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Weighty Matters… How to balance the scales this holiday season

Throughout our lives our weight will change. In fact, throughout the day it will change. Sometimes we will be 10 pounds up and sometimes we may be 10 pounds down. As the culture of wellness evolves and matures, so too does the concept of “weight management”. The simple formula of calories out>calories in=SKINNY=HAPPY is laughably reductionist, but it is also quite harmful. The reality is that every BODY has its own ideal form. By this I mean you may have a genetic predisposition to an optimal body shape and your environment, nutrition, hormone function, activity, stress, and sleep all correspond to bring your closer to or further from that body equilibrium. The discussion around optimal weight often seems to be correlated to fat or a number on a scale. The risk in relating weight to fat is that we take away the context of the body composition; for example, muscle composition, or fat distribution. We also need to look at how effectively nutrients are being absorbed and how efficiently fuel sources are being burned. A much more holistic approach means understanding the factors that contribute to optimized physiology, function, and lowered risk.

While the holidays are often associated with indulgence, the time away from a routine can provide a much-needed reset. Here is how you can use this holiday season to build a plan to reach your “body equilibrium”.

  1. Testing, testing, testing:
    As mentioned above every-BODY has a unique genetic framework that you are working within. While your genetics are only one piece of the puzzle, they can help identify how you can optimally function. For example, do you have the genes that can help you efficiently metabolise coffee? Or derive omega 3 fatty acids from fish or algae sources? What about the genes that govern hormone metabolism? Genetic testing can be a powerful tool to a deeper understanding. However, you need to combine that with functional testing to understand HOW you are currently expressing those genes to really understand how your body is designed to distribute fat, build muscles and carry weight. Think of your genes as a blueprint of the house, how it gets built may be fairly different depending on the choices you make and the environment you are in. Hormonal testing (blood, urine or salivary) may be indicated, as well as vitamin and mineral levels. If digestion is compromised, you may require more specialised testing as well. All this to say that laboratory testing can take the guesswork out of why you may not be able to meet your weight goals. Further, you will be working with qualified (and regulated) healthcare professionals that can help contextualise thee results. They can then combine this with your personal and family history of illness to determine how much risk you may carry for certain conditions.  Take advantage of your extended benefit plans as well as access to your GP’s over the quieter holiday period and get empowered about understanding what is happening with your body!
  2. Optimize elimination pathways:
    You will never achieve optimal health if your cells are bathing in a toxic soup. It so important to ensure proper elimination of wastes that our body has developed multiple mechanisms to ensure we are removing junk from our bodies. When these systems are functioning optimally you don’t hold onto excess fluids (ie. Less bloating), you can extract more nutrients from food, and your hormones are properly removed and the feedback systems that regulate them flow much more smoothly. These systems are digestive, urinary, respiratory, the liver, and your sweat glands. How does one go about optimizing these processes? It can be quite simple:
    • a. Hydrate- if you find you have very cloudy dark urine, dry stools, flakey dry skin, and even bloating you may not have sufficient water intake. So, ask for a reusable water bottle in your stocking and get sipping.
    • Get regular- Our biggest elimination pathway is our digestive system. This one-way pathway ensures we can extract nutrients from food with the help of some friendly gut bacteria, and then the excess moves through you ideally as a well formed smooth brown log. Having regular bowel movements means 2-3 formed movements per day with no significant undigested food, blood, or mucous. Many more or watery stools may mean food is moving through you too fast, while many less means a sluggish bowel. There are a number of reasons that we can have either of these concerns- perhaps you don’t eat enough of the right foods, or the foods you are eating are causing a lot of inflammation and damage because you can’t properly break them down, or maybe you don’t have enough or the right kind of bacteria in your gut to break down the foods. So, you can begin by removing foods to which you are sensitive, healing the gut lining with l-glutamine, and taking probiotics which specifically increase the amount of butyrate. Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that helps repair the cells lining your intestines. It can be produced by the non-pathogenic strains of the bacteria Clostridium buytricum. Having this digestive support means that you can process the richer meals you may be consuming (though you still need to be mindful of portions!) You may also consider adding in a source of fibre such as hydrolyzed guar gum (particularly good for those with IBS as it is a low FODMAP fibre), or the prebiotic fibre xylooligosaccharide.
    • Move… the right way: try to make sure you are sweating at least 3X/week. Breaking a sweat is key as we eliminate a lot of toxins through sweat, increase muscle mass and tone which further helps our metabolism, and improves mood. Back to the discussion of genetics, different genes govern the type of exercises that may be best for you. So, depending on your genes and how prone to injury you are, you may be better suited to power lifting, HIIT workouts, or endurance sports. Find out which your body responds well to and build a consistent routine. Don’t use muscle cramps as an excuse to not workout. Instead, supplement with a good quality magnesium glycinate or malate which have cofactors that can increase absorption and act as an electrolyte fluid balancing solution.
