“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which all the worlds phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.”
…Hermann Hess, Demian
May is really the first month when warmer weather is consistent enough to support a resolve to lighten up after the contractive winter months…to eat lighter, cooling, cleansing foods, to feel renewed energy, and to get in shape so we feel out best. Along the way, we may also shed a few pounds, but a good first step to sustain a healthy weight might be to push the scale to the far reaches of the closet and forget about numbers. The most accurate and sophisticated scale cannot measure how healthy we are. To get in shape and to have more energy requires a change of focus from numerical goals that can be hard to sustain to a strategy that is far healthier and more “doable.” A sensible, flexible, sustainable and effective plan can simply be to:
- eat whole, real foods,
- move more, and
- treasure who, uniquely, we are…
It Is Not About Weight. It Is About Eating for Health and Vitality
As we step into May, let’s take time to savor the gift of our life and life itself, the life force of our food, and our connection to the universe and to the loved ones around us. A program that puts healthy foods, exercise, and gratitude as the center focus can enable us to “power up” for a vibrant life, something that so often brings with it the tertiary benefit of weight loss.
Healthy Weight Is Unique to Every Individual and Varies Over the Lifespan
What is a healthy weight varies greatly with the individual. A person’s weight is a product of a variety of factors: heredity, age, sex, the physical and emotional environment, lifestyle and its associated calorie demands, and the quality and quantity of the food consumed. Gaining or losing weight is far from a linear phenomenon.
Some ethnic groups are more efficient at hoarding calories than others, and some people even within the same family are born with naturally higher metabolic rates than others: for example, Ayurveda high-strung vata types have higher metabolic rates than lower-key kaphas. Age also plays a role, since metabolism slows down after the early growth years. With advancing age, body chemistry goes through a variety of hormonal and other adjustments. The volumes we could eat and drink as a growing teenager do not work so well later in life.
A person’s sex is also a factor. Men lose weight in a more linear relationship to calorie intake than women. Weight loss is generally easier for men, because of the way their metabolism works: Metabolism is a product of anabolism, building up, and catabolism, breaking down. For any given individual, these two forces are rarely in perfect balance. A man’s metabolism is tilted more toward catabolism, while a woman’s leans more toward anabolism.1 This helps explain why some women can actually gain weight on a calorie-restricted diet.
Poor quality of food also affects weight gain:
- Refined carbohydrates hit the blood stream rapidly and, if not burned, are quickly converted to triglycerides that can be stored as fat;
- Fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup disrupts insulin receptors and glucose metabolism. Fructose is stored as fat more than any other type of sugar; (( See “Fructose is No Answer For a Sweetener,” by Nancy Appleton.))
- Trans fats depress metabolism and raise insulin levels.
Some foods require more energy for digestion than others. A calorie of Wonder Bread is not metabolized in the same way as a calorie of kale, for example.
The body’s natural survival mechanism can also “undermine” a person’s efforts to lose weight: When a person goes on a low-calorie diet, the body reads the condition as a time of famine and begins to hoard calories. In the “starvation” mode, metabolism drops and the body makes every effort to use available calories in the most efficient way possible. So, dieting can quickly become discouraging and self-defeating.
Strict diets are rigid and they tend to work against the enjoyment and pleasure that nature intended food to provide. Diets also work against our own innate desire for autonomy. A diet regime designed by someone else may lead us to rebel if it does not fit with our tastes, preferences, and personal needs…How can someone else know what we need, particularly when our own needs change from day to day?
Diet dictates are a little like trying to wear someone else’s shoes. They are not us. They work against our desire for freedom, flexibility, and independence…these are inherent, healthy drives established at the earliest age. They surface in very strong ways particularly in the area of food. (Parents of young children know this!)
We all need flexibility in our food choices. What tastes good to us one day may not the next, so we need to be able to adapt our eating from day to day. A person may require more calories and more carbohydrates, for example, to make it through a day of difficult physical or mental work, and particularly if fatigued from being up late the night before. Exhaustion breeds cravings for sugar.
Eating is always an experiment. The same food affects us in different ways at different times. Food is information. When we pay attention to how we feel after each meal or snack, we can learn a great deal from what, how, where, and when we eat.
Eating, then, is always a creative new experience. Rigid diets are very “left-brain” and really belong to someone else. In that way alone, they are lifeless, stultifying, and suffocating. Food should be an interesting adventure, an opportunity to experience a sense of gratitude, and an edifying experiment every time we eat. Our body tries to tell us a lot, we just need to be attuned to its language and open to its communication.
