10 Ways to Lose Weight & Keep It Off: A Functional Medicine Approach
August 6, 2021
You only get one body, so it is important to treat it well. Everyone deserves to feel their best, and that means physically, mentally, and emotionally. Medical weight loss using a functional medicine approach can empower you to live a healthier style that you are able to maintain for years to come.
Obesity is a growing problem. As of 2018, more than 42% of adults in the United States were considered obese, with more than 9% qualifying as severely obese. Excess weight can take a serious toll on the body and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other problems. It can lead to reduced productivity, higher healthcare costs, and potential disability. These conditions can keep you from living the life you love and can put your health in jeopardy.
Why Traditional Weight Loss Methods Often Fail
If you have struggled to lose weight and keep it off, you realize how physically and mentally exhausting it can be. You are trying to improve your health through dieting and exercise, but you still may not be seeing the results you want.
Traditional weight loss methods often rely on the “calories in, calories out” approach of burning more calories than you consume. In theory, this works. In real life, there are other contributing factors that affect weight gain and weight loss resistance. Not every diet is right for your body, and there may be underlying health conditions that impact their effectiveness, such as hormonal imbalances, stress, vitamin deficiency, or thyroid disorders.
Certain diets are very strict about what types of food are allowed, or how much you consume. If you deviate from the plan, it can be difficult to get back on track because you feel like you have undone your hard work. You may be mentally tough on yourself, which can decrease your motivation and confidence in your ability to improve your health.
Another challenge is that sometimes a specific diet and exercise plan does not work for your lifestyle. You may have trouble finding the time or interest to do the prescribed exercises, and the foods you are supposed to eat may not be entirely appealing and may eliminate things you truly enjoy. For these reasons, it can be difficult to commit to a program that you are not fully engaged in.
How Functional Medicine Can Transform Your Weight Loss Journey
Partnering with a functional medicine doctor can change how you view your approach to weight loss and a healthier lifestyle. Conventional doctors often use a cookie-cutter solution of reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity, but do not provide specifics on how to effectively do so based on your needs. They may recommend medications or supplements to suppress your appetite or improve fat burning.
Functional medicine addresses all aspects of your well-being and takes this same approach with medical weight loss. The inability to lose those last few pounds or keep weight off is not only affected by what you eat or how active you are. Genetics, metabolism, hormonal imbalance, stress, mental health, and environment may all play a role as well.
In order to lose weight, you need to care for yourself and your body as a whole:
1. Set realistic goals.
Do not become overly consumed with reaching a certain weight. The number on the scale is not always an accurate reflection of your health. Many people think you have to lose weight to become healthy, but becoming healthy can help you lose weight. It is not a one-way street.
Focus on learning healthy habits so that you can make better choices about what you eat and how you spend your time. Break down larger goals into smaller parts so that you can see your progress and work your way up. Change does not happen overnight, and there is no magic pill or plan that will melt away the fat in a day or even a week.
Decide what you want to achieve, whether that is feeling better in the clothes you wear, having more energy, sleeping better, or finding more enjoyment in everyday activities because you are stronger and fitter.
2. Eat real food.
Food is what fuels your body and gives it the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function. Crowd out processed, packaged foods that are filled with sugar, dyes, additives, and preservatives by adding in a variety of fresh, whole foods into your diet, such as lean meats, plant-based proteins, whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats.
Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods that keep you feeling fuller for longer and provide you with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Foods that have little nutritional value add extra calories without much in return. Whole foods can also help stabilize blood sugar which can give you more energy.
3. Improve gut health.
Everyone has their own unique gut microbiome. Trillions of bacteria and microorganisms live in your gut and play an integral role in regulating your health. They support digestion, the immune system, and other processes throughout the body. If the balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria is off, it can lead to disease, weight gain, intestinal issues, and other problems. Some studies show a healthy gut microbiome may help with blood sugar control and heart health.
What you eat affects your gut microbiome. Incorporating more foods that are fermented (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or kefir), high in fiber (beans, legumes, whole grains, and fruit), or rich in prebiotics (apples, artichokes, asparagus, and oats) can increase levels of healthy bacteria. Taking a daily probiotic can also support better gut health.
