One of the top complaints I get in my practice is that people are finding it more and more difficult to lose weight. It is not only about calories in and calories out, but it also has to do with hormones, sunshine, water, mental health...the list goes on. People who fail on diets tend to fail because the diet is not sustainable. You know what is? Eating well and making healthy choices 95% of the time! Not "dieting," where guilt and shame tend to drive what you are eating.
So I figured, why not make a list of the Top 5 Things That Are Keeping You Fat? These are the most common things I see in my practice that can help people get over the plateau of eating right and exercising, yet not losing weight. Keep in mind, these tips are in addition to eating right and exercising...we can't forget about that!
- Water (rather lack thereof) - a lot of women tell me they don't want to drink water because they will retain it and therefore feel bloated or gain weight. This is not the case! We need water to stay hydrated, to help flush toxins from our system and to help us feel full. For those who have trouble keeping the portion sizes down, try drinking a tall glass of water before each meal. This will not only help you feel full faster, but it also helps hydrate and helps to stimulate digestion (don't drink a lot WITH your meal, or it makes digestion more difficult and can cause indigestion or reflux). For those of you who are late-night snackers, try drinking water instead. Yes, this may make you pee during the night, but most people reach for a snack when really, they are just thirsty. Each time you consume a caffeinated or alcoholic beverage, or even a natural diuretic like dandelion leaf tea, you need to replace that liquid with equal amounts of water just to break even. If you drink 2 cups of coffee and a glass of wine with supper, but only drink 2 cups of water per day, you're not even breaking even! Most adults need about 2 liters of water each day and many are rarely getting that. Extra health tip: to gently cleanse your kidneys, start your metabolism and help bind toxins, add 1 tsp fresh lemon juice or 1 tsp apple cider vinegar to an 8 oz glass of warm, filtered water and drink first thing in the morning*.
- Stress - stress can greatly inhibit the body's ability to lose weight and the reason for this is cortisol. Cortisol, our stress hormone, is high in times of stress, which makes us hold onto our belly fat. Basically, when cortisol is high, we are in a "fight or flight" or sympathetic stress response so our bodies immediately store calories as fat for easy access later when we aren't running from that proverbial bear. When we aren't in "fight or flight," we are in a parasympathetic "rest and digest" mode. This is a calmer state where we are able to actually digest our food properly and sleep (another must for losing weight). Good stress management is key here and is usually a large portion of my treatment plan. One easy tip to get your body to switch from "fight or flight" to "rest and digest" is deep, abdominal breathing, using your diaphragm. It only takes a few minutes and it's free! So, prepare your nervous system for a meal by simply taking in 10 deep breaths before you snarf down your next meal. Chew until it's liquid, then swallow. Another option is to go for a light walk outside for a boost of vitamin D. How can our bodies not be stressed when we are just shoving stuff in our mouths between meetings or in the car while on the way to pick up the kids? We must take more time to nourish ourselves or our bodies won't be able to metabolize it correctly.
- Put the Protein Bar Down - that's right...set the bar down and back away slowly... I have so many people come to me complaining that they can't lose weight when the culprit is that little nugget of convenience they eat for breakfast and/or lunch - the protein bar. Most of these bars are frankly...full of junk. Many are marketed as healthy, but you must read the label to see what is actually in it. Also, many of them are really geared toward athletes or people who are climbing mountains and are very high in carbohydrates and sugar for fast energy and have way too many calories for the average person who doesn't get much exercise during the day. They are convenient, but they shouldn't be used as a daily meal replacement. Similarly, a lot of commercially sold ready-to-drink protein shakes are sky high with calories - again, be sure to read those labels. Try layering veggies in a mason jar for a quick and easy salad, or always keeping some healthy nuts and fresh (not dried, due to higher sugar content) fruit nearby for a quick snack. A little planning can go a long way and can in turn, shave off the calories in the end.
- Food Allergies and Sensitivities - most people are aware of their food allergies because it usually causes an obvious reaction like anaphylaxis. Food sensitivities however are more muted and can be more difficult to become aware of. The reason they are a problem is because they are constantly causing inflammation in your gut which over time can cause bloating, constipation or diarrhea, skin rashes or acne, fatigue, brain fog and more. All of this combined increases the stress on our bodies, which increases cortisol, which makes it harder to lose weight...see the cycle? Inflammation is our ultimate foe and the more we can avoid it, the better our bodies are able to deal with the stressors that we can't control on a daily basis (like your boss or your weird neighbor). The best way to find out your food sensitivities is to do an elimination diet. This way, you will see how you actually react to certain foods that tend to be common culprits like gluten, cow dairy, corn, soy, strawberries, shellfish, citrus, peanuts and treenuts. Another option is to do a blood test for IgG immune response. Some people get the "skin-prick test," but that is looking for full-blown allergy (IgE) and won't show sensitivities. Even the blood tests aren't 100% accurate, which is why I recommend doing the diet. Check our my blog about allergies for more info on how to do an elimination diet.
- Fake Sugars - this is one of the most common misunderstandings in nutrition, even in the medical communities. I have so many patients come to me telling me their doc told them to switch to "diet" soda, drinks, candies and/or various foods. This is a complete misnomer. Fake sugars are not only neurotoxic, but they can actually make you fatter! Why? Because the extreme sweet taste makes you crave more sweets and carbs, so people who eat fake sugar can either eat much more than they would without fake sugars or they can confuse their metabolism into storing fat even though there aren't technically any calories. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying switch to the high-fructose corn syrup soda instead. I'm saying ditch the soda, period. Or at least try to wean off by using naturally flavored seltzer. More and more studies are coming out regarding the toxicity of fake sugars and they are not a good option for whole health in my opinion. I recommend using whole sugars like organic cane sugar (beet sugar is almost always GMO), honey, molasses and maple syrup - again...in moderation and not every day. I do not recommend agave and here is a good explanation why. Stevia is a good option for some as it's not an actual sugar but a sweet herb, but some don't like the licorice-like aftertaste.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or master plan that works for everyone. But if you incorporate these tips, you will feel the difference!
*As always, if you are taking any medications, always ask your doc if these tips will affect your medications before incorporating them into your whole health routine.