchers are $1.6 billion, Jenny Craig takes in $400 million and NutriSystems tips the scale at $225 million.
Some of the blame for our unnatural preoccupation with weight has to be attributed to society’s arbitrary definition of physical beauty. Culture to culture, century to century, our physical ideals have changed, presenting a moving target few people could actually hit.
Vanity may compel us to squeeze into the physical mold glorified in fashion magazines, but our bodies will naturally return to the size and shape to which we are genetically predisposed. The guilt, frustration and, in some cases, self-hate associated with falling into the trap of societal esthetics perpetuates the alternating cycles of self-deprivation and dietary excess called the yo-yo phenomenon. If you’ve been on the diet rollercoaster, it’s time to get off.
The word “diet,” to most of us, connotes a dramatic and temporary shift in our eating behavior, depriving ourselves of the foods we love for a seemingly interminable amount of time in the hopes of dropping a few unwanted pounds. After this, we go right back to our old pound-producing habits.
The truth is that the word “diet” comes from the Latin “diaeta,” meaning “way of life.” It is our way of life, not the occasional hiatus, that dictates the extent of our girth and overall health. If you are serious about losing weight, you’ll need to change your way of life. Don’t bother making a commitment to lose a certain amount of weight. Your pledge to take off 10 pounds will sustain you only long enough to shed the weight, and you’ll find yourself back where you started (or heavier!) faster than you can say “double cheeseburger and fries.”
On the other hand, if you make a commitment to achieve and maintain good health, you’ll not only lose weight but you’ll keep it off for life. Know that the amount of weight you lose isn’t nearly as important as keeping this amount of weight off.
Finding your way back to health and an optimum weight will require a willingness to be honest with yourself to determine which elements in your way of life produced the unwanted weight. In my experience, the cause is most often a combination of two or more of the following factors: Malnutrition, inactivity, internal toxicity and stress. Try these four simple strategies to correct for these factors and begin your new, healthy weight loss journey.
It sounds silly, but most overweight people are undernourished. Their bodies are starved for nutrients. Nature intended the human machine to run on small amounts of nutrient dense food. The heavy person is invariably consuming large amounts of nutrient deficient food such as highly refined or processed foods, white flour products, sugary foods and fatty fast foods. The human body’s natural instinct to survive will always, in the face of a shortfall of necessary raw materials, conserve the energy it has and look for ways to store more. That energy being conserved is the fat you want to lose.
Take your cue from our Paleolithic ancestors who, like every other animal on the planet, ate what the earth provided, in its natural, unadulterated form. They grazed throughout the day eating when they felt hungry and stopping when they had had enough. Anthropologists have discovered that the Paleolithic diet was comprised primarily of fruits and vegetables and included a variety of animal and vegetable protein sources. Grains were a relatively late addition to the human diet, are not required by our bodies and should be eaten in moderation.
There are probably thousands of ways to mix and match these foods to keep things interesting. It just requires a little imagination and experimentation. I recently had the shiatsu therapist in our office start eating according to this nutrient dense philosophy, and the weight is coming off so fast he can hardly keep his pants up.
There’s a saying in the nutrition biz: exercise and any weight loss program will work; without exercise, no weight loss program will work. That might be a bit of a stretch, but you get the point. The human machine was designed for movement, yet more and more of us lead sedentary lives. Data from the US Preventative Task Force reveals that only 20% of the adult population exercise at a level recommended for cardiovascular benefit, while another 40% exercise at much lower levels. This leaves 40% who are completely sedentary.
Our Paleolithic ancestors were far more active than we are. Our challenge, in this age of mechanized transportation and desk jobs, is to give our bodies an adequate level of activity. This will vary from person to person. In general, 40 minutes of some form of aerobic exercise done three times a week will do the trick. This will not only burn up extra calories while you work out, it will also enhance your rate of metabolism (and fat-burning potential) for a full 24 hours after each session.
Internal toxicity is another element holistic practitioners believe to often be associated with weight gain. Metabolic efficiency tests I run at my office indicate that my overweight clients have poor digestion, absorption and elimination. In most cases, these individuals are utilizing less than half of the food they eat, leaving over 50% as waste.
The channels of elimination of the body – the lungs, colon, lymph, kidneys and skin – were designed to process roughly 20% of food as waste. When these systems are asked to handle over two and a half times their capacity, the result can be a build-up of metabolic debris, or toxins. As these toxins accumulate, the body may look for places to store them away from its vital organs. It searches for nice, safe places like fat deposits in the hips, thighs, buttocks and belly. When there are not enough fatty deposits available, the body will manufacture more of them to act as toxic waste sites.
If you are unable to lose weight despite vigorous exercise and a reasonably healthy diet, the reason could be internal toxicity. To lose the toxins, you’ll need to improve your metabolic efficiency and cleansing your body of standing waste. As you begin to use more and waste less of your food, you’ll take a tremendous load off the eliminative channels and allow them to lower your body’s toxic load. When the poisons are gone, your body will gladly let go of the fat it no longer needs for defense.
If you find yourself eating for reasons other than enjoyment and the nourishment of your body, stress could be a contributing factor to your weight problem. Physical, mental and emotional stresses all have disrupting effects on our bodies. When not addressed or improperly managed, stress can create an imbalance that your body will seek to rectify. “Medicating” yourself with sweet or fatty foods to relieve stress or burying painful emotions under excess food will not improve the situation. On the contrary, the extra weight brought on by these quick “fixes” will ultimately become yet another stress for you to contend with.
Relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga and exercise are all great for lowering the high stress levels associated with our modern lives. Don’t underestimate the power of stress. As long as your body feels threatened by internal or external stresses, it will hold tight to its protective shield of fat.
Being overweight is a primary risk factor for developing heart disease (the nation’s number one killer), high blood pressure, kidney and liver trouble, diabetes and certain cancers including breast cancer. Certainly, these are compelling reasons to shed the extra weight you may be carrying. However, the solution isn’t rushing around frantically counting calories and eating grapefruit and cabbage soup.
Instead, say No to chronic dieting and Yes to a healthy lifestyle and comprehensive approach to weight management.
Use these simple keys to enjoy a diet-free, healthy weight loss:
Sam Rose, CN MS is a licensed and certified nutritionist and owner of Rose Nutrition Center in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-473-8835.