Photo: Steve skiing untracked powder on Mavericks, a 3000 foot vertical backcountry ski run in Grand Teton National Park, January 30, 2021. Credit: Jack Henley

Why is it so hard to lose weight? This is the subject of my previous What I learned newsletter article, https://crooked-thumb.com/2021/01/19/body-set-weight-why-its-so-hard-to-lose-weight/.  As I wrote in that article, the brain sets the body set weight. Insulin resistance acts to move body set weight higher. When your weight falls below body set weight, the brain activates mechanisms to regain weight actively resisting long term weight loss. Weight gain is multi-dimensional, there is no one single cause. In this What I learned article I write about strategies for losing weight.

As a personal trainer working with hundreds of clients, weight-loss is by far the most common goal of my clients. Over the years I have developed seven effective strategies for helping clients lose weight, achieve a normal body set weight, and most importantly, maintain that body set weight. The key is finding a strategy or multiple strategies that work for you. Every body is different and every mind is different. We all face environmental pressures that may help or hinder us maintain a normal rate. Be open minded and try different approaches to find what works for you.

Strategy 1: Reduce consumption of added sugar and processed foods.

Added sugar and highly processed foods create the strongest insulin response. Consumption of these foods leads to insulin resistance and weight gain. The most dangerous added sugars are high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. Read the labels. Almost all processed foods have added sugar. Beware of sugar pseudonyms: maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, and agave nectar.

Avoid soft drinks and fruit juices with added sugar. Reduce consumption of highly processed grains. The toxicity lies in the processing which increases the rate of glucose absorption and amplifies the insulin effect. Our bodies are adapted to the balance of nutrients in natural foods. Refining destroys that balance. White flour is nutritionally bankrupt.

Contrary to the popular USDA food pyramid, carbohydrates should be no more than a third of your daily caloric intake.

Strategy 2: Moderate your protein consumption.

Studies show high protein diets don’t work for weight loss. While protein consumption does not raise glucose levels, it does cause a surge in insulin. Dairy protein stimulates insulin release. Whey protein, high in BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) raises insulin levels higher than a slice of whole wheat bread. Meat protein, especially red meat, raises insulin levels and is associated with weight gain. Vegetable protein has a minimal effect on insulin levels. The insulin effect of protein is partially offset by the increase in satiety hormones which makes us feel fuller longer after a protein shake or steak.

Remember the goal here is to reduce our insulin response allowing blood glucose to feed our cells rather than be processed by the liver and stored as fat. I recommend protein consumption just under a third of your total caloric intake.

Strategy 3: Increase consumption of natural fats.  

A teaspoon of margarine is not the same as an ounce of avocado. Vegetable oils and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and are highly inflammatory. Avocados, nuts like almonds, and cold water fish such as Salmon are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory. Historically the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 has been one to one. In the modern American diet the ratio is more likely 15:1 or even 30:1.

Saturated fats do not increase cholesterol. Dietary fat does not cause heart disease. Total fat in your diet, independent of calories does not cause weight gain. Eating healthy fat does not make you fat, but protects you by decreasing glucose and insulin spikes. I recommend at least a third, but less than half, of your daily caloric intake come from healthy fat.

Strategy 4: Increase your consumption of protective natural foods.

Studies show diets high in fiber are less likely to produce weight gain. Fiber decreases the palatability of food so you eat less. Meals rich in fiber increase the volume in the stomach increasing satiety. Digesting high fiber foods slows the rise in glucose and insulin levels. Studies indicate Paleo diets consumed 77 to 120 grams of fiber today. Traditional diets consumed 50 grams of fiber. Modern American diets average just 15 grams of fiber per day. Low fiber diets are indicated in studies to contribute to a number of gastro-intestinal diseases and other health related problems. Natural food fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole unprocessed grains, flax and chia seeds, beans, nuts and unprocessed oatmeal.

Strategy 5: Add vinegar to your diet.

Studies show vinegar reduces insulin spikes and insulin resistance. Two tablespoons of vinegar with a high-carb meal lowers blood sugar and insulin by as much as 34%. Sushi rice with vinegar lowers the glycemic index of white rice by 40%. The health benefits of Balsamic vinegar are well documented. One of my favorite foods high in vinegar is Korean Kimchi.

Strategy 6: Pay attention to when you eat.

Insulin resistance keeps insulin levels elevated. High insulin levels promote a high body set weight. In order to break the cycle, the body needs recurrent periods of very low insulin levels. Eating proper foods prevents high levels of insulin and fasting lowers insulin levels. Studies indicate fasting improves insulin sensitivity.

I have had significant success helping clients lose weight thru intermittent fasting.  There are various strategies of intermittent fasting. Studies show after eight hours, fasting reduces insulin levels and the body switches to burning fat for energy. My experience is that fasting durations of sixteen to thirty six hours are most effective. Every client is different and it takes time to dial in the optimal schedule.

There are a number of additional health benefits from fasting. Fasting rids the body of excess salt and water. Fasting increases growth hormone secretion to maintain muscle and bone mass. Fasting increases adrenalin levels and actually increases your metabolism. Fasting does not result in loss of muscle tissue. Fasting does not cause a loss of cognitive ability. Human brains can function without glucose using ketones and glucose generated by gluconeogenesis in the liver.

In the cycle of life, fasting follows feasting. Diets must be intermittent. Fasting has a long tradition and is integral to every culture and religion on earth. 

Strategy 7: Reduce stress and get a good night sleep.

Cortisol is the hormone that prepares the body to deal with perceived threats. Cortisol enhances glucose availability providing energy for muscles and action: the flight or fly response. Once danger is past, cortisol returns to normal levels. While the body is well adapted to short-term increases in cortisol, long-term stress causes a problem. Chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to increased insulin levels—which leads to insulin resistance and weight gain. Studies show chronic stress causes weight gain.

Reducing stress is difficult, but critical for improving your health, losing weight, and staying slim. Stress relief is an active process. I have had success with stress-reduction for my clients using yoga, strength and aerobic exercise. Studies on mindfulness intervention find participants were able to use guided yoga and meditation to successfully reduce cortisol and abdominal fat.

Sleep deprivation is a potent psychological and physical stressor. This stress stimulates cortisol production resulting in high insulin levels and insulin resistance. Studies show a single night’s sleep deprivation can raise insulin levels by more than one hundred percent and remain elevated over the next twenty four hours.

In addition to affecting insulin levels, sleep deprivation plays havoc with our hunger and satiety hormones. Studies show short sleep duration is associated with higher body weight, decreased leptin (satiety hormone) and increased ghrelin (hunger hormone).

Finding strategies to get a good night’s sleep are critical to weight loss efforts.

Conclusion

All of us are different. Getting to a healthy body set weight is a personal journey. It starts with understanding why we gain weight and continues with what we can do to lose unwanted weight.

In my What I learned article, https://crooked-thumb.com/2020/10/28/creatures-of-habit-small-changes-big-results/, I wrote about the importance of creating habits for success. Weight loss is not only a physical challenge, but also a mental, psychological and emotional challenge. Think of the term, “comfort food.” This term brings up a whole host of mental images associated with weight gain. The attraction of food, the pleasure it gives you, and the desire for more is a classic habit loop. A habit that can become an addiction and lead to a number of physical and mental health issues. Successful weight loss requires learning and developing a new set of healthy habits.

If you have any questions or I can help you please email me at steve.crookedthumb@gmail.com

Photo: face full of 32 inches of fresh powder in Grand Teton National Park, January 30, 2021

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