With the New Year, you may be motivated to make yet another stab at your weight loss attempt or have already felt defeated with the progress you’re making. Clients who come to me often eat very carefully, exercise regularly, and feel like they’re doing everything right, but they feel stuck because the weight is not budging. Does this sound like you? Diet and lifestyle are the obvious factors that are driving the weight merry-go-round, but there are other underlying causes that can throw a wrench in your progress. If you’ve already exhausted yourself with diet and lifestyle and are not getting the results that you’re looking for, then tune in. You may be surprised at what’s keeping you from shedding those extra pounds and causing inflammation in your body.
Find Out What Your Food Triggers Are
Most people don’t think of trying a food elimination diet if they’re having difficulty losing weight, but this can be very insightful into uncovering your hidden symptoms and a powerful push in dropping stubborn pounds. Food allergies are often easy to identify because it triggers an extreme reaction. However, identifying food intolerances or sensitivities are not easy because the symptoms can be vague. Helping clients uncover food sensitivities is one area I work with in my clients. And often the results they get are extremely shocking once the food is eliminated and then reintroduced properly.
Food sensitivity testing can be useful in some cases, but they can also commonly generate false negative and false positive results. The gold standard for testing is by doing an elimination diet to test your bodies response. If you’re new to an elimination diet and don’t know where to begin, then a good base to start from is by taking the foods out of your diet that you frequently eat every single day. For most people, it’s gluten and dairy. These two foods commonly make their way into every meal, if not all three. They are also two foods that I see that cause the most issues in people.
Weight struggles can also be a result of an autoimmune disease. Now if you have an autoimmune condition or have already tried a gluten and dairy-free diet and are still experiencing symptoms, then following the Autoimmune Paleo diet can be very helpful in further determining the foods that could be problematic or unhealthy for you. This diet eliminates nightshade vegetables, grains, eggs, beans, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds, and a few others. Now keep in mind as you’re eliminating these foods, you’re also following a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet as this is key for any diet you follow. You will also want to strictly avoid these potentially reactive foods for a minimum of two to six weeks, and possibly longer before you introduce each one at a time. For more information on how to effectively do an elimination diet, stay tuned for my next post.
The Scoop on Thyroid Dysfunction
The health of your thyroid has a direct impact on your metabolism. And when your metabolic function is disrupted, you gain weight that is not easily lost. A very classic symptom of low thyroid function is weight gain despite adhering to a low-calorie diet. The body is throwing up a flag saying, “Pay attention to me.” If you’re one of these people, you may have a thyroid problem. I recommend requesting a full thyroid panel that includes TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3, TPO Ab, and TGB Ab. You can develop a thyroid disorder at any age, so routinely checking a full panel is recommended if you have a family history or have many classic thyroid symptoms.
Unfortunately, many thyroid disorders don’t get caught early leaving many people suffering. This is because their labs fall within the “normal” range when they get tested, or only a TSH test is ordered. What’s considered “normal” for most thyroid markers in conventional medicine is by far not optimal. If you have thyroid symptoms, but your doctor states that everything looks great with your labs, it’s worth your health to seek out a holistic or functional medicine practitioner that can take a closer look for you and possibly address the conditions that caused the thyroid to slow down if that is indeed the case. Further, a lot of people feel that if they get on thyroid medication they will lose weight, but since it doesn’t address the root cause of the thyroid imbalance, it often doesn’t work.
Address Gut Infections
If our gut health is poor, we suffer. Most chronic diseases, including obesity and weight gain, benefit greatly when we heal our gut.
If you think of your gut in terms of a garden, this will help you get a clearer picture of how important gut health is. For healthy plants, you need healthy soil that is balanced with the proper pH and nutrients so your plants can thrive. The same goes for your gut. If the balance of healthy gut flora is disrupted by things like stress, alcohol, high sugar intake, poor diet, and certain medications like ones to suppress stomach acid and antibiotics, then this will lead to dysbiosis, which is just an imbalance of healthy gut flora. Now if your garden has a poor pH, then it increases your chances of developing invasive weeds and may result in increased problems with disease in your plants. Again, the same goes for our gut. If your healthy flora is disrupted, common infections like parasites, Candida, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can easily develop.
