Weight loss and food-intake are intimately related, but not necessarily in the way you think. If you have tried many 'diets' in the past, you will know that restricting your calorie intake is not necessarily the most successful way to reach your ideal weight and maintain it longer term. It's also not the easiest. As I discussed in Naturopathic Perspective: Weight Loss Part 1 (catch up here), our metabolism changes in response to the environment, often reducing your bodies rate of energy usage in a situation that it perceives as a 'famine'. This generally leads to a slower metabolism and poor overall health..
Adopt a nutrient-dense diet in favour of a restricted-energy diet. Focus on filling your plate with nutritious real food that is high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. It is also essential to make sure that you are getting adequate high-quality protein and good fats that suit your body. You should choose complex carbohydrates, with the lowest GI (Glycemic Index) possible. This may be in the form of vegetables fruits or wholegrain depending on your preferences and weight loss goals. A healthy relationship with food is also something to aim for. Restricted dietary practices tend to result in feelings of guilt, failure and frustration. Adopting a nutrient-dense diet leads to you feeling energised, strong and satisfied.
Low-fat, Mediterranean or low-carbohyrate diet?
A 2008 study compared a low-fat (restricted calorie) diet, a Mediterranean (restricted calorie) diet and a low-carbohydrate (non-restricted calorie) diet. The trial went for 2 years, and all 3 groups lost weight in the first 6 months, followed by a mild rebound and plateau that was maintained for the remainder of the time period. The low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets lost more weight than the low-fat group. There were few women in this study, but they tended to loose more on the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet had the greatest improvements in blood sugar levels, and the low-carbohydrate diet had the greatest improvement in cholesterol ratios (1).
The authors of this research article summed it up nicely when they said "Personal preferences and metabolic considerations might inform individualised tailoring of dietary interventions (for weight loss)".
Where do I start with food? Increasing your vegetable intake is an easy lifestyle modification that will assist your weight loss efforts and improve health independently of other dietary factors. So if all else fails, increase your vegetable intake and you will also be increasing your intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Focus on green and colourful vegetables for a bigger impact. This will be a great place to start if you are daunted by making changes to your lifestyle. Your next step could be to increase your consumption of legumes, fish, nuts and seeds.
What about intermittent fasting? There has been some interest and research into intermittent fasting in recent years. It seems that reduced calorie intake on alternate days produces positive effects in terms of blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity (3). These are positive markers for a well operating metabolism. Animal studies have also long shown that quite extreme calorie-restriction extends life span, although the application of this would not be desirable or maintainable for many. It should also be noted that this does not mean that calorie restriction leads to optimal health.
In my clinic I recommend to have occasional days of reduced food intake if it is not a huge struggle to do so. This also tends to fit well in our busy lives where some days are not conducive to spending as much time focusing on food. This may translate into a few missed snacks or small meals on occasion. This process mimics variations to food availability that would have been quite common in pre-agriculture times, and feels like quite a natural way to eat. Please note: this is not a step for those just starting their weight loss efforts or individuals with poor blood sugar regulation or diabetes.
What do I drink for weight loss?
Water is undoubtedly the drink of choice for weight loss. Herbal teas including green tea may be beneficial also. Fresh juices with a high percentage of vegetable juices are an occasional alternative. The more relevant question may be: what to avoid drinking for weight loss? Often high caffeine and alcohol intake will work against your weight loss efforts. Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones which can increase comfort eating as discussed in part 1. Alcohol is often a nutrient poor addition to your diet which encourages the wrong dietary choices and contributes 'empty' energy.
Are there any natural supplements for weight loss?
There are a range of supplements that promote themselves for weight loss. Often these are stimulating herbal medicines containing caffeine, which as discussed above is not a good idea. Combined with a nutrient-dense diet and appropriate exercise plan, I often recommend the supplements below for helping my clients reach their optimum weight.
Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is an herbal medicine preliminary research suggests can aid in weight loss. Animal studies show a decrease in BMI, weight gain, organ weight and improved cholesterol profiles (4). It also reduces sweetness perception by your taste buds which is a novel way of moving your diet away from sweet carbohydrates and towards a nutrient-dense real foods.
Psyllium (Plantago ovate) is a seed husk that is used as a fibre. While it has little nutrition to offer it does slow glucose absorption and has beneficial effects on the digestive flora. It is often used to reduce hunger, which it does for around 6 hours after consumption, which can be useful for helping to adjust to a real food diet, or for occasional days of reduced energy intake.
Whey protein is one of the proteins derived from dairy. Higher protein diets have been investigated for weight loss, and there is some support for using protein to replace refined carbohydrates in a weight loss diet (5). While further research is needed on the implications of 'high-protein' diets longer term, it is a good idea to ensure you are getting some high-quality protein alongside a balanced real food diet. The protein supplement I recommend in my clinic is free from artificial additives, in order to reduce exposure to synthetic chemicals. Whey can be also be obtained as part of yoghurt if you tolerate the other proteins in dairy well.
Making changes is an important skill to aid weight loss efforts. Research has shown that the more consistently we apply dietary and lifestyle practices for weight loss the more associated with weight loss they are (6). I know that sounds terribly obvious, but the benefit of knowing how to adopt new behaviours and keep them is crucial to your success. It's also why determining achievable lifestyle and dietary goals is incredibly important. Find out what your motivation and accountability will be, and start your change.
Putting weight loss into perspective
Finding a nutrient-dense diet that is effective and maintainable for you is the most important thing. Make sure that you find a healthy and balanced way of eating that suits your body. This combined with an achievable exercise plan and the right natural supplements for optimal health, will be your formula for achieving your weight loss goals.
For your individualised weight loss plan contact me to book an appointment at the clinic. I prescribe the highest quality natural supplements to my clients on a consultation-only basis.
This blog post is for your general information and is not intended to be medical advice. Please see your qualified healthcare professional for more information on the safe treatment of your specific health conditions.