01.05.2012 Weight Loss

Back to Basics

Slimming diets do not lead to weight loss. We need to get back to natural food and exercise, says Lyn Craven

We are all aware of the many 'slimming diets' that suggest success, yet somehow they often prove to fail with long lasting results.

The word diet or Latin diaita simply means 'way of living', so in essence when you talk of being on a 'diet' you are sharing an example of 'your way of living'.

Many health and weight loss programs on TV often lead to further confusion as to the best and healthiest way to shed weight. Giving someone spartan meals, often vegan or vegetarian, and expecting them to pump iron, run or walk for long distances and attend boot camp every day is far too stressful in my opinion. I have nothing against vegan/vegetarian food but it must be balanced properly to ensure correct nutrition and this is where many people fail. Also, it is not a good thing to put a group of people on a vegan/vegetarian diet when many may be used to eating meat since everyone's metabolism has different needs. One can lose weight with either approach but not everyone achieves the results they desire on a non-meat diet. Again, you must consider the uniqueness of each person and his or her nutritional needs. Inadequate nutrition contributes to food cravings and weight gain.

Since we are all so unique and present with varying metabolisms, health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal imbalances and maybe even genetic weaknesses (regardless of the amount of weight we need to lose), should be assessed individually. That also applies to our exercise routine.

Measuring the circumference of the body - breast, waist, hip and inner thigh - is also recommended, rather than simply relying on the scales. You can lose centimetres/inches but perhaps your weight may stay the same for a week or two. That is because you are trimming and toning the muscles. When you lose weight rapidly it is often excess fluid, particularly if you are very overweight or obese.

Excessive weight loss is not recommended so quickly by fasting or starvation diets as your body will draw on muscle to obtain energy and very overweight people are often left with sagging flesh over the abdomen area. Starvation diets cause headaches, sleep problems, irritability, great fatigue and mood fluctuations, just to name a few side effects. Gallstones can even form due to starvation diets since the cholesterol level increases in the gall bladder and the body loses its ability to expel bile efficiently.

Muscle mass gradually diminishes with age, and fat accounts for a greater percentage of your weight. Less muscle mass also slows the rate at which your body uses calories/kilojoules, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess pounds.
Belly fat is not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes visceral fat, which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs. An excessive amount of visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can raise blood pressure, negatively alter good and bad cholesterol levels and impair the body's ability to use insulin (insulin resistance). An excessive amount of any fat, including visceral fat, also boosts oestrogen levels. All of this can increase the risk of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

Causes of weight gain

The most obvious is overeating of any type of food

• Binging on fast foods, refined processed and sugar laden foods/beverages

No exercise leading to a constant sedentary lifestyle

Endocrine imbalance – hormonal

• Thyroid imbalance
• Adrenal exhaustion
• Nervous breakdown
• After pregnancy
• Oestrogen dominant

Mental/emotional stress which affects you far more than physical stress, although excess exercise can be counterproductive

•Grief and trauma
• Excessive mental stimulation eg computer work, affecting gastrointestinal function
• Emotional stress leading to endocrine imbalance noted above
• Excessive exercise over taxing adrenals
• Insufficient sleep
• Shift work

Poor Digestion/Metabolism

• Digestive enzyme deficiencies
• Fatty Liver
• Loss of gall bladder (surgical removal)
• Continually going on crash diets (yo yo affect)
• Diet pills
• Some pharmaceutical medication i.e. contraceptive pill, HRT, lithium, any drugs that affect function of digestive system

Ageing - as we age our physiology changes, often slowing down

Keeping it simple

If the food you eat is fresh - it grows in the earth, it crawls or swims in the ocean or you find it on a tree - then it offers a good natural choice of food and nutrition for your health and wellbeing. Therefore, anything that is pre packed, processed or even prepared by fast food outlets is best left alone.

Aside from three balanced meals a day, some people may also require two smaller snacks mid morning and mid afternoon. I always encourage the latter for everyone since the time frame from lunch to dinner is far too long to go without food. A small snack can help to stabilise blood sugar and so you avoid binging on biscuits and fast foods, especially when you are at work.

Always include good quality protein, high complex carbohydrate and some fat with all meals including your snacks. This ensures you do not get too hungry and blood sugar is more balanced. The latter is very important if you wish to lose weight and maintain good energy levels with clarity of mind.

I don't believe you can lose weight in a healthy way without daily exercise. We are not meant to sit down all day or even for more than a couple of hours. We are meant to move the body. The lymphatic system relies on you moving in order to pump the lymph around your body - this is your immune system. You need to keep it moving. The internal organs are massaged and stimulated to work more efficiently when you exercise, and the effect on the bowel is a great example. Varying the types of exercise is important and offers variety so you don't get bored. It is important you enjoy what you do. Most people can walk, so choose a route you can take on a daily basis and increase duration of your walk as you progress. Take steps instead of the lift or escalator, try a sport, dance, learn stretch exercises such as pilates, yoga or tai chi. Get involved and allow your body to experience the benefits.

