When trying to lose weight one of the first questions we ask is – what should we take away from our diet? But maybe we should be asking what we can add to it, or better yet: what is missing?
Sometimes, even when we are doing most of the right things, like exercising intensely and eating well we can still have trouble losing weight. Our reflex is to keep taking away calories – less carbohydrates, less fats but there is evidence that suggests that all our bodies need is to add something small rather than take away something big.
We need to ensure that the entire ecosystem of our body is working efficiently for us. The number on the scale is a very simple representation of the various processes that need to occur between the complex network of interconnecting systems. If we really want to streamline weight loss (or muscle gain) we should begin by making sure we are doing what we can to optimize our endocrine, digestive, waste management, lymphatic and immune systems.
As a trainer, I used to try and make bigger changes to my clients’ nutritional and exercise programs when they would hit a plateau; take out more carbs, increase proteins, lower fat intake, implement higher intensity training cycles. Unfortunately, making these changes can add strain on the systems which we depend on to process such implementations. And if they are already taxed, then we end up moving in the wrong direction, even faster! Thankfully, we learn from our mistakes and I began to look for potential problems starting from the smallest measure upwards. We started looking at hormone profiles and blood tests for nutrient deficiencies.
The average diet is deficient in a number of micronutrients. Its just difficult to get everything you need, even when eating a balanced diet of whole foods. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to ask your doctor for blood tests to assess which nutrients are deficient and/or on the low side of the normal spectrum. For some people, simply being on the low end of normal is enough to disrupt optimal function.
Some of the most common deficiencies include –
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Dr. Fletcher of Harvard University and the co-writer of the new guidelines for the Journal of American Medical Association stated that “Even people who eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may not get enough of certain vitamins for optimal health..”. Since 2002 the American medical association has urged people to take at least one multi vitamin on a daily basis.
In 2010 a study was published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition on the Prevalence of Micronutrient Deficiency in Popular Diet Plans. They analyzed the suggested daily menus for such fad diets as the the Atkins diet, South Beach and the DASH diet, measuring calorie and micronutrient requirements. They concluded that following these diets produced a significant deficiency in multiple vitamins and minerals which are linked to an increased risk of disease such as obesity, osteoporosis, cancer,heart disease and birth defects. Lacking in multiple vitamins will not only stifle your attempts to lose weight it may actually make you gain more, not to mention put you at risk for other serious ailments.
Once you figure out what is missing you can try adapting your diet, or supplement specifically to your needs. Often times, a multivitamin will do the job for those who already eat well but may be a little low in a few nutrients.
A few other things may need to be added to our diets to improve the function of our intertwining systems – fatty acids, water and microbes.
One of the hardest things as a trainer is to help my clients control all of the factors outside of the training room – motivation, stress, mood and sleep being the main ones. Fixing vitamin deficiencies, adding omega 3s, staying hydrated and regulating gut bacteria can make for serious improvements in these areas. Motivation is not just an inherent quality, it is a brain process and in order to maintain it throughout the day we need hormonal balance, nutrients and rest! We fuel and train our muscles but we tend to forget about our mind. More studies suggest that the wrong kind of gut bacteria can effect immune function. This can lead to chronic inflammation and infections but it can also lead to depression and poor cognitive function. Being healthy takes effort when your days are busy with work, kids, etc., and it will all quickly become overbearing when you can’t think straight or are crushed by the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I’ve been there and it took everything I had to come out of it, but it started with fixing the small things.
You can get your gut working for you again by adding probiotic supplements to your day and/or by adding fermented foods to your diet like kimchi, kefir, kamboucha and sauerkraut! Think fermented foods are gross? Guess again…They are delicious! Okay, maybe not at first, they can be somewhat of an acquired taste but its worth trying…and then trying again. If you want to try supplementation, find probiotics that contain multiple cultures with several billion cfus. After a couple of weeks, if you begin to experience bloating or gas, you may want to stop taking the capsules for some time and then reintroduce them at smaller doses. It takes some time to figure out what your body requires for high function. I recommend starting with this probiotic.
Eating fish everyday can be expensive as well as toxic due to rising levels of mercury. Unfortunately, the oil supplement industry is part of what is driving up the price as well as devastating fish populations around the planet. If you can, find a supplement company that uses discarded fish in its oil production. Krill, mackerel and anchovy tend to be sources of oils that have less toxins. Recommended doses range from 2-9g/daily. If you are looking to lessen inflammation/soreness and improve immune function try taking 6g, spreading the dose throughout the day. I use this brand, because it is a 5 star brand – meaning they self test for accurate levels in their product.
As far as water goes, you’ve heard it before – drink more water and you will lose weight. How much though? No one seems to agree and I don’t want to add to the confusion. A study done in 2010 concluded that 2 cups of water before each meal helped participants lose weight when all other factors (more or less) were accounted for. In addition to these 2 cups, just drink water when you’re thirsty (no soda, juice or iced teas) and you should be good. I try to reach 2.5 litres/day.
So, if you are looking to lose weight, gain muscle or simply get healthier, ask yourself what you can add to your diet rather than what you can take away. Get some blood work done, or bring a detailed food journal to a dietitian and ask for an analysis of your micronutrient and fluid intake. Then watch as your body starts to work at full capacity. You will sleep better, be more productive, and be able to lose weight faster!