As a naturopath, I take the same comprehensive, individualized approach to weight loss as I do with every other health problem. My unique weight loss system addresses all of the factors that may be impacting your weight. I provide patients with customized food recommendations and meal plans to help weight loss. Whether you are interested in a Paleo diet, vegan diet, Keto diet, or intermittent fasting, I can provide guidance and support to ensure your success.
What Factors Affect Weight Loss?
There are many factors that may influence your ability to lose weight. These include your:
- blood sugar
- insulin sensitivity
- cortisol level
- stress level
- calorie/protein and fat intake
- behavior patterns
- social support
- fat metabolism
- hydration, and
- medication side effects.
At my Toronto clinic, we’ll investigate all of the above.
You can read my published journal article on comprehensive weight loss below.
A Unique, Comprehensive, Naturopathic Weight Loss Program
Recent estimates suggest that by 2030 half of all Americans will be obese, not just overweight, but obese. As Naturopathic Doctors we know that weight loss is far more complicated than just calories in being fewer than calories out. For people whose hormones are well-balanced, thyroid is working optimally, and who do not have any metabolic problems like insulin resistance, it may be that straightforward, but for many who can’t lose weight, these problems are typically why it’s more complicated than calories in less than calories out.
Our thorough patient intake allows for a more detailed assessment of all the factors that may be causing or contributing to obesity. We can then provide a more comprehensive and lasting treatment approach.
Stabilize Blood Sugar
Except for diabetic patients, blood sugar will be within the normal range. But, if it’s frequently spiking within that range then production of insulin is also frequently increased. That means that insulin is also frequently promoting fat production. Blood sugar instability also causes carb and sugar cravings. This perpetuates the blood sugar and insulin roller coaster. Maintaining stable blood sugar, daily physical activity, and stress reduction are key issues for those dealing with weight problems.
Improve Insulin Sensitivity
The more frequently blood sugar spikes and insulin is produced the greater the likelihood of becoming insulin resistant. Once in that “pre-diabetic” state blood sugar will stay higher longer, increasing the demand for insulin and promoting more fat production. Zinc1, cinnamon2, and aerobic exercise3 improve insulin sensitivity.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, causes blood sugar spikes and insulin production, contributes to poor eating habits and obesity4. Stress reduction techniques like yoga5, tai chi, breathing exercises, meditation6, massage therapy7, regular physical activity, social support, and psychotherapy8 are vital components of a weight loss program where stress or past trauma are factors.
Moderate Cortisol and Support Stress Adaptation
Excess cortisol can lead to weight gain through higher blood sugar levels, suppression of T3, and increased reverse T3.9 Adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola Rosea, Schisandra Chinensis, and Eleutherococcus Senticosus moderate cortisol levels, improve mental performance, and increase endurance.10 Adrenal support with vitamins C, B5, and B6, magnesium, zinc, potassium and additional adaptogenic herbs like Panax Ginseng, Glycyrrhiza glabra, and Withania Somnifera improve stress adaptation and reduce excess cortisol output.
Excessive caloric consumption without an increase in energy output will result in excess body fat. All calories are not created equal though. The energy required to store excess dietary triglycerides as fat is very low (0-2%), for carbohydrate, is 6-8% and for protein is 25-30%.11 A shift from a higher carbohydrate diet to a higher lean protein diet will enhance energy burning.
Protein and Amino Acid intake
The amino acid building blocks for dopamine and serotonin, tyrosine and 5-HTP respectively, treat a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and obesity. Convincing evidence shows that these increase dopamine and serotonin levels within brain tissues and other organs. This suggests a possible role for their use in emotional or stress-related overeating and obesity.12 2.5 g of the branched-chain amino acid leucine triggers a post-meal tissue-building response that protects muscles during weight loss and increases the loss of body fat.13
One healthy habit can breed others. Breaking weight loss down into a series of achievable health-related goals, the achievement of which can fuel the next may help. For example, step 1: eliminate pop, step 2: take out white flour, step 3: cut out sugar, step 4: reduce coffee, step 5: take up an exercise program, etc. Behavioral strategies such as journaling and goal-setting provide improved weight loss results compared to programs without them.
You may need to cultivate relationships with other health-conscious individuals to succeed. This is particularly true if your friends and family engage in unhealthy diet or lifestyle behaviors. Online groups can also provide a sense of community and weight loss support. Websites like FitDay.com provide the opportunity to track calorie, fat, carb, and protein intake and seek support through the discussion boards.
