Top 5 Tips for Weight Loss
It’s not surprising that weight loss is a common topic of conversation, considering 2 out of every 3 adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. The annual revenue of the weight loss industry is $20 billion and there are about 108 million people in the U.S. who are currently following a diet. Yet with all the resources, programs, books, and more, we are not seeing a decrease in these numbers. In fact, it’s projected that 47% of the U.S. population will be obese by 2030.
When I was studying to become a dietitian, I was taught that if you burn the same number of calories that you eat, you would stay the same weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight, and if you eat fewer calories (500 to be exact), then you could lose a certain amount of weight per week. However, after almost a decade in practice and a better understanding of the complex factors that play a role in each person’s weight, it’s clear that “calories in vs. calories out” is not the equation to remedy our overweight/obesity crisis. This may work in a controlled setting, but when it comes to each unique person, it’s not that simple. The quantity—how much food you eat—definitely plays a role, but it is far from the only answer. There are many other factors that influence your weight including inflammation, fiber intake, the gut microbiome, thyroid function, stress, genetics, and toxins in our environment, just to name a few.
Instead of obsessing over the number of calories in your meal, I encourage you to consider some less obvious ways to support weight loss and keep it off for good. Here are my top 5 suggestions:
- Reduce inflammation. Acute, short-lived inflammation is a necessary part of healing. However, it’s now understood that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many modern diseases. Being overweight or obese is a common side effect of inflammation. A diet high in sugar, white flour, processed vegetable oils, food allergens and processed food-like substances can drive inflammation and weight gain. Following a low-allergen, whole-foods based diet can help cool inflammation and shrink your waistline.
- Eliminate these inflammatory foods: refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grain flours, unhealthy fats (trans fats/hydrogenated oils, refined vegetable oils), processed meat, high mercury seafood (like tuna and swordfish) and foods that contain ingredients you cannot pronounce. There are also some foods that are more likely to cause inflammation due to allergic reactions and sensitivities. Consider a temporary elimination of the following: gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. After 3-4 weeks, reintroduce one at a time and see how you feel, you may be surprised!
- Diversity is key! Did you know that if you don’t have enough diversity of plant foods in your diet, microbes in your gut can extract more calories from the food you eat and increase fat production? Also, there are very important compounds called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that act as signaling agents in the gut. Butyrate, acetate, and propionate are the SCFAs. Research has been focusing on butyrate which binds to different receptors that control appetite and metabolism. Without enough butyrate, people often feel hungry after meals, have more inflammation, and may be more likely to gain weight. How can you create more butyrate? You need to eat a more diverse selection of plants each and every day.
- Try these strategies to get more diversity in your diet: Choose a new fruit and/or vegetable each week to incorporate into your meals. Get varieties that you’ve never tried before, no matter how strange it may look (the stranger the better!). Try to get all of the colors of the rainbow from vegetables and fruit each week. And my personal favorite way to get more diversity is to sign up for a CSA (read about it here). CSAs offer fruits and vegetables that are local, in season, and those you may not have thought to purchase on your own.
- Get enough protein, especially with breakfast. Many people eat a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast such as oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with honey, or cereal with milk. Every person’s protein needs are different, yet research shows that having a higher protein breakfast has been associated with lower body weight, sustained weight loss and less late-night snacking. Protein helps us feel full by preventing the secretion of ghrelin (the hunger hormone), it helps curb cravings, prevents blood sugar and insulin spikes, and protein is essential for proper metabolic detoxification. Research is finding that leucine, an amino acid and building block of protein, seems to be especially effective at making people feel full while supporting muscle growth. It is proposed that 2.5 grams of leucine per meal, especially at breakfast, is the ideal amount for most people.
- The following foods contain 2.5 grams of leucine: 5 ounces of red meat or chicken (look for grass-fed/organic); 4-5 eggs, depending on size (look for pastured/humane certified); 23 grams of grass-fed whey protein (if not sensitive to dairy); 8 ounces grass-fed or organic Greek yogurt (if not sensitivity to dairy)
- Eat more healthy fat. If you’ve followed any of Dr. Mark Hyman’s work, you should have heard by now that fat does not make you fat! Getting enough of the right types of fat spread out with your meals and snacks is crucial for optimal health and weight control. Fat slows down the speed at which carbohydrates are convertedand absorbed into the body as sugar, which prevents spikes of blood sugar and insulin levels. This also helps the body utilize fat more efficiently as energy. Fat makes you feel full more quickly and for longer periods of time. And don’t forget, fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.
- Eat more of these healthy high fat foods: nuts and seeds such as macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Incorporate more avocado, extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil and fatty fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and herring. Even some dark chocolate (ideally dairy-free) is a great source of healthy fat and antioxidants! Look for at least 72% or darker chocolate to keep sugar low.
- Get moving. Most of us experience a plateau in our weight loss even with the best nutrition plan because our body is designed to hold on to weight. After weight loss with diet alone, your metabolism will typically slow down and exercise is the best way to counteract that. Also, as you build more lean muscle, you’re able to burn more calories. Exercise is the best way to use your glucose (blood sugar) more efficiently and reduce insulin levels. Insulin is your “fat storage” hormone, so you want to incorporate lifestyle factors that will keep levels low. Not to mention, exercise is an excellent way to naturally reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
- HIIT it up: Research shows that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most effective form of exercise that can yield almost the same benefits as longer aerobic exercise. HIIT combines brief, high intensity bursts of cardio with equal or longer periods of rest. No matter your exercise experience, HIIT is a great thing to incorporate because you only need about 7-10 minutes 3-4 days a week to yield significant improvements in your health. More is even better! However, it’s most important to find a form of exercise that you enjoy doing. If you enjoy and look forward to your exercise, you are more likely to stick with it long-term and reap the physical and mental benefits.
Attainable, sustainable weight loss needs a multi-faceted approach; we now know that “calories in vs. calories out” is not the simple equation it’s made out to be. The good news, is that there are plenty of things you can do to kick start your way to weight loss while supporting whole-body health at the same time. Focusing on the root cause of your weight, whether it’s diet, lack of movement, stress, poor sleep, or a combination of things, allows you to create long-lasting change. And once you find your flow using these helpful steps, your body will begin to naturally progress towards a healthier and happier weight. It’s never too late for better health, make these tips part of your routine today.