In my practice, I suspect dysbiosis in anyone with digestive issues, which include symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and reflux. You can test for gut pathogens, but some of the best functional stool tests can have false negatives, so I tend to rely heavily on symptoms. Cleaning up the diet and adding probiotics and fermented foods can help, but it’s often not the fix, especially if you have a very invasive weed in your garden. A more targeted approach would be warranted using antiparasitic and antifungal herbs to properly restore balance.
Address Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies are due to many things including certain medications, stress, diet, lifestyle, and heavy metal toxicities. If we’re deficient in a vitamin or mineral, it can create other deficiencies and also affect other body systems including our hormones and our ability to effectively detox. So, if you’re trying to lose weight and you lack certain nutrients, this can slow down your metabolism. Deficiencies can also create many symptoms that one would likely get you prescribed a drug that would further deplete the very nutrient that caused the symptoms in the first place; It’s a vicious cycle!
Vitamin D may be the first deficiency caught because it’s commonly the only vitamin that is included in a health screening. Vitamin D is extremely important to address if deficient or suboptimal as this can affect your ability to lose weight. Others important nutrients to look into include zinc, selenium, vitamin A, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B12 because they are all required for the thyroid to function properly, which affects your metabolism. Symptoms and medication history can be used to determine which supplements are appropriate, but testing is ultimately the best, especially if you continue to struggle with symptoms and weight issues. Sometimes testing individual nutrients is all that is needed, but for a more comprehensive approach, I prefer to check a whole panel. I use SpectraCell’s Micronutrient test as it measures 31 vitamins, minerals, amino/fatty acids, antioxidants, and metabolites at an intracellular level.
It’s next to impossible to avoid most of the stress we encounter in our lives often due to a full-time job and family life, but how we view stress and how we handle it can make a significant difference in how it affects our health. Cortisol is the most powerful stress hormone that is associated with weight gain, especially around the belly. Small cortisol surges are normal and healthy to get us through the day, but chronic surges in cortisol not only contribute to weight gain but the inability to lose it too. If you’re constantly analyzing or thinking about negative events, are in an unhealthy relationship, or are miserable at your job, they are all contributing to your weight.
Mind-Body exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, breathwork, meditation, and scheduling daily self –care are ways to attenuate the stress response and reduce the risk of stress-induced diseases. They’re also powerful tools in moving your life in a more positive direction so that you’re in a healthier state to make needed changes to your life. However, just like exercise, you have to do it consistently to experience the benefits, so you will want to find something that you enjoy doing that you can commit to.
Stick the Course
Once you make up your mind to adhere to a specific health protocol, don’t stray from it. And when you do, get right back to it. This will make for easier adjustments if needed to continue your weight loss journey. If you hit a plateau or get stuck with your progress, seek support to get you moving in the right direction.
At the end of the day…just remember that every step you take is a step that is moving you closer to your goal. If you feel you need a little extra guidance, you can contact me.
,Spring is almost here! And in the plant world, that means full bloom! As I am planning new additions to my garden and spending more time perusing the farmers market now that the weather is warming, it got me thinking a lot about how much of an impact these two habits have become in my life. As a dietitian who has counseled hundreds of patients suffering from chronic symptoms and as someone who has personally gone through my fair share of health challenges, I have developed a strong passion for not just healthy food that will nourish the body, but also sustainable, locally sourced food. By implementing these not so common tips, you too may begin to build a stronger connection with the food that you eat, resulting in improved health all around.
