Yes, I led with unicorns—because they are lovely and we all wish they were real, but they are not. The same thing is true about magic weight-loss products. There is no fast and easy way to lose weight. We all wish there was a pill that made our pounds disappear, but in truth, weight loss is much more difficult and complicated. Here are the depressing statistics. Among Americans 20 years of age and older:
• More than two thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
• More than one third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese.
• More than one in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity.
• Almost three in four men (74 percent) are considered to be overweight or obese.
• About 8 percent of women are considered to have extreme obesity.
Generally speaking, overweight is a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30, and obesity is a BMI over 30. Extreme obesity is a BMI of 40 and over.
Frankenfoods Are Not Helping
The bigger question (no pun intended!) is why are two thirds of adult Americans struggling with their weight? Many point to the adulteration of our food supply and exposure to thousands of chemicals that didn’t exist in the history of the planet until the last few decades. Others point to the decline in outdoor, active jobs as more people sit at desks and in cars. We also have to consider the explosion of sugar consumption, which has jumped from an average of 30 pounds a year in the 19th century to more than 200 pounds today, taking it from the category of occasional delight to deadly toxin. Americans also eat a lot of carbohydrates beyond sugar—200 pounds annually of flour and cereal products, which is up from 138 pounds annually in the 1970s.
The Stone Age Meets the Space Age
However, there is another factor we need to consider, too: we are designed to hate being hungry, and our bodies do not like to lose weight. The degree of these two statements vary amongst individuals, but in essence, they are universally true. We are Stone Age bodies living in a modern world. Mother Nature protected us by giving us strong impulses, conservation-based metabolisms, and intense motivations to acquire and consume food. Unfortunately, now we have to fight against these very gifts that once ensured our survival. Now the impulse to eat all we can while the food is plentiful and pack on as much fat as possible is not a way to survive the harsh, lean winters of the past, but a recipe for type two diabetes.
Therefore, for meaningful changes in body composition, there is no simple one shot solution. Diet and food choices are extremely important, but there is disagreement on the best for ongoing weight maintenance. Is it vegetarianism? Paleo? Ketogenic? Calorie counting? High fat? Low fat? I have seen weight loss success with all of these types of diets, though I think eating more protein and plants and far less carbohydrates is very healthy in the long term for most people. Likewise, activity is important. Did you know that muscle at rest burns more calories than fat at rest? If you looked at two 150 pound identical twins, one mostly muscle and the other mostly fat, the twin with muscle would be able to eat a great deal more food without gaining weight than the twin without muscle.
There is also a role to be played by dietary supplements. While no supplement will compensate for complete inactivity and a processed food diet, there are many that are clinically validated to provide benefits for people making an effort to lose weight. I can’t list them all without writing a book, but here are some that are quite interesting and useful.
Fight Your Miserly Metabolism
Our body burns fuel (food) for energy. However, there are some issues that can interfere with the efficiency of that process. First, you need thyroid hormone to kickstart this process. Most, if not all, people who struggle with their weight likely need support to improve thyroid function. This doesn’t mean everyone is hypothyroid, but that doesn’t mean a sluggish thyroid isn’t contributing to difficulties with weight loss. The thyroid gland is dependent on a single mineral to make thyroid hormone: iodine. Unfortunately, iodine is greatly diminished in our food supply, and there are a number of chemicals that block iodine in our cells. The three most prevalent are chlorine (bleach and sanitizer), fluoride (often added to toothpaste and water supplies) and bromine/bromide (found in commercial baked goods, brominated flour, many soft drinks and more). You can fight back with supplemental iodine to compensate for these losses.
Second, as you begin to lose weight, your Stone Age metabolism says, “Wait! We are losing weight! We don’t have any food! We better switch into sleep mode!” This means our metabolism slows down and holds on to every calorie as if it were the last. This metabolic slowdown is responsible for a plateau in your diet. The best supplemental way to wake up a sluggish metabolism is with iodine.
There is more than one form of iodine on the market, but most are single or combinations of potassium iodide, sodium iodide and molecular iodine. I like the combinations, as it provides more varieties of this essential nutrient to the body. A good dosage is 3 to 6.25 mg daily, though some doctors recommend up to 12.5 mg or more in some situations.
Trick Your Stomach Into Believing That You Are Eating More
As the walls of the stomach are stimulated by the presence of food, signals are sent to the brain that we have eaten to the point of fullness. There is always a delay in this signal. In some people, the signal is sent rapidly in mid-meal and they feel full and stop eating. In other people, especially those that struggle with their weight, the signal is quite delayed. That is the reason you often feel fuller a half hour after you finish eating dinner than at the end of dinner itself. If you pause occasionally while you eat, set your fork down between bites, and slow down, you will reach satiety with less risk of overeating.
Another way to address overeating is to start before the meal by taking a supplement designed to trigger fullness signals in the stomach. Fiber is an excellent choice, because it is a super sponge that absorbs more than its weight in water. One type of fiber that has been clinically studied to aid in a weight-loss program is called chitosan. Chitosan usually comes from shrimp and crab shells, but a newer source in Europe utilizes a vegetarian chitosan derived from plants in the fungi family, which includes mushrooms and edible fungi.
In a published human study, 64 people were given the plant fiber complex prior to meals and the rest were given placebos. There was no restriction on diet and exercise. At the end of 90 days, the placebo group gained a little weight, about a half pound. The treatment group lost about seven pounds. This is encouraging, because people ate their normal diets without restriction. There were also improvements in BMI, visceral fat and abdominal, hip and waist circumference. Researchers know that one mechanism of action is mechanical. The swelling fiber in the stomach prior to eating allows people to feel fuller without going back for second helpings. However, fiber has another function: it naturally absorbs fat. It does not block fat, or interfere with the enzymes that digest fat. But since it is a sponge, absorbing fat reduces calories absorbed and contributes to weight loss, too. These two activities combine to support weight loss in people starting a regimen of lifestyle changes to achieve a healthier BMI.
A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
If you look at the scale in dismay because there are too many numbers between your current and ideal weight, do not despair. Recent science shows that even a modest weight loss of 5 percent can make a huge difference in your overall health. For example, if you are 200 pounds, losing just 10 pounds can be quite beneficial for cancer prevention, blood pressure levels and the health of your heart. Adding healthy eating and physical activities can further you along to reach your goal, and scientifically validated supplements can help, as well. VR
“Overweight and obesity statistics.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx. Accessed: April 3, 2017.
“At a Glance 2016: Diabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/pdf/2016/diabetes-aag.pdf.
Doggui R, El Atia J. Iodine deficiency: Physiological, clinical and epidemiological features, and pre-analytical considerations. Ann Endocrinol (Paris). 2015 Feb;76(1):59-66.Review
Trivedi VR, et al. Single-blind, placebo controlled randomised clinical study of chitosan for body weight reduction. Nutrition Journal. 2016;15(3).
Cheryl Myers is an integrative health nurse, author, and an expert on natural medicine. She is a nationally recognized speaker who has been interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Prevention magazine. Her many articles have been published in such diverse journals as Aesthetic Surgery Journal and Nutrition in Complementary Care, and her research on botanicals has been presented at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Menopause Society. Myers is the head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc.