Happy New Year!
As we once again turn over a new page on the annual calendar, New Year’s Resolutions come to mind. For many people, especially after the indulgent holiday season, weight loss is their #1 resolution.
Given how weight is connected to metabolic, cardiovascular, and brain health, it is undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavor. But many people still fail to achieve lasting weight loss, year after year. Individuals blame themselves for lack of willpower, but maybe its the incomplete advice, lack of support, or just the environment we all live in.
In weight loss, there are no easy fixes–no quick (yet lasting) ways to lose weight. A bandaid solution just won’t cut it.
You’ve heard the phrase “eat less, exercise more”–it’s almost like a mantra, but one that fails time and time again when ‘life gets in the way.’
Perhaps that’s because that’s not the real heart of the issue–yes, calories matter, but other factors matter more.
Here are the 5 key drivers of real, lasting weight loss:
- Lifestyle (habits, routines, environment)
- Contentment (self-love and care)
- Health (hormonal and digestive)
- Calories (food and exercise)
Let me elaborate on how each of these determines the weight range you live in, and discuss briefly what you can do to influence these core issues to in turn change your weight.
5 Key Drivers of Real, Lasting Weight Loss
Lifestyle includes everything from your habits to your routine to the environment you live in. Some examples include: do you go to the drive-thru everyday? Are you ‘addicted’ to soda? Do you keep sweets in your house? Are you accustomed to having something sweet after every meal? Does your afternoon routine include a trip to the vending machine or cookie jar? Are you surrounded by people who eat crap and never exercise? Do the people you interact with make fun of you for trying to eat healthier or care about your weight?
Any of these can make it easy to gain weight and impossible to lose it.
Begin to notice the effect your surroundings, your habits, your routines, and the people in your life have on you. For me, my daily afternoon routine included a trip to the convenience store where I bought a chocolate bar or sugary drink. Once I realized that was an issue for me, I started to try to solve it (eventually creating Belight Tea!).
For recognizing patterns and changing habits, check out the book The Power of Habit.
I also prefer to keep sweets out of my house and to surround myself with people who like to exercise and who choose to eat healthy. In addition, I haven’t stopped at a Drive-Thru in about 2 years. This is how I keep my lifestyle working for me.
What lifestyle factor can you change that will impact your weight? Maybe that should be your New Year’s Resolution.
This might seem like a strange factor for weight loss, but if you’re an emotional eater or you have a ‘complicated’ relationship with food and/or your body, then this very well may be the biggest issue on the list for you.
If you don’t find in you an ability to love yourself, to love your body, and to love you just the way you are, your body is always going to feel battered and belittled and never want to cooperate. Just like another human being, you have to treat your body with care, kindness, and respect. You have to love it, nourish it, and be proud of it. You have to talk positively to it.
You have to care for yourself. You can’t give-give-give so you have nothing left for yourself. You can’t be everything to everyone if you’re not even able to be you for you.
If you’re filled with hate, loathing, and resentment or feel depleted, taxed, and exhausted, the body can’t support you and your mind, or by changed by force. In that type of situation, it will never agree to shed the weight (which it sees as protection). In this case, the mind has to change before the body will yield.
This is where the need for self-love, self-care, and a nourishing practice become absolutely necessary.
Ways to start:
- Say no to commitments you don’t want or can’t keep
- Get a (bi-)weekly massage
- Start a daily gratitude journal
- Meditate, practice yoga or tai chi
- Rest, relax, and just be for a few moments everyday
- Journal your thoughts, feelings, and inner dialogue
- Listen to Louise Hay’s 101 Power Thoughts
- Ask for help when you need it
Find a way to love yourself at any size, to be proud of your body and all it does for you, to allow time and space to just be, let your greatness shine through, then your body will support you and cooperate to help you reach all your goals (even weight loss goals).
Digestive and Hormonal Health
As we learn more about how the body works, more theories about how hormones and gut health influence body weight regulation are entering conventional medical discussions.