Eating 4-6 times a day actually increases the metabolism and makes it far more efficient than going without breakfast, or just having a piece of fruit for lunch, then finding yourself starving by mid afternoon, short tempered and irritable (due to low blood sugar), then ending up eating either wrong foods or too much for dinner.

Avoid eating just before bed - an exception might be an apple or a couple of nuts if you need something. You can have a protein drink at night if you find you wake far too hungry. Make it 70% protein with 30% water added such as rice milk heated with sprinkle of cinnamon (to balance blood sugar), or try oat milk (if you are not gluten intolerant), rather than cow's milk. If you must consume some dairy in your diet then opt for goat or sheep rather than cow product, which can contribute too many digestive problems resulting in allergies or bowel problems. You will acquire calcium by consuming nuts, seeds, grains, plants and very small amounts in fish/meats. Do not consume foods/beverages with added minerals and vitamins - if something is vital and alive and nutritious you should not require the manufacturer to add supplements. If you require additional vitamins and minerals it is far better to take what has been prescribed for you.

Hormonal imbalances
Many people I have met with weight issues often have an imbalance of hormones. If a woman is oestrogen dominant, she will be more inclined to be overweight or certainly have a much fuller figure. Depending on her circumstances, she may have to consider stopping taking the contraceptive pill/HRT, which could be contributing to this condition. Alternatively, she may have an imbalance of the pituitary gland or thyroid, which needs to be addressed with herbal or homoeopathic remedies and correct nutritional supplements. General blood tests and hormonal saliva tests can illustrate what imbalances are present. Men can also have excess oestrogen levels, which often contribute to gyneomastia (larger breast development).

If adrenal stress has resulted from lifestyle choices, long working hours, relationship difficulties or grief trauma then this can be addressed easily with herbal/homoeopathic remedies and supplements and counselling. However, I recommend you see a qualified naturopath who is skilled in addressing these disorders and equipped to offer you the correct remedies. Never play around with endocrine imbalances as you may make situations far worse. Often it could be as simple as a mineral imbalance. I have found that hair mineral analysis tests can illustrate how the body's cells and tissues are taking up the minerals from your diet, whereas general blood tests show what is in your blood. You need to know how the body is using this nutrition from your food.

Sports instructors are not trained in prescribing any of the above remedies so aside from being experts in showing you the correct exercises and perhaps amino acid supplementation, they do not administer herbal and homoeopathic remedies that can balance the endocrine system. No amount of pumping at the gym or any weight loss diets will help - you can eat like a bird but if your adrenals are stressed and exhausted and other hormones are out of sync you may even put more weight on. This is where a naturopath is skilled in helping you.

Mental Stimulus
Mental stimulation can result from an excessive workload and computer use. Your overactive mind keeps you awake, leading to fatigue and possibly nervous and adrenal stress; it can also affect your gut function via the enteric nervous system. This nervous system communicates with your brain/mind/gut all of your life. Whatever your mind experiences will also affect your gut function. If tension is held in the gastro intestinal tract, then this will impair good digestion, assimilation of nutrients and bowel efficiency and elimination, all, in turn, contributing to weight gain.

Get away from your computer in the evening allowing you a more peaceful environment and restful sleep. Practise meditation, take a warm bath, have an after dinner walk (it helps digestion). In other words, learn to switch off and chill out. Drink calming beverages such as chamomile and lemon balm teas prior to bed.

Inadequate sleep for a lengthy period of time will exhaust adrenals and central nervous system.

Excess exercise
We have all known someone who appears to be addicted to exercise; they visit the gym every day then play a sport daily and never seem to stop. I encourage everyone to move and do something for at least an hour each day (split the time if you are time poor), but to overdo it is also counterproductive. This can create too much tension on the internal organs and gastro intestinal tract and stress on the adrenals and central nervous system. You may actually find you increase in weight! It is all about learning to understand balance and your own limits. Again, the amount of exercise you do daily is geared to how many years you have been exercising or training - beginners need to start slowly. There must be times for relaxation in between vigorous exercise.

Weight lifting builds strength and tones muscle, which burns up to five times more calories than fat (even when your body is at rest). More muscle means more calories burned and more weight lost over time.

Pilates is excellent for toning and trimming down the waist, giving you a long lean dancer's body, helping to strengthen the core, which aids in good posture, balance and a strong 'girdle' for your back.

When exercise intensity increases, neural messages are sent to the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys, which in response secrete adrenaline into the bloodstream. Moderate exercise burns off adrenaline and allows muscles to dissipate the tension.

Recent research indicates that periodic moderate exercise enhances adrenaline secretion and decreases cortisol (glucocorticoid) secretion. This is important since chronic excessive cortisol secretion leads to increased fat deposition.

It is important that you do not over stress the adrenal glands since they produce the hormones:

Cortisol, which helps the body cope with stress( a catch 22 here!) and also aids the immune system and helps balance blood pressure.Aldosterone which maintains the correct amount of salt in the body, and influences blood volume and blood pressure, andAndrogen which is responsible for male sexual characteristics.

