Being overweight or obese is the greatest health risk factor. In America, about 75% of men and 60% of women are overweight or obese. This is a major problem on the individual level as this puts people at greater risk for cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, gallbladder problems, joint issues, infections (including worse outcomes from COVID-19), and more! The high rates of overweight and obesity are also a disaster for our healthcare system and our economy. The best thing a person can do for their health and well-being is to get into a normal, healthy weight range.
We all know that losing weight and keeping it off can be extremely difficult. As with all lifestyle changes, losing weight is hard, but being sick is harder. I often see patients who are trying so hard to lose weight, but it just won’t come off. In my experience there are three main components to losing weight:
- Calorie restriction
- A Healthy Microbiome
I tried to ignore the calories in/ calories out model for a time and you know what happened to me? I gained weight. I wanted to experiment with the idea that if I just ate healthy foods, could I maintain weight or lose weight. For me, the answer was no. I attribute this to the fact that so many healthy foods are high in calories, too. While a bag of M&Ms is 250 calories, I could eat that in a ¼ cup of macadamia nuts. Research has shown again and again that to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit. It doesn’t matter what your calories are from, as long as you have a deficit. You have to create a calorie deficit in order for your body to burn through the fat you have stored. If there is not a deficit, that stored fat is not used as energy.
Sometimes, it is very freeing to limit your calories rather than your food choices. If you don’t have to cut out your favorite foods, you might feel less restricted, and ultimately be much nicer to yourself. There are fear failures and no cheats to worry about. For example, if you plan out your calories in your day to include your glass of wine with dinner, or your cookie for dessert, you can compensate for those calories with what you are going to eat during the day.
However, food choices bring me to your microbiome. There is ample evidence that the diversity and health of your microbiome can actually play a role in your weight. If your gut biome is out of proportion, we actually know that you could be extracting more calories from your food than someone with a healthy biome. While avoiding all of your favorite foods may not be necessary all the time for weight loss, it will greatly improve your health if you focus on healthy foods.
Foods that are higher in fiber, polyphenols, and antioxidants (namely all fruits and vegetables) feed the bacteria in your gut that will help you get to and maintain a healthier weight. Stress management, fermented foods, breathing fresh air, playing in the dirt, petting animals (living with a dog), avoiding artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and ace-k), and taking a probiotic will also improve your microbiome.
My favorite probiotic continues to be Megaspore Biotic. For best results with weight loss, I would recommend ALL of these suggestions- not just the probiotic.
While exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, it really is not going to contribute to significant weight loss. You just cannot burn enough calories to make up a big enough caloric deficit. And unfortunately, many people use exercise as an excuse to treat themselves to certain foods. Building muscle mass will increase your metabolic rate, but abs are made in the kitchen, as they say.
Finally, in order to lose weight and keep it off, consistency is key. None of these suggestions cause instant results, weight loss is a long process. It could take months or even years to reach your goal weight. Then, it will take the rest of your life to maintain that. If you wake up every day with a plan to stick to your calorie goals, eat the diet that is best for your microbiome, and get some exercise, you will see results. The consistency allows you to have small divergences and still succeed. It allows you to “fall off the wagon” and get right back on the very next meal. Weight loss will take you adopting a new way of life, incorporating new lifestyle habits, and sticking to them day in and day out.
If you are at a healthy weight, I promise you, you will feel better in every single area of your life.