For many people, weight loss is a challenge. Sure, it’s easy to drop a few pounds on a crash diet—but as you’ve likely discovered, this type of weight loss rarely lasts. Many people end up in a seemingly endless cycle of dieting/regaining weight/and dieting again. The side effect of this approach is that each time you diet, you lose muscle; and each time you regain weight, the muscle you lost is replaced with fat.
Developing A Healthy Relationship With Food
The first step in having a healthy relationship with food begins with your spirit, which connects with your mind (intelligence), emotions, and physical self. It’s important to consider your cultural heritage when choosing a diet, and to pay attention to choosing foods that are balanced and appealing in taste, smell, color, and texture. It’s essential to also consider the source; in other words, to choose fresh and wholesome foods from the earth, prepared with love and consumed with the intent to deeply nourish.
I counsel people to avoid extremes in life. The extremes of both self-indulgence and self-deprivation have equally harmful consequences for human life that results in a distortion that alienates and harms the spirit, which is ultimately what we live for.
We must find in every aspect of life an opportunity for growth through simplicity, charity, stability, prayer, common sense, study, hospitality, and love. Diet isn’t just about what we eat, it is also about when, why, where, who we eat with, and how we eat. To develop a healthy relationship with food, we must remember these four important guidelines: 1) balance, 2) moderation, 3) self-discipline, and 4) heartfelt joy.
On a physiological level, understanding the biological mechanisms behind weight gain is helpful for losing excess fat and achieving your optimal weight. I explain this in depth in my book, “Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease,” Healing Arts Press, 2013.
The following excerpt from my book offers a glimpse into the real cause of obesity, with a focus on abdominal obesity, the most common and health damaging type of fat:
Metabolic Syndrome, Hormones, and Abdominal Obesity
Hormones–the body’s chemical messengers–are increasingly being recognized as playing a primary role in whether an individual successfully maintains lean muscle mass or instead easily accumulates excess fat. In addition to the glucocorticoid hormones produced by the HPAT axis, hormones produced by the pancreas (insulin), ovaries (estrogen) and testes (testosterone) are key players in body composition.
In recent years, a particular constellation of physiological traits has become well known as metabolic syndrome (sometimes called syndrome X). The primary characteristics of metabolic syndrome are abdominal obesity, cholesterol abnormalities (high triglycerides and low HDL), hypertension, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to the decreased ability of cells to respond to insulin, which means that blood glucose is not able to enter cells. While cells starve for energy, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, triggering the release of even more insulin. This causes the body to store all available calories as fat, even when dieting. A variety of chronic diseases are associated with metabolic syndrome, most notably, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, many forms of cancer, such as breast, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer are linked to metabolic syndrome.
The vast majority of people suffering from metabolic syndrome are overweight and sedentary. It’s important to note, however, that while obesity is the greatest risk factor for developing metabolic syndrome, eating a diet high in carbohydrates and not getting enough exercise can cause metabolic syndrome even in people of normal weight.
The sex hormones estrogen and testosterone have also been garnering attention for the role they play in body composition. Researchers have noted that men who have metabolic syndrome are also likely to have low testosterone levels. This relationship, referred to as the hypogonadal/obesity cycle, appears to be initiated by low testosterone levels, which cause an increase in abdominal fat. This sets off a chain of events that begins with increased aromatase activity, which leads to increased conversion of testosterone to estradiol, and further reduces testosterone levels and increases the accumulation of abdominal fat. This results in a variety of health problems ranging from cholesterol abnormalities, low energy and memory difficulties to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and prostate cancer.Maintaining healthy testosterone levels is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass and avoiding excess fat gain.
Women also suffer the fattening effects of hormonal imbalances, which vary according to her stage in life. Too much estrogen causes water retention, most notably in the abdominal area. This bloating is most noticeable in the menstrual cycle when progesterone levels drop and estrogen levels increase, triggering menstruation. As women age and enter perimenopause, progesterone levels decrease and estrogen dominates, and bloating can become a constant issue. After menopause, most women find that excess weight easily accumulates, particularly in the abdominal area. This is because when the ovaries shut down their production of estrogen, secondary production sites such as body fat take over the job of supplying estrogen, and the body wants to hold on to this resource. Balancing hormones is an essential component of losing excess fat and building lean muscle. It likely comes as no surprise that instead of hormone replacement, I recommend a lifestyle approach that includes specific herbs and supplements to support hormonal balance. (For more information on my approach to balancing hormones, see my posts on Optimizing Hormones Naturally Versus Hormone Replacement Therapies: Part I and Botanical Hormone Support, Part II.)
For healthy weight loss, I recommend the following delicious smoothie as a nourishing replacement for breakfast or lunch. Rich in a variety of protective phytonutrients, muscle building protein, and healthful fats, this smoothie is a meal in a glass.
Meal Replacement Smoothie
- Whole foods multi-vitamin and mineral smoothie mix: 1 scoop
- Undenatured whey powder: 1 scoop
- Fish oil and essential fatty acid blend: 1 tsp.
- Powdered blend of antioxidant botanicals: ½ tsp.
- Sea vegetable blend: ½ tsp.
- Coconut milk powder: 1 tbls.
- Fruit anthocyanins: 1 tsp.
- Yogurt (whole milk, sheep, goat, or organic Greek cow): 1 cup
- Pomegranate juice: 2 oz.
- Organic peach or apricot juice: 2 oz.
- Frozen or fresh berries or mangos: 3 oz.
- 1 tsp. honey: optional
Blend all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Serves 1.