Weight Loss: Do You Have to Be Healthy First?
At Healthful Elements, our programs aren’t “weight loss programs,” but our clients typically lose weight. Often times, a lot of weight.
Because we work with people to improve health: to optimize adrenal, thyroid, and immune health. To detox safely and effectively. To optimize digestive function and balance blood sugar.
And that old saying about how “you have to lose weight to be healthy” isn’t true. In fact, it’s the opposite. When you improve health at the cellular level, natural and sustainable weight loss is often a byproduct.
Sure, you can lose weight – sometimes very quickly – without getting healthy. But those methods aren’t sustainable (you can’t crash diet and count calories forever) and neither is the weight you lose on them.
Most people who lose weight on crash diets gain the weight back – and often more – within a year of giving up the diet.
Also, crash diets actively damage health, slowing metabolism and increasing stress on the adrenal system. The stress – both physical and mental – of these diets can make us produce more cortisol, “the belly fat hormone.” And in an effort to conserve energy, can inhibit thyroid function, our body’s master metabolic engine. Talk about the ultimate wheel-spinning.
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Even the fluffy pop culture website Buzzfeed understands the dangers of crash dieting. As the subtitle says, “Welcome to the hunger games.”
If you’re dieting and not getting the fuel that your body needs, the body goes, “Okay, I’m not getting enough fuel, so I have to conserve what I’ve got” and it holds onto fat – our body’s best source of readily-accessible fuel – like the security blanket that it is.
Alternately, a functional medicine approach works by identifying and healing the root causes of disease. It addresses inflammation and immune system function, hormonal imbalances (including insulin, which is a master, foundational hormone), and toxic body burden.
We work with our clients in all of these areas. Weight loss isn’t the goal necessarily, but it’s often a common and welcome side effect. Our clients are regularly surprised that their pants start to become looser without having to even think about “dieting” and all of the rigor around counting and portion control.
[Click here for Jill’s article for Experience Life magazine’s blog, “Diet is a Four-Letter Word.”]
Weight loss as a result of getting healthy is a slower process than with crash dieting, but that’s a good thing because that means it’s sustainable weight loss. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, experts advise losing no more than one pound per week.
Even though we don’t focus specifically on weight, I’m writing about it today because it’s one of the most common things our clients talk about – though they often sheepishly admit it, as if their weight shouldn’t be bothering them.
My goal with this post is to erase that sheepishness.
While a person can be healthy (or unhealthy…consider “skinny fat” people) at any size, extra weight can be a valid cause for concern when it’s connected to a deeper internal imbalance – especially when we remember that those imbalances can be harbingers of largely preventable chronic conditions down the road, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The good news is that simple lifestyle interventions can significantly improve health – and when achieving an optimal weight is one of the “symptoms” of better overall health, no one is complaining.
Starting on the path to better health doesn’t take fancy equipment, huge amounts of time, or a PhD in biology.
Here are three incredibly simple, extremely effective ways you can significantly improve your health right now.
Eat whole foods. This is old news by now, but there’s a reason it tops every “get healthy” list ever created. Food is the biggest lever we can pull in improving our health because we have to eat it three or more times a day; it sends information directly to our cells; and it fuels all our body’s processes, including metabolism. As the functional medicine mantra goes: “Food is medicine.”
Take sleep seriously. It’s SO easy to deprioritize sleep. We can get more of it later, we think, because there’s always just one more thing to do. But to think of sleep as expendable is a mistake. Getting some shut-eye is the unsung hero of health, healthy weight maintenance, cognitive function, wound healing, immune modulation, adrenal function, and so much more. “Get some sleep!” is not the sexiest advice, but it’s some of the most important.
Find your pause buttons. Functional medicine pioneer Mark Hyman talks about the importance of “pause buttons,” or the activities that relax us. Engaging in restorative activities, even if just for five minutes at a time, helps heal the adrenal glands, thereby mitigating cortisol overproduction, and improves overall health. What are your pause buttons? Meditation? Deep breathing? Gardening? Hot baths? Long walks? Cooking? Crossword puzzles? Identify yours, and commit to doing them as often as you can. The importance of slowing down simply cannot be underestimated.