Get To Know Your Local Farmers
The benefits to both the consumer and producer are huge! With the growth in the organic movement, more people are recognizing the importance of chemical-free produce and are taking an interest in what farmers are using on their crops and how they are raising their livestock. When you buy directly from farmers, you are supporting both small, independent farms and your community, and in doing so, you learn where your food comes from and how it is produced. The seasonal fruits and veggies that you will find at the market will be extremely fresh and tastes better too! You don’t get this luxury by visiting your local supermarket. You’ll soon catch yourself leaving those mealy, bland grocery store tomatoes behind once you discover new seasonal treats like Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple tomatoes that are bursting with flavor!
When I first started going to farmers markets, I would go casually once or twice a month. But over time, and as I began to talk to the farmers and learn about their family and farming practices, I found myself going every weekend in rain, snow, or shine to get the freshest and tastiest produce available. It’s also therapeutic, in a way, knowing where my food comes from, the nourishment that we receive from it, and the support that I am providing to these hard-working families.
So where does the large majority of our food even come from? Factory farming is where the majority of the meat and dairy in the U.S. is produced. Factory farming is an operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Because many of these animals are intensely confined, they have to give them antibiotics in their feed so they can stay “healthy” and not wipe out the entire livestock. The animals are also given antibiotics to help them grow. (1) And they are fed a diet that is grain based and most often genetically modified, which is not their normal diet and can make them sick. What does this translate to us? When you consume animal products that have been raised on a foreign, antibiotic enriched diet, this chronic low dose exposure has the potential to damage our microbiome.
Support Your Microbiome
The human microbiome consists of trillions of microbes that inhabit our bodies, and imbalances in the microbiome have been associated with cancer, autism, asthma, diabetes (type 1 and 2), inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, as well as many other diseases. (2) It is well known that antibiotics alter the gut microbiome, and the alterations that occur can last months to years. (3) Overexposure to antibiotics both in medical use and from the consumption of animal products that were raised on antibiotics has also been linked to the rise in antibiotic-resistance. One study found that the abundance in antibiotic resistance genes were highest in the antibiotics that have been on the market the longest as well as those that had been approved for animal use. (1)
Industrial agriculture uses high amounts of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that pollute the environment, compromise ecosystems, and alter our gut microbiome. Synthetic chemicals that are used on crops are a global concern as these endocrine disrupting chemicals can interfere with our delicate hormone balance resulting in both developmental and reproductive abnormalities. (4) There is also growing concern regarding the impact that they can have on our gastrointestinal tract function. A study conducted on rats found that exposure to low doses of pesticides caused morphological changes in the intestinal epithelium, increased intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation, and was associated with an imbalance in the intestinal microbiota. (5) When purchasing produce, you will want to look at the Dirty Dozen list, which is a list composed by the Environmental Working Group where they ranked 48 items from worst to best for pesticide residue load. Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, and apples are some of the worst ones that are at the top of the list, so you will want to buy organic to avoid high pesticide exposure. Others like sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, and cabbage are at the bottom of the list meaning they have lower amounts of pesticide residue. I recommend buying and growing organic as much as possible, but if you’re on a budget or unable to get organic, this list is great to help you prioritize your purchase. (6)
Get More Bang For Your Buck
Farmers markets allow you to ask farmers how they raise their animals and how they grow their crops without having to just rely on the certified organic seal or grass-fed label. You’ll find many sustainable farms that don’t use pesticides, but they are not certified organic. Talk with the farmers and ask them if they use chemical fertilizers or pesticides and how they deal with pests. Ask them about the diet of their livestock and if they’re raised on pasture or given antibiotics. Purchasing antibiotic-free, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and eggs, as well as pesticide-free produce, are just a few ways that you can control and limit the amount of toxins that you are exposed to as well as a way to get more nutrition from the food that you eat. Pastured animal products have been shown to have a superior nutrient profile compared to their grain-fed counterparts. Research shows that grass-fed beef is lower in total fat, and higher in omega 3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), Vitamins A and E, and the antioxidants glutathione and superoxide dismutase. (3)
My little one helping me in the garden
Grow Your Own
There are numerous benefits to growing your food. It saves you money- especially on organic produce, allows you to eat in season, increases your intake of fruits and vegetables, guarantees that your food is fresh, and it can be a valuable tool that helps you to teach your children healthy nutrition and eating habits. I love growing my food and having it easily available. A little effort on the front provides a healthy abundance of food that lasts all season.
