Have you read and tried all the latest health and diet crazes only for it to fail you? Do you make it your goal to drop a dress size to find that months of regular exercise have not made any difference? If the answer is yes, then you might want to pick up Accidentally Overweight by Dr Libby Weaver. A leading nutritional biochemist and seven-time number-one bestselling author, Dr Weaver takes diets out of the picture to explore nine other reasons you can’t put together your weight-loss jigsaw – such as your emotions and your body’s biochemistry. In Accidentally Overweight, she explains, ‘It is almost never just about the food; it is about a bigger picture.’ Ask yourself the following questions to find the missing piece of your weight-loss puzzle…
If your relationship with food is linked to pleasure…your missing puzzle piece is portion sizes. We were a little confused ourselves by this at first – after all, who doesn’t enjoy a good plate of food? But at a time when food is so (immediately) accessible, it’s easy to forget that food is, above all, fuel for our body and not simply a treat. ‘This is one of the main reasons why diets don’t work. Food is never the problem. It is the reason behind your poor food choices or desire for large portions that needs exploring and adjusting’, says Dr Weaver.
Solution: Make sure you eat enough protein and/or starch and greens with a high water content, for example courgette, radish, celery, green cabbage and broccoli. It can also take up to 20 minutes for our brain to register that our stomach is full, so one of the easiest ways to avoid over-eating is to serve meals on a smaller plate and eat slowly.
If you’re hooked on coffee… your MISSING puzzle piece is STRESS . ‘The reasons we crave a hot drink vary, but often it’s just a chance to catch our breath’, explains Dr Weaver. Today, stress is more psychological (responding to emails, sitting in traffic, attending a meeting) and we each have our own way of dealing with it. This might include running, writing, reading, phoning a friend or, the quickest and most popular fix, grabbing a coffee. But this can make things worse. Caffeine stimulates adrenaline and causes insulin to turn excess sugar into fat.
Solution: Take five minutes out of your day to breathe and think about what you’re grateful for: ‘You can’t feel stressed if you feel grateful,’ says Dr Weaver. Find it hard to unwind? Restor-ative yoga is amazing to relax the body and mind; you’ll come out feeling brand new.
If you suffer from regular bloating and headaches… your MISSING puzzle piece is the SEX HORMONES . While oestrogen ensures there is adequate body fat every month, progesterone works as an antidepressant and a diuretic by breaking down this body fat for energy. An imbalance of the sex hormones, with oestrogen dominating, could result in progesterone breaking your muscles down for energy rather than burning fat – in turn causing fluid retention, weight gain, migraines and other problems.
Solution: If you’re having problems with your menstrual cycle or reproductive system, take a four-week break from alcohol to detoxify the liver and rebalance the hormones. Swapping coffee for green tea can also help to support oestrogen metabolism.
If you’re always grouchy… your MISSING puzzle piece is YOUR LIVER. A saviour to the human body, the liver transforms substances that can be harmful into a less harmful form and works to excrete fatty substances, which is more commonly known as detoxification. And liver efficiency is directly dependent on how we treat (or mistreat) it. Mistreating your liver can kill cells, and fat will take over where these cells once were. This is what causes the ‘liver roll’, a small roll of fat that sits just beneath your bra. Tell-tale signs of liver mistreatment include a short temper, impatience and disturbed sleeping patterns.
Solution: If you know your alcohol consumption is high, only drink on weekends. Swap your coffee for green tea and up your vegetable, nut and seed count to load up on essential nutritious substances. Good fatty acid supplements to take for liver support include fish oils, flaxseed oil and primrose oil.
If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or regular bloating… your MISSING puzzle piece is GUT BACTERIA . As Dr Weaver says, scientific studies have shown that ‘the way we eat influences the species of gut bacteria that inhabit our colon. These bacteria eat and produce waste just as a human does’. What does this mean for your body? In short, eating the wrong thing can allow bad bacteria to grow, making it difficult for you to keep the weight off.
Solution: Gut bacteria thrive on sugar. Although eliminating refined sugars from your diet might not be the easiest step, it will be the most effective. If you find that too difficult, increase your intake of greens and quality organic produce and, over time, you may notice your taste buds begin to react differently to sugar and sweetened food.
If you’re constantly cold, constipated, confused or tired… your MISSING puzzle piece is THE THYROID. It’s not just our sex hormones that contribute to the burning of body fat – our thyroid gland is also hard at work producing hormones to drive our metabolic rate and capacity to burn fat. The problem? The essential nutrients needed to produce these hormones (iodine and selenium) are scarce in the soils of the Western world. Signs of an underactive thyroid gland include gradual weight gain over months for no apparent reason, feeling very cold and as though you can’t warm up, a sense of forgetfulness and constant fatigue.
Solution: Dr Weaver suggests the following three four-week trials: a grain-free diet to restore gut health, which is often at the heart of thyroid issues; a dairy-free diet; and a coffee-free diet. If your symptoms don’t change, it’s worth seeing a health professional to assess your iodine and selenium intake.
If your diet is heavy in carbohydrates… your MISSING puzzle piece is INSULIN. A common misconception is that the carbohydrates food group refers to just bread, pasta and potatoes. But in truth, it refers to anything that can be broken down into glucose – including cakes, biscuits, pastries, dairy, fruit and even some vegetables like pumpkin and sweetcorn. Insulin will transport the carbs-turned-glucose to your muscles and liver but the xcess is transported to your fat cells – which have an infinite capacity to expand.
Solution: Cutting out refined sugars, alcohol and cow’s milk are the best solutions here. Load up on lentils, root vegetables and berries, but limit fruit to two portions per day to reduce your requirement of insulin. Adjust your eating habits if you feel you need to, to perhaps eating more ‘sensible’ meals rather than ‘irrational’ choices because you’re ravenous.
If you have a sweet tooth… your missing puzzle piece is THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. One obvious reason why you might crave sugar is from habit and the infiltration of sugar into food supplies today. What you might not be aware of is that our nervous system works closely with adrenaline, in that when we need to take ‘flight’, our body automatically chooses to burn glucose rather than body fat for energy as it’s a faster process. So the more our body makes adrenaline because of stress or anxiety, the more it calls for glucose as a survival mechanism.
Solution: If you find yourself constantly feeling stressed or worked up, explore your perception of pressure and urgency. Dr Weaver explains: ‘Of course there are real pressures and real urgencies in this world, but save that perception for when you really need it, not your everyday existence.’ Embracing a more restorative practice and learning to slow down your breathing will help to calm your adrenaline.
If you’re in denial… your missing puzzle piece is your EMOTIONS. Despite myriad conflicting information and fad diets, Dr Weaver argues that we always have a general idea about what is good for our body and what isn’t – yet we still don’t adhere to it. ‘If you weigh too much for optimal health, then it is usually not a lack of knowledge that got you there.’ So the question is: why do we do it? Our emotions – whether that’s rejection, failure, guilt or any other negative feeling – can be difficult to brave alone so we choose an escape, often in the form of wine, cigarettes or food. But ‘blanketing’ the emotion like this only means you’re avoiding it and adding to the problem.
Solution: It’s important to identify what you’re trying to distance yourself from and why you feel that way. Exploring what it is that you want to feel can help you to unlock your emotions and work out why your food behaviours are so challenging.