What’s the best way to lose weight?

Many patients come to me with the goal of losing weight. They have seemingly tried everything from complex dieting, hiring personal trainers and life coaches, to intense calorie restriction and juice cleanses, yet nothing seems to work. Many methods work for a month or two and then the patient reverts back to their previous way of eating, often consuming more of the unhealthiest foods as a means of compensation for months of dieting. This cycle is repeated many times until the patient is discouraged and feels like lasting change will never happen. However, with proper education and dedication towards taking small steps in the right direction, lasting change is possible. In the following blog post, I’ll outline simple ways to take steps toward losing weight and keeping it off for years to come. 

What is metabolism?

Metabolism refers to the caloric cost of all biochemical processes in the body: digestion of food, maintenance of blood pressure, regulation of body temperature, protection from pathogenic diseases, production of ATP for energy, etc.  As metabolic rate increases, the amount of calories burned each day increases as well. Basal metabolic rate or BMR refers to the amount of calories burned while at rest. If you were to lie in bed all day your body would still be using calories to perform it’s essential needs, and the amount of calories you’d burn would be your BMR.  A main goal of weight loss is to increase the patient’s BMR (metabolism at rest), that way they are using more calories during the day, even when not exercising. One of the best ways to increase BMR is through resistance (weight training) exercise.

When we perform resistance exercise of appropriate intensity, we increase the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  An increase in lean muscle mass is important because the metabolic rate is directly determined by the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  As the percent of lean body mass increases, the metabolic rate also increases, resulting in more calories used throughout the day.  

An important point to remember is that lean muscle mass weighs more than fat.  This means that when you start performing resistance exercise, your body weight may initially increase. It is important to not get discouraged. Even though you are gaining weight, your metabolic rate is increasing and your percentage of lean muscle mass is increasing.  As metabolic rate continues to increase due to a higher percentage of lean body mass, you will eventually start to lean out and lose weight. I’ve seen too many patients get discouraged from an initial increase in weight and they end up missing out on the true benefits of resistance exercise.  

As an added bonus, one of the best ways to maintain the structure and function of your bones is through resistance exercise. Bones grow and remodel in response to external force.  You need to utilize barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and machine weight training to stimulate growth and repair in your bones. 

‘The Fat Burning Zone’: 

There is a common misconception that the best way to lose weight is through long duration cardio at a slow pace, such as taking long walks, slow jogging, or low level cycling on a stationary bike.  Most people have seen the charts on the treadmill or bike that highlight the ‘fat burning zone’ which supposedly gives the desired percentage of heart rate (HR) max that burns the most amount of fat.  The target zone is typically around 60% of the individual’s estimated heart rate max. While there is truth to the fact that our body’s burn more fat at lower intensities of exercise, the total amount of calories burned is much less when staying within the ‘fat burning zone’.  The amount of calories burned is more important than the percentage of fat being utilized for exercise. Higher intensity exercise such as sprints, repetitive jumping, resistance weight training, and plyometrics, burn more calories in less time and thus are more beneficial for weight loss.  

I prefer patients to perform short duration, high intensity bouts of exercise.  I’m not suggesting they completely give up taking long walks, or other forms of lower intensity exercise, but rather know the importance of getting their heart rate up and muscles firing in order to achieve a successful fat loss workout regimen.  Commonly known as high intensity interval training (HIIT), this training model uses short bouts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with brief periods of rest to reset cellular energy levels. The purpose of HIIT is to utilize and grow the body’s fast-twitch skeletal muscle fibers (type II fibers).  These fibers are responsible for sprinting, jumping, and heavy lifting, and are highly active metabolically (meaning they burn lots of calories). HIIT can be performed with running, biking, or with body weight exercises.  

A popular form of HIIT training is a Tabata workout. The classic Tabata protocol is 20 seconds of max effort high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest.  Complete this cycle 8 times for a total workout time of 4 minutes. Exercises include squat jumps, burpees, lunges, push-ups, or any movement that can be performed repetitively and explosively.  If you are new to HIIT training, instead of jumping right into a Tabata, consider performing interval training starting at 30-45 seconds of a moderately fast pace, followed by 20 seconds of rest, for 6-8 cycles.

Decrease inflammation to lose fat

A growing body of research is linking inflammation and obesity.  Obesity leads to inflammation in the body, and inflammation makes weight loss more difficult.  Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection and is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of tissue function. Inflammation can be looked at as the body’s alarm system. While an important and essential response to injury or infection, the body can kick on the inflammatory process in the absence of injury or infection.  When our body’s alarm system is in a constant state of activation, damage to tissues can occur. The most likely culprits of increased inflammation are diet, poor or absent exercise patterns, physical and mental stress, lack of sleep, and lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  

The common belief in human physiology for years was that after puberty, you are essentially stuck with the number of existing fat or ‘adipose’ cells in your body.  After puberty, the fat cells would only be able to shrink or grow, but the total number would stay the same your entire life. New research suggests this is not the case and that fat cells can die and even transform into other cell types such as muscle or neural tissue. This information should be very encouraging to an individual trying to lose weight. Even more interesting is the same research suggests that chronic low grade inflammation in the body makes fat cells more resistant to dying or transforming.  If the patient is seemingly doing everything, yet they are still not losing weight, look to inflammation as the culprit. Decrease inflammation in your diet by cutting out refined sugars and grains, corn, soy, pasteurized dairy, grain fed meat, and commonly used vegetable oils such as corn, peanut, safflower, and sunflower oil. Instead eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grass fed meats, pasture raised eggs, sustainably caught wild fish, coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, and a wide variety of spices (garlic, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, etc.).

Morning sunshine exposure

For each of my patients I recommend 10 minutes of sunshine first thing in the morning with as much skin exposure as possible. There are numerous health benefits to morning sunshine exposure, with the most important being the regulation of your circadian rhythm.  Think of your circadian rhythm as a giant clock, and at specific points in the day, certain hormones are released on a timed schedule. Cortisol, our ‘awake’ hormone, is released in the morning and is stimulated by UV light exposure from the sun on our eyes and skin. It’s important to get an adequate cortisol release in the morning to avoid elevated afternoon and night time cortisol levels. Cortisol is often wrongly referred to as our ‘stress’ hormone.  Cortisol release only causes stress when released in the afternoon and evening, when our body should naturally be shutting down and preparing for sleep. When cortisol levels are high in the afternoon, our body’s naturally crave refined sugars and unhealthy processed fats. You’ve probably noticed how you gravitate towards sweets and fast food when you are most stressed. You can avoid these cravings by making sure cortisol release in the morning is adequate.  

Leptin and ghrelin are two important hormones that also depend on an intact circadian rhythm to function properly. These hormones regulate appetite and need to be in balance if weight loss is going to be successful. Leptin is an appetite suppressor and ghrelin is an appetite stimulator. Leptin is released when our body has consumed enough energy from food and we no longer need to eat. Leptin is our satiety hormone, and tells our brain when we are full.  As you can imagine, if leptin release does not occur, we will not have the signal to stop eating and we will over consume calories and increase weight gain. Ghrelin does the opposite, stimulating appetite when our stomachs are empty. These two hormones work in alternate relationship to each other and both rely on a healthy Circadian rhythm to function. An excellent health initiative would be to visibly watch (no sunglasses/ no windows) the sunrise and sunset every day.  Balanced hormones, better sleep, improved energy, and better appetite regulation are some of the many benefits you’d get. 

In summary, three excellent ways to trigger weight loss are: 1) start performing a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program, 2) decrease inflammation through diet and exercise, and 3) regular sunshine exposure to optimize your circadian rhythm and hormonal balance. 

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.

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