Regular exercise is an essential aspect of maintaining health as well as a healthy weight. Diet alone just isn’t enough. It doesn’t require a huge time commitment, an expensive gym membership, or special equipment. Just foster the habit of going for a brisk walk every single day for 30 minutes. Research shows that a walk after a meal helps to lower blood sugar and insulin. An excellent resource for online workouts that you can stream on-demand is www.LesMillsOnDemand.com.
How to Fit in Exercise
If you have time constraints:
- get off the bus half an hour from work and walk the rest of the way
- get up earlier. Getting up before everyone else is up, prevents the demands of family or colleagues from interfering with your workout time.
- take a quick walk on your lunch hour
- park your car farther from work and walk
- do a quick walk as soon as you arrive home from work before starting dinner.
When to Exercise
Exercise needs to be a daily habit as vital to your well-being and as “not negotiable” as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The question is not “if” you are going to exercise today, but “when”.
Ideally, you should choose a time of day that is unlikely to be full of other demands. Also, a time when you still have the energy and determination to complete your workout. I find early morning works best. Because it starts the day off on the right foot and it’s unlikely your boss will call an unexpected meeting at 6 a.m.
Break Up Your Day with Exercise
Quick fitness breaks throughout your day are also a good idea. Every half hour or so get up from your desk and:
- throw on some Beyonce or Lady Gaga and bust a move
- drop to the floor and do 20 push-ups or sit-ups
- do some quick at your desk stretching and deep breathing
- do 20 squats combined with arm curls.
Humans were not meant to sit for 8 hours per day. We were meant to move and be active interspersed with periods of rest.
I find that most of my weight loss patients almost wish that they had a thyroid problem. It would explain why they keep gaining or can’t lose weight. But, less than 10% of obese individuals suffer from hypothyroidism.14 If overweight patients are indeed suffering from a hypothyroid condition I can help. We support healthy thyroid function with the appropriate amounts of iodine15, tyrosine, copper16, zinc17, and avoidance of excessive iodine or selenium18. Herbs like ashwagandha19, Schisandra, and Coleus can help to balance your thyroid function.
Treatment with the serotonin precursor 5-HTP has been shown to produce weight loss in the obese20. Norepinephrine and possibly dopamine can act as appetite suppressants21. Healthy therapeutic levels of these neurotransmitters provide safe appetite control. They reduce or eliminate emotional eating and carbohydrate/chocolate cravings.
There are significant side benefits to optimizing neurotransmitter levels: alleviating depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, PMS, fibromyalgia, migraines, hormonal dysfunction, HPA axis dysfunction, and digestive disorders. L-tyrosine, cysteine22, and 5HTP can help optimize neurotransmitters and facilitate weight loss.
Leptin and Adiponectin
Leptin is an important component in the long-term regulation of body weight. Increasing leptin helps to decrease food intake and increase metabolism. Adiponectin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that helps regulate the metabolism of fats and sugar. Optimizing adiponectin and leptin levels plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight. EPA has been shown to increase adiponectin levels.23 Mild weight loss from calorie restriction may have beneficial effects on leptin levels.24
Deficiencies of vitamin B3, B6, C, zinc, magnesium, choline, methionine, and inositol cause poor fat metabolism.
A study done in chickens fed a high omega-3 diet versus chickens fed a high saturated fat diet showed lower abdominal fat and higher T3 levels in the chickens fed the higher omega 3 diet.25
Supplementing choline and carnitine together with exercise shifts carnitine to a balance in the tissues that favors fat burning.26
Sleep and Hydration
Lack of sleep increases insulin resistance. Decreased sleep is associated with an increased risk for obesity. One study showed that even one night of fewer than 4 hours of sleep created insulin resistance in healthy people.27 Eight hours of sleep per night is optimal to maintain a healthy weight and insulin sensitivity. Good sleep also helps with self-discipline.
Patients who are chronically dehydrated may mistake thirst for hunger and eat instead of drinking. Drink water and herbal teas ONLY. Avoid intaking calories through sweetened drinks and fruit juices.
Medication Side Effects
Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications cause weight gain. Personally, I find medication side effects often very difficult to undo. If there is a possibility of decreasing or discontinuing these medications with the support of your doctor, your weight loss efforts may be more effective.
For help with this or any other health problem, book an appointment here or call the office for more information at 416-481-0222.
Authored by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
Dr. Pamela has been in practice as a naturopathic doctor in Toronto since 1999. She has been the recipient of numerous “Best Naturopath in Toronto” awards. She is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Pamela Frank uses a natural treatment approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, diet, vitamins, supplements, and other natural remedies to restore balance and provide long-term resolution of almost any health problem.
