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August 9, 2013

Why Do We Gain Weight? A Holistic Approach

Why are so many Americans overweight and struggling with chronic health issues? Explore an alternative view into the reasons why.

In the United States, we are some of the world’s most well fed people. Still, we can nickname our diet S.A.D., for Standard American Diet. It’s sad to look at national fast food statistics and the giant proportions of meat and heavy carbohydrates we eat. Some of us simply over consume calorie-rich, nutrient-deficient foods. We also eat quite a large amount of protein compared to our global neighbors. Our cuisine is robust in many ways and some of the most common foods in the American diet are not ideal from a holistic nutrition perspective. With all of the dietary fads and viewpoints out there in the world, it can be hard to navigate the best diet for your body.

Unfortunately, many of the world’s basic foods and especially prepared foods are now highly processed and may be genetically modified, chemically altered, pesticide-laden, and environmentally questionable from a sustainability perspective. Our goal is to simplify the foods we ingest and return to the basics of what we know to be good quality healthy nourishment. However, it is not always easy to have the time, interest, or financial ability to prepare the healthiest of foods for ourselves and our families, despite our best intentions.

Let’s look on the bright side and consider that many of us—millions in fact—have seen the light and are doing our best to make good conscious choices for our own personal food consumption and for our families. The natural and organic foods business is ever expanding around the world and I believe there is a growing desire for people to be more well informed and health conscious. People want to take action and find ways to act preventatively. As we are living longer, it is wise to seriously consider how you may want to feel at 70, 80, or maybe even at 100 years old.

It takes effort to be healthy, and as naturopathic medicine has touched my life and helped me to become more aware, I hope to do the same for those of you seeking new information and perspectives on health and well being.

I titled this article “Why Do We Gain Weight? A Holistic Perspective” for two main reasons. The first is that I understand that many of us struggle with weight issues, especially as we become midlife adults and the second reason is that the answer is not always as obvious as it may seem. Of course the foods that one chooses to eat and the lifestyle that one chooses to live have an impact on our bodies, but there are many other factors that can play into the metabolism of body fat.

The metabolism of fat is a process that involves many of the hormonal and enzymatic systems of the body. From an energy perspective, the caloric intake from the food that is ingested in a day’s time needs to be used in order for the body to maintain the same weight. In the absence of exercise, movement, or activity, the body will naturally store fat. This is the most superficial and simplistic way of trying to understand body weight and body fat. The physics of the relationship between diet and exercise, calories into the body versus calories burned, is straight forward. For many people, changing the diet and exercise practices works well, but what about those individuals who eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly, and still hold unwanted body fat?

As our body’s hormones are beautifully orchestrated into homeostasis and harmony most of the time, once in a while one hormonal system may become a little imbalanced. The analogy of the orchestra helps to tell this story. As one instrument plays slightly out of tune or a different musical piece all together, the sound changes. The various other musicians may play louder or take the role of that one musician or instrument that became out of tune and led to the imbalance. This is what happens in the body. As an imbalance occurs, the other organs and hormonal systems will take hold and shift the biochemistry toward homeostasis. Our bodies continually try to seek the best way to heal and maintain balance.

In respect to weight gain, the following are the body systems that need to be addressed especially if basic alterations in diet and exercise are not bringing you to your goals of weight loss. Basic blood chemistry analysis from a naturopathic perspective can help to rule out any blood sugar metabolism issues including hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, oxygenation issues in the body related to anemia, liver inflammation or elevations in liver enzymes that can lead to poor metabolism in general, low grade chronic infections, thyroid imbalance, pancreatic and kidney function, and inflammation issues.

Hormonal testing is appropriate for both men and women. The steroid hormonal cascade including progesterone, estradiol, estrone, estriol, testosterone, follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, cortisol, DHEA, and others may be appropriate to rule out hormonal imbalance at the various stages of life. Hormone testing can be completed with a saliva, blood, or a urinary sample. Cortisol levels are a specific measurement to assess the adrenal glands and are often a crucial piece in the hormonal balance of the body, especially in those of us that may be under stress or lead a very busy life.

Food sensitivities can cause quite a bit of general inflammation in the body. Many people report that once the food sensitivities are removed from the diet, weight comes off very easy. As the lining of the gastrointestinal tract heals from the inflammatory processes related to offending foods, digestion and metabolism improve and the body can function with more ease. Finding the foods that work the best for your body type and metabolism are key aspects to maintaining optimal weight.

Digestive health and proper bacterial ratios and enzymes are easily tested and can give a huge amount of insight into how your body is digesting food. If yeast or pathogenic bacteria or a parasite is present in your gastrointestinal tract, the body is chronically fighting a low grade infection. Food will not be digested correctly, and the lining of the gut will become damaged. In naturopathic medicine, gut health is at the forefront of maintaining a healthy body. It is where the inside of the body interfaces with the outside world. It is where our immune system and enzymatic biochemical pathways originate. Good digestion is essential for sustained weight loss. Digestive health panels may include stool, saliva, and/or blood tests.

The liver is the main filter of the body and is responsible for many metabolic functions. Cleanse and detoxification programs are a great way to kick start a weight loss plan. If the liver becomes stagnant or does not function at the optimal level, metabolism will in turn become slower and less efficient. There are cleanses for everyone and it should not feel intimidating. A cleanse or detoxification program can be custom tailored to suit anyone’s lifestyle, intensity level, and financial status.

Mental and emotional health and relationships to food cannot go unaddressed in the process of losing weight. It is important to evaluate relationships with food and make sure that if there are bad habits or unresolved body image or self esteem issues, they can be addressed in an authentic and meaningful way. It may require significant inner reflection or counseling with your physician to identify the best ways to move forward. Constitutional homeopathy and acupuncture may be of great benefit in these types of scenarios.

The deeper investigations into reasons behind the inability to lose weight are worth looking into if it is an area of struggle or confusion. Several herbs within the pharmacy of naturopathic medicine have been identified to assist with fat metabolism and helping to decrease carbohydrate or sugar cravings. Clinical studies have shown great results with using herbal medicine in conjunction with a dietary and exercise plan. Herbs and other natural vitamins and nutrients are often used as an integral part a holistic weight loss program.

If you have any questions or are interested in discussing additional considerations as part of your weight loss or longevity plans, please feel free to be in touch.

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