It is a common belief that lots of exercise and little to eat is the perfect combination to weight loss. If you have been doing this for years without success, it is not surprising. Weight control is much more than simply calories in and calories out. It is actually the result of the complex interaction of various hormonal processes in the body. The following tips will help you manipulate your hormones to your advantage!
1. Cut down on starches, fruits & sweets.
Starches, fruits and sweets are all carbohydrates – namely, foods that when digested turn into sugar and trigger the release of insulin, a powerful hormone. It directs the sugar into muscle cells. This not only gives fuel for our muscles to function, but it also lowers the amount of sugar in circulation. If after this there is still too much sugar in the bloodstream, insulin instructs our liver to store some aside as starch and to convert it into fat. This newly made fat is then shipped to our fat cells – located in our abdominal area and thighs or buttocks where it accumulates and becomes known as love handles and saddlebags! The trick then is to decrease the amount of sugar in our bloodstream after meals. This can be easily accomplished by making careful food choices, namely, decreasing foods that trigger insulin release while increasing other types of foods.
2. Increase protein and healthy fats in your diet.
Protein, which is found in animal products (meat, fish, eggs…) and nuts or legumes help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent insulin peaks throughout the day. Do not neglect your healthy fats, though! Many people attempt dieting by simply cutting down on carbs while increasing protein – all that while maintaining a low-fat diet. This is a mistake, as we now know that dietary fat is definitely not the main culprit when it comes to weight gain. In addition, fats allow us to feel fulfilled at the end of a meal. With low-fat dieting, most people will feel ravenously hungry shortly after a meal and will tend to snack on empty calories such as biscuits, chips or chocolate. Since these are carbohydrates, they trigger an insulin peak and thus weight gain. Healthy fats are found in cold-water fish like salmon, as well as nuts and seeds.
3. Watch your portion sizes when it comes to carbohydrates.
Restaurants do not encourage us to eat healthily – the “pasta primavera” you might order tends to be made up of 80% spaghetti and 20% vegetables instead of the other way around! While you can eat as much protein or healthy fats as you would like, make sure you do not have more than a third of your plate filled with a starch.
4. Watch out for milk.
Many of us easily drink a few glasses of milk per day, as we think it is a healthy habit. While milk does provide us with some calcium, it is still mostly made up of the sugar lactose. It therefore negatively affects our blood sugar levels and encourages weight gain.
5. If you must, eat fruits and sweet snacks after a meal and not by themselves.
If you absolutely cannot live without a piece of chocolate or fruit, make sure to eat it at the end of a meal and not by itself. This is because if you consume them on an empty stomach, they will be very quickly digested and absorbed, making your blood sugar levels rise dramatically. When eaten at the end of a meal however, it takes them much longer to get into our circulation, allowing our blood sugar levels to stay relatively stable.
6. Experiment with stevia.
Our taste buds are conditioned to sweet tastes. You may find it hard to cut down on fruit, sweet snacks or desserts with resulting cravings. Sometimes, simply finding the taste of sweet again will help a little. This is exactly what stevia accomplishes. This South American plant has a leaf that is naturally very sweet without actually containing any sugar! It’s basically nature’s aspartame. Buy it at the health food store and sweeten your coffee, tea or homemade healthy desserts with it. A bottle of the extract will last your family for a long time, as even a small drop tastes incredibly sweet!
7. Manage your stress levels.
When talking about weight control, we often only mention diet and exercise. A third factor worth considering is our stress levels. When we are chronically stressed with a high-pressure job or a never-ending to-do list, our body produces cortisol. This hormone triggers the conversion of starch stored in the liver into sugar. This sugar is then sent to our bloodstream where it is supposed to provide fuel for our muscles. This is our body’s way of responding to our stress levels. That’s because our body’s biochemistry is identical to that of our ancestors – those brave cavemen! When they were faced with a stressful situation, that usually meant they had to run away from something (tiger, mammoth and other friendly beasts). That way, their bodies gave their muscles plenty of sugar as a fuel to be burnt during the flight effort. Today, thankfully, our stress is a little less life-threatening – we tend to be stressed but stay quite sedentary, sitting in front of our office computer or stuck in a traffic jam. As a result, our cortisol-triggered increase in blood sugar levels simply leads to… all that sugar going into our fat cells!
8. Examine your list of medications.
If you are taking certain types of medications, these may impinge on your efforts to lose weight. Certain anti-depressants such as Effexor and Wellbutrin are well known for having weight gain as a side effect. Hormonal treatments such as the birth-control pill can also encourage the body to put on pounds. Talk to your doctor about weaning off these medications or switching to other brands that may better agree with your body.
9. Integrate exercise in your daily routine – not as a one-off event.
Many of us are conscious of the fact that we are too sedentary. However, when trying to lose weight, we tend to turn to the gym as a one-off, exceptional event. We convince ourselves that we will go regularly, but often, after one session at the gym, we overdo it so much that we spend the next four days with terrible muscle soreness… and never go again! It is important to integrate exercise in your everyday routine – whether at the gym or with an activity you enjoy instead of high-intensity, infrequent bouts. Listen to your body and remember that with exercise it is better to do it a little less intensely but more often, rather than the opposite.
10. Be a smart shopper and read food labels.
When going grocery shopping, read food labels. Avoid low-fat products, which tend to be much higher in carbohydrates (added in for palatability, as low-fat products tend to be rather insipid) and therefore trigger an insulin spike. Read the detailed food label rather than trusting what it says at the front of the packaging. You will be surprised at how many food products appear healthy when looking at their packaging, but are actually full of sugar! The food label will tell you exactly whether a food is loaded with sugar. If any of the top 5 ingredients of the list is either “sugar”, “high-fructose corn syrup” or any word that ends in “-ose” (e.g.: maltose, glucose, fructose, dextrose…)…then you definitely do not want to buy this product, as it will surely trigger an insulin spike and therefore encourage weight gain. Check your child’s breakfast cereal – these often sound very healthy (“with 9 vitamins and minerals”) when they are, in reality, sugar bombs.
These tips sound simple, but they all work towards optimal hormonal balance and therefore, healthy and successful weight control. We hope they have helped shed the myth that weight control is only about calories in and calories out and gave you new insights into the amazing complexity of the body.