‘What’s the best thing for weight loss?’ is the most common question I think I’ve ever been asked.
People search and search for the holy grail of weight loss and big companies make a fortune from promising people results. In reality, weight loss often just does not work like this, or not permanently.
Experiencing these symptoms?
Our approach to weight loss
The reason that a one-size fits all solution does not work effectively is because it does not address the underlying reasons that caused the weight gain in the first place. So, when a person stops taking the pills or following the diet, weight creeps back on again.
The metabolism is a process often talked about in a very simplified way, but it is an extremely complex process, which can be affected by a great number of different things. Identifying the ways in which an individual’s metabolism is affected by a person’s general health and treating those issues is absolutely essential, in order to support permanent and sustainable changes in weight.
The metabolism is not just one process. There are different metabolic pathways which add up to give an overall impression of a person’s metabolism. Put simply, anabolic pathways produce and build molecules, whereas catabolic pathways break molecules down. These metabolic pathways are influenced by the sum of our whole being.
For example, metabolic syndrome is a condition which highlights a common pattern between obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as a difficulty in tolerating glucose. It is usually quite easy to identify the signs of these conditions individually once the problem is advanced, however research shows that early onset is not always recognised by GPs, especially when signs and symptoms are more subtle.
Some of the other bodily processes which commonly affect metabolism include:
- Hormone levels
- Neurotransmitter activity, including factors such as stress or anxiety
- Thyroid gland activity
- Certain genetics
- Gut microbiome
Some people experience a ‘slow metabolism’ and look for ways to increase the speed at which it works. However, it is likely that these people have chronic health disturbances causing the metabolism to work less effectively.
Dieting and nutrition
The number of calories in food gives people something to count, but can you count on it to help you lose weight? Research suggests not. While calories can provide an indicator to the value of a food item, they also seem to have caused a lot of confusion, with people often equating calories to weight.
The number of calories tells us the level of energy a food item may provide but consuming only low energy foods makes people feel very tired, leading to further cravings for high energy foods. Our human instincts compel us to seek out food when we are hungry or need energy, so this is not an easy or effective way to lose weight. Afterall, nobody wants to spend their life in a state of hunger.
In reality, generic diets rarely work. Research has been conducted to review how effective the most popular diet plans are and when they were compared found that the two main issues with most diet plans are that they:
- Do not consider the quality of food
- Do not maximise the health potential of the individual.
Often those following a set diet plan end up feel extremely tired or unwell, though many do not associate a restrictive diet with the onset of new health issues. It is surprising to see that so many of the diet plans suggested do not include all of the nutrients needed to maintain good health.
Food has become a very confusing and complicated subject, with media headlines gaining attention by making bold statements, declaring what is currently good or bad for us. There is usually little research behind these stories and what they often fail to recognise is that there are unique differences in each individual. Something that is helpful for one person, simply may not be for another.
Our cultural or social background and our genetics can cause us to develop a preference to certain tastes and smells, which dictates to us our own range of ‘normal’ and favourite foods, so avoiding the foods which bring us most joy can feel like quite a drastic measure. Research shows that it is possible to change our taste and smell preferences through eating habits, and that certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or our hormone levels can cause us to experience an abnormal sense of taste and smell. Most of those living with an abnormal sense of taste or smell don’t realise it, though this can lead to loss of enjoyment in eating, or changes in eating habits such as strengthening flavours with salt or sugar.
An effective weight loss strategy should work for individual personal goals and barriers to weight loss, such as increasing energy, reducing appetite or sugar cravings, increasing fat metabolism, reducing water retention or aiding digestion/elimination.
A biological, but also psychological and social issue, obesity can impact physical health, sleep, productivity, social interactions and self-esteem. Often, a major part of a person’s weight loss journey requires an element of emotional support which could involve setting some personal boundaries or putting in place some extra support networks. These types of compounding or underlying factors may be also be resolved holistically, such as by providing a sleep or mood supporting solution.
It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of plants which have medicinal actions in the body and there is likely to be a variety of different herbal medicines which can be used to resolve or correct all sorts of different metabolic issues or underlying health complaints.
There are some helpful themes we can look to when choosing herbs for weight loss, such as the use of thermogenic plants including Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) or Green tea (Camellia sinensis), which increase energy expenditure. Encouraging elimination or digestive processes may be helpful for some with herbs such as Peppermint (Mentha piperita) or Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Digestive enzymes like Bromelain could be helpful, or probiotics, depending on the individual. Certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids are also crucial for fat metabolism, energy and appetite or sugar cravings and these can be gained through food or supplements where necessary.
A holistic strategy utilising a mixture of herbal medicine, nutrition and lifestyle advice is particularly helpful for weight loss. While there’s no single ‘best thing for weight loss’, the best thing is whatever is best for you!