    • Liver support: Your liver is the first (and last) processing center for many toxins and hormones. It also produces bile to help your body digest foods. So, supporting its function is KEY to supporting overall elimination and thus weight management. There are two phases in detoxification (aptly named phase I and II) that can be induced or slowed by a number of compounds. For example, grapefruit tends to activate enzymes that speed up phase II hence why it cannot be taken with certain medications. Dandelion root, green tea, milk thistle, NAC, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are known to help support liver function from a multitargeted approach. Which means that you are supporting the cells of the liver (hepatocytes), preventing damage of free radicals with antioxidants, and driving both phase I and II detox.
    • Just breathe…. The last elimination pathway is our breath! WE all know that breathing ensures we get enough oxygen into our blood to then go to all of our cells and produce energy. But it is also important for maintaining acid base balance, eliminating harmful gasses, and limiting oxidative stress to cells. Sure antioxidants such as glutathione and NAC can support function particularly in individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma.
  3. Manage your hormones (stress, insulin, thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone):
    I cannot stresshow much your hormones impact your metabolism, energy, and weight distribution. Hormones are long range signalling molecules that dictate cellular functioning. Further hormones have primary and secondary actions. For example, estrogen is imperative to the regulation of menstrual cycles, promoting growth of the uterine lining, and regulating fluid retention. Thyroid hormones help dictate our metabolism, i.e. how efficiently we are using up our fuel. Sluggish thyroids are related to slow metabolism and weight gain. Insulin helps deliver these fuels from the bloodstream, but insulin resistance happens when we flood the with sugars so the nicely regulated process collapses, leading to a whole host of issues. Finally, stress hinders proper metabolism and can result in a characteristic abdominal weight gain. The complexity of hormones and their regulation helps explain “stubborn” weight gain. You know when you gain a few pounds and it doesn’t seem to matter how much you exercise or restrict your calories you can’t get rid of it? You need to address hormone health. Luckily a lot of hormone health is tied to liver health, particularly in packing and eliminating estrogen and its metabolites. Other endocrine glands such as the thyroid, pancreas and adrenals often need additional support through nutrients and vitamins. For example, our adrenal glands require vitamin B6 and vitamin C so in times of stress it is important to replete these. Chromium, R lipoic acid, and cinnamon can support blood sugar regulation to prevent that insensitivity to insulin from eventually developing.
  4. Support your cells:
    There is a growing field of study related to how the little powerhouses of our cells, the mitochondria, contributes to disease. When these energy factories are stressed, we can’t efficiently convert fuel to energy, and end up creating a lot of smoke that then can turn off and on important genes related to healthy cellular replication. So, I’m sure you can imagine how this could result in some pretty serious side effects including fatigue, and weight gain. Thermally stabilized oxaloacetate is a key mediator in the Krebs cycle, a key process of energy production that occurs in the mitochondria. Supplementation is being researched for how it acts as a mitochondrial ventilation system by keeping the energy production running. Further it has been shown in animal studies to mimic the same physiologic processes as caloric restriction, similar to resveratrol.
  5. Explore all that nature has to offer:
    Nature once again provides us with an abundance of nutrients and compounds meant to nourish and sustain us. Botanical herbs provide a powerful apothecary of therapeutic ingredients and we have only begun to scratch the surface. As more evidence emerges, we realise that many traditionally used spices and herbs contain ingredients that help these elimination systems and keep our weight in the ideal range. For example, the exotic spice saffron contains constituents that not only support mood but also cardiovascular health and as a benefit promote weight loss. The catechins in greet tea also support weight loss by stimulating metabolism, liver support, and even muscle building. Sometimes the answers can be found within our deep traditions. 

So to summarize, we need to move away from a singular narrative about weight and instead shift focus to how we can improve function and achieve an optimal individualized weight that reduces our risk, considers our genetics, and ensures we have a high quality of life. We can achieve this first through assessing and understanding what our body needs on a genetic and functional level. Then begin to optimise our elimination pathways so we aren’t holding onto any junk our bodies do not need. Managing our hormones and addressing any dysfunctions will be imperative for lasting results. And finally, we can support our weight on a cellular level by influencing how efficiently and cleanly we are converting fuel into energy within our mitochondria. Effective weight management involves dietary, lifestyle and environmental changes and may even include supplementation for a period to help rebalance your system.

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