For all these reasons, the “lifeless” concept of a weight loss diet is better replaced by a good, flexible dining program of chewing well, enjoying good food and good company, feeling satisfied both physically and emotionally at the end of a meal, and then allowing the body to “seek its own level.” The body wants to be at a certain weight, which may change as we age. Our job is to accept this and move on with the joys of productive work and loving relationships.
To allow your body to seek its own healthy weight, try to eat good quality food. This alone can encourage rapid metabolism, good physical and mental energy, and weight loss. Rather than using a scale at home, “weigh in” at the green grocer, choose colorful, seasonal, organic produce, and enjoy meals as a true dining experience.
“Weigh-Out Strategies” …See Which Ones Resonate With You:
- Eat fresh, natural, whole, quality food for the life-force energy that it provides, and because good quality food helps boost metabolism.3 Whole foods are balanced. Their energy helps us stay balanced. Whole foods help “crowd out” hunger for sugars, refined flours, and excessive meat and dairy. In contrast, fractured, empty-calorie foods like refined flour, sugar, and vegetable oils are not satisfying and can leave you searching for more food to fill the void. Fractured foods do little to ground us in today’s fractured world.
- Chew. Try to chew every bite 25-30 times, and at every meal. This is easier said than done. It requires intention, attention, and practice.
- Balance meals with adequate protein. A meal is most satisfying if it includes a small amount of protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, quality fats, and vegetables and/or fruits of a variety of colors, particularly green and red-orange. Do not restrict “good” fats or high-quality foods. Some days you may be hungrier than others. What you need one day may be the product of what you ate and what you did the day before, as well as how soundly you slept at night.
Proteins help manage hormone levels of insulin and glucagon. Insulin, triggered by sugars and carbohydrates, is a fat-storage hormone. In contrast, glucagon releases fat stored in the cells to be used as energy. Eating proteins stimulates the release of glucagon (this is why high-protein diets work for quick weight loss, but only for a limited time). Eating adequate protein at the beginning of the meal is a good strategy in managing hormones and body chemistry for the best weight-loss metabolism.
- Drink plenty of water. Drinking water before, during, and after the meal can help digestion so that food does not get all “clumped up” in the stomach. Sometimes cravings, which we misread as being for more food, are actually associated with the body’s need for water. Water, a yin substance, can help us feel lighter and more expanded. It is especially helpful to balance stress, overwork, and contraction associated with some foods or lifestyle factors. Often drinking water will restore a sense of balance. As a general rule, try to drink 4-8 glasses of water a day, but the amount will vary with the weather, the level of physical activity, and the type of foods eaten. Vegetables and fruits have a high water content, so a person who eats more produce would need to drink less water than a heavy meat, sweets eater. (Sugars are particularly dehydrating.)
- Have healthy foods always on hand and ready to eat. Plan ahead. This is all a part of the concept of treasuring who you are and being kind to yourself. We are supposed to enjoy food and connect with how great “real” food can make us feel. One thing we can count on is that we will get hungry! Pulled in by life’s pressures, we can easily get caught off guard when our “hunger bell” suddenly rings. So, it is really helpful to have a shopping/cooking plan to assure there are plenty of good things to eat when hunger strikes.
If you are anything like me, at the end of the day you are probably too tired and hungry to start a major cooking project. Chopping, sautéing, and waiting for something to simmer for an hour on top of the stove or to bake in the oven takes too long and is too much effort. Yet, what is overwhelming at dinner time can seem easy and fun in the morning after breakfast when you are fresh and full of energy or in the evening after dinner when you are not pressed for time.
I happen to be a morning person and I get up early. After breakfast, I try to have something in the slow cooker, the rice cooker, the oven, or on top of the stove that will be ready for lunch and later in the day. It is amazing how fast an hour goes by in the morning while you are getting ready to run out the door.
If you are an evening person, you might want to turn this around and cook foods after dinner or overnight for the following day. Whatever you do, realize that it often takes more thinking in advance…to soak beans or grains or shop for ingredients…than it does in actual effort in the kitchen, particularly if you buy a simple slow cooker, rice cooker, immersion wand, and/or other equipment to make cooking easy, “no-fail,” and effortless.
Whatever your biological clock, make time to soak; make time to cook. Cook once, eat twice…make big batches.
- Try to eat the major meal around noon and nothing three hours before bedtime. Digestive energy is actually at its peak in the late-morning hours, so it is best to eat your major protein meals early in the day and have a lighter supper of vegetables and grains. Eating early is especially good as we age, since digestive enzymes diminish exponentially…a child’s saliva has 30 times the digestive enzymes of someone aged 60. Also, a balanced noon meal with adequate protein keeps the brain fueled throughout the afternoon, sustained until dinner.
