Now that the holidays are over, a lot of people are thinking about losing some weight for the New Year. The time for new years “resolutions” may be a bit past which means now is the time to get serious about changes you want to make!
I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile now. I found myself procrastinating because I had a number of issues I wanted to address and kept waiting for enough free time to sit down and do it. Since this strategy didn’t seem to be working, I decided on a different one. I’ve decided to write a series of short articles rather than one big one.Flexibility in achieving a goal makes us more likely to actually get the job done!
Many people get discouraged in their weight normalization (I like this term better than “weight loss”) because they try things that just don’t work. Because of this, I thought I’d start my series by talking about approaches that I feel are either ineffective or downright harmful.
Let me start by saying that there is no “magic pill” that will help you achieve a healthy weight. I know that may be a disappointment 🙂 ! There are some nutrients such as vitamin D and chromium that, if you’re deficient, can make you more likely to gain weight. If you are not deficient, however, taking more of these nutrients will not help you normalize weight and may even cause toxicity!
There are also “diet pills” which are basically stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines that will temporarily increase calorie burning but are very damaging to your health. In addition, the results will only be temporary in most cases.
A truly effective weight normalization approach is one which will also result in improved energy, better mood, stronger immune system, improved cardiovascular health and help prevent blood sugar problems like type 2 diabetes. A successful approach is also one which will result in *long term* weight normalization. There are lots of approaches that can result in a weight loss of ten or twenty pounds. Unfortunately many of them yield only temporary improvement and often result in eventually gaining back more weight than originally lost!
One general rule of thumb is that the quicker we lose weight, the less likely we are to keep it off. Gradual weight loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds/week may not seem that exciting but, over a year, that adds up to 25 – 100 pounds that have stayed off! Rapid weight loss is also very stressful to our bodies. The gradual “slow and steady” approach is not only more successful, it’s much healthier.
One common weight loss method that has proven time and again to be unsuccessful is severe calorie restriction. This approach, which may involve calorie restrictions as severe as 500 calories/day, puts incredible stress on your system. Stress hormones go through the roof, including cortisol.
High cortisol levels are a primary culprit in accelerated aging, poor healing, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes as well as depressed estrogen, testosterone and impaired thyroid function. To add insult to injury, the “spare tire” pattern of weight gain around the waist is a classic high cortisol symptom.
Our bodies have a fantastic ability to adapt to harsh conditions. The body has a “famine mode” that it goes into when enough food is not available. In times past and in some parts of the world to this day, the “famine mode” enabled people to live through periods, like the end of Winter, when there just wasn’t enough food left.
To perform this vital function, your body metabolism and *calorie burning* slows down. This survival mechanism stays in effect even *after* you resume normal calorie consumption! As a result, although there may be initial weight loss, people on severe calorie restriction hit a point where they can’t lose any more. When they go to a *maintenance* level of calories they actually start gaining weight on a food intake that kept them level before!
This much has been know for many years but recent research indicates that your body’s reaction to low calorie diets is even worse than we knew. A study published in the October, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that the decreased rate of calorie burning lasted for more than a year. In addition, levels of hormones like insulin, leptin and ghrelin (an appetite stimulant) also remained altered after a year with the effect of *greatly increasing* appetite and hunger!
Not only do people who try to lose weight with severe calorie restriction diets start burning calories slower but they become much hungrier than they were before the “diet”. No wonder few people keep the weight off with this strategy and so many actually end up gaining even more than they originally lost!
So now we know what doesn’t work. In my next installment I’ll talk about weight normalization strategies that do work.