Lose Weight in a Healthy and Sustainable Way

By Amy Hollenkamp, MS, RD, LD

Now that you have savored and enjoyed all the yummy Christmas treats, you want to get down to business in the New Year and shed some pounds. Losing weight and getting healthier is a great goal to pursue in 2019. 

But, figuring out how to achieve a good weight in a healthy sustainable way can be difficult. Most popular weight loss diets, plans and programs are not sustainable or healthy. Most are solely focused on manipulating the popular “calories in, calories out” equation. 

On the surface this makes sense and is partially correct, you do need a calorie deficit to lose weight. But, weight loss is not that simple. There are other essential factors in the weight loss formula than just calories.

It is easy to fall into an unsustainable or even harmful diet when focusing solely on calories. In this blog, I want to explore other factors that are critical for losing weight, keeping it off, feeling amazing and getting healthy. 

Don’t cut too many calories! Eating less and exercising more has its limits.

While a calorie deficit is required for weight loss, cutting too many calories can actually prevent weight loss. Your metabolism will slow down making it much harder to lose weight and keep it off. 

Your body is smart. If your calories intake is too low, your body will try to preserve resources by slowing down how fast your body burns up the calories you eat. 

Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling the rate at which we burn calories. Thyroid hormone levels will fall in response to chronic dieting and too large of a calorie deficit. 

Stress hormones, like cortisol will also rise, leaving your body in “fight or flight” type state. High cortisol levels can not only make it hard to lose weight, but they can also lead to inflammation, blood sugar swings, sleep disturbances, fatigue, menstrual problems and more. 

Also, when you start reducing calories too much, you can start to develop nutrient deficiencies. Failing to consume the recommended levels of vitamins and minerals can also pose health problems. 

There is a sweet spot when it comes to calorie reduction for weight loss. You want to cut enough calories to have a deficit, but not enough to cause your metabolism to slow or to impair your nutrient status. 

If you notice that you cut a lot of calories and you are not losing any weight, it may be a result of your metabolism slowing. This dreaded plateau is insurmountable because your hormones have shifted and your metabolism has slowed.  Contrary to diet culture belief, adding some calories back in may help you boost your metabolism and encourage weight loss. 

It always helps to work with a dietitian to figure out your calorie deficit sweet spot where you are cutting some calories but not too much leaving your metabolism is intact. 

Be smart like the tortoise and not the hare. Slow and steady will produce sustainable wins!

Most diet plans and programs try to sell you on a promise of losing weight fast! Don’t be tempted by these claims! Weight lose shouldn’t be fast!  Often times these types of magic bullet weight loss plans will be unsustainable and metabolically damaging. 

Successful weight loss requires lifestyle change not just a crash diet! Creating good habits that you can maintain takes time. Plus, slow and steady weight loss will reduce your risk of regaining all the weight you lost. 

One of the biggest examples of how moving too fast can actually be problematic is the show the Biggest Loser. Most contestants on that show lose insane amounts of weight in a very short period of time. A study showed that their metabolism was suppressed for years after stopping the show! 

That’s why most of these contestants gain their weight back following the show. Its just not metabolically healthy to lose 240 pounds in 7 months.

Setting reasonable goals for weight loss is a good first step to ensure that you are not losing faster than you should. It really depends on a person’s health status, needs and hormones to determine how fast they can drop weight without hurting their metabolism. 

I would say sticking to a pound a week or less is a reasonable goal for most people. Some people may need to stick to a goal of a pound a month. Weight loss is not a race. Slow and steady weight loss yields the biggest winners. 

Exercise smarter not necessarily harder 

Another big issues the calories in calories out formula is an overreliance on exercise to help you burn away calories. Yes, exercise can certainly be an important part of the weight loss equation, but I often see people exercising harder and not smarter. 

Exercise creates some stress and inflammation in your body. But, the right amount of stress from exercise promotes muscle growth and produces large amounts anti-inflammatory compounds in response to the inflammation. 