Weight Loss and Natural Medicine References
- Hormones (Athens). 2009 Oct-Dec;8(4):279-85. Effect of zinc supplementation on insulin resistance and components of the metabolic syndrome in prepubertal obese children. Hashemipour M, Kelishadi R, Shapouri J, Sarrafzadegan N, Amini M, Tavakoli N, Movahedian-Attar A, Mirmoghtadaee P, Poursafa P.
- J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2010 May 1;4(3):685-93. Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Qin B, Panickar KS, Anderson RA.
- Obesity (2010) 18 2, 384–390. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.274 A 12-Week Aerobic Exercise Program Reduces Hepatic Fat Accumulation and Insulin Resistance in Obese, Hispanic Adolescents. Gert-Jan van der Heijden, Zhiyue J. Wang, Zili D. Chu, Pieter J.J. Sauer, Morey W. Haymond1, Luisa M. Rodriguez and Agneta L. Sunehag
- Obesity (2009) 17 9, 1678–1683. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.76 Stress-related Development of Obesity and Cortisol in Women. Valentina Vicennati, Francesca Pasqui, Carla Cavazza, Uberto Pagotto and Renato Pasquali
- Med Sci Monit. 2010 Jan;16(1):CR35-40. Short term health impact of a yoga and diet change program on obesity. Telles S, Naveen VK, Balkrishna A, Kumar S.
- Complement Ther Med. 2010 Dec;18(6):260-4. Epub 2010 Nov 11. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D.
- Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2003 Oct;33(6):839-46. The effectiveness of aromatherapy massage on abdominal obesity among middle-aged women. Han SH, Yang BS, Kim HJ.
- Int J Eat Disord. 2010 Dec;43(8):701-6. A pilot study of interpersonal psychotherapy for preventing excess weight gain in adolescent girls at-risk for obesity. Tanofsky-Kraff M, Wilfley DE, Young JF, Mufson L, Yanovski SZ, Glasofer DR, Salaita CG, Schvey NA.
- Nihon Naibunpi Gakkai Zasshi. 1983 Aug 20;59(8):1086-98. [Pituitary-thyroid function in patients with Cushing’s syndrome–comparative study before and after extirpation of adrenal cortex tumor]. [Article in Japanese] Kitahara H, Imai Y, Yamauchi K, Tomita A, Mizuno S
- Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219. Epub 2009 Sep 1. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Panossian A, Wikman G.
- Obesity: Prevalence, Theories, Medical Consequences, Management, and Research Directions. Colin Wilborn, Jacqueline Beckham, Bill Campbell, Travis Harvey, Melyn Galbreath, Paul La Bounty, Erika Nassar, Jennifer Wismann and Richard Kreide. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2005, 2:4-31 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-4
- Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2009;5:227-35. Epub 2009 May 20. Both stimulatory and inhibitory effects of dietary 5-hydroxytryptophan and tyrosine are found on urinary excretion of serotonin and dopamine in a large human population. Trachte GJ, Uncini T, Hinz M.
- Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 Jul;13(4):403-7. Protein metabolic roles in the treatment of obesity. Devkota S, Layman DK.
- Hypothyroid – Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2002 Mar;31(1):173-89. Effect of obesity and starvation on thyroid hormone, growth hormone, and cortisol secretion. Douyon L, Schteingart DE.
- Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2003 May;73(3):187-91. Iodized salt consumption maintains euthyroidism in iodine-deficient hypothyroid subjects. Mirmiran P, Hajipour R, Azizi F.
- Endocrinology. 2009 Apr;150(4):1739-47. Epub 2008 Nov 20. Reversal of physiological deficits caused by diminished levels of peptidylglycine alpha-amidating monooxygenase by dietary copper. Bousquet-Moore D, Ma XM, Nillni EA, Czyzyk TA, Pintar JE, Eipper BA, Mains RE.
- Clinical Nutrition Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2009, Pages 162-168. Effect of zinc supplementation on the zinc level in serum and urine and their relation to thyroid hormone profile in male and female goitrous patients. Ghulam Abbas Kandhroa, Tasneem Gul Kazia, Hassan Imran Afridia, Naveed Kazib, Jameel Ahmed Baiga, Mohammad Balal Araina, Sirajuddina, Abdul Qadir Shaha, Raja Adil Sarfraza, Mohammad Khan Jamalic, Nasreen Syedd.
