Sustainable Weight Loss - 3 Steps for Meaningful Change
Everyone trying to lose weight knows the struggle. You search endlessly online for a solution, method, anything that can help you shed the extra pounds you have noticed creep on over the last months or years. However you are bombarded with conflicting information about what to do. The methods are endless from cutting out entire food groups, usually carbohydrates (which seems to be the most common information out there nowadays) to supplements promising rapid weight loss, medical injectables, bariatric surgery, eating for your genes etc. The important thing to remember is most of the information online for fast weight loss is unsustainable. The 6 week program may result in some weight loss, but over 95% of the time, within 6 months or a year you have put the weight back on… and then some. So what do you do? The following 3 steps are some of the most important changes I encourage my clients to focus on.
1) Address Your Eating Behaviours
In your venture to find a weight loss solution have you ever considered why you struggle with your weight to begin with? Most people I see have never questioned the why, and it is probably one of the most essential parts of a weight loss journey. Life shapes our diet and eating habits from a young age and most of us that have struggled with weight have picked up a few bad habits that can really make sustainable change difficult without addressing these eating behaviours:
- Eating while distracted (driving, working, watching TV, scrolling social media, etc)
- Eating really fast
- Being a plate cleaner (always finishing all the food on your plate)
- Eating late at night (usually the wrong foods, on the couch)
- Skipping breakfast/having most calories late in the day
- Eating meals sitting on the couch instead of sat up at a table
- Rewarding good behaviour with food or alcohol (ex. I went to the gym today so I can eat dessert tonight or have a glass of wine)
These are a few examples of eating behaviours that might need to be addressed for change to happen. This is why adopting the mindful eating approach to weight loss can often be the only strategy needed to lose weight and keep it off. It starts with being mindful and making an event of every meal, choosing foods which nourish your body, enjoying your meals slowly, stopping eating when you are full, and learning the difference between hunger and cravings. Often the struggle in clients I see has actually nothing to do with food but is more to do with behaviours they have learned as a child, like finishing all the food on their plate, even when not hungry.
2) Manage Stress Levels
I always ask on my intake form what stress levels are like on a scale of 1 to 10, and how you manage stress. Something I am mindful of is I have only ever had 1 or 2 clients rate less than 5, and most are over 7. Also, the regular methods of stress coping usually involve eating and/or drinking alcohol. Again, this is a behaviour often learned at a young age, and difficult to change, but stress management without the use of food and alcohol is something essential for long term weight management. It doesn’t matter how much weight you lose, if every time you get stressed or have to deal with difficult emotions you relapse due to self-medicating with calories, it is unlikely you will be successful long term.
Here are some of the highly effective stress coping methods that I try to encourage to patients:
- Read a fiction book. Studies show that reading fiction for 6 minutes reduces stress hormones by 70%. Please note that it must be fiction. Self-help books may actually increase stress levels
- Do yoga. Studies show regular yoga practice reduces stress, anxiety, and depression scores
- Go for a walk. Studies show even a short brisk 10 minute walk is enough to boost mood and reduce stress
- Spend time in nature. Forest bathing (or as the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku) which basically means spending time in nature, is shown in many studies to lower cortisol levels as well as blood pressure. This can go hand in hand with walking but not everyone has access to green spaces
- Mindfulness and meditation. Both these methods effectively reduce cortisol levels
Having elevated cortisol levels from unmanaged stress increases your risk of overweight and chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This is caused both from the risk of self-medicating to deal with stress, but also because elevated cortisol levels increase food cravings for hyperpalatable, or high sugar, salt and fat foods. So if you feel like stress is becoming unmanageable, trying to include any of these activities regularly will likely have a positive effect on your health and weight. We can’t really avoid stress, but we can definitely choose different ways to manage it. I strongly believe that every child should learn stress management in school since it is essential to live a happy and healthy life.
3) Eat More Plant Based Protein
The vast majority of clients I see have been on a low carb diet in an attempt to lose weight, but the reality is that no study ever conducted on humans has ever indicated that carbohydrates cause weight gain. Ironically, the most effective diet at reducing body weight and maintaining the weight loss, while reducing risk of almost every chronic disease, is a plant based diet, which is the highest carbohydrate diet there is. The unfortunate reality is that going keto or low carb is just another fad diet which isn’t actually a magic cure for weight loss, but just reduces calorie intake by cutting out an entire food group. It can also be one of the hardest diets to stick to which most often results in relapse and unfortunate weight regain. I know it is unrealistic to ask a classic an omnivore to go vegan or plant based, but by setting a realistic goal of switching some of your meat protein meals to plant based protein you get several benefits:
- A reduction in calories which equates to a reduction in weight. As an example, 300g beef Bolognese sauce has 627 kcal and 300 kcal lentil Bolognese has 189 kcal
- A reduction in saturated fat. We know fat is the biggest contributor to calories but saturated fat from animal foods also increases risk of heart disease
- Plant based protein is high in fiber which improved the gut microbiome in both quantity and diversity. Studies show that the bacteria that lives in our gut has a significant impact on our weight and health
- Longevity. We know that high protein diets from animal sources can reduce life expectancy, and increases risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer
- Being more sustainable. If a diet isn’t healthy for our planet, it isn’t healthy for us
If plant based meals sounds challenging, a great place to start if you are a daily meat eater, is by going plant based once a week (meat free Mondays is a common one). Try replacing meat with the following plant based sources of protein:
- Beans (black, kidney, pinto, any are great) ex. Three bean chili
- Chickpeas ex. Falafel, hummus, chickpea soups and salads
- Lentils ex. Lentils are a great substitute for ground meat in pasta sauces and shepherd’s pie
- Nuts and seeds and their butters
- Soy (milk, yogurt, tofu, tempeh, etc.)
- Whole grains (whole grains are high in protein with quinoa actually containing all the essential amino acids)
The reality is that weight loss is complex and the approach for one person can be quite different than the approach to another. But generally almost everyone can benefit from adopting the above steps. If weight is something you have been struggling with and you feel you need help, you can book a free 15 minute discovery session with me to talk about your needs and how I can help.
Call 403.453.3373 to book with Mel at Momentum Health West Springs
Have a wonderful holiday season!
Written by Mel Cronshaw, Nutrition Therapist, BSc (Hons), ANutr, NNCP
Melissa Cronshaw helps patients to optimize their nutrition for health and guides patients through sustainable weight loss and the various stages of life, particularly for challenging periods like menopause. Mel is an internationally educated Nutrition Therapist, registered with CANNP in Canada, as well as a Registered Associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in the UK. She completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Nutritional Science, specializing in clinical and sport nutrition at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. After graduating, she set up a private practice in the UK where she provided 1-1 personalized nutrition programs. She also regularly delivered presentations to various groups on a range of health and wellness topics including chronic fatigue syndrome, menopause, and breast cancer nutrition. After moving back to Calgary in 2021, she continues to deliver these presentations to gyms, employers and community groups.
Our childhood habits, lifestyle, jobs, family dynamic, as well as many other factors, contribute to the development of our eating habits which may be detrimental to our long term health. We all eat so differently, which is why personalization through evidence-based nutrition is the only effective way of achieving sustainable weight loss and making meaningful food choices. Mel will guide you through the research to discover and understand the most impactful nutritional habits for your needs. The areas Mel can help manage include, but are not limited to, weight loss, women’s health (menopause, PMS, PCOS, etc), type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, IBS, nutritional deficiencies and more. Nutrition and lifestyle practices have the potential to profoundly change the course of our life from a poor state of health to optimal wellness, health and vitality. To see how nutrition therapy can help you, book a 15 minute discovery call with Mel so she may answer any questions you may have.