“I have tried everything from going gluten-free to exercising 7 days a week and I just can’t seem to lose weight.” Hearing those words from one of my long-time patients was troubling. A lovely woman in her 40s, Jennifer* shared a story that many others have revealed to me over the years. Whether she modified her diet, juiced her vegetables, or added more cardio, nothing seemed to work to help her consistently keep weight off. At times, she would lose a few pounds only to have them rebound back the following week. This pattern of yo-yo dieting and spending countless dollars on gym memberships and trainers had left her despondent and losing faith that her goal would ever be achieved.
Jennifer’s story is not unusual. In fact, in my clinical practice, I hear stories like this far too often. Many patients put forth such effort to lose weight and, in the end, come out frustrated with the lack of progress. We often focus so much energy on what we eat or how many workouts we get in per week, that we often forget the basics. Weight loss does not just happen simply by balancing your calories, fat, and protein intake. The success to losing weight is based on realigning your eating habits with what Mother Nature intended, along with balancing your hormones and stress pathways
If you are seeking weight loss for lifelong staying power, answer these 3 questions that may provide some eye-opening answers to helping you solve the weight loss mystery.
1) How and when are you eating?
It may seem too simple to believe, but often a shift in how and when we eat can truly transform our digestive health and thus our weight. Based on ancient medicine, since the sun is at its peak around the noon hour, that is when we should be eating our biggest meal. Eating too much at dinner or eating too late into the evening can put extra stress on the liver and burden our digestive pathways.1
Not chewing enough is also linked to obesity.2 We have always been told to chew 32 times per bite, yet very few of us fully understand the science behind this. The beauty of chewing is twofold. First, the longer we chew, the lower the release of ghrelin, dubbed “the hunger hormone.” This is why, when we are hungry, we should really try to slow down while eating so we do not overeat. Very often, we eat so fast that we are not able to sense the signal from our brain that we are full. If we take our time, we will be able to respond to the hormones that are released to keep us in a balanced eating pattern.
Lastly, think about this mantra: “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.” Truly words to live by, eating mindfully has been clinically proven to improve the stress response, thus regulating the gain-loss cycle. Even without dieting, simply eating mindfully can allow you to lose those excess pounds, especially in the belly area.3
Weight loss principle #1: Chew slowly and mindfully, and make lunch your biggest meal.
2) What type of exercise are you doing?
We are indoctrinated with the belief that to be healthy, we must exercise. It’s the foundation of good health, isn’t it? However, many of us are surprised when we realize that the form of exercise we are doing actually is working against our ability to lose weight.
In order for the body to lose weight, we need to have balanced digestion and a healthy adrenal system. The adrenal glands are 2 walnut-shaped glands that sit above the kidneys and regulate our “fight or flight” response. One of the main factors that leads to an inability to lose weight is an imbalance in our hormones. When we are stressed, we turn on our sympathetic nervous system. This is our body’s way of protecting us from the stressor. This leads to a release of hormones such as cortisol. Studies link uncontrollable stress, signified by mood reactivity and poor coping skills, to cortisol production.4. Plus, this may be associated with an increase in abdominal fat distribution.4
Introducing exercise such as yoga, which balances the mind in addition to the physical body, you can accomplish goals you would otherwise not see possible. When we run on a treadmill or do an intensive boot camp-type class, whether we realize it or not, we often turn on that stress response and produce cortisol, which can further deplete us.5 Yoga has been shown to be an effective tool for weight loss not only based on the poses, but because of its adjunct ability to naturally allow us to have better control of eating and reduce emotional eating.6 So, if you love your high-intensity, short-duration cardio workouts, add in yoga to achieve better results.7
Weight loss principle #2: Swap a cardio class for restorative yoga to balance your mind, body, and cortisol production
3) How much do you sleep?
Years ago I suffered with severe insomnia. I tossed and turned in my bed for hours at a time. I remember thinking, if I ever find myself sleeping well again, I will be so appreciative each morning of having a good night’s sleep. Here I am, almost 20 years later, sleeping soundly each night and loving each morning waking up refreshed.
During my journey with insomnia, I read everything I could to understand how sleep affected my health and well-being. I tried quick-fix medications, visited a psychotherapist, and finally learned about sleep based on ancient science. I realized that sleeping well at night meant that I had to have a balanced circadian rhythm during the day. It was very obvious to me, once I started reading about good sleep hygiene, that I would need to incorporate new daily routines to help me sleep at night.
As I started to improve my daytime routine with eating my meals at appropriate times, incorporating yoga, avoiding foods that I was sensitive or allergic to, and taking a few supplements, I began to sleep well again. Another interesting thing happened. I started losing weight. Studies now show that lack of sleep reduces your body’s ability to burn calories.8 In addition, getting to bed late, especially after 10 pm, is linked to an increased BMI (body mass index) and weight gain.9
Weight loss principle #3: Get at least 8 hours of sleep at night with a goal of a 10 pm bedtime.
Trying to lose weight does not have to mean deprivation or starvation, and need not include excessive hours at the gym and expensive diets. Start with the simple principles of chewing your food, eating mindfully, including restorative yoga in your routine, and getting a good night’s rest. Your new lifestyle will allow you to be slimmer, happier, and more connected. Truly, this is the secret to a life having a balanced body and mind.
*Name changed to protect identity.
To Learn More about Dr Trupti Gokani visit www.drgokanispeaks.com and www.ziramindandbody.com.
For more integrative approaches on healing your mind and body, read Dr. Gokani’s book : The Mysterious Mind: How to use ancient wisdom and modern science to heal your headaches and reclaim your health, available on Amazon
- Daubenmier J, Kristeller J, Hecht FM, et al. Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011: 651936.
- Moyer AE, Rodin J, Grilo CM. Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obesity Research. 1994;2(3):255-262.
- Kresser C. Why you may need to exercise less. www.chriskresser.com/why-you-may-need-to-exercise-less. Accessed June 25, 2016.
- Dowdle H. The surprising way gentle yoga can help you lose serious weight. Prevention.com
- Mitchell TD. Why your cardio workouts are making you gain weight and body fat. GetFitChicago website.chicagonow.com/get-fit-chicago/2014/02/why-your-cardio-workouts-are-making-you-gain-weight-and-body-fat. Accessed June 25, 2016.
- Benedict C, Hallschmid M, Lassen A, et al. Acute sleep deprivation reduces energy expenditure in healthy men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Website
- Esposito L. How your bedtime affects your BMI. US News & World Report website. US News & World Report Website