Holistic Approach to Weight Loss
by Lisl Bennett
Lisl is based in Hoedspruit, South Africa
Disertation for the Higher International Diploma in Naturopathy by Lisl Louise Bennett
- Causes and effects of excess weight
- Holistic approach through nutrition, exercise, acupressure and herbal therapies
- Case study
My work as a weight loss coach has given me a new perspective on why so many people struggle to lose weight and keep it off. My initial judgement was that people should just eat less and move more. I have since discovered that many weight issues are much more complicated and are linked to serious underlying physical and mental health problems.
When most of my customers come to me to lose weight, they are on an array of drugs for various problems like insomnia, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol and arthritis. I have found that losing weight is a very good first step for many of them to deal with these long term chronic issues and potentially decrease or stop medication. The added benefit is that many of the husbands and children of these women have also reported significant benefits. The simple wish of the mother to lose weight changes the dietary and lifestyle habits and the long term health of the entire family.
Weight loss has become a huge industry worldwide. Unfortunately, it has been found that approximately two thirds of people who lose weight gain it back and more.
Causes and Effects of Excess Weight
The modern sedentary lifestyle, combined with habits of over-eating, stress and very poor food choices has led to an epidemic of obesity. In a country like South Africa, there are 2 main groups experiencing excessive weight gain:
- Youth in affluent households. This is because they are now doing less exercise, eating ready-made meals as their parents don’t cook and snacking on processed, nutritionally void food.
- Poverty stricken adults. It is an unfortunate fact that it is cheaper to eat badly than to prepare a healthy nutritious meal. These families eat almost exclusively refined sugar and carbohydrates like white maize meal and white bread. This large change from the subsistence farming with vegetables and lean meats of the previous generation has brought about sharp rises in obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this demographic. This is analogous to the fast change in eating habits that led to the rise in cancer in China that was the focus of the book, ‘The China Study’.
Obesity, or even just carrying a few extra kilograms, has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, complications in pregnancy and many chronic issues related to inflammation like back ache, allergies, asthma and arthritis. Excessive weight also plays a very real role in the increase in mental and emotional imbalances.
As we eat, the hormone leptin is secreted which is supposed to shut off the appetite and speed up metabolism. However, as you lose weight, leptin levels are decreased, telling your body you are hungry, slowing the metabolism and encouraging the storage of fat which is counter-productive to what you are trying to achieve. This is one of the main causes of yo-yo dieting and one of the main reasons that an holistic approach is more effective.
Holistic Approach to Weight Loss
I use many of the modalities I covered in my naturopathy studies to help clients achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss. Each program starts with a basic healthy meal plan but it is then developed depending on the specific needs of the client. The program encompasses the following aspects:
a. Diet and Nutrition
b. Breath and Movement
c. Lifestyle and Environment
d. Mind and Spirit
I believe that if people feel better while they are losing weight and learn the principles behind the choices they are making, they will be more likely to adopt those practices in the long term. I teach people why they should be acting in a certain way and give them the tools to empower themselves.
a. Diet and Nutrition
My clients understand that keeping the blood sugar levels even will help increase energy, lift mood levels, prevent cravings and decrease inflammation in the body. I teach them to do this by the following methods:
Eliminate Refined Sugars. The facts presented in the book, ‘Sugar Blues’ had a profound effect on my understanding of the real effect of refined sugar. Before then I had just thought it important to eat less. But now I think of it as an addictive toxin to be avoided assiduously. Refined sugar and processed foods containing hidden sugars are the first things I teach people to eliminate from their diets. Sugar can be hidden in many processed foods and even in food that is traditionally thought of as healthy like a ‘Lite’ salad dressing or Granola Bars. Misleading labelling can include the terms; dextrin or maltodextrin, maltitol, corn syrup, sucralose, HFCS
- Eat only Complex Carbohydrates. These include whole grains, vegetables, seeds and legumes. Since they digest more slowly, they release their energy more slowly so do not cause the problematic sharp rise and fall in blood sugar levels that leads to cravings and inflammation
- Combinations with Protein and Healthy Fats. By combining carbohydrates with a protein or EFAs (free from saturated or trans fats) their digestion can be slowed even more and so the blood sugar level can stay low. This is especially important when snacking. Instead of having just an apple, I suggest combining it with some almonds and a carrot dipped in cottage cheese will have a lower Glycemic Load so will provide a longer feeling of satiation
- Alkalising Juices. Every client who has adopted the practise of drinking a daily alkalising green juice has reported feeling the effects. Most startling is that their bodies start to crave their juice and they start to lose the taste for sweet foods
- A Variety of Nutrients. A plate full of many colours of fruits, vegetables and herbs and a meal plan full of a variety of interesting recipes will leave the dieter feeling satisfied as well as providing the full spectrum of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Obesity and nutritional deficiency are actually often linked.
