Getting to Good – Shedding the Weight & Uncovering the Real You
According to a report by Harvard School of Public Health, two out of three adults and one out of three children in the United States are overweight or obese. This is in spite of the fact that Americans spend upwards of $60 billion a year on weight loss solutions.
How can so much money be spent and yet the statistics still be so grim? It’s because this huge amount of money is being spent to try and fix a problem that despite being so common remains very poorly understood.
The misconceptions around weight loss start with our skewed view of fat. To be blunt our society has a major hate-on for fat. And yet it is the most protective, nurturing tissue in our body – it protects us from cold temperatures, starvation, exposure to toxins, and physical injury from impact. Beyond all of that, it also protects us from the metabolic changes associated with chronic stress & emotional strain (more on that below).
Whenever you’re trying to correct any health concern, be it physical, mental or emotional, the most important thing to do is by ask, ‘Why does it exists in the first place?’ There are always answers to the question – What’s the root cause of this symptom? In the case of weight, it’s important to ask yourself what is the weight trying to protect you from? Once you figure out what purpose the extra fat is serving, it will be much easier to devise a plan that addresses the underlying issue. When you start to treat the cause behind the symptom you are on your way toward success at shedding the weight in a sustainable manner.
Identifying the root cause can be complex and difficult to do on your own. I would certainly recommend recruiting the assistance of a trusted practitioner. To determine what type of practitioner would most facilitate your journey I suggest taking a look at the below factors that contribute to healthy weight maintenance. Assess how you’re doing in each category and be honest with yourself as to where you might need to focus more. It’s very likely that there’s lots of room for improvement in all of the categories – and that’s ok! Focus on the areas where you believe the most change is required and start there.
Factors that Help Establish & Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Effective Management of Stress & Emotions
- Optimal Metabolic Function
- Conscious, Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Regular Movement & Effective Exercise
- Adequate Hydration
- Sufficient Sleep
- Mindful Individualized Eating
Effective Management of Stress & Emotions
While we easily recognize the emotional toll weight can have on our self-esteem and sense of self-worth, rarely do we acknowledge the role that emotions and stress play in the accumulation of weight. Yes, some people ’emotionally eat’, but that is not the only way that stress and unpleasant emotions contribute to weight gain.
When negative thoughts, unpleasant emotions and stress persist for prolonged periods of time they begin to skew that body’s chemistry. Cortisol increases and an acidic environment begins to develop. Elevated cortisol and acidity both contribute to weight gain. To reverse the weight gain associated with stress, one needs to make corrections on the mental, emotional and physical levels.
The mental thoughts we assign to our emotions largely determine the physical consequences. For example, if someone is rude you can respond in a number of ways. You might feel insulted, hurt, indignant, embarrassed – all of which lead to undesirable chemical reactions in your body. Conversely, you might not take it personally and instead feel sorry for the person. In this instance the encounter rolls off your back not causing much of an internal response at all. Learning how to adopt perspectives that help you become more resilient to emotional triggers and stress is a key component to improving many facets of your health.
Optimal Metabolic Function
There are a number of metabolic issues that contribute to sub-optimal weight management. Insulin and cortisol are two substances that commonly contribute to weight gain when they are not well balanced. It is best to seek out a trusted health practitioner to help you assess your needs and determine what solutions will be most effective for you.
That said, there is another common metabolic issue that contributes to weight gain which is rarely talked about – even amongst health practitioners. This is an overly acidic or toxic system. There are many sources of acids and toxins – consumption of soda, energy drinks, sugar and artificial sweetners; overconsumption of protein, wine, coffee, black tea; ingestion of unpurified air & water; exposure to chronic stress which remains unresolved.
We know that stress can take a toll on our health, but how does it relate to weight gain? Well, chronic stress, particularly negative thoughts and emotions contribute to the development of an acidic environment within the body. This accumulation of acids and toxins poses a great risk to the function of our organs. Individuals have different ways of responding this mounting load of acids and toxins. One way our body may attempt to deal with these substances is to deposit them in our fat. When they’re deposited here they are removed from circulation and cannot damage the important organs we rely on for survival (brain, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs etc). Therefore as we consume or produce (through stress) more acids and toxins, our need for storage space in the form of fat also increases. Alkalinizing the body is an imperative step with regard to healthy weight management.
