Weight Loss Programs
A Functional Approach
Almost every day, I talk to women who want to lose weight and tell me they have tried everything from counting calories, exercising more, eating less, intermittent fasting, Paleo eating plans, vegan eating plans, vegetarian eating plans, consuming pre-packaged foods and literally starving themselves to maybe lose a few pounds and then gain it all back after they start to eat as usual. Does this sound familiar? Oh, and they have a supplement graveyard in their kitchen pantry too!
That inability to lose weight and keep it off is also known as weight loss resistance. Keep in mind however, that weight loss is not just counting calories, consuming less food,or exercising more. If this were the case I would be less than 100 pounds by now.
The top five roadblocks I have seen in weight loss resistance are:
Too much exercise
In functional medicine, the majority of health issues are inflammatory. Inflammation is the body’s way of trying to protect itself and of removing anything harmful which can include damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens. We generally see two types of inflammation.
The first is acute inflammation which would be a sports injury, cut, or deep laceration. The body will immediately respond by laying down the clotting factors which will produce a scab and eventually the scab will going away.
Then there is chronic inflammation which is a systemic response. There is a widespread inflammation in the body as a result of diet (what you eat and don’t eat) and lifestyle factors (sleep, stress, unhealthy relationships). As a result there is a hormonal response. A great example would be cortisol which is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are walnut-shaped in size and sit on top of the kidneys.
Cortisol is at the core of causing belly fat, muffin tops, and essentially creates a lot of miscommunication with other systems in the body (e.g. female and male hormone dysregulation, thyroid miscommunication). And guess where we have a lot of receptor sites of cortisol?
You got! It is around the hips and lower abdomen; hence muffin tops and belly fat. Therefore, the primary goal would be to go after the inflammation and get it under control.
What is causing the inflammation?
The number one factor that we have control of that causes inflammation is the food we eat. Everything you put in your mouth is either creating an anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory response.
Some of the foods that are pro-inflammatory include sugar, soy, gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley), alcohol, peanut, and even conventionally-raised dairy products for most people.
Just like we have foods that create inflammation we have foods that are anti-inflammatory in nature. A great example is fat, the right kind of fatty acids. If you can imagine inflammation as a fire going on in your body, the healthy fats help in putting out the fire. Fats are important because you need them for nutrient absorption as well. Have you heard of fat soluble vitamins like Vitamins A,D, E, and K? They are all essential for a healthy body.
The foods we eat can also cause inflammation. This can show up in a couple of ways. One of the most obvious is the skin, and then, there is the gut. If we could seen inside the gut, particularly the small intestine, what we would see is little, finger-like projections called villi.
These villi absorb nutrients from the food we eat. However, if inflammation destroys these villi, it doesn’t allow for proper nutrient absorption and can result in low energy.
When we have low energy we crave and eat sugary foods to try to increase energy, which can lead to a vicious cycle of overeating and inflammatory response.
Another factor in weight loss resistance is toxins in our daily environment. “We are swimming in a sea of toxins.” Literally...Toxins come in many forms from the food we eat, from the environment, our personal hygiene products, beauty products, and even cleaning products. The body has an innate intelligence and can recognize toxins harmful to the body and even dangerous to our main computer system in the body, the brain.
When it recognizes this, the body will store toxins in the fat to keep it from circulating in the body, as a protective mechanism. So if we continue to put toxins in the body it will hold on to fat as a defense mechanism to prevent the toxins from going into systemic circulation.
Continuous exposure to toxins will make it hard for the body to release the fat and lose weight. The more toxins we are exposed to the harder it is for our body to shed fat. So wouldn’t it make sense to minimize toxin overload from the food we eat, our personal hygiene products, and household cleaning products?
Too much exercise
Over exercising can interfere with your ability to lose weight!! What?? Yes...it’s true. One of the most common mistakes I see with patients is over exercising. The most common mistake I see at the gym is people running on the treadmill for an hour, on the elliptical trainers, or even the insane boot camp style classes that can increase CORTISOL production. Remember cortisol receptor sites are most abundant on the hips and abdominal region, where we see fat accumulation.
The most effective type of exercise is interval training or burst training, which are short bursts of exercises that require a higher intensity of effort for a short period of time. As a family, we would take the kids to the park and run 10 intervals of 100 yards (as fast as we could) and rest for about 1 to 1 ½ minutes before we would go to the next interval. We were usually tired by the 5th interval but would complete 10 of them and would be totally exhausted. We would be done in less than 15-20 minutes. We knew we ran hard if our legs felt wobbly or we would be gasping for air.
As you can see weight loss is not all about counting calories and exercising more. Weight loss is about the quality of food, toxin exposure, a healthy gut, and the right type of exercise. And most importantly, is addressing inflammation, metabolism, and the root cause of what is interfering with it and fix it. So the key is to get healthy first and the weight will come off. A different approach than what we are seeing everywhere, as traditional exercise programs are not working.