Herbal Remedies. The modern mindset is still to prefer a quick fix – a pill that provides immediate relief for a specific symptom. This is why so many people still turn to diet pills, shakes and injections because they have been promised immediate results for very little effort on their parts. In order to meet this mindset expectation, I often use herbal teas as remedies. Using Hibiscus to help lower blood pressure, lemon balm to prevent insomnia and anxiety, fennel to soften cravings allows the client to feel they have a level of control over their symptoms.
Supplements. Even if we are making the best food choices possible, it is unfortunately true that modern farming and distribution practices result in foods that are lacking in nutrients. Most people can’t access or afford organic food so I recommend closing the nutritional gap with good supplements, including:
- Fibre – as fat is metabolised and toxins are released it is especially important to ensure that the elimination system is working effectively. Fibre also provides a feeling of satiation so helps prevent cravings
- Vitamin B Complex – required for proper digestion and efficiency when burning calories. Boosts metabolism and vitality
- Omega 3 – essential for good nutrition as often lacking in the diet. Helps digestion, decreases inflammation and helps with appetite control
- A multi-vitamin high in anti-oxidants – to ensure that toxins released from mobilised fat are quickly neutralised
- Chromium Picolinate (often part of a good multi-vitamin) – reduces sugar cravings and helps stabalise the blood sugar
- Essential Amino Acids (usually in the form of a Protein Powder) – a useful snack or meal replacement which lessens carbohydrate cravings and assists with the breakdown of fat
Hydration. It is important for good digestion and elimination. Drinking lots of water helps provide the dieter with a sense of satisfaction. I suggest purified water, herbal teas and naturally flavoured sparkling water. Most people live their lives chronically dehydrated and when they do drink, it is chlorinated tap water. Sufficient and properly purified water is essential to any healthy weight loss programme.
b. Breath and Movement
Diet without exercise is generally less effective. Luckily, keeping blood sugar even and eating a healthy diet often naturally raises energy levels so it is easier for people to start moving more. Regular physical exercise is very important for promoting the flow of energy in the body. Exercise helps increase metabolism, makes more energy available to you and improves your mood.
Physical activity, not necessarily exercise, is the key to healthy metabolism. I advocate constant gentle movement throughout the day rather than intense bursts less often.
Walking is one of the easiest and accessible activities that provides relaxing rhythmic movement and stimulation of the digestion. I always recommend walking in nature to achieve the full benefit of fresh air, sunshine and relaxation with an open and receptive mindset that will support the immune system most efficiently.
Movement does not always mean movement of the body but also of the energy, the blood and the lymph within the body. Dry brushing, massage or shiatsu, help stimulate lymph circulation, clear toxins and stimulate the immune system. The use of essential oils, such as a basil and coriander blend or nutmeg and rosemary blend, can help lift fatigue.
Qi Gong and Yoga have specific exercise to stimulate the digestive process, prevent stagnation or dampness and decrease inflammation which can help boost vitality, stimulate the fat burning process and alleviate any physical or emotional symptoms which may arise during the process of weight loss.
