Approximately 70 million Americans are overweight. Additionally 34% of our country is obese, which means that each person is roughly 20 pounds over his or her optimal weight. The vast majority of overweight people have been on a variety of diets and regimens. It is quite common to experience initial success on diets. Unfortunately, the good results are usually temporary and eventually spiral into the same or a higher weight than we were at prior to the diet. This cycle can continue through life, which leaves many people feeling dis-empowered, cynical, and depressed about their ability to maintain an optimal weight. In my practice, I have helped many people lose weight and keep it off. This is because I educate my patients that they are NEVER to diet again. Instead, what they need to do is find a healthy way to eat that truly works for them and then stick with it as long as they live.
The problem with dieting is that we think it’s OK to revert to the way we were eating after the diet is over. Dieting implies a short period of time in which we use will power to shed weight, only to return to our old ways sooner or later. At the end of the diet we usually say, ‘phew, I’m glad that’s over!’ This mindset is undoubtedly a form of self-sabotage. As our bodies become accustomed to losing weight and eating different foods on the diet, they easily go into a state of shock once the old foods are reintroduced. Our metabolism will eventually shut down altogether if we abuse ourselves by repeatedly gaining and losing large amounts of weight.
I also tell my patients that there simply is no magic bullet for losing weight. There is no pill that will effortlessly make the weight melt off. Having a healthy body takes work; there is no way around that. The key is to have a healthy relationship with ourselves so we can make changes that are not based on will power. We have to learn how to enjoy taking care of ourselves. We have to find the balance between immediate gratification and harsh discipline. This means that we are proactive about our health; we aren’t using food to beat ourselves up or to take away the pain in our lives. Instead, our food choices reflect a very strong commitment that we have made to ourselves to heal our bodies and minds with nutrition. Every one of us is entitled to this relationship with food and it is definitely possible. We can actually enjoy the hard work it takes to live well.
The truth is that we will never have the body we want until we are educated about making the right choices with food, healing the underlying emotional imbalances that make us crave unhealthy foods, and generally make a commitment to achieving optimal health. Let’s take a look at each of these in closer detail:
1) Making the right choices with food: This means becoming informed about nutrition. There has to be a basic understanding of the effects of various foods on our health if we are to use food as medicine. (And that is what we are getting at, using food to heal ourselves rather than as poison). Our knowledge of food must go beyond, ‘eat your fruits and vegetables.’ Here are a few basic guidelines for getting your on track with your food choices. This advice is simple to follow and will drastically change your food choices:
- Eat organic foods– If you aren’t already doing so, start shopping at your local health food store for the majority of your daily meals. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but you have to look at this as an investment in your health. 95% of the foods that you buy over the counter at regular grocery stores have no nutritional value whatsoever. Instead, many conventional foods are pumped with additives, refined sugar, herbicides and pesticides, genetically modified ingredients, transfats, and hormones. Do you really want these kinds of things in your body? Shopping at your health food store will drastically reduce your intake of these unhelpful additives. Organic foods have much more nutritional value.
- Try to eat mostly whole foods– Eat foods in their natural state. Fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, chicken, grains, etc. are all examples of whole foods.
- Reduce your intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates— These are the foods that will make the weight pile on. Muffins, pasta, cereal, white rice, candy, soda, bread, bagels, etc. are the culprits in weight gain and water retention.
- Drink 6-9 glasses of filtered water daily– Hunger pangs are often a sign of dehydration. Reach for water before you reach for food.
- Eat a big breakfast and a small dinner. Eat whole food snacks every 2-3 hours throughout the day.
2) Healing Our Emotions and Food Cravings: Food is definitely a drug for many of us. To make it worse, it is a socially accepted drug, which means that it seems OK because everyone around us is indulging, so why shouldn’t we? We are surrounded by images of food all around us. The marketing gurus for major food corporations are masters at making us feel deprived if we don’t indulge our desires for immediate gratification. Many of us are overweight because we use food to fill an emotional void. Our deeper needs in life are not being satisfied and we don’t know how to nourish ourselves appropriately. Healing our relationship with food is often dependent upon our ability to satisfy ourselves in our work and relationships, many people turn to food when their sexual life is either non-existent or dissatisfying. When we are engaged with our lives and know how to handle the various stresses that come with adult responsibilities, then we will not turn to food compulsively. We will discuss how to go about healing ourselves in these ways in a bit.
3) Making a Commitment to Optimal Health: Most of us are conditioned into believing that other things in life are more of a priority than our health. We only make our health a priority when we experience symptoms that alert us to the fact that something is wrong. Committing to optimal health means that our health becomes one of the top priorities in our lives right NOW, even if we feel fine. This means taking the time to eat nutritious foods, exercise, and keep stress at bay with techniques such as meditation or yoga. When we make this commitment and truly live by it, our weight will naturally be more balanced. This commitment is can only be genuine if we deeply respect and value ourselves.
Achieving optimal health and a balanced weight entails having the same relationship with exercise as we do with food. Both nutrition and exercise must be key elements to our daily lifestyle. I recommend exercising 20 minutes a day, 5 days per week for those of you just starting out. Just as there is a way to eat that is both healthy and enjoyable, there is also a way to exercise that we can commit to for the long-term. Your main strategy should be to experiment with all forms of exercise until you find something you really like. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but it certainly can be enjoyable. If we don’t have a basic enjoyment for exercise, then the only way to get through it is by using will power, which will run out sooner or later. Many people find that exercising in community is much better for them than exercising alone. I prefer basketball and mountain biking. I have been doing both for years and I know that they will be in my life forever, simply because I love both of them. Everybody loves something; you just have to find what it is and do it regularly.
Herbs and Supplements and long term weight loss
Like I said, there are no magic bullets for weight loss. There are, however, very helpful adjuncts to weight loss that can certainly speed the process along. Below are a few products I use in my practice (these can only be purchased through licensed professionals):
- Greenexcellent: Promotes weight loss, reduces blood glucose, and increases lean mass.
- Astra Diet Tea: Taken as a pleasant tasting tea to reduce appetite and improve digestion.
- Leantain: reduces food craving and hunger pain.
- Shen Chu 16 and Alisma 16: These are herbal formulas by 7 Forests that are often used in combination to strengthen digestion, reduce water retention, and optimize metabolism.
- Lotus Leaf Tablets: Also by 7 Forests, this is a strong herbal formula for weight loss.
- 5 htp Crave Arrest: Also by Designs for Health, this product is excellent for sugar and carbohydrate: A natural precursor to serotonin, 5 htp is used for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and carbohydrate cravings.
- There are also many acupuncture points and protocols that reduce cravings, stimulate metabolism, reduce water retention, and optimize digestion.
I typically recommend to my patients that they make it a goal to lose 1-3 pounds per week as they transition to a whole foods diet, increased exercise, and the combination of acupuncture, herbs, and supplements. This may not seem like a lot compared to crash dieting, but it certainly is a more balanced approach. It may take 1-2 years to lose all the weight you’d like, but the odds are that you will keep it off if you do it in a gradual and balanced way. My goal is to give you the tools to lose weight so you can use them forever. This is not a diet; it is living and being healthy forever.