So You Want to Lose Weight…
Why? Don’t like what you see in the mirror? Not feeling so great after holiday eating? Want to generally eat a healthier diet? Or, all of the above?
Your “why” is important because it will largely determine whether you will succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. Weight loss is the goal du jour every new year. And as the year goes on the goal fades and we get back to our usual routine. If you would like to make some healthful, and maybe permanent, changes in how you eat read on.
There are several important issues to deal with before you start any weight loss effort.
First, have you been diagnosed with any of these conditions: “metabolic syndrome,” type I or II diabetes, or pre-diabetes? These conditions will greatly influence your chances of success.
Second, have you had any lab work done in the past year? The results should be accounted for before you start weight loss.
Third, what is your history with weight loss? Tried and failed, tried and succeeded but gained the weight back?
Weight Loss Research
Studies of the major weight loss programs show that, if followed strictly, they all work…for a while. There is successful weight loss for the first six months. Then after one year weight returns to pre-diet levels, often more weight than when the diet was started.
Research also shows that calorie counting is not the best way to go because not all calories are created equal. Even the popular Weight Watchers program has changed its methods to account for this. Low-fat diets are not successful because they result in too many carbohydrates which drive metabolic syndrome. Rapid weight loss is also ineffective. Participants in the TV program “The Greatest Loser” have been studied and almost all who lost a great deal of weight during a fairly short time period failed in keeping it off. In fact many gained back more weight. More significantly their metabolic rate actually declined and they were in worse shape in this regard than before their rapid weight loss.
It turns out that the body has a strong tendency to hold onto weight and will try to return to pre-diet weight, a so-called “set point,” even to reducing the metabolic rate in order to gain back those lost pounds. This was the phenomenon discovered in the “Greatest Loser” research but it applies to many over-weight or obese individuals.
The most effective diets are ones that restrict or completely eliminate certain carbohydrates which are defined as all grains and potatoes but not including green vegetables (or beets, carrots, sweet potatoes).
However, for many individuals the amount of calories is not as important as the types of food eaten, what information are you feeding to your body? This is the purpose of the elimination diet, finding out what your body tolerates and what it doesn’t. After the elimination phase restricted foods can be introduced individually to determine how the body reacts to foods that may have been part of your diet in the past. Then you will know how that specific food makes you feel and what it does to your weight.
Standard American Diet Deficient
The underlying issue is that our eating habits are contrary to the way the body was designed. American dietary patterns (dubbed appropriately “SAD” for “Standard American Diet” by researchers) have changed fairly radically over the past 50 years due in large part to the large scale industrial agricultural system (which has resulted in the depletion of vital soil nutrients; see more about this below), the mania over low-fat diets and the marketing-driven food industry. Our 21st century lifestyle than combines eating on the go and prolonged, chronic stress causes over time alterations in hormone balance and a myriad of maladies.
Three phenomenon stand out:
- Americans consume a large amount of simple, refined carbohydrates, from bread to deserts to potatoes and related foods that are quickly converted into glucose. This amounts to eating sugar even if you don’t think you are. These types of foods place a great demand for insulin which the body requires to process these carbs. This trend was boosted by the low fat craze that started in the 1970’s. The story of that fiasco (incorrectly interpreted research) is an interesting one which we won’t go into here. But the result was that in order to make low-fat foods palatable sugar in various forms was substituted. (It turns out that the right kinds of fats are much healthier than sugar and refined carbs that easily convert to sugar.)
- The fats we consume in the SAD are heavy biased toward Omega 6 fatty acids and are low in Omega 3 fatty acids. This is very consequential for this reason: Omega 6 fatty acids feed an inflammatory pathway in the body and Omega 3 fatty acids feed an anti-inflammatory pathway. We should be roughly in balance with an ideal ratio of O-6:O-3 of 2:1 or at worse 4:1. However, it’s estimated that the average American’s 6:3 ratio ranges from 15:1 up to 30:1. So we are plagued with inflammatory conditions, “-itises.” Arthritis, gastritis, sinusitis, and colitis being the most common. This is a great example of the fact that our bodies were specifically designed for a balance of nutrients. The SAD is terribly imbalanced. The high consumption of oils containing moderate to high amounts of Omega 6 fats accounts for a large part of the problem. These types of oil (corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola) predominate in processed foods. Soy, which is cheap owing in large part to government subsidies of soy farmers, is fed to many animals, notably chickens. If you eat flesh high in omega 6 oils that add to your omega 6 load.
- The SAD is woefully deficient in many key nutrients and this lack is a major contributor to insulin resistance. It turns out that three substances which the cells need in order for the insulin receptors to work correctly are minerals that are widely depleted in American soils: chromium, magnesium, and zinc. (As a relevant aside, plants only have minerals in them if the mineral is in the soil. This is in contrast to B vitamins which plants create through photosynthesis, exposure to the sun.) So another effect of our modern American agricultural system that provides loads of cheap grains is that many nutrients that are deficient in the American diet (SAD) are essential to process those grains. Truly a vicious circle.
A less than optimal diet results in changes in the function of key organs with resultant changes in hormonal levels. Liver function is often depressed making it difficult to burn fat. Deposition of toxins in fat tissue is prevalent and losing weight becomes a major challenge.
