Catherine Jeans | www.thefamilynutritionexpert.com
Many people ask me how to lose weight in a healthy way, and the most effective piece of advice I can give you is to ditch the ethos of ‘eating less and moving more’. Instead of focusing on calories and restriction, focus on nutrients and add in the good stuff to your diet and really address the underlying causes of weight gain.
With the COVID pandemic still around us, it is important to maintain a healthier diet and good levels of movement. However, the great news is that you can achieve weight loss and maintain a healthy weight without having to constantly avoid, restrict and feel like you’re missing out. Instead, work on the positives you can include in your eating and exercise regime, with the right approach that suits your underlying body chemistry.
For some people, it does work to eat less and exercise more. Yet this approach still requires you to focus on all the good things you need for optimal health – vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients your body needs to function optimally. However, the vast majority of people I see in my clinic, especially those who are 35 plus, find that no matter how much exercise they do and how little food they eat, they just can’t lose weight. They’re sweating and struggling in the gym four times a week doing intense cardio, eating less and less food, and still not losing weight.
The problem is that this approach doesn’t address many of the underlying causes of weight gain – and one of the key ones that is often overlooked is the hormone cortisol. This hormone is released when we are stressed. Now when I ask a lot of people if they feel stressed, they often tell me, they’re not! That’s because stress tends to have this connotation of ‘I’m not coping’.
But I think the vast majority of us are releasing higher than normal stress hormones, simply because of the pace of life and feelings of being overwhelmed. Plus we don’t sleep enough, we’re constantly tapped into a screen and we simply don’t take the time out just to be present and tune into what’s happening around us, right now. More and more people have become ‘addicted’ to being busy. Being still is often really difficult, even when we’re supposed to be relaxing and switching off, we’re still on our screens or our minds are busy.
The problem with this continual ‘overwhelm’ is that we’re constantly releasing the stress hormone cortisol, and the message from this hormone is to store fat around the tummy. Not great if you’re trying to lose weight. So if you then add on top of this regular intense cardio and a restricted diet without enough nutrients, you’re potentially piling even more stress on top of this and even more cortisol is released. So the message in the body is to store, store and store in our fat cells.
The reality is that we do need to moderate what we eat and keep the sugar low and the white carbs in check. However, rather than merely focusing on the things we need to take away and eating very little, we should be focusing on the good stuff.
In fact, you can actually eat quite a lot of food and not feel like you’re hungry when you focus on positive nutrition. This includes plenty of protein with each meal – good quality meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, pulses and beans. Also fill half your plate with vegetables or salad and focus on healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds in small portions. That way you’ll feel nice and full, meaning you’re less likely to crave the unhealthy stuff.
When it comes to movement, you can still do your cardio, but drop a couple of sessions for more restorative, mindful practices that help reduce your cortisol levels. Strength training is also ideal for the 40 plus – whether that’s Pilates, yoga or some weight training, as it helps raise your metabolic rate. Add in a gentle walk, some deep breathing and meditation and this can help even more to balance your cortisol.
Sleep is also important – if we’re sleep deprived (and intense exercise in the evening can exacerbate this and prevent quality sleep), then you’re more likely to crave the wrong food and imbalance your hormones further.
There are many reasons why people struggle to lose weight and it’s about finding the right approach that suits you. If you’d like to learn more about weight loss and healthy body composition, my next Eat Well for Life Weight Loss Programme starts again on September 24.