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.

Meditation Summit

As children we live each day being mindful and existing for the moment. Filling our days with sidewalk chalk and popsicles until one day we grow old and lose the same joy in the things that once brought us happiness. All too often, we passively watch our carefree childhoods fade into the future planning of education and careers. Finding ourselves searching for something to fill us with that compassion, freedom and comfort we once had.  Searching for something to make us feel as if we exist for the moment once again.

Whether you are looking to de-stress, conquer your emotions, advance your focus or improve your overall health and wellbeing, meditation is a great outlet for regaining your mindfulness. Meditation aides in the sense of wellbeing by promoting consciousness and relaxation and provides numerous health benefits for both the mind and body. By bringing one’s awareness to both internal and external experiences we can find ourselves truly being in the moment again. The Meditation Summit is a free online 10 day seminar that will provide loads of information on how to deepen your meditation skills as well as the numerous benefits meditating can provide.  The summit will cover everything ranging from guided imagery, health and happiness, to even yoga, inner strength and purpose. Check out this free summit to start living for the moment once again!

[Photo Credit: http://d1qsxla1p9s5sy.cloudfront.net/mandala/images/flexslider/2016/meditation-summit-flex-.jpg]

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).

Environmental toxins and your health

The old saying you are what you eat goes beyond just the food you are putting in your body. At any given moment we are surrounded by toxins, both externally and internally. Not only are these environmental toxins a major contributor to chronic illnesses world-wide they also play a role in the ability to lose weight ¹. Many environmental toxins are fat soluble and because the fat cells within our bodies are a very neutral environment they become perfect storage centers for these toxins.  These fat cells then act as the “buffer” that protects our bodies from various toxins. When we are exposed to these toxins our bodies tend to keep and store fat because it is a major protective mechanism against toxic exposure ². These toxins can come from numerous sources like water, pesticides, plastic containers, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, household and personal cleaning products, etc! For those of you who are interested in what you can do to lower your exposure to these toxins here are a few recommendations. First off stick to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list when it comes to choosing organic foods. This is a list of the dozen foods you should avoid or only eat organic because of their high levels of pesticide and chemical contamination.  Secondly, make the switch to glass bottles and Tupperware. Plastic containers can release endocrine disrupting chemicals into your water and food leading to developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune dysfunction ³. Lastly I recommend checking out the Honest Company. They offer great natural, chemical free cleaning, personal and baby products at really affordable monthly rates.

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.

Getting your daily dose of sunshine

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After spending the past five days in a beach chair in San Juan I figured the importance of optimal vitamin D intake, aka the sunshine vitamin, would be the perfect thing to blog about.

Most everyone knows that vitamin D plays a key role in bone health, but did you know that vitamin D deficiencies have also been present in many chronic and life threatening conditions? A research team at the University of Kentucky just recently found that rats fed vitamin D deficient diets showed significant decreases in learning and memory (5) and in 2009 the Dermato-Endocrinology Journal published an article stating that optimal levels of vitamin D could reduce the rates of cancer by 35%, type 2 diabetes by 33%, and all cause mortality by 7% (¹)(²). Vitamin D deficiencies have also been associated with depression, heart disease, fibromyalgia, immune system imbalances and autoimmune disorders (³).

Vitamin D regulates over 150 genes within our bodies and plays key roles in calcium absorption and blocking the parathyroid hormone, a hormone that makes bones brittle and thin. Once vitamin D is ingested or absorbed in our bodies it is converted by the liver and kidneys into the only active form, vitamin D3. From there vitamin D goes on to interact with the receptors on nearly every tissue type in our body; regulating genes, cell growth and development, immune system function and metabolic controls (³). Isn’t science fun?

But I’m taking the recommended daily amount of 600 IUs (~30 ng/ml) of vitamin D, so I should be good right? Wrong, over 40% of Americans are considered to be vitamin D deficient. Even though the RDA for vitamin D was updated in 2010, it does not take into account a person’s unique make up of genetics, dietary intakes, sunlight exposure, metabolism etc. Studies have shown that increasing intakes of vitamin D, even up to 4,000 IUs daily, is an acceptable and safe amount, showing no adverse effects on healthy individuals. In fact, summer sunlight exposure in some areas can generate between 10,000-20,000 IUs of vitamin D per hour and fatty fish consumption has been shown to produce up to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D per day (4).

The amount needed to achieve optimal blood levels of 45-60 ng/ml varies depending on individualistic factors like age, where you live, how much time you spend outdoors and the time of year. Your doctor can perform a simple 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test to measure how much vitamin D is present in your body. If your levels are less than optimal talk with your doctor about upping intake (multiple sources indicate 2,000 IUs daily), eating vitamin D rich foods and spending about 15 minutes a day in the sun, weather permitting; all of these factors can help reduce the physical and economic burdens of vitamin D deficiency.

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.

What is Integrative and Functional Medicine? And how can I learn more?

Many of you have reached out wanting to know more about what integrative and functional medicine exactly is, so I thought I would give a little background about my understanding of the medical discipline and also share some resources on where you can learn more.

 Integrative and functional medicine is just a different way of thinking and understanding disease. It is a holistic discipline that gets beyond the diagnosis by utilizing personalized approaches, both allopathic and alternative, to assess and treat the underlying causes of disease. This approach looks at the interactions between the environment and our genes from prenatal throughout the lifespan and uses this information to understand how and where our diseases are stemming from. This approach doesn’t just merely treat our symptoms based on the standard systems based model; it is considered whole systems medicine that aims to remove our bodies’ imbalances. An alarming percentage of chronic diseases are driven by our environment and by understanding the way this environment interacts with our genes we are able to improve health and restore function through gene expression, balancing hormone levels, optimizing protein networks, etc.

To break it down even further, integrative medicine gives providers the tools to look at all aspects of a person and lifestyle, while functional medicine provides the map to organize and apply this information in a systematic way. I like to think of functional medicine as a subset of integrative medicine. My favorite analogy of describing functional and integrative medicine came from Chris Kresser during the Fat Summit. He explained that if you are walking around with a rock in your shoe conventional medicine would advise you take Advil for the pain, whereas functional medicine would tell you to remove the rock. To me this makes a lot more sense and more closely aligns with the way I want to practice medicine.

Learning about integrative medicine not only sparked an educational passion for me, but also made me reevaluate my approaches to my own health. If you’re like me and want to continue to learn more I have provided some links below to some functional and integrative information websites and books. Never stop exploring!

 

Institute for Functional Medicine

Click Here for an article on environmental contributors to chronic disease.

The Disease Delusion is a book I have just started reading by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, the father of functional medicine.

Ultraprevention is a book written by Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Mark Liponis and is a great introduction into integrative and functional medicine.

 

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!