Healthy Weight Loss and Maintenance

I went on a diet and lost weight but gained it all back when I started eating normally again. How can I stop this cycle?


The real question is, “What’s normal?” A normal diet consisting of high sugar and refined carbohydrate foods will bring you right back to wherever you were before you went on a diet. Change your idea of normal so that you may more easily maintain a lean body weight.

Weight loss doesn’t have to be miserable if you adjust your mindset and are able to get over the initial hump of change. Don’t go on a diet…change your lifestyle instead.

Eat breakfast. Our first meal of the day literally breaks the fast during sleep and stimulates metabolism. Research shows breakfast eaters are slimmer overall than those who do not eat breakfast. Toss the sugary cereals and bagels and opt for an egg white omelet or even dinner leftovers. Most mornings I blend my vegan protein powders: vanilla rice & pumpkin seed with organic greens, coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk, a tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a dash of cinnamon to balance blood sugar, and frozen blueberries. Delicious.  See my video on green & purple smoothies.

Eat smaller meals more often. Eating less seems like an obvious key to weight loss. However, it is also important to eat enough. Restricting calories to less than 1200 will slow metabolism and halt weight loss. It is important to stoke the metabolic fire with small amounts of food at regular intervals. People who eat five to six smaller meals are often leaner than those who eat the same amount of calories divided in two or three larger meals, as the body can only process so many calories at once. Bigger meals cause greater spikes in blood sugar and insulin, meaning more of those calories will be stored as fat. They are also more likely to cause us to be lethargic and less likely to exercise. Three or four small meals and two snacks leave us less hungry before our next meal, making overeating less likely. Also, going more than a few hours without eating will tax our adrenal glands and cause us to burn muscle instead of fat.

Eat whole foods. A whole food has only one ingredient. Refined carbohydrates and sugars cause greater blood sugar and insulin spikes than their whole grain counterparts. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables also contain fiber, which balances blood sugar, slows digestion and keeps us satisfied longer. Low carbohydrate (non-starchy), nutrient dense vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage and asparagus should make up most of your plate. Fruits are still nature’s candy and should be eaten in moderation. Two servings a day of fruits like berries and apples are great choices. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams and beets are often better choices than grains for many people. I see gluten grains and potatoes to be especially problematic for many of my patients and have them avoid them completely.  It’s a good idea to minimize grains or avoid them completely to boost weight loss.

Eat enough protein and fat. Protein and fat are more metabolically efficient and satisfy the satiety center in the brain better than carbohydrates. They also keep us satisfied longer and cause a lower insulin response, as well as provide important nutrients and amino acids for brain chemistry. The better your brain chemistry, the less unhealthy cravings you will have. Opt for clean, lean proteins like wild salmon, pastured chicken, turkey, grass fed beef or low allergy protein shakes made with pumpkin seed, rice, sacha inchi, pea or hemp powder.  Enjoy snacks like a handful of raw nuts or ½ avocado with a little vinegar which have been shown to benefit blood sugar and weight loss, unlike chips, which promote weight gain. I even sometimes have a little bit of healthy, fair trade 70% dark chocolate or a tablespoon of coconut butter or other raw nut butter as a snack to satisfy my sweet tooth and keep my blood sugar level.

Stop eating within three hours of bedtime. Eat more throughout the day and taper down towards the evening in alignment of your metabolic rhythm. An overnight short “fast” of 12 hours primes your hormones for satiety and fat burning.

Drink water. We need to be properly hydrated to optimize metabolism.  A German study found metabolism was increased 30 percent after participants were given just two glasses of water. Aim for ½ ounce per pound of body weight each day. Also, sometimes we think we are hungry when we are really just thirsty, so have a big glass of water and wait a few minutes before you decide whether you are actually hungry. If you don’t enjoy plain water, add some lemon or lime to your water to jazz it up. Maybe add some natural sweetener like stevia to make a natural zero calorie lemonade if you're craving something sweet.

Avoid liquid calories. Sugars and calories from fruit juices, fancy coffee drinks and sodas quickly add up. Diet soda is even worse, as research has shown it to actually promote weight gain. Iced herbal and green teas are a wonderful healthy alternative and green tea has been shown to have beneficial effects on metabolism as well.

Easy on the booze. When the body is metabolizing alcohol, fat burning stops. Absolute limit of 3 drinks per week.

Tuck yourself into bed early, no matter what. Research shows that important fat burning hormones, Leptin and Adiponectin, can only be in balance when you’re sleeping primarily between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in a dark room.

Minimize stress. This not only includes mental and emotional stress, which increases stress hormones and leads to unhealthy cravings but physical stress as well, including poor sleep, over exercising and skipping meals. Also, skip the negative self-talk and criticism, as this will cause hormonal changes that increase hunger cravings. Instead, celebrate every achievement, no matter how small.

Keep socializing about being social. Rather than focusing on the food and drink, focus on the connection and conversation of being social with others.  Also, we are as successful as those we spend the most time with. Research shows that people who spend the most time together end up having similar weights. Perhaps instead of spending Friday night with a group of friends who like to spend the evening drinking and then eating late night fast food, spend more time with health conscious friends. This way you are less likely to set yourself up for giving into temptation and more likely to succeed in your health goals. Also, you may want to think twice about dating people whose health consciousness is not aligned with yours. And if you are already with someone who leads an unhealthy lifestyle, do your thing and hopefully he or she gets inspired by you.

Exercise. Find exercise you enjoy so that you are more likely to do it regularly. A commonality among people who lose weight and keep it off is that they exercise regularly. You don’t need to be a gym bunny. Biking, hiking, boot camp, dance and yoga classes are great options. Exercise DVDs or YouTube are useful options also. 

In addition to burning calories, exercise builds muscle and muscle burns more calories at rest than does fat, as well as increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to diabetes.  It is important to engage in different activities and periodically increase intensity so the body doesn’t become accustomed to the same ones. The latest research shows “short burst” or High Intensity Interval Training to be much more effective than traditional aerobic exercise. Avoid over exercising and allow the body one or two days of rest or easy walking and stretching. Also remember, muscle weighs more than fat. If the scale isn’t moving much but your clothes are fitting better, you are losing fat and gaining muscle, which is a good thing! Always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Practice yoga. Research shows people who practice yoga are leaner on average than those who engage in other exercises. Researchers suspect this has to do with the consciousness that regular yoga practice promotes, which then spills over into all other aspects of people’s lives, including eating habits. Yoga and deep breathing also decrease stress hormones, which are a major culprit in weight gain.

Indulge occasionally. Indulging in an extra couple hundred calories one day a week will help prevent weight loss plateaus and keep your body on its toes. It will also help you to not feel deprived and binge on junk food.

Keep a food journal. Often people do not realize exactly what and how much they eat in a day. Journaling not only makes us conscious of what we put in our bodies, but also helps uncover triggers for overeating, such as stress or emotional eating, eating out of boredom or social overindulgence. Try writing down everything you eat and drink, along with coinciding thoughts and feelings over the next week and observe your results. Research shows people who keep diet journals lose more weight and keep it off than those who don’t.

See a medical professional. Medical conditions, hormonal imbalances and food sensitivities can prevent weight loss. A naturopathic or holistic physician can order special lab tests in this case, treat the cause and prescribe lifestyle changes, dietary supplements and/or natural hormone replacement to help bring the body back into balance.

Remember, it’s not a diet. It’s your life. Focus on health and be kind to yourself on the journey. 

Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.

Ask Dr. Ryan

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