An Integrative Approach to Healthy Weight Management

Functional medicine

It’s that time of year again… sunny weather is just around the corner, and you’re ready to rock the upcoming warmer season with confidence. Like many of us, you know that you need to make a few changes if you want to shed those extra winter kilograms, but you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you have already cleaned up your daily habits and thought you would have seen some results by now, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

Could your hormones be playing a role?

Or your diet, your exercise level… or even stress?

What’s your next step?

weight management

1. First, let’s bust some common weight loss myths

We will tackle some of the most prevalent weight loss myths that are getting in the way of your healthy weight management goals and long-term health.

1.1 Myth: It’s as Simple as Calories In, Calories Out (CICO)

The premise of “CICO” is that you must consume fewer calories than you burn daily to lose weight. For example, suppose you are currently sustaining on 3,000 calories a day and want to lose weight. In that case, you need to either reduce your caloric intake by 500 or increase your physical activity to burn those 500 calories off.

Sweet Potato vs. Chocolate

This concept, while seemingly logical, doesn’t consider the quality of the calories you’re consuming or their effect on your body, depending on where they come from. For example, 200 calories worth of sweet potatoes will have a very different impact on your insulin response levels than 200 calories of milk chocolate (plus, it’ll fill you up longer).

Insulin and Cravings

When your insulin levels spike, you’re more prone to energy crashes, lethargy, and hypoglycemic reactions, often leading to cravings and sabotaging your weight goals. While CICO may work in the short term when followed correctly, it may not be the most effective long-term strategy.

“A Calorie is a Calorie”

The idea that all calories are created equal regarding weight loss is inaccurate, at best2. This idea quantifies calories without considering the many varied qualities of each macronutrient. Foods are metabolised differently (i.e., sweet potatoes vs chocolate), which can significantly affect your hunger and hormones.

1.2 Myth: Low Fat and No Fat Diets

While reducing or eliminating fat from your diet can result in short-term weight loss, it is not a healthy strategy for the long term. People who follow low-fat and no-fat diets generally regain their lost weight within six months to a year. These diets are challenging to sustain and cause cravings, poor food choices and binge eating. Fat calories help you feel full and can contribute to long-term sustainable weight management.

Long-Term Effects of Low-Fat Diet

Fat intake is crucial to your metabolic health and nutrient absorption. The long-term effects of a diet too low in healthy fats affect the whole body, from cellular health to hormone production. While it is essential to avoid overconsumption of saturated fats often found in red meat, or unhealthy trans fats from dairy and processed foods, eating healthy enough, high-quality unsaturated dietary fats and oils are necessary to maintain a healthy body.

Avoiding Processed Trans Fats is Still a Good Idea

The Processed trans fats often found in commercially prepared snacks and baked goods are the worst culprits. Look out for anything labelled as partially hydrogenated and skip it. Opt for a moderate intake of saturated fats and prioritise monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, soy products and nuts.

1.3 Myth: “Diet” Foods

Grocery store aisles are filled with processed foods meant to entice, often touting labels used by the diet industry: “diet”, “low fat”, “healthy”, and “no fat” are some of the most common. We recommend avoiding these foods as they often lack functional nutritional value. Not to mention that “diet” foods often compensate for the flavour of fat by loading up on excess salt, sugar and additives. Refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup are often used in these products. And the sodium? Nothing like high sodium levels for feeling bloating and holding on to extra pounds of water weight.

diet food

2. Integrative Approaches to Healthy Weight Management That Work

Now that we’re covered some weight loss strategies that don’t work keep reading to discover the ones that do.

2.1 Supporting Healthy Digestion

If your gut microbiome is out of balance, you don’t have enough of the “good” bacteria. With too much of the “bad” bacteria, your ability to metabolise food will be compromised, as will your weight loss goals. In addition, an imbalanced gut can mean inflammation and increased insulin resistance in the body.

Over time, poor gut health can lead to irritation and food sensitivities that can trigger your gut’s immune system to go into overdrive – your body prioritises combatting what it sees as an attack, and your ability to metabolise your food and absorb nutrients can become compromised. In comparison, when your microbiome is operating efficiently, the “good” bacteria help to protect the gut wall for optimal absorption. They help to fully digest and get the most out of your meals and support natural waste elimination.

2.2 Improve the Balance of Bacteria

To increase the “good” bacteria, increase your fibre intake and consider a probiotic.
Contributors to bad bacteria include processed foods, refined sugars, antibiotic overuse, and stress. While it’s not always easy to manage stress, try to make time for yourself every day, get at least 30 minutes of physical activity, and try mindfulness, journaling and/or meditation. Also, reducing processed foods and refined sugars contributes to stress management – you’ll have fewer insulin crashes and increased mood stabilisation.