Get The Most Nutrients Out of Your Food
When you eat food that has been picked fresh from your garden, or that was grown locally, you are provided with one of the richest sources of nutrients and beneficial microbes that can be offered. Most of the food that we eat is shipped long distances before it reaches our plate and is picked before it is ripe. Farming practices specifically related to soil fertility have a big impact on the nutritional quality of the produce that ends up in your mouth, but other factors include storage and temperature. For instance, research done on stored spinach showed higher loses in folate and carotenoid content when stored at temperatures of 50 and 68 degrees. The same loses were shown with cooler temperatures at 39 degrees and longer storage times at 8 days. (7)
Gardening Made Easy
You don’t have to be an experienced gardener either nor do you need a lot of space. Raised bed gardens are my favorite way to grow because it cuts down on weeding and makes planting and tending to the soil so much easier than having to amend existing soil. If you’re tight on space, use pots to plant strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, squash, and a wide assortment of herbs. For trailing plants use cages, trellises, or stakes to allow them to climb. However, the one thing you do need to have is enough sun. If you live in a shady spot, purchase from your local farmers as you will still be able to reap the benefits as if you were growing it your own.
How to decrease sugar intake and overcome a sugar addiction
The average American consumes 66 pounds of added sugar, per year, if eating the standard American diet; this translates into about 19.5 teaspoons every day. (1) Added sugar is found in processed and packaged foods and is added for a variety of reasons: It improves taste, balances spicy, bitter, and sour components of sauces and marinades, acts as a preservative, and makes certain foods more palatable so people will eat them. Sugar is added to many foods, not just the ones that are intentionally made to be sweet, so it’s easy to eat a decent amount of added sugar in one day without even touching the sweets. Then we have the holidays that are typically entertained around an assortment of sugary foods, drinks, and desserts. After a full month of holiday parties, events, and gifts filled with peppermint bark, Christmas cookies, chocolate truffles, and other rich desserts, you’ll find yourself starting the New Year with a raging sweet tooth, making the health goal you have set for the New Year that much challenging.
Sugars addictive nature has been well researched, and numerous studies are indicating that it’s addicting in the same way as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin. Documentation both in human and animal studies show that drugs of abuse and certain types of palatable foods like high sugar foods, cause a release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, which stimulates the brain’s pleasure or reward centers. Further, clinical studies using brain imagining show the same dopamine receptors lighting up in some obese people after ingesting palatable food as when alcoholics and drug addicts use alcohol or addictive drugs. (2,3) Could sugar be the most popular drug? It appears to be that way given the effects it has on the body, minus the short-term side effects. But what about the long-term side effects?
The ingestion of sugar causes inflammation within the body, and when consumed in excess over an extended period, can lead to many chronic diseases, not to mention tooth decay. Some of the top health problems include increased risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Some less common side effects that are not usually associated with sugar intake include mood swings, anxiety, depression, memory loss, and impaired learning. The effects of sugar are different for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others, and in those highly sensitive individuals, significant behavioral changes manifest that can significantly impair their quality of life. In children, the effects that sugar can have can be seen more on the extreme side from tantrums to outbursts and other behavioral and learning problems.
Improve sugar cravings and decrease sugar intake
I'm Meagan Reynolds- a registered dietitian and certified functional medicine practitioner in Nashville, TN who teaches people how to reclaim their health so they can be the brightest version of themselves. My specialty is in thyroid disease and the many symptoms associated with it. I'm passionate about helping my clients find the root cause of their symptoms and supporting them on their healing journey.