If you do a quick Google search on “how to lose weight” you will soon find yourself bombarded with many articles and tips and tricks to lose fat. These can range from crash diets, to liquid detox diets, to marketing gimmicks trying to sell you the latest slimming tea or pill to “get fit in 10 min per day” kind of exercise video. But let’s be honest, if any of those worked, we wouldn’t be facing an obesity epidemic in North America.
When it comes to losing weight, we need to start with a simple differentiation. Losing weight doesn’t necessarily equal losing fat. One could simply sit in the sauna for 30 min and they would magically lose weight. But that weight would simply be water loss due to sweating and dehydration. Another quick-way of losing weight is associated with people completely cutting carbs like pasta, bread, rice, potatoes and sweets from their diet. The initial drop of a few pounds within the first few days will be due to glycogen depletion. Glycogen is the way your body stores carbohydrates in your muscles. When you stop eating carbs, your body starts using the glycogen for fuel. Glycogen also attracts more water in the muscles, so when you use it up, you drop a lot of water weight. Eat 2-3 servings of carbohydrates and you will suddenly gain 4-5 lbs of water back, because your muscles will refill with glycogen and water.
So what is the correct way of losing body fat? Truth is, there is no one way of doing it
In the fat-loss area, there are usually 2 camps. The ones that preach that “a calorie is a calorie”. They believe losing fat is simply an equation of calories in, vs calories out. If you eat more than you burn, you gain fat. If you eat less than you burn, you lose fat. The second camp is made up of those that believe in eating certain types of foods and restricting others will lead to fat loss. Some will advocate eating paleo, or going vegan, or eating a ketogenic diet or maybe even intermittent fasting. They usually believe the way your body processes the food will impact hormonal responses in the body, which will tell your body to either burn the fat or store the fat.
The reality is that both camps are actually right. In order to lose fat, you need to both create a calorie deficit AND optimize your health and hormones to create the perfect environment for your body to convert fat to energy in the most efficient way.
I believe optimizing health and hormones before going into a diet is the best way to go. Here are 8 great simple steps to start implementing today to improve your health:
- Reduce inflammation. Grains (either whole grain or processed), vegetable oils (containing omega-6), dairy, transformed foods and red meat are pro-inflammatory foods. Try to reduce their consumption throughout the week.
- Decrease cortisol levels. This means decreasing stress. Try meditating every day for a few minutes. Take an Epsom salt bath. Try supplementing with adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Astragalus and Ginseng. These plants will increase your body’s tolerance to stress and help you cope better.
- Get enough vitamins and minerals.Eat more plants, preferably organically grown and try to eat a 4-to-1 ratio of veggies to fruits. Try eating a variety of colors every week.
- Increase detoxification. Try consuming at least half of your veggies in green veggies like kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and collard greens. Drink at least 2L of water daily, preferably aim for 3L. Water helps flush out toxins. Start your day with a glass of water and a squeeze of lemon juice in it. Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum. Alcohol acts as a toxin in the body that the liver must detoxify. Try drinking more green tea on a regular basis (and don’t add sugar to it!).
- Optimize your sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Decrease blue light exposure 2h prior to going to sleep. If you need to use your laptop or cell phone, make sure to use the warm screen settings (to decrease blue light emission) and decrease the screen brightness. Bright and blue lighting can interfere with your melatonin production which can lead to disturbed sleep and insomnia.
- Improve your gut health. Add fermented foods to your daily diet as they contain good probiotic bacteria. Try consuming a few tablespoons of natural kefir and yogurt, eat sauerkraut and kimchi and drink kombucha. Increase your consumption of insoluble and soluble fibers by eating fiber dense veggies adding psyllium husk and ground flax seeds to your salads and smoothies. Give Shirataki noodles a try, a very low-calorie pasta made of Glucomannan which is a natural soluble fiber produced by the Konjac plant. Consume bone broths on a regular basis. Bone broths are rich in minerals and also contain a lot of collagen. Collagen if very good for repairing your gut lining that can become damaged from eating too much junk. Collagen is also very good for your hair, skin and nails. You can also try gelatin (the cooked version of collagen) available in powder at the grocery store in the baking aisle and get the regular gelatin (not the sugary jello). Try making little gelatin treats with gelatin, cocoa powder and stevia drops or blend a teaspoon in your morning coffee.
- Consider adding healthy supplements such as 200 mg Magnesium Citrate before bed (a natural relaxant), 1000-2000 IU of Vitamin D3 (to optimize metabolism), 1000-1500 mg of Vitamin C for antioxidant support and Milk Thistle (to help liver detox), 1000mg of Omega-3 (from high quality purified fish oil, to help support joint, brain, heart health and decrease inflammation) and a high-quality bioavailable multi-vitamin. You can also add in a daily good quality probiotic to help promote good gut flora. You can also try adding a greens powder drink to your daily morning routine. Green powdered drinks contain chlorophyll rich plants and veggies inside such as spirulina and chlorella (2 micro-algae), wheat grass and other plant extracts that are very rich in vitamins and alkaline for your body (helps your body keep an optimal pH to keep you healthy). You can also consume a collagen supplement on a regular basis if consuming bone broth is inconvenient to you.
These 7 steps might seem overwhelming to someone leading a very unhealthy lifestyle or they might be second nature to someone that is already very health conscious. The important thing to remember is that everyone starts somewhere. Introduce changes gradually. Remember that small changes can make a big difference.
A great way of being successful in the long term in thinking about adding good new behaviors in. Pick one on the list and do your best at repeating it every day for 2 weeks. When you feel like you have mastered the new skill, keep doing it, but add a new one to your daily routine. Eventually, all your new good behaviors will out-crowd the previous bad ones and you will well down the path of a healthier new you.
I hope you liked “Part 1 – Optimizing your health” of our “How to lose weight the healthy way” blog series. Stay tuned for “Part 2 – Optimizing your diet” and “Part 3 – Optimizing your training”. Until next time, eat your greens, drink lots of water and sleep like a baby!