Many of you who have found this site are genuinely looking, some more desperately than others, for ways to heal your body. It is actually my sincerest hope that this site (and my services) will show you ways to help you do just that. However, I realize that for many others, a primary deciding factor for whether these clean eating principles are followed and maintained is:
Will they help me lose weight?
Let’s talk about this question, because it’s a big one.
I remember feeling the same way – years ago – prior to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis, when considering clean, wholesome eating in general. I knew I should have been eating organic, whole foods for general health reasons, but I also figured that wasn’t really going to make me look better on the outside, so I wasn’t as compelled to take a closer look at the research (research outside of what you’re fed as a conventional practitioner).
I knew that Diet Coke and artificially sweetened products had a lot of crap in them, but hey, I was eating “healthy” and sticking to my 1500 to 1800-calories-a-day/low-glycemic diet plan. I was fit, looked good in my jeans, so why change it up? I’m sure the strenuous workouts I did 5-6 days/week had nothing to do with it.
Even with my deep background in nutrition, I’m embarrassed to admit that I really just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how chemicals from pesticides, artificial sweeteners, and foods I didn’t tolerate were viewed as toxins to my body. And I certainly didn’t acknowledge that in response to such toxins – and the inflammation they cause – not only did my metabolism slow down, but my body held on to water and fat.
I also never regarded highly enough how our bodies vary when metabolizing different foods. Conventional, Western-based weight loss principles are focused solely on consuming fewer calories than are burned. A calorie is a calorie.
While calories obviously play a role in weight maintenance, gain or loss, this principle fails to acknowledge that, like the favorite child in the family, our bodies give preferential treatment to those nutrients it loves the most.
The good news is this: weight loss is inevitable when you eat a clean, anti-inflammatory diet.
A summary of how the magic happens:
- Lose Not Just the Bloat, but the Bulge.
If you are consuming foods you have sensitivities to, you likely have excess bloating in your belly as well as swelling in your hands, feet, ankles, chin or around the eyes. This is due to fluid retention caused by inflammation and the release of certain hormones. But, the bloating is only the frosting on the muffin top when it comes to inflammation and weight loss.
Inflammation (inevitable if you are consuming foods you don’t tolerate) has been found to increase insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to obesity (not to mention perpetuating diabetes, high blood pressure and other factors leading to heart disease).
- Prevent Fat Storage.
With repeat exposure to toxins from food, our bodies can be overloaded with chemicals. When the amount of toxins exceeds what your body can process, they are isolated from the body’s systems in additional adipose tissue (a.k.a. FAT) as a protection measure. In essence, your body holds on to excess weight to dilute the toxicity.
In addition, when your gut bacteria (aka microbiome) is out of balance with more bad bacteria than good (aka dysbiosis), fat storage is promoted. This dysbiosis can be from many factors, but a diet high in processed foods, refined sugar and foods you don’t tolerate are key factors.
- Avoid Beefing Up (literally).
Here’s some food for thought. On its mothers’ milk alone, a calf doubles its weight in the first 6-8 weeks of life. A human baby takes 6-7 months to double its weight. The macronutrient makeup of cow’s milk, is designed for, you guessed it, cows. And unlike humans (thank goodness) cows weigh 1,600 pounds, give or take.
When you consume pasteurized dairy products that are not “organic” AND “grass-fed”, you are consuming the same synthetic hormones, steroids and genetically modified corn those animals were fed to drastically boost production — and profits. Cows are injected with bovine growth hormone, so you are consuming bovine growth hormone. Is further explanation even required to see why conventional dairy is not your friend if you’re trying to be lean?
Dairy also contains a large, hard to digest protein called casein. This is a common sensitivity for many, which I’ll detail extensively in later posts, but for now just know that this could be causing inflammation (and leading to the bloat and bulge referenced in point #1).
- Ensure Optimal Thyroid (and Basal Metabolic Rate).
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate energy is used (read: calories burned) while your body is at rest, (i.e., breathing, digestion, pumping blood…you get the picture).
And since this is a 24-hour function, the BMR is responsible for approximately 60-70% of the calories you burn in a day, making it much more important than the 45 minutes you spend draped over the Stair Climber.
The calorie-burning BMR is controlled by your thyroid gland, so a slowed metabolic rate – will result in weight gain. What causes hypothyroidism, you ask (besides inflammation)? One cause is exposure to environmental toxins, such as pesticides from non-organic foods. Such toxins act as hormone disruptors and interfere with thyroid function.
I don’t know about you, but my life is dysfunctional enough. No additional environmental toxins for me, thank you.
- Keep Insulin Levels in Check.
When we eat refined sugar and other refined carbohydrates, they are absorbed very quickly which causes a surge in glucose levels (also referred to as having a high glycemic index). This requires your pancreas to release a responding level of insulin to combat the high levels of glucose.