2.3 Balancing Your Hormones

Imbalanced hormones, especially insulin, leptin, and cortisol, can directly affect your weight loss goals over the short and long term.9 This can happen even if you’re doing everything you think is right, including eating a balanced diet and getting at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Additionally, a hormonal imbalance can influence what you eat and when.

2.4 Talk to Your Doctor

Suppose you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing hormonal changes and weight fluctuations. In that case, you must act and talk to your doctor about it. Strategies they may suggest to help bring balance your hormones include:

  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Stress management (journaling, meditation, mindfulness, time management and saying “no” when you feel like you’re overextending yourself)
  • Regular exercise
  • Avoiding sugary foods
  • Increasing your intake of healthy fats and protein

3. A Balanced Diet

A balanced diet can help reduce cravings, insulin spikes, inflammation, and weight gain. It provides the nutrients needed for healthy hormone production. It supports your mood, giving you the energy and motivation to stick to your weight loss goals. As every individual is unique, there is no single “best” diet for weight maintenance. The best diet is one that an individual can maintain over the long term.7 We recommend focusing on nutrient-dense food, low in sugar and high in probiotic foods. It includes:

  • A lot of vegetables, incredibly dark, leafy greens and low starch carbohydrates like sweet potatoes
  • Whole grains and legumes
  • Hormone-free meats, eggs, and dairy
  • Fish and seafood
  • Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, Kombucha and yoghourt
  • A reduction or elimination of refined sugars. Try maple syrup, honey, blackstrap molasses, agave, or stevia instead.
  • Little to no processed foods.

balance diet

4. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is introducing periods of not eating at regular intervals. It includes limiting eating to a short window of time daily (for example, 6 or 8 hours out of 24)6. Intermittent fasting is best done under the supervision of your healthcare practitioner and may not be appropriate for everyone. However, when done in a way suitable for your unique body and circumstances, it can help reduce and manage weight by decreasing your caloric intake, giving your body time to fully digest the food you have eaten, and helping to bring balance to your hormones8. It’s also a simple technique that doesn’t involve counting calories, but please note that when intermittent fasting, we recommend continuing to eat a nutrient-dense whole foods diet.

Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity is a vital component in any integrative weight loss strategy5. It reduces stress and improves sleep quality – both of which help you make wiser food choices and not overeat. Additionally, when you exercise and build muscle mass, that muscle helps burn fat faster.

30 Minutes a Day

30 minutes of daily, moderate exercise is recommended at a minimum, with increased levels for more significant weight loss goals, but don’t overdo it. For some people, working out too hard and/or for long durations, especially in highly aerobic activities, increases cortisol and sabotages weight loss goals. Instead, find an activity that works for you, and always listen to your body.

Suppose you’re struggling to get your weight under control. In that case, a Functional Medicine practitioner can run the proper laboratory tests to make sure that you are approaching your weight management in the best way for you; they will work with you to create a tailored plan that will set you on the right path to reaching your weight management goals.

Research

  1. Belfort-DeAguiar, R., & Seo, D. (2018). Food Cues and Obesity: Overpowering Hormones and Energy Balance Regulation. Current obesity reports, 7(2), 122–129. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-018-0303-1
    2. Benton, D., & Young, H. A. (2017). Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight. Perspectives on psychological science: a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 12(5), 703–714. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617690878
  2. Bhandari P, Sapra A. Low Fat Diet. [Updated 2022 Feb 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553097/
  3. Hall, K. D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K. Y., Chung, S. T., Costa, E., Courville, A., Darcey, V., Fletcher, L. A., Forde, C. G., Gharib, A. M., Guo, J., Howard, R., Joseph, P. V., McGehee, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Reisinger, K., Rozga, I., … Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomised Controlled Trial of Ad 6Libitum Food Intake. Cell metabolism, 30(1), 67–77.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 4, Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/
  5. Kang, S. H., Park, Y. S., Ahn, S. H., & Kim, H. H. (2020). Intermittent Fasting: Current Evidence in Clinical Practice. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, 29(2), 81–83. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20022
  6. Kim J. Y. (2021). Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, 30(1), 20–31. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20065
  7. Rynders, C. A., Thomas, E. A., Zaman, A., Pan, Z., Catenacci, V. A., & Melanson, E. L. (2019). Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding Compared to Continuous Energy Restriction for Weight Loss. Nutrients, 11(10), 2442. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102442
  8. Schwarz, N. A., Rigby, B. R., La Bounty, P., Shelmadine, B., & Bowden, R. G. (2011). A review of weight control strategies and their effects on regulating hormonal balance. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2011, 237932. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/237932

Dr. Matt le Roux is a man of many talents: chiropractor, sports scientist and functional medicine practitioner. His science-based approach motivates him to explore the synergy between health and performance that changes the way you move, live, train, think, and eat.

Dr Matt le Roux

Chiropractor, Functional medicine practitioner

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