4. Know trigger foods.
Pay attention to food intolerance or sensitivities, as well as foods that increase inflammation. There are tests that can help identify these issues, but making changes to your diet to reduce common triggers such as gluten, sugar, or dairy, can be beneficial as well. You can see first-hand how you feel when you limit these types of foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids may have anti-inflammatory effects, whereas omega-6 fatty acids may increase inflammation. Gluten and dairy can also increase inflammation if you are sensitive to these types of foods. Too much inflammation can stimulate the body to store fat rather than burn it, which can lead to weight gain. Eating more anti-inflammatory foods such as walnuts or wild-caught fish can be beneficial.
5. Be intentional about eating.
Where many people struggle with diets is that they are unsure about what to eat, or grab something convenient when they have not planned ahead. Create a weekly meal plan that outlines what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Prep meals ahead of time so they are ready to go when you want to eat, and there is minimal work involved to enjoy a nutritious dish. Keep some healthy snacks like nuts or whole fruit at your desk or in your bag for when you are on the go but need something to keep you energized.
Pay attention to your body and eat when you are hungry, rather than unconsciously grazing when you are bored, thirsty, or stressed. Stop what you are doing and make eating your focus, instead of working or watching television at the same time. This can help with portion control and make you more mindful of what and how much you are eating.
6. Find a nutritional strategy that works for you.
Not every diet works for every person. Finding a nutritional strategy that fits your needs, goals, and lifestyle is essential. You want to choose an approach that you can maintain long-term, and that encompasses foods that you like. If you are severely restricting yourself or trying to force yourself to eat foods you do not enjoy, you will be less likely to stay on track and see the types of results you desire.
You want to find a nutritional strategy where you are eating consistently good versus occasionally perfect. Aim for 80% of your meals and snacks to be in line with getting you to your weight loss goals, and allow for 20% to be foods you enjoy. Giving yourself this flexibility can empower you to still be successful without feeling guilty for eating an occasional treat.
Many people also find that intermittent fasting can be an effective approach to weight loss. There are several different variations, but generally, they revolve around eating during a set period of time, such as an eight-hour window, and then fasting the rest of the day, only drinking water or non-sweetened tea.
7. Address underlying conditions that are hindering progress.
Not all weight loss issues have to do with what you eat. Hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, metabolic conditions, and other issues can contribute to weight gain or weight loss resistance. You may need medication to help regulate these conditions and work in conjunction with other weight loss efforts, such as changes in your diet, physical activity, and stress levels.
8. Focus on stress management.
Stress increases cortisol levels in your body, and chronic stress means your body is always in this heightened state of alertness. High levels of cortisol can hamper your weight loss efforts and leave you feeling exhausted. In addition, you may be more likely to reach for unhealthy foods as a coping mechanism, which can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Make your well-being a priority and be proactive about reducing stress. This could include things such as practicing deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or journaling. You may consider changes you can make at work or at home to reduce the strain you feel and improve balance.
Your mental state affects your health. When you are not in a good place, it puts stress on your body, lowers your immune system, and makes it more difficult to commit to healthy lifestyle choices.
9. Prioritize sleep.
Your body needs time to rest and recharge, and this comes with a good night’s rest. Sleep can help alleviate stress and energize your body for the next day. Getting eight to nine hours of restful sleep per night can support weight loss, metabolism, and heart health.
Keep your room at a cool but comfortable temperature, and put away any electronics at least one hour before bed. The blue light emitted from electronics can increase rather than decrease stimulation. Give your mind and body time to decompress and settle into a deep slumber.
10. Have fun being active.
Physical activity is an important part of weight loss, but many people see it as a chore rather than a fun way to improve your health. Find activities that keep your body moving but also keep you engaged. If you do not like what you are doing, you are less likely to stay committed to it. Try a variety of activities to find what suits you and gets you into your target heart rate range. This could include things like cardio, weight training, Pilates, biking, power walking, or a fitness class. Exercise should complement your nutritional strategy, not take the place of it.
Take Back Control of Your Weight Loss Journey
Dr. Tracy Page at the Wisconsin Institute of Functional Medicine works closely with you to create clear, simple, actionable steps that take the guesswork out of weight loss. Plans are customized to your individual makeup, existing medical conditions, fitness level, lifestyle, and goals. Learn more about how functional medicine can make a positive difference in your health by listening to Dr. Page’s podcast and scheduling an appointment to discuss medical weight loss options.