Personalized Eating for Health and Weight Loss
I advocate a “dietary reset” followed by sustained changes based on sound nutrition and your own unique biochemistry. Learning what your body tolerates and what it doesn’t is key. Improving liver function is extremely helpful. The optimal approach is what is called a 21 day elimination diet. This path to weight loss is based on finding out which foods agree with you and which don’t so after you reach your weight loss goals you will have the knowledge to follow a more healthful diet. You can eat foods you are intolerant to on a limited basis with full knowledge of how they will affect how you feel.
21 day diets are all the rage. Many versions are available and many incorporate an elimination component. Most call for carb restriction. The elimination component restricts the most common foods which give people problems. These include highly allergic foods but also those who we are only slightly intolerant to. Allergic foods cause such an immediate and strong reaction that we avoid them. But those which have a low grade, negative effect are only revealed after you eliminate them for at least 21 days and then reintroduce them. Foods that we like and are habituated to may cause a low grade negative reaction that recedes the longer we eat them. The body gets used to the insult and the negative effects are not great enough to get us to stop eating them like an allergic food would. But when you stay away from them for at least 21 days and then re-introduce them you get a more pronounced effect. You literally will not look at these foods in the same way again.
The version I have followed myself and advocate is called “The 21 Day Purification” system developed by Standard Process, a whole foods supplement company founded in1922. The purification component comes into play by consuming specially-designed protein powders and whole-food nutritional supplements that gently “encourage” our liver to accelerate the normal detoxification which goes on every day, all the time. So calling this a “detox,” a common designation, is not totally accurate since unless we are in liver failure we are “detoxing” all the time. But by restricting the diet and removing common intolerant foods we give the liver a rest from processing substances that are taxing our system. At the same time we feed the body nutrients that are vital to supporting normal liver detoxification pathways. For example, sulphur is needed by the liver to complete several Phase II detoxification processes. The supplements contained in the Purification program, derived from whole food sources, provide sulfur in a highly bioavailable form.
You will receive a booklet that clearly lays out the guidelines you will follow. The elimination diet rules out the foods that cause 90 percent of allergies and intolerances: dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), and shellfish. We also restrict sugar and all processed foods and recommend refraining from alcohol, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates consistent with the carbohydrate restrictions in the weight loss phase.
Here are my experiences with the “21 Day Purification” program. As of the writing of this in January 2017 I have gone through it twice. I plan on doing it once or twice a year, every year. What I learned the first time I did it, in January 2015, is that eating wheat, rye and barley caused pronounced sinus congestion. One of the things I experienced in that first “purification” was totally clear sinuses. I could breathe so much easier with no congestion at all. Even after returning to my regular diet I stayed away from wheat et al for about six weeks total. When I reintroduced it with only a couple of slices of whole grain bread I felt no effects. But one day I ate a sandwich with whole grain bread at lunch and had a mid- afternoon snack of whole grain cereal (100% wheat & bran with no sugar or other grains), a banana and almond milk. The next day my sinuses were quite congested and it took several hours for them to clear. It was as if I had eaten cow’s milk dairy products, something that will always clog up my sinuses (and I stay away from it!) since I am lactose intolerant (this means that I don’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar called lactose). The mostly logical conclusion is that I have slight gluten intolerance and when I eat enough of it the reaction is great enough that my sinuses get congested. I have loved bread all my life, often eating it with breakfast, lunch and dinner. But now I eat it rarely and try to keep my consumption fairly low. I not only feel better but also know that my body will be healthier in the long run by not having to deal with a food stuff that disrupts my body’s normally functioning.
Not everyone is ready for a regimen that some would consider drastic. And not everyone’s health is such that they could easily tolerate a 21 day program. Some people have very strong sugar cravings which sabotage weight loss efforts. We offer a well-designed 10-day Blood Sugar program that includes effective supplements to curb cravings. We offer other options and can customize an approach that works for you and your unique problems and preferences. The common theme for weight loss is carbohydrate restriction. The starting point in all cases is the comprehensive health assessment outlined below. But before we discuss the nuts and bolts of the process it’s necessary to talk about what I refer to in my practice as the “E” word: exercise.
The Role of Exercise in Weight Loss
What I hear from patients all the time is that they have gained weight because they can’t/haven’t/won’t exercise. Or that they have started a walking program, started running, or are taking Yoga/Zumba/Pilates, you name it in an attempt to drop some pounds. I try to gently break the news to them: you will be forever frustrated if you depend solely on exercise to lose weight.
For example, a 150 man walking the dog for 30 minutes burns 129 calories. Bicycling or jogging burns 270 calories. While not insignificant the calories burned will not keep up with calories consumed without changes in the type of foods eaten.
The Process: How To Get Started
If you would like to enroll in this weight loss program here is the process we will follow:
- Comprehensive Symptoms Survey and Dietary Habits questionnaires.
- One week Diet Diary. This is optional but extremely helpful. Defining where you are now is important to chart the path you want to take and is another element of a defining your current baseline. A diet diary can be very revealing.
- In-office nutritional examination and Body Scan to identify organs under stress.
- Review of lab tests you have had in the past
- Testing of your supplements
- Recommendations based on results of the evaluation