Why is it so hard to lose weight?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation around losing weight. People keep doing the same things over and over, even though the results are poor. We drastically reduce caloric intake but our metabolism slows down in response. This is why we end up gaining more weight back when we return to our previous habits. Or, we completely cut out whole categories of food but this ends up not being sustainable. Some people adopt insane exercise regimens but hunger increases in response to the increased energy demands.
Excess weight is actually due to a hormonal problem. It is caused by too much insulin and we need to look at what causes this problem. It's not about how many calories we eat but what kinds of calories we eat and whether we frequently give the body enough time to use it up before we eat again.
Much of the dietary piece can be corrected by switching to a whole food diet. This way of eating includes meat that is unprocessed, plenty of vegetables, moderate servings of whole grains, and healthy fats that occur naturally in meat, avocados, seeds and raw nuts. Keep in mind that whole grains should be full fiber and look a lot like they did when growing on the plant. Brown rice is better than white rice, steal cut oats or oat groats are better than rolled oats etc. Modern store bought flour (even if it is labeled 'whole grain') has had the fiber removed. It is ground super fine and will cause insulin to spike. Foods made from flour should be limited in your diet and you would be better off without it completely.
Do your best to eliminate processed sugar from your diet. The average American eats 3 lbs of processed sugar per week! It is hidden in processed foods and beverages. A large caramel frappe coffee contains 81 grams of sugar! A can of cola has 39 grams of sugar and cup of juice has 23 grams. We would all be healthier if we avoided processed sugar all together. But nutritionists suggest no more than 13 grams per day for adults.
When to eat is just as important. This is going to sound obvious. But, we all make this mistake. If you have weight to lose, don't eat if you're not hungry. And only eat at meal time. When our inulin levels are high too often, our bodies become resistant to this hormone and the levels stay high longer and longer. By eating between meals, our insulin spikes and will stay higher all the time. Snacking not only causes more insulin to be released at the time but it causes the hormone to stay in the blood longer contributing to insulin resistance.
Snacks with artificial sweeteners or no carbs can be almost as bad. We used to think that insulin was released only from the glucose the blood. It turns out that our small intestine has receptors that sense the food we're eating and stimulate the pancreas to release insulin even if the sweetener doesn't contain calories (artificial sweeteners) and even if the food is not a carbohydrate. The only food that doesn't cause insulin release is fat.
What other hormones play a role in weight gain and loss?
There are a number of important hormones that affect insulin levels. Sex hormone irregularities in men and women can cause the body to gain a small amount of fat. The increased fat has an effect on insulin resistance and drives insulin levels higher.
Thyroid hormone deficiencies slow the metabolism of sugar and will slow down the rate at which we use insulin making it stay higher longer.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, drives the release of stored sugar in an effort to give us the energy we need to get through a brief, stressful time. With modern lifestyles, cortisol can stay high all the time for some people. If this sounds like you, try to get enough sleep every night and incorporate deep breathing, yoga, meditation or prayer or get acupuncture regularly. Many of my patients also find it helpful to take adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, rhodiola, and schisandra. My patients can find products containing these herbs here.
Leptin is a hormone that stimulates the body to convert fat to energy. Just like insulin and other hormones, the body can become accustomed to having high levels of leptin. The best way to combat this, in my experience is timed eating and intermittent fasting done just some days of the week. We need to give the body enough time to let the leptin levels increase and decrease in the same way that we need the insulin to increase and decrease. Consider intermittent fasting every other day or just 2-3 days per week.
Incretin hormones are largely produced by the 'healthy bacteria' in the small intestine. They influence hunger, cravings, and how much insulin is triggered after eating. There are multiple studies done on mice where significant changes in weight occurred after manipulating the gut bacteria (microbiota). If you have significant digestive symptoms, please consult our office or a qualified acupuncturist/ herbal therapist.
If your digestion is healthy overall, you might just try some dietary bitters and prebiotics. Prebiotics are different than probiotics; they are food for the healthy bacteria. In my office I recommend two prebiotics. Prebiotic Inulin which is a flavorless powder that can be mixed with food and GI Stability which is a convenient wafer that can be chewed. Either way, start slow as they can cause gas and bloating as the microbiota changes.
How do you combat hunger during intermittent fasting?
You are likely to experience hunger while you start to reduce eating to mealtime or further restrict eating with intermittent fasting. Hunger usually comes and goes and you are likely to feel like this gets better over time even without treatment. I'd suggest that if you are feeling hungry, drink a glass of water, tea or herb tea.
Schisandra is an herb with a long history of being used to combat hunger. Like most adaptogens, it can take a couple weeks to start working. When I recommend schisandra it is usually in combination with rhodiola or in combination with other herbs.
If you are having sugar cravings, gymnema can be a very beneficial herb. Gymnema is known in Hindi as 'Sugar Destroyer'. Taken regularly, it reduces sugar cravings. Taken before a meal with carbohydrates, it slows the absorption from the small intestine into the blood stream. It will temporarily desensitize sugar receptors on the tongue (suck on a tablet or taken as a liquid). And, over time it can help regenerate cells in the pancreas to make better insulin. Here is a link to the gymnema supplement I sell.
What else can I do about insulin resistance?
Other herbs that help with insulin resistance are cinnamon, fenugreek and black cumin. I often recommend these combined in a product called Metabol. Others are milk thistle, Korean ginseng and herbs like Japanese knotweed that contain resveratrol. When I want people to take this combination, I often recommend a product called Herbavital.
Moderate exercise also helps with blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. It is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But, most of the weight will come off due to dietary changes. And, you don't have to over train to lose weight.
Acupuncture and herbs can be used for hormone balancing and appetite suppression to help with weight management. If you would like a consultation, please contact our office at 616-855-7718.
If you have any topics you'd like to see discussed in the future, please let me know.