Weight Loss: a Beginning
Like many people, weight loss may be on your mind this time of year. Maybe it was on your list of New Year’s resolutions for the year. Or perhaps it is an ongoing goal that you keep in mind all year long. If so, you are not alone. More than one third of adults have obesity. While obesity is related to many health risks, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer, it can also have a big toll emotionally. It can be difficult to grapple with and hard to know where to start. Weight loss is a vast topic. While addressing every aspect of it is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few points to share that may be of use to someone who is on the journey of weight loss. It is often a long journey and not an easy one. Hopefully the points in this article will provoke inspiration and hope.
Avoiding processed foods is a must if you are on a path to weight loss (and a path to health, too). As Michael Pollan says, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.” Processed foods (chips, cookies, candy, boxed cereals, pretzels, many pastas and breads, etc.) are energy dense (high in calories), while also being nutrient poor (low in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients). This may be one reason why nutrient-poor processed foods can increase cravings; our bodies are craving the micronutrients that are missing in these foods. They are usually high in processed carbohydrates, industrial seed oils, sugars, salt, and low in protein. The combination of these ingredients leads to foods like the potato chip, which are, of course, irresistible. This is not an accident. Processed foods are designed by manufacturers to be hyper palatable. Eating these unnatural food products often overrides our brains’ natural satiety signals (feelings of satisfaction). They light up the pleasure centers in our brains, making us crave more and more of that food. This is good for business, but bad for our waistlines.
For all these reasons, overeating and eventually weight gain and obesity can result.
Eat a whole foods based diet. This means foods that are minimally processed, that come in their natural form. This includes vegetables, fruits, meat/fish/poultry, eggs, grains, legumes, grains/seeds, and dairy (tailored to the individual’s dietary preferences and tolerance of these foods). Whole foods are generally less calorically dense, but nutrient rich, which is the ideal combination.
Non-starchy vegetables play a leading role in this category when it comes to weight loss. They are rich in fiber, and low in calories. Fiber is satiating, so we feel full faster. This naturally decreases caloric intake. Fiber is also essential for feeding our gut microbiota, which we now know has an effect on metabolism. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome differs between those who are a healthy weight and those who are overweight or obese. For example, the types of gut microbes in our bodies can dictate how many calories we extract from our food and how much fat we store. They are also high in micronutrients (see above), which some studies show can even help with weight loss by regulating appetite. Take a look at your plate and make sure that at least half of it consists of non-starchy vegetables.
While you may realize by now that food type and quality is important for weight loss, food quantity also plays a factor. You may be eating the right kinds of foods, but eating too much of them. This is where portion control comes in. Your metabolism may have changed over time; what was once an amount that led to weight loss may now be maintaining your weight, but not helping with loss. Tweak your portions slightly and see if this changes anything.
While reasonable portion control makes sense, be mindful of under eating to the extreme; more is not necessarily better. Limiting calories too much can send your body into starvation mode. Your metabolic rate may very well slow down (meaning fewer calories burned just doing nothing) as your body tries to protect itself from what it thinks may be a dire situation – starvation. Drastically reducing calories will also inevitably lead to hunger – a dieter’s worst enemy. Not only is hunger miserable, it will inevitably sabotage even the most dedicated person’s plans. Overeating and binge eating often occur after severe restrictions. So be moderate in your approach.
While there are no easy answers, there are guidelines that can help shape the foundation of a way of eating – aka diet – for someone looking to lose weight. The ideas above also apply to anyone seeking a healthy way of eating. Weight loss is a vast topic, and one that is constantly changing. There are many angles to explore it from. In the coming months I will delve into them, occasionally, with a ‘weight loss check-in’.
The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.