Q: Every year I gain 5 to 10 pounds. Sometimes I can take it off in the spring and summer, but not always. I've gained 50 pounds in the past decade, but it's so hard to avoid all the goodies during the holiday season. Help!
-C.C., Juneau, Alaska
A: There is no getting away from the reality that in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you ingest. While I don't suggest low- or zero-carb diets for everyone, they can help to kick-start a weight-loss program (especially for blood types O and B), but they typically are not sustainable.
Why not? Because we all want to eat carbs! Carbohydrates give quick energy, are readily available, are usually inexpensive, and are often tasty! So the trick is to be selective about your carbs and learn to avoid the processed white flour and white sugar "foods" that lurk everywhere. I employ several strategies with my patients to help them reduce carb cravings.
First, make a meal plan and jot it down. Be realistic; include snacks, but exclude high-calorie drinks, such as alcoholic beverages and sugary coffees. Each meal should contain some protein (fish, eggs, meat, legumes, tofu), some "good" fat (olive oil, flax oil, coconut oil), some good carbs (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato), and lots of veggies. Every meal, even breakfast, should feature veggies! Or breakfast could be fruit alone. Ideally, fruit would be eaten on its own, as a snack or a light meal.
The next important step for healthful eating is to give yourself time to sit down and chew thoroughly. It takes about 20 minutes for the "I'm full" signal (called satiety) to get from the stomach to the brain. The only way around this dilemma is to slow your eating.
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If you follow these suggestions, your stomach will begin to shrink a little, and it will become easier to know when you've had enough. Some diets allow a binge day or binge meal. I don't recommend that; it is counterproductive to stretch out the stomach again. Appetite management is key to weight management.
Here are a few more ideas to help control appetite. Be sure to eat the protein part of meals first. Protein takes longer to digest, and provides long-lasting fuel, unlike carbs, which give
a quick glucose boost, then-especially the really sugary stuff-cause a crash.
To reduce carb cravings, take 200 to 400 micrograms of chromium picolinate three times daily. This has helped my patients cut their sugar binges. Supplemental chromium has been shown to lower body weight and increase lean body mass.
Avoid appetite suppressants.Most pharmaceutical drugs used for appetite suppression tweak the serotonin, or norepinephrine, levels in the body. You are probably familiar with Prozac, Celexa, Luvox, and similar drugs that are said to "enhance" serotonin levels. The problem with these drugs is that in the long run (6 to 12 months), they actually suppress your body's production of the neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine primarily). This is a serious problem, because those who use the drugs depend on them for "normal" neurotransmitter levels. A much better approach is to promote your own internal production of the "feel-good" appetite-suppressing neurotransmitters, by ingesting the amino acid precursors. These amino acids include cysteine, tyrosine, 5-HTP, and dopamine. Dopamine can be generated in the brain by ingestion of the medicinal herb Mucuna pruriens.
Skipping meals is not a good way to lose weight. Exercise and a positive, self-loving attitude are mandatory for health in general, including maintaining a healthful weight. Being overweight is not genetic; that's a myth. Being overweight is a chronic disease.
A quick reality check for whether your weight is right can be done with a measuring tape. Ladies, your waist size should not exceed 34 inches. Gentlemen, keep your waist size no larger than 40 inches.
Learn what situations trigger cravings and binge eating. Observe yourself without judgment, and be willing to avoid the triggers. Make it clear that you want junk food, and its noxious effects, out of your life. It's your choice.