Acupressure is a therapy I often recommend to help balance the flow of energy in a body that is undergoing change. Acu-points that can be extremely effective in this case are LI10, St36, St40, GB20. I teach the client yoga moves, a breathing technique and the relevant acu-points and show then a self-stimulation routine so that they are empowered to help their own cause.
c. Lifestyle and Environment
Many lifestyle choices would prevent the client succeeding with the programme as they are part of the cause of the disease of obesity:
Drinking alcohol in particular needs to be discouraged as it is high in calories, causes sugar cravings and inhibits the metabolism of stored fat
By clearing toxins and pollutants from the diet and the environment, the body’s immune system has a chance to ‘relax’. By calming the immune system and not having it constantly in over-drive, inflammation is reduced and vitality is increased
Sufficient rest also needs to be encouraged. As the diet and habits are changed, so hormone and enzyme activity change. This causes fatigue and can have far-reaching consequences if the body is not cared for properly
Developing a lifestyle of generosity and kindness can actually help one lose weight. By creating positive feelings and boosting self esteem, good deeds cause a release of serotonin in the brain which makes one feel good about the process of losing weight
d. Mind and Spirit
Emotions play a large role loss as depression and anxiety create imbalances in the hormones of the body and promote weight gain. As fat is burnt and toxins and hormones are released back into the blood stream, this also affects emotions. It is important to provide emotional support during this period. I think that many people who fail to lose weight or are addicted to yo-yo dieting would have a better chance with proper emotional support.
The process of denial makes many people want more or they reward and binge after they feel they have been denied. It is therefore very important to create the atmosphere that weight loss is not about elimination of fats or carbohydrates. Rather, it is a matter of incorporating the correct types and amounts of food into a well balanced programme of dietary choices, supplementation, hydration as well as adequate exercise and rest. It is more about what you do for yourself, than about what you do without.
Those who have the emotional support and, even better, the involvement of their family and friends are more likely to succeed. Often it is a simple matter of pride that, since they have told people they will lose weight, they now need to make sure they succeed. I also recommend they keep a journal to track food, feelings, vitality, weights etc and spot difficulties as they arise.
People who have a very clear vision of why they are losing weight, whether it is something as simple as fitting into a dress or a very serious health challenge, do better than those who just think it would be ‘nice’ to be thinner. Focussing on why they are doing this programme rather than the process, the cravings or the hardships, makes it easier for them to make the right choices consistently.
A client came to me wanting to lose weight. But I quickly established that one of her main challenges was very high cholesterol and pain and inflammation in her knees so severe that doctors were recommending surgery. After a diagnostic session to determine her normal habits and the choices she was currently making for her family, we developed a programme including diet and supplementation, exercise, acupressure, meditation and psychotherapy sessions.
The main dietary change was to introduce breakfast that included all the essential nutrients especially protein. She had to sit down and eat consciously. By not skipping the meal we ensured that her blood sugar levels and moods remained more even through the day. Ensuring that she ate consciously, helped her appreciate the food and feel satisfied longer, which prevented unhealthy snacking later on.
Because she had been warned how dangerous her cholesterol count was, she was committed to sticking to the diet and exercise regime. But she still felt that it was ‘inflicted upon her’ – she had no sense of pride or appreciation for her body and no real sense of commitment to changing her lifestyle in the long term.
During an acupressure session, I determined that there was a blockage in her lung system that was not linked to the organ or respiratory system. As I released the blockage, she experienced a feeling of grief. We explored this during a Meridian Psychotherapy session and determined the underlying cause. Dealing with this emotional imbalance helped normalise hormone levels and released blockages in energy flow. She experienced a sense of increased energy that helped her move forward in the programme.
As her cholesterol decreased, she was sleeping better and had true energy for life. Almost as a side effect, she lost almost 10kg and the pain in her knees was so reduced that she was able to avoid surgery. Now, 1 year later, she has only put 2 kg back on and is living a more active and balanced life.
Weight loss is not just about eating less. It is about what and how you eat. But it is also about the whole person as excess weight is often a side effect of some other physical or emotional cause.
By approaching weight loss holistically and incorporating diet, supplementation, exercise, lifestyle changes, stress therapies and mind and spiritual balancing, one can ensure that the weight loss is healthy and sustainable.
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