Confessions of an overweight doctor
Yes, it’s true. Along with the majority of the country, I’m overweight – obese, in fact. I’m also a doctor. I’m a chiropractor and functional medicine practitioner, and I help people lose weight every single day. I have successfully managed my own autoimmune disease (Multiple Sclerosis), balanced my thyroid hormone dysregulation, leveled blood sugar spikes, and corrected nutritional deficiencies all without the use of drugs. I’ve done this for patients, too. However, I’m still a big girl.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I feel the need to be brutally honest with myself and my patients. Obesity is one of those topics that is easily written about by the thin and easily avoided by the not-so-thin, myself included. It’s often boiled down to “eat less, move more” ideals, and many take that advice to extremes – 500 calorie diets and 4 hours a day at the gym. There are quick weight loss gimmicks, multi-level marketing programs, 21-day fasts, and wraps that all guarantee to make you lose weight in no time. Unfortunately, this seems to be what most people are looking for, the magic bullet that will melt away fat quickly with very little effort. On the other hand, there are multiple authorities (nutrition experts, doctors, personal trainers) who say it’s easy to lose weight. You just have to put the right foods in your face and work out a little bit more. I would guess that most of these authorities have never been overweight. Even worse, they break it down into the “calorie in, calorie out” mentality, while you sit in the corner eating your rice cakes and drinking your diet soda because, calories. Well, I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing my friends on Facebook look for the next big thing. I’m tired of seeing so-called experts talk about something they’ve never had to experience. So here I am, ready to share with you everything I’ve learned over the years and discuss what can truly make a difference in our weight loss journeys.
It’s not really as simple as experts make it out to be, is it? I mean, I’m a doctor. I know how the body works. I know biochemistry and physiology like the back of my hand. Why is it that I haven’t lost buckets of weight in a short amount of time even though I eat less than 1500 calories and move all day? To be fair, I’m currently 100 lbs. down in a year’s time, but that’s not really considered fast or impressive by most standards. It was much more impressive in my teens when I lost 60 lbs. in thirty days. Anorexia will do that to you, though.
The truth is, no, it’s not as simple as just putting the cookie down. It’s not about joining a gym and working yourself to exhaustion. It’s certainly not about replacing calorie-rich foods with fat-free, calorie-free alternatives. In reality, there is no such thing as a healthy, quick weight loss program. Managing ideal weight is something we have to do for a lifetime. Think about it, I didn’t gain 100 extra pounds over night. Why in the world would I be able to lose it successfully in 21 days?
So what is it really about?
Well, I’m assuming we’re on the same page now: just say “no” to popular quick weight loss schemes. They just can’t work in a healthy, long-term way. What can work, however, is understanding how the body functions and what makes weight loss happen.
There are a few ground rules we need to discuss first:
- Calories do matter, but quality of food is more important. You cannot tell me 200 calories of broccoli is the same as a 200 calorie candy bar. Nope. Not the same at all. I don’t let my patients count calories when they’re eating real food. Now, if we’re talking about eating something processed, yes, calories matter. Take away point here: eat real food.
- Exercise does not have to be difficult. If you don’t currently exercise, start by walking around the block. If you spend hours in the gym already and you are still overweight, you may have a gene variation getting in the way. Plus, if you work out too much you may tank your hormones. That’s a whole other blog post though.
- You cannot lose weight if you do not have a proper sleep schedule. Go to bed by 10pm and wake up by 6am. Trust me. This will help. You heal when you sleep. Your body resets during this time, and it really helps your hormones balance. This might even be more important than the food you eat – maybe.
- Stop with the body shaming. Look at yourself each day in the mirror and tell yourself you’re beautiful. Really. I mean it. If you think negatively about yourself, you will never lose weight in a healthy way. The negativity eats away at you, and nothing will ever be good enough. Stop it. You’re beautiful.
- Don’t feel guilty for wanting a treat or a day off. If you want one cookie a week, by all means, you might be able to handle it. Just don’t eat the cookies every day. Food shaming is just as bad as body shaming. The feeling of guilt can damage your psyche. Let it go.
I could probably list a multitude of rules here, but let’s get down to the science of it all. There are three things your body needs before it can lose weight.