Breathing is a potent tool for managing stress. It helps to regulate the nervous system which in turn helps to regulate cortisol.
Most people tend to be shallow breathers. This means they are relying on the ‘accessory breathing muscles in their neck and shoulders to expand the lungs instead of using their diaphragm. Many people tend to ‘hold their stress’ in their neck and shoulder region and shallow breathing exacerbates the discomfort. A simple way to improve your breathing is by selecting 3-4 times a day when you take a few conscious diaphragmatic breaths. As you inhale through your nose, place a hand on your stomach – you should feel your stomach expand outward on your inhale. Then as you exhale through your nose you should feel your stomach retract back inward. This is likely to feel funny as most people will typically do the opposite. Before meals and bedtime is ideal as it will help shift your nervous system into parasympathetic mode, which is where you want it to be as you ‘rest and digest.’ Picking several times throughout the day to practice breathing like this for a short duration is more effective than once a day for a longer period.
Regular Movement & Effective Exercise
It is important to differentiate between regular movement and effective exercise. Sitting is often referred to as ‘the new smoking’. One of the main issues with sitting for long periods of time is that it inhibits proper circulation – especially of the lymphatic system, which is hugely responsible for effective detoxification of acids and toxins. If you find yourself sitting for long stints throughout the day, try to break it up by going to grab a glass of water, or getting outside to walk or stretch.
When it comes to planning your exercise regimen, strength training is important to consider. Muscle burns more calories than other types of tissues. Also, regular cardio done in the absence of strength training can actually over time train your body to become more ‘fuel efficient’, meaning your body becomes incredibly effective at generating movement while burning minimal fuel. This is certainly not conducive to weight loss.
Adequately hydrating is imperative for so many aspects of health. With respect to weight it helps to flush out acids and toxins, thereby assisting the body from becoming acidic. If you have not been adequately hydrating for a long time it is likely that your electrolytes are also out of balance. Ironically, this will make it difficult for your body to absorb water as you start to increase your intake. Coconut water is high in potassium and ideal for helping to re-hydrate. Magnesium is another electrolyte that often is required to ensure proper absorption of water. There are a number of good electrolyte products on the market. Tip: check ingredients and find one that is not filled with sugar!
Sleep is when your body heals and detoxifies. Most people require somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep per night – typically needing a little more in the winter and somewhat less in the summer months. In addition to quantity, the quality is also very important. Quality is determined by a few things, including the hours of the day when you sleep. It is important that you aim to be sleeping by 11pm as much as possible. Proper timing of going to bed and getting up helps to regulate cortisol among other things.
Mindful Indvidualized Eating
Proportions are incredibly important – ensure half your meal is comprised of vegetables, while the other half is equally split between healthy, non-processed protein and complex carbohydrates. Tip: be present and enjoy the process of eating your food. Really focus on the taste, texture, because the more mindful you are while eating, the likelier it is that you will not over eat.
As for deciding what foods are best for you, it would be wise to consider doing an IgG and IgA Food Sensitivity Panel. This will determine if your immune system is inappropriately reacting to foods and resulting in inflammation. Chronic inflammation represents a state of crisis, and when the body is in ‘crisis’ it goes into conservation mode and therefore resists shedding weight.
Where to Begin
There are a lot of factors involved when it comes to managing weight and it can be easy to get discouraged. But understanding why the weight is there helps you to formulate an action plan that will guarantee lasting results, as opposed to ‘quick fix’ solutions which convey only temporary results – if any at all!
Exploring the above-mentioned components will help provide insight as to where you are most out of balance. Recognizing where you are out of sync is the first clue as to why the weight is there in the first place. Final advice, often we can see things so clearly when talking to others and yet struggle to see some of the most obvious patterns when it pertains to ourselves. Finding a practitioner that you trust is incredibly helpful in determining the root cause(s) of the weight gain and how to best address it.
Best of luck in your journey!
Dr. Jacqueline Cooper, ND