They also help maintain constant blood sugar levels (another reason you crave the chocolate biscuit/burger when you are stressed).

Keeping these glands healthy and balanced will help you maintain good weight or lose weight.

Sluggish Liver/Gall bladder
If you have experienced any liver disease, such as hepatitis, consumed excessive alcohol or taken recreational or pharmaceutical drugs on a regular basis, or eaten high fat or sugar-laden foods over time, then your liver could be compromised.

Fatty sluggish livers cannot function efficiently. This will contribute to weight gain. Blood tests including live blood analysis can ascertain how your liver is functioning. Herbal/homoeopathic remedies and specific amino acids can help flush the liver and improve its function, including bile production.

Many people often find they put on weight around their mid girth after removal of the gall bladder. They can no longer digest and process fats and sometimes protein digestion is affected. Bile that is usually released into the large intestine to help with lubrication is affected and constipation can result.

Avoid Crash Diets
No matter how you try, this is not a long term success. A quick weight loss for the party dress maybe, but within days the weight - and more - is back on again. You will actually gain in weight by going on crash diets. Your metabolism is weakened, digestion is poor and you will become nutrient-starved, in other words, suffer from malnutrition even though you are eating. Enzyme function will be impaired and assimilation of nutrients greatly affected resulting in a myriad of other health disorders and food cravings. The latter is often due to mineral/vitamin deficiencies.

As we age so does the entire physiology of our body. No matter how well you look after yourself with good diet and exercise you will still age, albeit much slower than others who never exercise and eat fat-laden fast foods.

Society as a whole appears to accept that as we age we will all succumb to weight gain around the mid section of our body. This is not necessary in many cases. Much of this is due to hormonal fluctuations as I have mentioned earlier. It is recommended that you seek professional help to balance your hormones prior to peri menopause/andropause rather than wait until afterwards. You need to support the roller coaster of the hormonal change. By doing so, you are less likely to gain weight (provided your diet is healthy and you exercise) and you will maintain balanced blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Many diabetes cases result not just from poor diet with high fats and sugary foods, but also due to stress and adrenal overload not being addressed and poor liver or pancreatic function. Herbal/homoeopathic remedies and acupuncture are used successfully here along with Bowen therapy that instigates the flow of qi energy in the body and helps balance many metabolic/endocrine disorders/stress. Obviously, there could be a genetic tendency to acquire diabetes or have cardio health problems, but you can work at improving your physiology and avoid the extreme negative outcomes.

If is far better to show an interest in your health when you are younger - active and fit. Any gain in weight or other digestive, endocrine or hormonal imbalance needs to be addressed straight away rather than accepting "this is how it is" or being lazy and irresponsible. Everyone needs to take back responsibility for his or her health and wellbeing. There are no quick fixes. It's also about taking pride in yourself, your appearance and how you present to the world.

In some cases where trauma has been experienced in younger years such as emotional or physical abuse, the victim may experience self loathing among other emotional issues. Lack of self love can contribute to less care of one's appearance and health often resulting in eating disorders. These issues need to be addressed before there is success with weight loss. Everyone embarking on a weight loss program, even if just for a few kilos, must have the correct state of mind and want to achieve a positive outcome.

Despite some conventional scientific groups saying there is no validity in natural therapies, it has been proven time and again how effective these therapies can be in addressing all of the above. Many doctors fail to support adrenal stress. When this occurs, it can lead not only to great fatigue and weight gain, but also thyroid imbalance. They do offer thyroxin for your thyroid but there is little they can offer for your adrenals. Ideally, you do not want to wait to get to this state. The adrenals need correct nutrition to work efficiently. Most medical practitioners are not trained in nutrition. Even dieticians cannot help you further since they do not have knowledge of herbal/homoeopathic remedies.

Can we be too thin?
Aiming to be too thin as we age is also not advisable since hormones such as oestrogen are produced in the body's fat. Being too thin can contribute to more wrinkles. The more fat that is preserved in the face, particularly the cheeks, the more you will preserve the facial proportions of youth. Often the face is one of the first areas to show fat loss on crash diets, leaving you looking gaunt and older. Everyone has a different height and bone structure, so how much you weigh is not always a good indicator of what is considered underweight. Being slim and toned is different to being skinny and thin.

So if you need to lose weight, irresepective of your present size, firstly you must really want to make this change and have the right mind set, otherwise it will not work. To gain something you must always be prepared to make sacrifices - if you try to bargain and refuse to let go of what is familiar and habitual, it will not work. Forget slimming diets and all the fad diets. Instead, seek professional guidance and help so you can become more educated in how to get back to basics, balance your metabolism and endocrine system and start shedding that weight.

Sydney-based Lyn Craven is a practitioner of naturopathy, nutrition, medical herbalism, Bowen therapy, Reiki energy healing and meditation, and is a corporate health presenter/consultant with 17 years' experience in natural therapies.

Lyn Craven

Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804