First, inflammation needs to be under control. This is probably one of the biggest obstacles for myself and most of my patients. Inflammation is caused by various factors, including foods, environmental toxins, and nutritional deficiencies. Since this is my blog, I’ll tell you about me personally. I’m sensitive to wheat and dairy. I can feel my joints expanding if I eat Tex-Mex, and oh, do I love Tex-Mex. Breakfast tacos used to be my life blood. I digress. . . Wheat and dairy inflames my joints. They also set my MS symptoms off, big time. It was rather easy for me to give them up, knowing that I would be in less pain. It also happens to be the only thing I’ve changed in the past year, and “poof,” goodbye 100 pounds! Now, I’m sure I have other sources of inflammation, but those were two of my biggest triggers. You probably have your own inflammatory triggers, and when you remove them from your life you will see results. The best way to start this is by keeping a food journal. Write down what you eat and how you feel every day. See if there are any common denominators. Also, consider how refined carbs and saturated fats play a role here. They are highly inflammatory foods, and there is actually a gene that makes you more susceptible to inflammation with their consumption. Just cut them out!
Secondly, while this plays into inflammation as well, your microbiome (gut bugs) needs to be balanced. Most of the standard American food we eat gets rid of good bacteria in our intestines and helps grow bad bacteria. This is a problem. This imbalance leads to fat storage, insulin resistance, mood disorders, and altered immune systems. That’s not good! You cannot lose weight when the microbiome is altered. How do we fix this? There are a number of things we can do: increase your veggie intake, take a probiotic (yogurt doesn’t count), and take additional fiber. Get checked for the FUT2 gene variation. If you’re a non-secretor status, you may have significant issues with gut dysbiosis. Balancing your microbiome may be something you need to work on with a functional medicine specialist. Once balanced, watch the weight come off. Keep in mind, however, this is not an overnight procedure either.
The third and final thing I think plays the biggest role in weight loss is stress management. How many of us are over-worked and under-paid? Unfortunately, our bodies are paying the price for our stress. We don’t sleep well, we eat on the go, we run from soccer practice to choir practice in one evening, and our jobs are not inspirational. This leaves us feeling exhausted most days, and we can’t wait for “wine-thirty.” I’ve seen the memes. I know this is how most of you feel. I’m the same way. I’m a small business owner. I have massive student loan debt. I’m trying to save the world one patient at a time. I get it. This constant stress, however, puts our nervous system into overdrive. It’s as if a tiger is chasing us 24/7. While our bodies can run quickly when this first happens, eventually they wear out. As an undergraduate student, I used to thrive on the pressure of a deadline. It was an adrenaline rush to write a 20-page paper over night. Now, I just want to sleep. I can’t handle late-night study sessions or even socializing with friends past 9pm. It’s not that I’m old. It’s that I put my body through so much stuff that it has shut down. It’s basically said, “Good Day!” I imagine yours has done the same. Again, I must point out the importance of sleep. My mother died several years ago. I didn’t sleep for a year after. I still don’t sleep well. I can tell you that the emotional stress of that event (and others) has kept me in a constant state of limbo when it comes to weight loss. Your body has probably done something similar. I don’t have a catch-all solution for stress management. Some people like to color. Others like to meditate. Some people sit on a beach. Find something that puts you in a relaxed state and do it daily. Take care of yourself first for once. Get this aspect of health down, and weight loss can start.
Obviously, weight loss is a huge topic, one that I cannot tackle in a single blog post. I do, however, want you to realize that there are specific aspects of health that will either impede or promote weight loss. While there are quick options, the only healthy way to lose weight and keep it off is to do it slowly over time. Managing stress, gastrointestinal health, and inflammation are absolute musts. Knowing that you are a beautiful being and deserve health and happiness is crucial.
I hope this blog helped you in some way. I hope you have learned that weight management is a life-long process. I also want you to know that if you need help or some expert doctor advice, I’m here for you. I figure, if I can tell you my own story, my own downfalls and successes, maybe you’ll see that anything is possible.
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Author: Dr. Hailey Heard, DC, co-owner of NeuroWorks Wellness Center.
- Megan Arnold