The Best Summer Weight Loss Guide: Part One of Six–Think Outside the Box

Join Betsy’s this summer on a weight loss journey with our six-part series, The Best Summer Weight Loss Guide. In Part One, we explore how conventional wisdom may need to take a back seat when it comes to the way you think about weight loss.

When it comes to weight loss, conventional wisdom just isn’t up to par these days.

As it turns out, a calorie isn’t a calorie. “Diet” foods are often anything but a solution to weight issues. And sweating it out at the gym isn’t the lone prescription for perfect health we’ve been promised.

So what do today’s experts say?

First of all, maintaining a healthy weight is as important to overall wellness as ever. Carrying around extra weight—in the form of a few extra pounds or obesity—ups the risk for everything from sleep issues to major heart concerns. Among these risks is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels) associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. One of the easiest ways to maintain long-term health: Zap excess fat, especially around the midsection.

Not only is “belly fat” an indicator of metabolic syndrome, experts have a pretty good idea of what measurements are most at risk. In general, women should try to keep their waist at 35 inches or less; men should aim for 40 inches or less.

Another way to monitor body fat is through your body mass index (BMI). There are lots of online calculators and charts out there to help you determine your BMI, which is calculated by comparing your height and weight. A healthy BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9; overweight is up to 29.9; obese is over 30.

In the end, a healthy weight means more than confidence and comfort (though, those are definitely plusses). It’s also a surefire way to keep energy up and health complications at bay. This summer, we’ll explore expert tips and diet tweaks to help you get there.

Conventional weight loss wisdom. Is there something better?

You know the drill: Eat less.  Exercise more.  Lose weight.

Seems simple enough, right?

“The conventional wisdom has been that there are no good foods or bad foods—that counting calories and eating everything in moderation is the answer. That’s a myth,” says Frank Hu, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health. “Food can heavily influence the hormones and biological pathways that influence hunger, satiety, and fat accumulation, so you have to make wise choices.”

For the healthiest and most sustainable approach to weight management, you may want to ditch fad diets, which can have a yo-yo effect and don’t necessarily take into consideration your specific needs and preferences. Instead, opt for nutrient-dense whole foods and holistic eating habits.

The hormone connection

Toronto-based naturopath Natasha Turner, ND, author of The Hormone Diet (Rodale, 2009), explains that in a person with a healthy metabolism, hormones work in a complex symphony to assure you get enough to eat and use the fuel efficiently. The hormone ghrelin tells the brain that you’re hungry; its alter-ego leptin alerts you to put the fork down. When you eat carbohydrates, insulin floods the bloodstream, ushering glucose into muscle cells for fuel and locking any extra glucose into fat cells for later use. When you’re stressed, cortisol temporarily ignites a survival response, prompting you to crave high-calorie foods. Thyroid hormones influence your metabolism and how much energy you have, testosterone builds muscle and glucagon burns fat.

Unfortunately, age, menopause, chronic stress or poor diets tend to throw this fragile system into chaos. “I have people come in all the time and say these low-calorie diets that once worked for them just don’t work anymore,” says Jade Teta, ND, coauthor of The Metabolic Effect Diet (HarperCollins, 2010). For the hormonally imbalanced (well over half of American adults), slashing calories and hitting the treadmill can actually exacerbate the problem, raising stress hormones and thus boosting cravings and fueling more belly fat, even in otherwise thin people. The low-cal-and-cardio approach also lowers thyroid hormones, sapping energy and dropping metabolic rate, says Turner. The upshot: “If your hormones are out of whack, no diet plan will succeed.”

If you think your hormones are out of whack, a visit to your doctor can help you discover where you need to concentrate your efforts. Saliva testing and blood work, along with questions about your symptoms, can help your doctor determine if your hormones are functioning at optimum levels or if you need additional support.

Up Next: Nutritional steps to successful weight loss

Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider about any health concerns and before beginning a diet or exercise plan, especially if you take medications or have a known medical condition.

Article copyright 2017 by Delicious Living and Sabinsa Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.