I Won't Put Together A Weight Loss Protocol For You Anymore
Ever so often, someone walks through my doors and asks me to help them lose weight. I used to try to help. Really I did. We would plan out a calorie-reduced diet. We would talk about food and exercise and thermogenic supplements and all the things that should help a person lose weight. The thing is: it never worked.
Here’s the other thing: most of the people who came to me with other concerns lost a significant amount of weight. Sometimes 30, 40, 50 lbs over the course of a year. Without calorie restriction, cardio, HIIT, or fat-burning pills. So, what gives?
Weight gain is a symptom. And rarely is it a symptom of just eating more and doing less (though when it is- that’s when traditional dieting works). Just like most other symptoms, when you correct the underlying imbalance, weight corrects itself.
See, fat has a job in your body. If you get more fat, it’s because your body believes you need more fat. Fat’s main job is protection- I’ve seen it come to people for both physical and spiritual protection. If you look at it that way, maybe you can start to love it a little?
I’m a person who gains fat relatively easily. I have several risk factors for obesity- like low birth weight, premature birth, and many antibiotics as a baby and child. It’s just how my body is set up. Some people can eat a terrible diet, not exercise, and still not gain weight. That is not me. I try to keep my lifestyle fairly healthy, but still I gain what I call misery weight when I’m feeling unhappy or stuck in my life. Here’s how I imagine it going:
Me: Whoa life is hard right now.
Body: Aw, Theresa- you look like you need a pillow!
Me: No, I absolutely do not need a pillow. I need 8 hours of sleep and 3 million dollars.
Body: There, there. I'll make you a pillow. A cute little belly pillow. So snuggly!
Me: NO!!! Snuggles are NOT the answer! Why can’t I just get fashionably gaunt like my friends do when they are stressed??
Body: Maybe because you’re eating your feelings? Here’s another pillow for your bum.
I’m finishing up a difficult stretch of life, so I’ve definitely got a lovely little pillow collection happening. My body doesn't speak English- it speaks in cortisol spikes and thyroid crashes and cravings and symptoms. But to me the message is clear: it's trying to help me out. It's always been trying to help me out.
I spend so much of my time working with bodies and in my experience, even the most unruly of them are doing their best to support the lovely souls they carry. That experience gave me the perspective not to hate my body when I gained 20 lbs the month after my grandma died this fall. I just gave my tummy a hug, ramped up the self care, and recommitted to a clean diet. And my body is almost back to normal 3 months later.
Enough about me- let’s think about you! If you had a discussion with your body- what would it be saying to you? Is your excess weight trying to protect you from something? Comfort you? Maybe you don’t have extra weight- maybe your body gives you messages in the form of headaches, telling you to take some time to yourself. Or maybe you’re having a hard time digesting something that’s happening in your world and it’s echoing in your stomach function. Or maybe… maybe your body is just doing body things because that’s how your physiology works. Like Freud said: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Either way, it is worth asking yourself if your issues are physical, spiritual, or both.
Spiritually, fat protects you from: intimacy, abuse, moving forward, unwanted attention, relationships, heartbreak, sickness, starvation and others.
Physically, fat protects you from: inflammation, fat-soluble toxins, excess hormones and others. Those things are usually the result of an overburdened liver and/or an over-stressed neuroendocrine system resulting in an imbalance in the hypothalamic-adrenal-pituitary axis. (Quick definitions: Hypothalamic-adrenal-pituitary axis dysfunction is also known colloquially as adrenal fatigue. The neuroendocrine system = the nervous system + hormones).
Things that burden the liver include: a high sugar/low fibre diet; trans-fats, artificial colors/flavors, heavily processed foods, toxins from pesticides, cleaning products, fire retardants and cosmetics; pharmaceutical drugs; synthetic hormones, nutrient deficiencies; and more. Things that burden the neuroendocrine system include: the above toxins, lack of sleep, overwork, food allergies, chronic pain, over-exercising, dieting, interpersonal stress, light pollution, noise pollution, bullying, repressing emotions, powerlessness, trauma, shift-work, and more.
On top of that- there’s also a growing body of evidence that bacteria living in your gut play a huge role in determining your body composition. We haven’t worked out all the mechanisms yet- but by working with a Naturopathic Doctor, your gut health will definitely get some TLC.
When someone comes to see me to help with healing after a trauma, or help with anxiety/depression/stress, they often lose the weight that they gained as we get to the root cause of their mental-emotional symptoms.
When someone comes to see me for help regulating stress, blood-sugar, digestion, etc. They almost always lose whatever excess weight that they were carrying as we heal their bodies.
And they don’t gain it back.
And it’s not like they don’t change their diets. Food is medicine and food matters. Ask anyone who works with me- we change up diets. We change up sleep habits. Movement patterns. Hobbies. Relationships. Work. Self-talk. If you stick with me long enough, we’ll end up investigating it all until we get your life set up to be working to support your healthiest self. Weight loss is just a side effect.
Here’s an important note: your healthiest self isn’t your skinniest self. After you’ve carried extra weight for some undefined period of time, your body adapts and sets up all it’s systems to support you at that higher weight (because bodies are adaptable like that).
That means that the healthy weight that you reach with me, may not be the *ideal weight* that you have in mind. You might not fit the socially-sanctioned version of thin-and-healthy-looking. To get to that lower weight, you may have to disrupt the adaptations of your body by restricting calories and/or carbohydrates- and there are plenty of people who can help you with that (aka: not me). You can reshape your body through exercise- and there are plenty of people who can help you with that (also: not me).
Keep in mind that if you do force your body weight to go below your set point- you will have to mindfully keep it there for years before it becomes your new set point.
Like the title of this post says: I'm not going to make you a weight loss protocol. If you're looking for the best weight loss supplement or the most effective diet, keep looking. This isn't boot camp and I am not your coach, trainer, or nutritionist.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and I will do my best to help you heal. Together, we can investigate causes of your weight gain along with your other symptoms, and try to correct them. At the end of the day, any weight you lose will be a side effect of the healing that occurs and the healthy habits that you develop during that process.
Health does exist at every size- not just the smallest.