One of the major health issues facing Americans today is obesity. As a matter of fact more than two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. In my clinic we see lots of people who simply want to lose weight and get healthy. While every case is a little different there are several things that you can do that will greatly improve your chances of losing weight and certainly get you feeling better. Below I’ve listed somethings that are critically important in our program for people to get fit and most importantly, stay there.
1. Increase Your Activity Level With Exercise
This one seems like a no brainer, but when I talk to people about exercise I find that they don’t really understand what is necessary for them to actually see results. I always ask people what they do for exercise. For women, one of the standard answers is, “I have a young child at home and that gets me plenty of exercise.” For men, a standard answer is, “My job is very physical so I don’t need to exercise.” Other general answers patients give me for the dreaded exercise question include, “I walk to dog every day,” or “I like to garden on the weekend,” or “I don’t have time to exercise.”
Now, I can certainly appreciate that taking care of a young child can be fatiguing. I can also understand that a physical job like construction is taxing. I also know that walking the dog and gardening might seem like exercise, but if we examine these a little closer we will see that they do not qualify as exercise unfortunately.
Taking care of a young child and a job in construction are something that must be done every day (or almost every day). At one point both of those might have burned you enough calories to qualify as an increase in your activity level. However, after doing these things over and over again, your body figures out a way to to expend the least amount of energy possible while still performing those tasks. This means that they no longer qualify as “exercise.” Take this example. If you went to the gym and you wanted to start getting in shape you might start by running on the treadmill. You might start my running just a single mile. Over time this single mile would no longer be difficult for you and would no longer qualify as exercise or produce the results you are looking for. The same principle applies to your daily activities.
So to see the results you want, you must include exercise into your activities. You don’t need to exercise every single day but at least several times per week. Patients often tell me there is no time in their day for this. The fix for this is simply that you must make the time. No magic solutions for that one.
The exercises that I like people to include are weight training with high intensity interval training for cardiovascular health. Weight training has many benefits. It raises the amount of calorie you burn when you are at rest, it improves strength which reduces injury and it helps keep bones healthy and strong. The high intensity interval training is cardiovascular work mostly using your body weight for resistance. Often times this work is no more than a single 8-10 minute session after a weight training session. The benefits are well studied and the shorter duration work out is equivalent to much longer workouts that are purely cardiovascular in nature.
2. Improve Your Diet
Again, this one sounds so simple, yet when done incorrectly will lead to poor results. I always recommend that people reduce carbohydrate in their diet. For a jump start I generally recommend that people get no more than 20-40 grams of carbohydrate per day. For a little perspective on that, a single slice of whole wheat bread has about 15 grams of carbohydrate in it. I also recommend that they get ketone strips from the local pharmacy.
Ketones are a by product of fat metabolism. When you are exclusively burning fat for energy (as opposed to sugar) ketones will be excreted into your urine. You may test this with ketone strips. Simply pass them through a stream of urine several times per day and compare the color coded strip with the reference chart of the bottle. You will want to see a trace to small amount of ketones. This ensures that you are burning your body stores of fat for energy.
A diet low in carbohydrate will also help you gain control of a hormone called insulin. People who have diets high in carbohydrate over produce insulin. This is problematic because insulin is a storage hormone. It causes your body to store energy in the form of fat. Obviously if you produce too much of this hormone you will tend to store fat very easily. Insulin is released in response to carbohydrate in your diet. Reduce the carbohydrate and you reduce your fat storing hormone!
As a side note, continually over producing insulin will lead to diabetes and all the health complications associated with it. Do not take insulin over production lightly.
3. Take Fat Burning Supplements
Many supplements tout their ability to lose weight for you. No supplement will lose the weight for you. To do that you will have to do the first two steps above. There are, however, supplements that will help you lose weight.
One great example is something called carnitine. It is available from many sources. It works because carnitine is necessary for the body’s cells to transfer fat into the mitochondria. This mitochondria is the power house of each cell. It is what produces energy so the cell can keep up with it’s daily activities. In order for it to burn fat it needs carnitine. It is simple to take and is available in capsule form. It is also very safe, unlike many other weight loss supplements.
Y0u may also benefit from taking supplements to stabilize blood sugar and reduce insulin production. These are available through reputable supplement companies and I would urge you to see a doctor that specializes in functional medicine to find these types of supplements.
4. Check Your Thyroid
The thyroid can be thought of as the thermostat on the metabolism. If it is under active your metabolism will be under active as well. This means you will tend to gain weight very easily among other symptoms like lethargy, insomnia and general low energy. Checking the thyroid is simple to do through a blood test. I routinely check my patients on it.
There are several things to look for. Many times physicians will order something called a TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH is a brain hormone that tells the thyroid to secrete it’s hormone. TSH is inversely proportional to thyroid function. That means that the higher the TSH the lower your actual thyroid function is. The reference ranges for most labs for TSH are 0.30-5.0. This range is far too large. A more appropriate range is actually 0.3-3.0. In my practice if a patient’s TSH is above 2 I like to treat them and help them optimize thyroid function. Other things that need to be checked are the actual thyroid hormones called T3 and T4. Sometimes those are low, but the TSH is normal. If the only test ordered is a TSH you might miss the fact that your thyroid is under active. I also like to see something called the thyroid antibodies. Sometimes people have antibodies to their own thyroid which reduces its effectiveness.
This list is by no means all inclusive. It does, however, provide you and insight into the first few steps that go through my mind when someone asks for my advice in helping them lose weight. We have been very successful in helping people get fit and achieve their weight loss goals. It is not something that can be done for you, but the reward for achieving your goals is a great one.