Why do you want to lose weight?
That is the most important question when it comes to determining the best weight loss strategy for you. Typically, people want to lose weight for one of two reasons:
- To improve health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- To look a certain way.
If #1 is your primary motivating factor, then you’re in a great shape to be successful. If #2 is your primary motivating factor, which is true for most us, we have some work to do before you will be for healthy and successful weight loss.
Here is how #2 works. There are people in this world who want to make money off of you. They want you to buy their products. In order to get you to do that, they first needed to convince you that you are not pretty enough, not thin enough, not feminine enough, not strong enough, not toned enough, not good enough. They do that by defining impossible and narrow standards of beauty, femininity, and even masculinity. And then they convince you that the only way to finally look and feel beautiful is to buy their product. In essence, they create the disease and sell you the cure. And we are left feeling terrible and ashamed of ourselves. And these feelings drive us.
But when shame is your motivating factor to lose weight, you are guaranteed to not be successful. Shame is a terrible motivator. Its only goal is for you to continue to feel bad about yourself.
So this is how it typically goes. You feel terrible about yourself. You feel fat and ugly so you decide you want to lose weight. So you change your diet and join a gym. But whenever you eat that salad or lift weights, that voice in your head continues to tell you that you are not good enough, that you are fat and ugly. So you feel miserable and worthless while you're trying to lose weight. You don’t enjoy eating healthy and you don’t have fun working out, so maybe you give up. And who could blame you? Or maybe your stick with it (no pain, no gain, right?) and maybe you do finally lose some weight. But the second that you get results, you are back to old habits because who wants to continue doing something that feels miserable?
Inevitably, this pattern repeats. And inevitably you try more drastic measure to lose weight, taking short cuts, wasting money on quick fixes. Most of it doesn’t really work and none of it is healthy for your body.
So what is the solution? A mental shift in how you think about your diet in relation to your body and your health. You first need to understand that a healthy weight is a side effect of a healthy lifestyle. A healthy weight is not the product of short-term dietary restrictions. A healthy weight is the inevitable result when you live your life in a way that supports your body and your health—when you eat foods that nourish your body, when you strengthen your body with daily movement, when you help your body by reducing and managing stress, and when you protect your body for environmental toxins that disrupt your hormones and destroy your cellular health.
So here are healthy strategies to lose weight and keep it off.
1. Stop dieting
There are two definitions of the word diet. One means habitual nourishment. The other means a restrictive and temporary pattern of eating designed to lose weight. We need to embrace the first and ditch the second. You need to wrap your head around the idea that a healthy weight can only be achieved and maintained by good health. Good health requires that we nourish our bodies daily with the foods that we eat. We have to set up a pattern of eating that becomes a lifestyle and not a temporary solution.
2. Ditch the shame
As I said before, shame is not a good motivator. It really is an obstacle to losing weight. We need to find a supportive, positive, and productive mindset to be the foundation of our motivation. Connecting with our values is the first step to creating this motivation. Adopting a healthy lifestyle in order to lose weight requires a lot of change and a lot of action on our part—changes and actions that may in and of themselves seem boring and meaningless. If we can connect our values to our actions, those actions now have meaning, purpose, and significance. We will want to follow through with our actions and it will feel good to do so.
For example, one of your core values is family. From this perspective, adopting a healthy lifestyle (that will eventually lead to weight loss) is not about looking a certain way, but about having the energy and strength to keep up with your kids and grandkids. It is about creating quality time with your family over healthy meals. It is about increasing the quality and length of your life so that you can be there to support your family. And it is about modeling a healthy lifestyle to your kids and grandkids so that they can lead better, happier, healthier lives. Suddenly, changing our diet and lifestyle and losing weight is important in a positive way. So taking action will be a positive and perhaps enjoyable experience. It will still be hard but finding motivation in your core values will be enough to successfully create a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
3. Stop fearing fat
For years and years, we have been told that fat is bad. We believe that eating fat will make you fat and will lead to cardiovascular disease. But that is categorically false. I figured this out during my first year of medical school when we spent a year learning all the details of biochemistry. In recent years, research has come to light that also debunks these myths and we now know that much of the previous research was skewed by industry corruption. The real culprits that make us fat and cause cardiovascular disease are sugar and trans fat.
