Weight gain is an issue on many peoples’ minds, we’ve lost so much in the past year and food is comfort. It’s important to appreciate that everyone is different. It’s also been a very stressful year, so it may not be the right time to be overly restrictive, we all need to be gentle with ourselves and our families these days.
There are many factors that go into weight gain from genetics, to food choices, to exercise habits, to the impact of environments factors, only some of which we can control. Here are some things to consider:
1. Elongate your overnight fast—or the time from last meal or snack to breakfast. If you snack at 11 pm and breakfast at 6am, you have a 7-hour overnight fast. Consider stretching that to 9 hours. The goal is 12-14 hours, which has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and helps use fat stores for energy. Many of my patients slowly lengthen their overnight fast, perhaps by a half-hour a week and they adapt well. Black coffee does not count, by the way, so you can still have your morning Cuppa’ Joe, just no cream and sugar! An added benefit of this form of intermittent fasting is that you feel more disciplined, it lowers your appetite, and increases your feelings of satiety.
2. Remember that aerobic exercise remains an essential piece of reaching and staying at an optimal weight. Walking counts! Online dance or exercise classes can work. Doing the steps in your apartment building for exercise can do in a pinch. The key is to find a time each day to fit in at least a half-hour of aerobic activity. And then through the rest of the day, be mindful of too much sitting around, at the computer, in front of the TV. Being active throughout the day, taking stretching breaks, doing a few jumping jacks, turning on some music and dancing in the kitchen, all help to lower the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle.
3. Learn about obesogens, which are hidden chemicals in our food, water, air, household, and personal products and throughout our environment. Obesogens are hormone disrupters that can impact your metabolism and weight by changing the way fat cells develop, and by increasing energy storage in fat tissue. They also disrupt the biochemical oversight of appetite and satiety. Some exposures are difficult to control and is more in the realm of environmental advocacy. But you can decrease some exposures.
Common obesogens to avoid include: pesticides, BPA found in plastics and cash register receipts, phthalates found in many personal care products and air fresheners, antibiotics used in medicine and in farm animals, and the chemical BFOA found in non-stick cookware and microwave popcorn bags.
Shifting toward organic foods, choosing meat, poultry, and dairy without antibiotics and hormones, assessing the personal and home care products in your house, and choosing less toxic products, all go a long way to decrease your exposure to obesogens. The Environmental Working group has a terrific set of consumer guides to help.
4. Do what you can to ensure adequate sleep. Insufficient length and poor quality sleep may cause the intake of extra calories and certainly adds to fatigue, which can lead to poor food choices and less motivation for exercise. Licensed naturopathic doctors have effective and non-pharmaceutical approaches for helping you sleep better.
5. Look at your stress and anxiety levels. Holidays notoriously trigger all kinds of worries and stress, and this year will be no different. The details will be unique to COVID times, but the impact of stress remains the same. As stress mounts, so do cortisol levels, which increase insulin levels, which causes an increase in cravings for fatty and sweet foods. It’s a vicious cycle. Here are some of the approaches naturopathic doctors recommend for the treatment of stress and anxiety including exercise, mindfulness, addressing the microbiome, and more.
6. Lean away from foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients, like candy and packaged snack foods. Lean into vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, cultured and fermented foods, and healthy fats. A basic anti-inflammatory diet helps because inflammation increases water retention, another aspect of weight gain. Naturopathic approaches to decreasing inflammation can also help with decreasing weight.
Many of these areas of action have additional health benefits, too, from better cardiovascular health, prevention of diabetes and support for emotional balance. Best of luck to you in this New Year. Take these ideas to heart as they may help you understand the many factors that go into weight gain and weight loss.
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine