Why Diets Don’t Work

After trying my share of fad diets I’ve learned they all have the same thing in common. You lose the weight and then crash and burn. In the past, these diets always consisted of cutting calories, constant hunger and a rollercoaster of numbers on the scale. This is exactly why not a single one worked, a fad is just that, an unsustainable trend. Although calorie restrictions can result in initial weight loss the majority of people who try to lose weight end up relapsing and gaining all or even more of their pounds back. Although our environment and food cultures have changed, our bodies’ physiology has not. During hunter gatherer days famines were a common occurrence. Our bodies’ physiology was driven by the ability to store fat as a protection mechanism during those times of food shortages. Placing yourself on a restricted calorie diet will result in rapid weight loss, tricking your body into thinking it is experiencing a famine. You may lose 10 pounds or so by nutritionally starving yourself, but when you stop dieting your body will need to eat, thus why most people end up gaining more weight and fat mass than they lost. ¹

A recent study published in the Obesity Journal looked at long-term sustainability of rapid weight loss of 14 Biggest Loser Contestants. The study found that 6 years after the show ended all but one participant had regained a significant amount of weight, on average ~42kg which equates to about 92 pounds. The study also found that at the 6 year follow-up, 5 out of 14 participants were already within 1% or heavier than their weight prior to being on the Biggest Loser competition. This was largely due to the effects on resting metabolic rate and hormone level changes that occur during periods of rapid weight loss.

Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) represents the amount of calories your body would burn if you were to do absolutely nothing for 24 hours, i.e. these are the calories burned by automatic body functions like keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing. When your body undergoes rapid weight loss over a short period of time your RMR slows, creating a thermogenesis adaptation response to the loss of reactive tissues. This adaptation occurs to try and counteract the sudden weight loss by reducing your energy expenditure and slowing your metabolism.  For the participants in the Biggest Loser follow-up study this meant an average RMR of 500 kcal/day lower than what is typically expected for their specific body compositions. The study also found that the participants who had the greatest weight loss in the shortest periods of time showed the greatest slowing of RMR.

Rapid weight loss due to caloric reduction dieting can also result in plummeting levels of leptin. Leptin is an adipocyte hormone that acts on the hypothalamus to control hunger and increase energy expenditure.  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that during periods of caloric restriction fasting plasma levels of leptin dropped about 64%  from baseline. During the weight maintenance phase of weeks 10-62 plasma levels of leptin remained 35% below baseline. The study also found that there was a linear correlation between weight gain and leptin level increases. Meaning regain the weight, regain the leptin and that’s exactly what our bodies’ attempt to do. It is not just about falling back into bad habits, there is a physiological basis to weight gain. Rapid weight loss due to dieting can dramatically alter (or even damage!) your metabolism and make it nearly impossible for your body to burn enough calories too keep off the weight.

So does this mean that all hopes of weight loss are just that, lost? Absolutely not. The key is adding in safe and effective lifestyle changes to your diet and exercise habits. Successful weight management comes from sustainable approaches that counteract our bodies’ compensatory mechanisms to changes in things like RMR, leptin and hunger.  You can do this by approaching weight loss in steps. Studies have shown that small energy and calorie deficits over time will result in more sustainable and successful weight loss over the long-term. Permanent weight loss takes time and is a lifelong commitment, so it is crucial that we take our focus away from fast fad dieting and start focusing on lifestyle changes.

We can do this by looking at why our bodies are storing fat in the first place. Things like sleep deprivation, dehydration, stress, toxins, digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies can all cause our bodies to store fat as a protective mechanism for maintaining homeostasis. When your body wants to store fat it’s nearly impossible to lose the weight no matter what you do, so it is important to address and resolve any stressors you may have. Activities like yoga and meditation, eating healthy fats and protein, getting adequate optimal vitamin D intake and eliminating processed foods and toxins are all great examples to jump start your body into effectively losing and keeping off weight ¹.

When it comes to exercise people often see the gym as their savior from a bad diet. But the reality is spending endless hours doing cardio is not only hard on your body, but can actually hinder weight loss. Exercise smarter, not harder. Remember those lean hunter gatherers we discussed earlier? Their exercise consisted of running from predators, it was get thin or get eaten. High intensity interval training can trick your body into this “survival mode” and has been shown to be the most effective at burning fat. By also adding in resistance training to your workout regimen your body will start to gain muscle mass causing your metabolism to increase, i.e. you will burn more calories and fat overtime.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my journey to health and wellness is you need to find balance. Sure I spend hours each week sweating through circuit workouts and prebaking chicken and broccoli, but I also enjoy a good burger and craft beer out with my friends. The journey to a healthier, happier you takes time. Don’t be afraid to try new things, to push yourself, to feel pain and strength. Remember to stay motivated, celebrate small victories and embrace new lifestyle changes. Be healthy, be strong, be happy.