- J Nutr. 2003 Nov;133(11):3443-8. Dietary selenium intake modulates thyroid hormone and energy metabolism in men. Hawkes WC, Keim NL.
- Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998 Sep;50(9):1065-8.
- Curr Drug Targets. 2005 Mar;6(2):201-13. Serotonin (5-HT) drugs: effects on appetite expression and use for the treatment of obesity. Halford JC, Harrold JA, Lawton CL, Blundell JE.
- Curr Drug Targets. 2001 Dec;2(4):353-70. Pharmacology of appetite suppression: implication for the treatment of obesity. Halford JC.
- Brain Res. 2000 Jul 28;872(1-2):301-7 S-nitroso-l-cysteine releases norepinephrine in rat spinal synaptosomes. Li X, Rose G, Dongre N, Pan HL, Tobin JR, Eisenach JC.
- Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Feb;19(2):262-8. Epub 2010 Sep 2. Eicosapentaenoic acid and rosiglitazone increase adiponectin in an additive and PPAR?-dependent manner in human adipocytes. Tishinsky JM, Ma DW, Robinson LE.
- Nutr Rev. 2011 Mar;69(3):145-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00373.x. Epub 2011 Feb 14. Reliability of leptin, but not adiponectin, as a biomarker for diet-induced weight loss in humans. Klempel MC, Varady KA.
- Livestock Science. Volume 131, Issues 2-3, July 2010, Pages 287-291 Effects of dietary n-3 fatty acids in fat metabolism and thyroid hormone levels when compared to dietary saturated fatty acids in chickens. G. Ferrinia, E.G. Manzanillad, D. Menoyob, E. Esteve-Garciac, M.D. Baucellsa, A.C. Barroetaa.
- J Nutr. 2003 Jan;133(1):84-9. Carnitine and choline supplementation with exercise alter carnitine profiles, biochemical markers of fat metabolism and serum leptin concentration in healthy women. Hongu N, Sachan DS.
- J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963-8. Epub 2010 Apr 6. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, van Kralingen KW, Corssmit EP, Romijn JA.
Aune D, Sen A, Leitzmann MF, Norat T, Tonstad S, Vatten LJ. Body mass index and physical activity and the risk of diverticular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Nutr. 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s00394-017-1443-x.
● Even moderate increases in BMI may increase the risk of diverticular disease and complications. An increase in physical activity may reduce the risk.
Berti C, Riso P, Brusamolino A, Porrini M. Effect on appetite control of minor cereal and pseudocereal products. Br J Nutr. 2005; 94(5): 850-8.
● Alternative crop (buckwheat, oat, barley, spelt, rye, quinoa, amaranth) had higher satiating efficiency indices with respect to traditional cereal foods
Alpha Lipoic Acid:
Kucukgoncu S, Zhou E, Lucas KB, Tek C. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) supplementation for weight loss: results from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2017; DOI:1111/obr.12528.
● Alpha-lipoic acid, a naturally occurring antioxidant, was found to have a small but statistically significant effect on mean short-term weight loss when compared with placebo.
High Protein Breakfast:
Leidy HJ, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Higgins KA, Shafer RS. A high-protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in “Breakfast skipping” adolescents. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015; 23(9):1761-4.
● Daily addition of a high protein (35 g protein) breakfast prevented fat mass gains over the 12 week period when compared to control (skip breakfast), whereas normal protein (13 g) did not. High Protein (HP) led to reductions in daily intake vs. control, whereas Normal Protein did not. Only the HP group experienced reductions in daily hunger.
Electrical Assist Bicycles:
Peterman JE, Morris KL, Kram R, Byrnes WC. Pedelecs as a physically active transportation mode. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016; 116(8): 1565-73.
● This study found that pedelecs (bicycles that provide electrical assistance while the rider is pedaling) as a transportation mode in normally sedentary individuals was associated with significant improvements in 2-hour glucose tolerance tests and power output, only after 1 month of usage. Although not statistically significant, there were trends toward improved blood pressure and decreased fat mass.
Zeinalian R, Farhangi MA, Shariat A, Saghafi-Asl M. The effects of Spirulina platensis on anthropometric indices, appetite, lipid profile and serum vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in obese individuals: a randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trial. BMC Complement Altern Med.
2017; 17(1): 225.
● 500 mg Spirulina in twice-daily dose against control; fasting anthropometric measures taken at beginning and end of the trial (12 weeks); dietary intake assessed with 24-hr diet recall
● Spirulina group had a significantly higher decrease in weight and BMI; a significant decrease in total cholesterol, appetite; HDL-c significantly increased in both groups