When high levels of insulin are released – your body is encouraged to store up calories as fat. Also, to add to our theme, prolonged levels of elevated insulin contribute to inflammation, and vice-versa.
Don’t despair – I am not here to say that you have to become a total carbohydrate-phobe to keep your weight in check. Eating a clean diet can include eating high-fiber, whole grain carbs to slow the absorption into the bloodstream and avoid spikes in that fat-storing insulin. I will show you how to choose and enjoy whole (gluten-free) grains, beans and legumes, nuts and lots of whole, organic fruits and veggies so that you are not feeling deprived.
- Avoid the Pitfalls of Refined Sugar.
Refined sugar won’t just pilot your insulin levels into skyrocket mode, it can steer your overall health into a nosedive. Sugar has been found to be as addictive as cocaine. And we build up a tolerance just like we would for any other drug.
So if you do the math, you will find that one Oreo leads to twenty.
A sugar habit won’t land you in the clink, but it can still conjure up a mighty long rap sheet. Calories from sugar are metabolized differently than other foods. Sugar metabolism, especially in the case of processed fructose, can result in the attack of nerve endings and a fatty liver – contributing to strokes, diabetes, hypertension and possibly dementia and cancer. It disrupts mineral and enzyme function, which, not only can initiate new or worsen existing food sensitivities, but leads to toxicity and inflammation in various organs and tissues of the entire body.
- Don’t Just Avoid Inflammation, You Fight It.
Avoiding inflammation is the common denominator in all of the above points because it is a big contributor to weight gain. But we’re not just playing defense here. While there are many foods to avoid, there are also plenty of foods to consume as part of a clean diet to actually fight inflammation. The key players here are essential fatty acids (EFA’s), especially from fish oil (flaxseed is a vegan source). Green leafy veggies, nuts and certain herbs and spices are also strong inflammation fighters and highly encouraged in a clean, anti-inflammatory diet.
- Fire Up Your Metabolism.
These aforementioned, rock star EFA’s are “good fats” that are needed by the body to make hormones and maintain the body’s metabolic rate.
In addition to fighting inflammation, they increase thermogenesis, also known as fat burning. A deficiency may do the opposite by causing cravings, particularly for fatty foods.
And if that isn’t enough good news, let me share with you that the calories from certain types of EFA’s – namely Omega-3 and Omega-9 fatty acids – are not as easily converted to body fat as other oils and fats (like Omega-6 fatty acids and some refined saturated fats). Much more on fat later.
- Get Full, Fast.
Whole foods that are high in nutrients, essential fatty acids and fiber and low in refined sugars will keep your appetite in check by triggering your feelings of satiety earlier than processed foods and artificial ingredients. And as mentioned above, your essential fatty acids will also keep cravings under control.
So when you recognize that you’re full sooner, you have a greater chance of not tripping over your sugar craving and falling head first into a vat of cookie dough.
- Cut the Crap.
I know this is an obvious one, but worth mentioning. When you choose whole, unprocessed foods, especially if you’re cutting out gluten and/or dairy, there aren’t going to be a lot of donuts and candy bars on the menu. So by making the whole foods choice, you’re sidestepping all the crap, and heading that much closer to your svelte self.
Throughout all of this, no calculators or food scales are required.
As living proof, I’m two kids deep but I feel better and look better now (with a lot less effort) than I did in my pre-baby life, which pretty much consisted of working out five days a week, restricting calories, and eating whole grains and low-fat foods (including low-fat dairy).
But most importantly, I was finally able to get off the calorie-counting crazy train. I realized that when I stopped working against my body, my body starting working for me, especially when fueled by clean nutrients. If you asked me how many calories I eat today, I couldn’t even tell you.And I exercise about one-third the amount of what I used to (this is not a recommendation, just my current situation – having almost every waking moment devoted to working, traveling and kid-wrangling).
My goal here (and going forward) is simple but impactful: a paradigm shift.
I hope you end up focused on the quality of your food, and the effects they have on your health. I hope you are compelled to stop counting calories and fat grams, and instead, start consuming foods with ingredients you can pronounce.
Most of all, I hope you come back to read – because there is so much more to share. I aim to inspire, provide answers, and give you a reason – and a way – to get and stay healthy.
Your new found belief in the power of clean eating awaits.
Happy new year!
Note: there are some people with additional sensitivities and health conditions who would benefit from at least a short-term avoidance of all grains and other food categories, including certain beans, fruits and vegetables.
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- Hyman, Mark. The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety and Sharpen Your Mind. New York: Scribner, 2008.
- Lustwig, Robert, MD. “Sugar: The Sweet Killer.” Interview. 2014 Food Revolution Summit. 2 May 2014. Radio.