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A Sugary Situation

With documentaries like Fed Up and That Sugar Film gaining views by the thousands, sugar seems to be the newest craze. All too often we find ourselves falling into the diet trap of categorizing foods as either good or bad for us, especially when looking at sugar content, but there is much more to it than that.  There are various forms of sugar we consume, including simple sugars or “monosaccharides” made up of glucose, fructose and galactose as well as granulated table sugars known as sucrose or “disaccharides”. Our bodies process these varying sugar forms differently. When we consume glucose it becomes broken down by our stomach causing insulin levels to spike in our bloodstream for proper metabolization. Fructose however is broken down by the liver, where it is digested much slower, thus preventing such an insulin response.

Although fruits have very similar sugar ratios to that of our favorite sweets and sodas, they have a much different effect on our overall health. Whole fresh and frozen fruits are high in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, folate, antioxidants and phytonutrients. They also contain high levels of soluble fiber, which helps in reducing cholesterol levels, increasing satiety and contributes to weight loss. (¹) Also, the high fiber and water content of most fresh and frozen fruits drastically slows the digestion time, making it nearly impossible to consume enough fructose to cause any harm. Studies have also found that people who consume at least the recommended amount of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily are at lower risk of developing diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease and strokes (²)(³) (4).

That being said as with most things in life, fruit should be consumed at a sensible level if you are watching your weight. When trying to cut back on your sugar intake it’s important to consider the source of the sugar. Is your sugar consumption of fruit natural or refined? i.e. are you eating real raw fruits or are they canned or dried ? Canned and dried fruits are preserved by adding syrups, chemicals, and sometimes even pure table sugar, making them comparable to wolfing down a bag of gummy worms. It is also important to consider if your fruit intake is adding empty calories to your diet. If you’re consuming your fruit through a smoothie make sure to avoid things like fruit juices, low-fat milk or yogurt, ice-cream/sherbet or store bought honey/agave nectar.  These products are often high in refined sugars and add empty calories which can result in insulin spikes, taking away from the nutritional benefits of the raw and natural fruits.

90 Days to a Lifestyle Change

Eight months ago my weight was up (a lot) and my energy and self-esteem were down. Stress from my family moving across the country and my future career planning was causing my body to be physically inflamed and my health was suffering too. I started getting daily debilitating headaches and had absolutely no energy. I felt as if I was stuck in a fog, watching my day’s pass by; counting down the hours until I could go home, Netflix binge and nap. As westernized medicine usually calls for they ran countless blood tests, a brain scan and even had me see a sleep specialist. After three months of testing and a few massive hospital bills later, I had left with nothing more than a script for Imitrex, meant to control not solve my problems.

I knew I had to do something, so I started rummaging through my integrative resources looking for ways I could get to the bottom of what was really causing my unbearable headaches. I was determined to take better care of my mind, my body and to take back control of my health. Like many others, I decided to start out 2016 with a new year new you resolution, except this year I was determined to my change my lifestyle to one of sustainable health and wellness. I began to slowly incorporate nutritional changes into my diet by eating more protein, anti-inflammatory foods and healthy fats with every meal. I started to see an acupuncturist and took daily supplements for brain, heart and gut health.  In February I joined the 90 Day Transformation Challenge at my local Lifetime Fitness and placed third at my clubs location! Five months into my health and wellness journey and I am down 21 pounds and had a 14% change in body fat. I still have a long way to go on my health journey, but the most important thing for me is I got my health back. It has been four months since I’ve had a headache, medicine free, and my body is no longer inflamed on the inside or out. I wanted to share my story (and embarrassing before photos) to show you that I am proof that you are in control of your own wellbeing. Whether your health is declining, you want to lose weight or just become an overall healthier person food is medicine. All you need is the right knowledge, resources and discipline to take control of your health and make the necessary and amazing lifestyle changes.

Cholesterol is not the enemy

Foods, specifically animal products, within our diet only contribute to about 10% of our blood cholesterol levels; the remaining ~90% is actually made in the liver. When examining heart disease risk total cholesterol levels are not the issue. Cholesterol actually plays a major role in proper body function including cellular membrane construction, hormone production and bile salts, which are used in digestion and assimilation of fat. When looking at risk it is key to understand the type of lipoprotein that is transporting the cholesterol from the liver and throughout the bloodstream. When cholesterol is carried by LDL or VLDL (low density lipoproteins) risk of cardiovascular disease increases, however if it is carried by HDL (high density lipoproteins) risk decreases (Bland, 192). How could this be?