High carbohydrate diets result in elevated blood sugar and insulin, which creates this biochemical cascade that results in our liver creating fat and cholesterol that will be stored in our fat cells, particularly around our belly. Dietary fat does not create the same biochemical response. Some dietary fat will be stored in our fat cells but much of it is used to fuel our heart muscles and brain cells and to nourish our nervous system.
Trans fat, found in manmade products such as margarine, are a problem. There is an increased risk between trans-fat consumption and coronary artery disease.
Focus on getting monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids from whole foods like fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. But don’t be scared of saturated fats found in high-quality organic meats and organic coconut oil. Good quality saturated fats in small amounts are part of a healthy diet. Ditch the refined and fake fats like margarine, vegetable oil, and canola oil. Avoid eating large amounts of fats with carbohydrates. The insulin response induced by the carbohydrates will drive the fat in your meals to your fat cells.
4. Regulate your cortisol
Cortisol is our stress hormone produced by our adrenal glands. We naturally need cortisol to stay alive but most of us have developed a dysfunctional cortisol rhythm that leads to high blood sugar levels, excess abdominal fat, and an inability to lose weight. Dysfunctional cortisol rhythms are caused by chronic stress. Initially, your cortisol levels will be abnormally high, but this becomes unsustainable for your body and your brain turns off the adrenal glands resulting in low levels of cortisol. It is best to do what you can now to avoid adrenal dysfunction since it can be a difficult recovery. Put a stress management plan into action right now. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy to address your stress response at the root and consider yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and breathing therapies to manage your stress. Your plan must include some form of daily breathing therapy. Our breath is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to our health, but unfortunately, we all walk around breathing wrong.
5. Shape up your gut bacteria
Your intestines contain hundreds of different microorganisms. Some help extract nutrients from your food, some help you break down your food, some help to educate your immune system, and we don’t really know what the rest does. This is an ongoing area of study. But we do know that what specific microorganisms are present in your gut contribute to your weight. Specifically, people who struggle with their weight have more bacteria from the family firmicutes than people who don’t struggle with weight. Eating fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and apple cider vinegar can help balance out your gut bacteria. You may also want to consider taking a probiotic supplement but you should talk to a knowledgeable doctor who can help you figure out which type of probiotic is right for you.
6. Get moving
When it comes to your weight, what food you eat is the most important factor, but movement is still very important. I recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of movement a week. I also recommend a variety of movement. I recommend a combination or aerobic activity, strength training, and high-intensity interval training. Each of these types of activity targets fat loss through a different biochemical mechanism. Combined, they have great fat burning power.
A good program is to do 30-45 minutes of aerobic activity 3 times a week, strength training 2 days a week, and high-intensity interval training 2 days a week. Aerobic activity includes walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, dancing or any activity that will keep your heart rate elevated. Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights at the gym, though that is a good option. My favorite form of strength training is yoga. In yoga, you use your own body weight as resistance, but you work every muscle in your body. You also get the added benefit of a breathing practice. Another form of strength training is pilates. High-intensity interval training involves short burst of intense exercise followed by a recovery period repeated over a 20-30 minute period. The activities vary so you have many different options on how to do this style of training. I recommend doing some research and figuring out a what appeals to you.
Remember, weight loss that is healthy and sustainable (we’re talking the rest of your life) is a result of a healthy lifestyle. So if find yourself wanting to lose weight, instead of focusing on dropping the pounds, focus on improving your overall health using these strategies. While you are busy eating healthy food, feeding your gut bacteria, and managing your stress, you will not only be seeing changes on the scale, but you will also be seeing changes in your body shape and how you feel in your body.
I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.