When you exercise smarter, the stress has a hormetic effect. Hormesis essentially describes a process where a little bit of stress prompts an adaptive response that has an overall beneficial effect on the body. The saying “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” really describes hormesis well. 

When you exercise too hard, without adequate rest, your body can not recover and adapt to the stress of exercise. Your muscles can break down and the stress is too much for your body to recover from. Cortisol hormones will rise and thyroid hormones will plummet, which will slow your metabolism, promote fat gain and prevent muscle growth. 

Going to the gym 7 days a week is not necessary to lose weight and it can actually prevent weight loss. You are better off choosing an exercise routine that you can maintain with adequate rest days. 

Every person is going to be slightly different when it comes to how much exercise and what forms of exercise is right for them. A good rule of thumb to determine if your exercise routine is health promoting is to analyze how you feel after you exercise. 

If immediately after you exercise and the days following, you feel run down and low on energy then your exercise regiment is too intense. A proper exercise regiment should leave you feeling more energized not less. 

Incorporate Stress Management 

Managing your stress can be critical to losing weight for a couple different reasons. First, as I have mentioned before, when you are stressed your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol slows down your metabolism and promotes fat gain. 

Therefore, when it comes to weight loss, stress is the enemy. Our modern lifestyle can often leave you in a chronic state of “fight or flight” and it takes breaking out of this state to lose weight efficiently. Stress is unavoidable, but you can raise your tolerance to stressors by using stress management techniques to escape “fight or flight” so that you can enter into a “rest and digest” state. 

Meditation has been shown to cut cortisol levels in half making it a great addition to any weight loss plan. There are tons of awesome apps that can help you incorporate mindfulness exercises into your day. 

If meditation is not your thing, then you can try other ways to lower stress. Reading a non-fiction book, listening to music, participating in yoga or tai chi, taking a warm bath, going on a walk in nature, laughing with friends and dancing are all great stress relievers. The key is to do at least one stress reducer daily so that your body can consistently feel calmer.

The second big way that stress can be problematic for weight loss is that it can drive blood sugar swings. If your blood sugar is swinging, your cravings for junk food usually increase. To control cravings, it is best to keep your stress in check. 

Make sleep a priority

Having the mentality that you can “sleep when you are dead” is very problematic for good health and weight loss. Sleep is needed to keep cortisol levels down and to keep you feeling energized. 

Sleep loss has been linked to weight gain, because it causes blood sugar swings, increases appetite and leads to unhealthy food choices. Lack of sleep could also lead you to feel too tired to exercise. 

Getting at the very least 7 hours (more optimally 8-9 hours) of sleep will help you with weight loss. 

Center weight loss around getting stronger and healthier not on how you want to look in a bikini

Many people embark on a weight loss journey because they are unhappy with the way they look. While it is ok to want to change how you look, there should always be an acceptance of yourself just how you are now. You are so much more than what you read on a scale or the pant size that you wear. 

If your mentality is often “I won’t be happy until I’m a size 4”, you may be placing too much of your self-worth and value on your weight. You may need to work on practicing self-love and celebrating your body how it is now. Take some time each morning to look in the mirror and tell yourself what you love about your body. 

Instead of harping on a particular weight or wanting to look “skinny”, focus instead on how weight loss can help you become healthier and stronger so that you are energized to chase your passions and dreams. 

Think lifestyle change versus diet

Our culture is saturated with diets that tout weight loss fast! But, most diets go to an extreme that is difficult to maintain for a long period of time. I’m looking at you keto diet. 

You want to choose an eating pattern that you can maintain. To sustain a healthy weight, you have to be able change your lifestyle and not just follow a diet for a couple months. It can be hard to maintain extremely restrictive diets like the keto diet. 

Bottom Line:

Losing weight requires a multifaceted approach that involves addressing stress, sleep, exercise, mind set and diet. 

Contributed by:  Amy Hollenkamp, MS, RD, LD, from The SIBO Diaries.  Check out more articles from Amy  at https://sibodiaries.com/ or follow her on FB @thesibodiaries .