LDL is considered the “bad cholesterol” because it is transported from the liver and delivered to the artery walls, resulting in plaque buildup and atherosclerosis.  HDL on the other hand is what can be considered the “good cholesterol” because it is transported from the liver with the primary job to remove the LDL cholesterol buildup from the artery walls. Our bodies need both LDL and HDL to function properly so it is crucial that we have a proper balance of this cycle. ¹

I’ll save my anti-statin rant for another time and stick to the integrative and lifestyle changes you can do to lower LDL and raise your HDL cholesterol levels. In his book Disease Delusion, Dr. Jeffrey Bland recommends consumption of flavonoid and polyphenol rich foods like nuts, berries, garlic, onions, grapes, cocoa and citrus to prevent inflammation. He also discusses the benefits of phytonutrient rich foods like virgin olive oil, flaxseeds, green tea and turmeric. Studies have also shown that supplementation with vitamin B3, niacin and fish oil (specifically “clean” cod liver oil) at appropriate doses of 2-3 grams daily can beneficially alter cholesterol transport. Lastly, exercise is also very important in proper cholesterol balance because it decreases LDL and increases HDL levels in your blood. Exercising also helps to reduce stress, which has been shown to elevate levels of LDL as well (Bland, 200).

Total Wellness Summit

Achieving health and wellness requires dedication and lifestyle changes that aren’t always easy. Check out this free Total Wellness Summit by Food Matters which features ten days worth of health expert interviews, recipes, meditation tips and more! Learn how to detoxify your body, heal your gut, reduce stress and find purpose within your life.

Medical Technology

In 2007 integrative approaches to healthcare, including alternative/complementary therapies and nutrient supplementation, were used among 40% of American adults and 12% of children. The number of US hospitals incorporating these therapies has also increased from 8% in 1998 to 42% in 2010. The future of medicine is now and the paradigm shift is integrative and functional medicine. ¹

The technology age has even had its pushes for electronic integrative medicine approaches to patient centered care. Apps, like Sharecare, are great resources for electronically tracking your health and wellness. Sharecare goes through a series of questions related to your overall health, ranging from physical and mental health to personal relationships, diet and exercise habits. You can follow experts, view health tools and even join groups and challenges for many topics, including fitness, current health issues and healthy living habits!

Along with promoting health and wellness, medical related apps are keeping emergency professionals updated and even saving lives! With technology today it is common practice to keep an emergency contact listed in your phone, but did you know that there is an app that comes factory installed on your Apple iPhone that can potentially save peoples lives by allowing users to list more than just a name and number?

When emergencies occur often times phones are locked, making it difficult for first responders to get any health or personal related information on the patient. But Apple has made efforts to improve this by creating the Medical ID app. It is an app that comes factory installed on your phone, which is white with a pink heart. This app allows you to add as much or as little information as you’d like, including things like your birthday, allergies, medications, medical conditions, etc. This information is then now available under the emergency setting when your phone is locked with a pass-code. This app not only makes it easier for medical professionals to respond actively and effectively, but could potentially save your life in the event of a medical emergency.

I encourage you to check these out and as always, never stop exploring.

Thrive Market

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[Image by Meghan Birt on her website, https://meghanbirt.com/thrive-market/]

I hope you all find some time this week to listen to the Fat Summit lectures I previously posted about. Just a reminder the lectures will be released daily over the course of the week and they will only be available for 24 hours, so make sure to check out the schedule to decide which days/lectures most appeal to you! I also wanted to take some time to tell you more about one of their sponsors, Thrive Market. I personally think this is an awesome resource to anyone who’s interested in healthy, organic foods as well as natural, non-toxic products. They have a wide variety of organic, non GMO, and gluten free foods as well as natural cleaning, baby and beauty products and it’s all delivered right to your door for less than wholesale prices! Check it out to get a free one month membership and with every new member sign up, Thrive Market will donate an annual membership to a low income family in need, how awesome!

Fat Summit Lecture Series

Fat Summit is a lecture series led by Dr. Mark Hyman about health, wellness, weight loss and the myth of fat. There’s going to be a lot of great FREE educational information throughout the week, so whether you’re starting a new year new you resolution or just generally interested in improving your health I highly recommend you check it out!