With increasing understanding of gut bacteria (microbiota), the medical world is discovering the connection between gut bacteria and weight. It’s been discovered that the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ organisms in our gut are affected by antibiotics, food choices, environmental exposures and more.
Since we have more bacteria than we have human cells, the microbiota is increasingly regarded as a key factor in many aspects of health, including notably, predisposition to being overweight or obese. Too many ‘bad’ bacteria, or not enough ‘good’ bacteria can make you overweight. Too many antibiotics can increase susceptibility to weight gain. (This is why fecal transplant has been used to treat obesity: by recolonizing the bacteria of an obese person with the ‘good’ gut bacteria that support leanness, the weight range of the obese person can shift much lower.)
While a fecal transplant is overkill for most people, the concept remains: take a high quality, high CFU probiotic to keep your gut in balance, particularly if you’ve been on antibiotics recently.
As for hormonal health, the first one to consider is the thyroid. Because the thyroid is a key driver of metabolism, it certainly influences weight. Both men and women struggling with weight issues should get a full thyroid panel to find out if they should be concerned.
Other hormones that can influence weight management: insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol. Of these, insulin and cortisol may be the most important because of the role they play in how your body uses food, what types of food it craves, how, where, and when food it stored, and how, which types, and when fuel stores are burned. If you have problems with blood sugar regulation, excess stress, or ability to manage your appetite, get these four hormones checked.
For women, the hormonal influences on body weight get even more challenging and complicated. Issues such as estrogen dominance and PCOS can severely hamper a woman’s ability to lose weight. A change of lifestyle, diet, and additional supplementation may be necessary, under the guidance of a doctor.
On going studies continue to show the overriding factor in whether someone gains or loses weight is not what they eat, what diet they follow, how much they exercise, or which supplements they take, but rather, how much and how well they sleep.
Shift workers, insomniacs, the overworked, and anyone else who doesn’t get the recommended 7-9 solid hours of sleep per night are more likely to gain weight. They suffer increased fatigue, make worse food choices, burn less calories, and don’t undergo the nightly repair and detox cycle. All of these means they’re more likely to put on weight.
This is the simplest solution on this list. To change your weight, sleep more on nightly basis.
This is where we’d get into all the traditional advice to eat less and exercise more. But I’m here to tell you something slightly different.
Yes calories matter, but quality of calories matter more. And metabolic rate (as determined by muscle mass) matters more than the calorie-burned count on your treadmill.
We all need to ingest calories but the key is to choose quality sources for those calories–fresh, whole foods: vegetables, meat, good fats and oils, herbs and spices, some fruit, seeds, and nuts.
Not convenience foods.
Nothing processed or packaged.
Those are poor calorie sources with terrible nutrient profiles. Those calories are the worst for you.
Second, if you think burning 200 calories on the treadmill is the best you can do to ‘exercise more’ and have calories out exceed calories in, then let’s consider something… A session lasting roughly the same amount of time as your treadmill session, but is focused on lifting heavy weights (or even body weight bearing exercises) will having you burning the same 200 calories during the workout. But, here’s the kicker, your muscles are going to burn about 15% more calories over the next few hours as compared to the treadmill session. How’s that for calories burned?! This is also true for high intensity interval training (relative to chronic cardio).
Calories matter: quality calories trump for calories in, and strength training trumps for calories burned. How’s that for a new paradigm?
I’ll be the first to admit, there is no easy road to lasting weight loss. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done, or isn’t worthwhile. To have energy to play with your kids, to have clarity of mind to succeed professionally or pursue your passion, to have longevity, pride, love, and to more fully share your gifts with the world, these make the journey to weight loss all the more rewarding.
As you prepare your New Year’s Resolutions, I encourage you to dream big, but start small, and to consider carefully what you’ll pursue this year. Losing weight is definitely worth it–so figure out where you need to start, and begin there.