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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Take it Off: Keep it Off

Dec 26, 2012 11:59AM ● By Lynn Bednar

Permanent weight loss is really about changing habits. While supplements can be helpful in assisting in losing weight, there is no magic bullet or fad diet that will take the weight off permanently without a change in your eating and exercise habits. The good news is that as we change, we feel better and are motivated to do more. Changing the diet is a gradual process of retraining the palette to be able to taste the natural richness and sweetness offered by whole, unprocessed foods.

The biggest culprits in weight gain today are stress and blood sugar levels. A constant barrage of sugar creates a cycle that cannot sustain itself. When we eat foods that have a high glycemic load (the measure of how quickly our body converts foods to glucose and the amount of carbohydrates in the food), our bodies react by pouring insulin into the bloodstream. Excess insulin can cause a drop in blood sugar that then creates craving for more sugar. It also tells the body to stop breaking down fat and to start storing it.

When we are under stress our bodies release cortisol, producing the “fight or flight” response. This summons blood sugar so that the body can react to the stressor with extra energy. It also converts protein to blood sugar, causing a reduction in lean body mass. In ancient times when we were hunting and living in the elements, we needed these responses so our bodies had the ability to physically react to real threats. Today’s stressors rarely require this kind of physical reaction, so we end up with elevated cortisol, which elevates glucose levels and promotes fat. On top of that, we lose muscle, which helps us burn fat.

Here are some suggestions for losing weight the healthful and sustainable way:

Eat small, frequent meals, making sure you get an adequate level of quality protein throughout the day (protein helps level the blood sugar). Using a protein shake containing nutrients targeted to retaining muscle helps you avoid less healthy snacks and unlike fad diets, preserves muscle. Fad diets often leave out nutrients that we need, causing the body to break down muscle. This reduces fat burning, worsens body composition and is tough on the kidneys.

Follow a Mediterranean diet, which is high in whole foods, fruits and vegetables. The key to this diet is an overall glycemic load that is well managed by the body and a diverse group of phytonutrients that have many positive effects on the body. Making sure you eat foods of every color during the day is a good practice.

Spend five to 10 minutes each day on a mindful activity, such as meditation, listening to music, deep breathing, journaling or just giving thanks. This can reduce cortisol levels and discourage fat deposition.

Eat three servings of fatty fish (salmon, cod, anchovies or sardines) per week or add a high-quality omega-3 supplement to your diet. The good fats contribute to the health of the cell membrane, improving the effect of insulin on the cells. They also reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides, thin the blood and lubricate the joints.

Take a high quality multivitamin. This ensures that you have a base level of nutrients in the body to perform all necessary functions. As an example, a deficiency in zinc alone can make you more susceptible to colds and flu, impair protein digestion, retard healing of the skin and interfere with the production of sex hormones.

Walk every day, even if it’s just to the train, partway to the office, from the back row of the mall parking lot or to the neighbor’s house to borrow something. Try to add other forms of exercise three times per week; it reduces cortisol levels, blood pressure and cholesterol.

For some extra help, supplement with proven and safe weight-loss aids like green tea, green coffee extract, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), coleus forskohlii, glucomannan or chromium. Talk to your favorite health food store personnel for information.

Using these tools will help you change your body composition, the key to sustainable weight loss. Making small changes now will improve your energy and mood and ultimately lead to sustainable weight loss.

Lynn Bednar is a certified nutritional counselor and the owner of Walsh Natural Health, in Evanston. Contact her at 847-864-1600 or