The body naturally cools down in the early evening hours and so does digestive fire. The body is attuned for a natural 12-hour fasting period when the digestive organs can rest and the liver takes over to cleanse the blood. It can perform this late-night “janitorial” function only if we get out of its way.
- Consume good quality oils in a judicious quantity to help speed metabolism and get in shape.4 While athletes often think primarily of proteins, fats are also an important part of performance. This is because the types of fats consumed determine the rate of oxidation, energy production, metabolism, and tissue rebuilding and healing. Two things are key…the chain length of the carbon molecule, where short is best (butter is the shortest lipid, with only four carbons) and the number of double bonds, where more is better (omega-3 have the most, with three double bonds). To optimize oxygen delivery to cells and boost energy production and metabolism, it is wise to choose butter and omega-3 fish oils. In contrast, heavy animal proteins, with their long 18 carbon chains slow metabolism and energy production.
- Limit omega-6 oils because they compete with the same enzymes (desaturases and elongases) as omega-3s.5 Scientific studies suggest that we lose the healthy benefits of eating more fish and taking fish oils if we do not simultaneously limit our consumption of omega-6 fats. Packaged foods are of course a major, hidden source of omega-6 oils…a favorite of food processors since omega-6 (nut and seed) oils are cheap and have a very long shelf life.
Dyerberg and Bang’s longitudinal studies comparing heart disease in Eskimo, Danish, and American populations showed that between 1970 and 2003, the health advantages previously enjoyed by the Eskimo population were totally eliminated despite Eskimos continuing to eat the same hefty amounts of seal, fish, and shellfish.6 Scientists explain the sharp rise in heart disease among the Eskimos by the great increase in omega-6 fats that were introduced to their culture, which began to compete with the fish oils in their traditional diet.
Recognizing that the typical American consumes omega-6 versus omega-3 fats in a ratio of 20:1,7 Alexander Leaf warns, “You have to reduce your omega-6s if you want to get any benefit from omega-3s.”8 Might we wonder if trying to eat more fish is really as beneficial for our health as touted, when we consider the high level of mercury and other toxins often associated today with fish?
Competition of Omega-6s “Crowding Out” Omega-3s in a Variety of Cooking and Salad Oils
Oil Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 (2.3 :1 is ideal)
Walnut 5: 1
Soybean 7: 1
Butter 9: 1
Lard 10: 1
Olive 12: 1
Corn 46: 1
Palm 46: 1
Sesame 137: 1
Cottonseed 259: 1 Source: Susan Allport
- Get enough sleep so you are not tempted to reach for the sugar and caffeine as a fall-back to counter exhaustion. A good night’s sleep also helps to keep your cortisol (needed for concentration and mental function) and energy levels high in the daytime, as nature intended.9
- Reduce stress. Stress raises cortisol levels and encourages weight gain.10 Try to make time to enjoy your meals, and hopefully, meal preparation as well.
- Allow yourself to be “bad..” When we eat too much or too much of the wrong foods, all is not lost! We do need to have fun, to color outside the lines, and just be bad sometimes. These adventures help us stay on the road of mostly good choices. When toddlers fall down, they get back up and get going again. We can do the same. It is all just information and part of our education.
- Allow yourself to eat when hungry, but try to differentiate if it is true physical hunger or if the hunger has emotional roots. If the latter, then try to take a walk, connect with a friend, pick up a good book, or brew some herbal tea.
- Move. Movement gets energy circulating. Simple movement and fresh, open air are two of the best healers, and they are free and readily available to most people. Moderate exercise in fresh air and sunshine helps the brain function efficiently and reinforces good dietary habits.
- Don’t feel guilty if you make a food mistake. This is just information so that we can make a better choice the next time. Eat whatever you want, but just pay attention. Our body will give us feed-back about the food choices that we make, and we can learn from this information.
By shifting to whole foods and away from packaged, processed foods, by moving more, and by drinking more water, most people naturally lose weight. You can then keep off pounds so you feel good, and you can devote your energies to being you. Who wants to spend time each day thinking about weight? Remember, people are liked not because of what they weigh but by how they make others feel.12
Copyright 2008 Pathways4Health.org
- Annemarie Colbin [↩]
- Marc David, The Slowdown Diet. [↩]
- See November07, January08, and April08 Newsletters. [↩]
- See February08 and March 08 for complete discussion of fats, metabolism, and weight loss. [↩]
- see table below [↩]
- Susan Allport, The Queen of Fats (Berkeley: University of California: 2006) 113. [↩]
- About 2:1 is ideal [↩]
- Susan Allport, 114 [↩]
- See December 2010 [↩]
- See December 2010 [↩]
- Dr. Ann Kulze. [↩]
- Annemarie Colbin [↩]