A person’s weight is a product of a variety of factors: hereditary, 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, high-strung vata types have higher 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 teen and young adult does not work well later in life.
A person’s sex also plays a role: 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. This helps explain why some women can actually gain weight on a calorie-restricted diet.
Climate, work conditions, and a person’s emotional state also play a role in how rapidly calories are burned. Even exercise can be self-defeating if the activity is disliked and viewed as stressful.1
Poor quality of food plays a role in weight gain:
- Refined foods hit the blood stream rapidly and, if not burned, are quickly converted to triglycerides;
- Fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup disrupts insulin receptors and glucose metabolism. It is stored as fat more than any other type of sugar;2; and
- Trans fats depress metabolism and raise insulin levels.
A calorie of Wonder Bread is not metabolized in the same way as a calorie of kale, for example. Some foods require more energy for digestion than others. In contrast, whole foods satisfy, so we eat less.
The body’s natural survival mechanism can “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 becomes 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. We are inclined to rebel against a diet designed by others, especially if it does not fit with our tastes, preferences, and personal needs. Diet dictates also work against our innate programming for autonomy and independence, drives established at the earliest ages, and that particularly apparent when it comes to food. (Parents will certainly recognize this food voice, present in the youngest of children.)
We all need flexibility when it comes to food. 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—as well as from year to year. 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 tired from being up late the night before. Exhaustion breeds cravings for sugar.
Food is information. When we pay attention, we can learn a great deal from what, how, where, and when we eat. Eating 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 is always an interesting adventure, an opportunity to experience a sense of gratitude, and an edifying experiment every time we eat. A weight loss diet is better replaced by a good, flexible dining program of chewing well, enjoying whole food and good company that leave us feeling satisfied both physically and emotionally, and then allowing the body “seek its own level.”
We will feel best if we eat wholesome foods and then allow your body to seek its own healthy weight. This alone can encourage rapid metabolism, good physical and mental energy, and weight loss.
“Weigh out” strategies:
Eat fresh, natural, whole, quality food for the life-force energy that it provides, and because good quality food helps boost metabolism and leave us feeling satisfied with less. In contrast, fractured, empty-calorie foods like refined flour, sugar, and vegetable oils do not satisfy and can leave us searching for more food to fill the void.
Chew. Chew every bite 25-30 times, and at every meal. This is easier said than done. It requires intention, attention, and practice. Get used to the way that food that is thoroughly chewed feels in the mouth. When we pay attention and appreciate our food, we eat less. Chewing gives us time to register satiety and to register the full experience of eating through chewing, tasting, and crunching to satisfy on many levels, and sooner. Chewing improves not only digestion, but also the absorption of nutrients. It also helps stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
Chewing is especially important for the digestion of carbohydrates since carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth when starches are pulverized and mixed with salivary amylase. Carbohydrate digestion is then “on hold” for a prolonged period of time. It is only later, when starches move through the stomach to the upper part of the small intestine, when they meet up with pancreatic enzymes, that their digestion can continue. (Pepsin and hydrochloric acid in the stomach digest proteins, but not carbohydrates.)
Balance meals with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats. 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. Include plenty of “good” fats and high-quality foods.
Be flexible and vary foods, both with the seasons, and by emphasizing a variety of colored fruits and vegetables. Some days we are hungrier than others. What we need one day may be the product of what we ate and did the day before, as well as whether we got adequate sleep the night before. The lack of sleep can send a person looking for sugar and caffeine as a “quick fix.”
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 can easily misread as being for more food, are really messages that the body needs more water. Water, a yin substance, can help us feel lighter and more expanded. It is especially helpful to balance yang lifestyle factors such as stress and overwork, as well as contractive foods. Often drinking water will restore a sense of balance. As a general rule, try to drink about 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 high water contents, so a diet of relatively more plant foods would require less water than one that focuses more on contractive animal proteins. Sugars are also particularly dehydrating and require plentiful fluids.
Try to “fast” three hours before bedtime and throughout the nighttime hours. 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 at night a lighter supper of vegetables and grains. The body naturally cools down in the early evening hours and digestive fire is then at its lowest point. Natural biochemistry and bio-rhythms are attuned to expect a12-hour fasting period, from early evening to the next morning, a period when the digestive organs can rest and the liver can take over to cleanse the blood. The liver can perform this janitorial function only if we get out of its way. [See the Chinese Body Clock, Resource Graphic Section.]
Get some moderate exercise, fresh air, some sunshine when possible, and an adequate night’s sleep. Mediation and deep breathing can also relieve stress. These strategies help keep the body flexible and energized. They can also help keep your cortisol (a mental-acuity and a fat storage hormone) and energy levels high in the daytime and lower at night, as nature intended.
Avoid feeling guilty. We all make food mistakes, and we usually suffer when we do. There is no need to add guilt to the toll: We are punished not for our sins but by our sins. This is all information, and when we pay attention, we do better the next time.
Copyright 2010 Pathways4Health.org