One of the naturopathic principles of practice are: Treat the Cause. When we know more about the how and why of a person’s weight gain, we can more effectively tailor a successful weight loss program. Many roads can lead to obesity.
Inactivity and lack of exercise is well known factor, and is a major ingredient toward weight gain. To change the habit away from a sedentary life to an active life takes work and dedication to addressing the causes of the sedentary habits.
The standard American Diet (known in nutritional circles as SAD) is full of empty calories, and refined products. Just a walk down a supermarket grocery isle will expose you to numerous foods with little to no nutritional value. Remember, part of the reason food processing occurs is to lengthen shelve life. Nutrients that will spoil are removed from the foods. Then chemicals are added to retain what is left, and flavorings are added to try to improve flavor.
What happens when your body eats foods that don’t give it nutrition? It sends a sort of “state of alert” to the system. The message is “We can’t guarantee that the energy we are expending to digest, absorb and detoxify this food is going to pay off with the nutrients we need.” It is a similar analogy to this. Say you owned a business, and you produced a product or service. When people paid you, you accepted the money in a sealed envelope that later required resources of yours to open the envelope. But when opened the envelopes, many of them were empty or contained toxic materials you had to clean up and thus spend more of your resources. In your wisdom, wouldn’t you ration your reserves? Wouldn’t you try to back stock and hold onto everything you had?
Overtime, the system working in this SAD state will have two issues. It will be in a state of slow metabolism, holding onto what it can get and becoming obese. It will also be in a state of lack, and this can lead to strong cravings for very poor food choices. The body is seeking more and will try to get you to eat these quick release, fast foods. We often have to break this cycle with naturopathic therapies, and then people uncover their true cravings for nutrient dense, wholesome foods. Then you can connect to what you need, replenish the diminished state of nutrition, and the pounds come off.
Emotional shielding from painful or troubling parts of life is complex, and I find a crucial element to factors that lead to weight gain. An excellent resource for exploring this topic is the book Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David. Obesity can serve as a shield to the world for us, a sort of cushion, especially when there is a split between the body and the mind. It is a disconnection between the awareness and gratitude for body that we are blessed with. Obesity does not always mean this split is present in a person, it is simply that this split between the body-mind-spirit can lead some folks down the path of obesity.
Higher toxicity burden of body is a cause of weight gain. One way to look at fat cells is as storage cells. Our body stores fat for use for energy and toxins from the environment that it cannot properly metabolize and excrete. Remember hearing reports on PCP’s and dioxins found in the fat cells of various populations? So keep in mind, that if your body needs your fat cells for toxin storage, it will be like a tug of war (or a yo-yo) in getting the body to reduce the size of those cells. One analogy I use is this: If you had a very large book collection (toxic burden), and you tried to get rid of the shelves before you removed the books, it would be a mess. So, here is a distinct role for clinical detoxification in weight loss plans.
Chronic stress also sends out a message that overall promotes weight gain. Through the autonomic nervous system’s sympathetic and parasympathetic branches, our physiology is beautifully managed. We can respond to stress, and we can regenerate and heal. However in rebound to a chronic stress response and a constant call for a release of the fats and sugars from reserves that occurs under stress, there is a strong message sent to the parasympathetic system, “Please rebuild our nutrient and fat stores. We are overspending our rations, get more and hold onto it” Moreover, once the body figures out you are not running from a tiger and exerting these expenditures it provides, the sympathetic nervous system gives less release from the fat stores when stimulated.
Poor blood sugar control is a major factor in poor response to attempts to lose weight. We all know the links between obesity and developing diabetes. There is an underlying link to the fluctuating blood sugar levels and the resulting weight gain. The pancreas works closely with the liver and the adrenal glands to keep your blood sugar levels stabilized. With increasing weight gain, it is much harder work for the system. Imagine a finely tuned communication system that uses a code word (here the analogy is a hormone like insulin and cortisol, etc).
For example think of 10 saxophones (fat cells) in an orchestra respond to a prompt (hormone) to play a note (release or store blood sugar). But 100 saxophones respond to the prompt, and there is over kill of the action needed. So we have to refine the system, and somehow get the 90 saxophones not respond to the prompt. The body in its wisdom does this too. It is called insulin resistance in the cells. The cells begin to ignore the code word (insulin). And thus the path toward imbalanced blood sugar control continues. So in order to lose weight, one needs to focus on reversing the insulin resistance that is likely developed.
Low metabolism or underactive thyroid is another link to trouble maintaining adequate metabolism. In my work, I scrutinize this carefully, and will raise the standard on the thyroid gland’s desired level of function. Many people who have been told their thyroid is “normal” by their doctor, but still have a low basal body temperature, diminished Achilles reflexes, and other symptoms of hypothyroidism should be further investigated. However, it can not be emphasized enough: you should not stimulate the thyroid to lose weight if your thyroid is not showing signs of struggling. Many marketing attempts to sell vitamins for the thyroid are present, but some are contraindicated in some cases. It is my advice to follow the advice of trained practitioner.
Underlying depression that is not being treated effectively can contribute to many of the above listed factors. It is imperative to seek effective anti-depressive treatments and counseling, and keep in mind that there are many factors and contributors to your feelings. An integrated approach that treats the body-mind and spirit can be a great catalyst to treating the depression and weight gain.
The key to successful weight loss lies in recognizing the specific factors that play a lead role in your weight gain, and then targeting those avenues to help your weight loss. Tailor making an individual plan that provides adequate support and accountability to your goals is a key to success.