Weight loss and the three S’s in Vail
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” Ever since 1990, the state of Colorado has had the lowest percentage of overweight and obese adults in the nation. Perhaps it’s due to the altitude, the myriad of recreational activities available, the 310 days of sunshine per year, or maybe the enculturation of a healthy lifestyle. Whatever the reasons, Coloradans tend to be just a little skinnier than the rest of the nation. Even so, many of us still seek ways to lose those extra holiday pounds. But where do we begin?
From a naturopathic perspective, an effective weight loss program should go beyond diet plans and exercise routines, which have failed so many people in the past. Of course, diet and exercise are absolutely essential to losing weight, but it’s important to address other facets of health in order to bring the whole person to a more optimal level of wellness. A good starting point is to address the three S’s: sleep, stress management and strong digestion.
Research is now demonstrating the importance of a good night’s sleep for weight loss. A 2004 study found that participants who had habitual sleep duration of less than 7.5 hours per night had decreased levels of leptin, elevated levels of ghrelin, and a higher body mass index (BMI). Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that work together to regulate the sensation of hunger and appetite. The combination of low leptin and high ghrelin significantly increases the desire for food, which compels us to eat more than we should. This demonstrates the necessity of getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night to ensure a healthy balance of these appetite regulatory hormones.
It is also imperative to modify your body’s response to stress. Any amount of stress, whether it is physical, mental or emotional, triggers the “flight or fight” response in the body and the release of cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol undermine any attempt at weight loss, as it suppresses stomach acid, slows down metabolism, promotes insulin resistance and diabetes, and encourages the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Fortunately, there are a number of effective remedies that can reduce the effects of stress, including herbs, calming amino acids, constitutional homeopathy, flower essences, lifestyle suggestions, and of course daily physical exercise.
However, in my experience, simple breathing exercises are perhaps the best place to start. Since we breathe 16 to 18 times per minute, or roughly 25,000 times per day, the breath is a tool that is always at our disposal. Unfortunately the great majority of people tend to breathe very rapidly and shallow into the top the chest, which is only accentuated under stress. For this reason I frequently recommend slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing, or “full-belly breathing,” to break this pattern and to encourage a calming response within the central nervous system.
To perform this exercise, start by inhaling slowly through the nose to force your abdomen to swell like a balloon, holding the breath for a moment, and then exhaling slowly and completely through pursed lips. Try doing at least 100 deep breaths per day. You’ll notice right away the relaxing effect on the body and mind. And in time, as you slowly retrain yourself to belly-breathe habitually, you’ll become much more resilient to the effects of stress. Some individuals find that putting little sticky notes around the home and workplace is an effective cue for reminding themselves to slow down and breathe.
In addition to watching what you eat, it is important to consider how you eat it. The manner in which you consume food directly affects the quality of your digestive process and determines to a large degree the state of your health. Good digestion then is an absolute prerequisite for healthy and permanent weight loss. Therefore, it is recommended that you:
– Eat at the same times every day.
– Eat the biggest meal of the day at lunch and avoid snacking between meals.
– Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar to 6 to 8 ounces of water and drink 15 to 30 minutes before each meal to help stimulate the digestive fire.
– Eat in a calm, peaceful and quiet setting; avoid stressful business lunches.
– Chew your food thoroughly and mindfully.
– Avoid drinking fluids, talking unnecessarily, watching television and reading the newspaper while eating.
– Lie on your left side after meals or take a short 15-minute walk after meals to improve digestion.
– Do not eat within three hours of bedtime.
This fundamental approach to weight loss is the antithesis of the quick fix. But the success of the naturopathic approach is borne out of the experience of numerous doctors and other holistically-trained clinicians. Master these subtle but effective recommendations and watch the pounds fall away.
Nick Bitz is a Naturopathic Doctor at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic. To reach the clinic, call 970-926-7620. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.