Lately I've been doing a lot of research on fat—about the subcutaneous kind that sits under your skin, about the kind that dwells deep inside and smothers your organs, about how the kind you eat may or may not lead to the first two types, as well as everything else that has been causing our collective waistline to widen, despite a boatload of best intentions and dozens of diet books rolling off the presses each year.
I've been thinking about my own experiences with weight—what made it go up, what made it go down. I've been thinking about various clients, readers, friends, family, and colleagues who have shared their weight loss struggles with me over the years. Sure, some had what you might call "text book" issues. They ate too much and moved too little. When they dialed back the intake and turned up the output, the weight came off. But others? Not so simple. It was like the system was broken.
So I found myself nodding along an awful lot when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, which turns overeating and obesity into a chicken and egg riddle: "What if it's not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?" It's a compelling, intelligent read that treats these seemingly out of control weight issues as what they are—symptoms of a disease or in some cases, an injury—a sign that something in the system is actually broken.
I like this approach for many reasons. First and foremost I appreciate that it makes weight a less emotional issue. We might blame ourselves for getting sick or twisting an ankle, but we generally don't beat ourselves up endlessly over it. We take steps to get better. If you look at too much weight through the same lens, the actions are the same—and it's not just a matter of eating less or moving more (the former isn't always true...though the latter nearly always helps). It's a matter of making your human machine work better.
The following are tips I've personally used successfully, seen others use successfully and/or have come from trusted authorities who use them successfully in their professional practices. I'm not saying that these steps will melt away all your excess weight (I'd so be a billionaire if I could guarantee that). But none of them will hurt you. All of them will make you healthier. So there's nothing to lose, but maybe a little unwanted weight.
1. Tune up the system: Your gut is the hub of your health—nearly everything passes through there. If it's not working right, there's trouble. Many of us have troubled guts because we've damaged the healthy bacteria and microbes that we need for good digestion with a limited diet of processed foods, too many antibiotics, acid blockers, and NSAIDS. Overhaul your system with yogurt, kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, which help promote good gut health.
2. Cool the inflammation: Inflammation wreaks havoc on your health and makes it nearly impossible to lose weight. In fact, your body is more likely to store fat and hold onto its visceral fat stores when it's in a state of inflammation. That's bad. What's good is plenty of sleep, leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, which help cool inflammation in the body. Ignore these 7 Worst Diet Myths of All Time.
3. Emphasize quality over quantity: Eating real, recognizable food close to its natural state is always preferable to eating processed anything, even if it has more calories. Sure all those snack packs of Cheetos and miscellaneous chips only have 100 calories, but they provide zero nourishment, may contribute to inflammation, and provide little to no satiety.
4. Shake the mouse: Sitting disease is real. When your large muscles, like those in your legs, sit idle for hours, your system starts shutting down and your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar gets out of whack. Metabolism experts liken it to your computer going to sleep when you stop tapping the keys. So just as you shake the mouse to keep your computer from slipping into energy conservation mode, you need to move your muscles to keep your metabolism from diving into hibernation. Get up and stand for a few minutes at least once an hour.
5. Go hard—really hard, and easy—really easy: Managing blood sugar, inflammation and your metabolism are all essential for maintaining a healthy weight. The right blend of high-intensity exercise (sprints, intervals and hills, oh my) combined with appropriate recovery to let your body heal and adapt seem to do the trick.
6. Accept the fact that some food is really crap: Finally, I'm just gonna say it because I feel like it needs to be said: Some food is absolute garbage. All that stuff about "there is no bad food" is one big fat lie shoved down our throats by food lobbyists. Soda? Crap. Ding Dongs? Crap. Garbage. Zero redeeming food quality. Does that mean you should never have a plate of Hostess Ho Hos washed down with an Orange Crush? Nope. But realize, recognize, and respect that you're eating garbage and though your body will forgive you here and there, if you do it daily you'll probably hurt yourself and have to start over from square one and dig into your tool kit to make a few (or more than a few) small repairs. (You can start by fixing these 6 Worst Eating Habits.)
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