Reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight can make a big difference in your health and happiness.
Why would we ever shun cheap, tasty, super-convenient food that make us feel good?
Why would we bother cooking with real food?
Why would we get off our butts and move our bodies if we don’t have to?
Why would we bother to do routines to get rid of stress? To sleep?
We are fed up and ready to act. It makes us feel bad being fat and thinking about diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and missing out on life in the future—like playing with grand-kids. As soon as we figure out how to reliably make good habits we will get healthy.
My goal is to present simple quality knowledge in a way you can use to act and get results. This is to counter our modern society and modern food meeting our ancient body and mental mechanisms. This is a homemade fix for “do-it-yourself-ers” that are not in a hurry.
You can achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
What we’re up against
Each person has to adapt this or any diet for their unique body and mind.
My genes, from both my father and mother are from Germany near Luxembourg and France. Our family reunions are full of short, fat people. We were made to survive famines and cold weather. I’m hopeful the structure of this diet will help those with addictive genes get a grip one small step at a time.
To start with, we need to understand the main reasons we so readily exceed our ideal healthy body weight and persistently stay fat:
- Our bodies have evolved to accumulate and retain fat. Our body really needs fat and usually wants more. Fat is now considered to be an endocrine gland that secretes hormones necessary for survival. To aid fat accumulation, the body comes with an addiction mechanism for high calorie food. If the body loses fat it usually, but not always, fights hard to get it back with cravings and by slowing our metabolism.
- Bad gut bacteria populations and viruses in our bodies probably are causing weight gain. Sugar and flour are modern inventions that favor the “bad” microbiome species.This seems unfair but we can avoid processed food, take probiotics and eat fiber to counter this.
- The processed food industry concentrates the addictive parts of food. They tweak starches and sugars with wonderful flavors to hit our “bliss point” and our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is part of our brains reward system (cocaine also releases it). We can use this drugging effect to release stress, i.e. stress eating. We can learn to resist processed food like any other “frivolous” product dangled in front of us. It’s easier to resist processed food knowing this stuff is not really food, it’s addictive and it’s harmful like a drug.
- Proteins in some foods can cause an immune response and systemic inflammation within us. We can be so mildly allergic to a food group we don’t realize it is messing us up. This may induce brain fog, lethargy, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and other conditions that go hand in hand with obesity. We can figure it out by the process of elimination and reintroduction. Also sugar and flour are inflammatory to our gut besides feeding the “bad” bacteria.
- Stress is a wildcard that makes our bodies try to turn into a toad preparing to hibernate. Under stress we usually crave and eat high energy foods (sweets) and do not feel like moving or watching what we eat. We can learn to avoid stress and fight its effects with solid habits concerning exercise, sleep, meditation, and relaxing activities. The habits can stress-proof us to some extent. Unfortunately, the reality is that when stress hits with enough force, we turn into an animal-like, stimulus-response organism looking for relieve anywhere and everywhere.
- Related to stress, our emotional and mental state varies with external input as varied as the gossip or the mood of others. These external inputs interact with the recordings in our minds to make our mood. The interaction between what is outside of us with what’s inside of us can trigger happiness, a food binge, anxiety, or depression. As with stress, we can strategize to be up and stay up as best we can. To counter feeling down, we can do physical and mental exercise regularly, walk outside often, and have close relationships with family, friends, neighbors and community members. We can be vigilant for mood swings and learn to prevent and handle them.
What can we do to reach a healthy body weight?
Most of these factors are not under our control. We can’t change our genetics, viruses, gender, allergies, or our memories.
That leaves us with 3 key things we can somewhat control:
- Stress and our emotional and mental state.
- The addictive and inflammatory food.
- Our gut bacteria.
These are the main pieces of a nice complicated game we can manipulate or be manipulated by. We can actively play the game as best we can. Of course, maintaining a healthy body weight is just another game played within the bigger game we call life.
Luckily we can lay in good habits to control the above.
The health game
Our main aim at the start of the healthy body weight game is getting our bodies to stop bugging us to eat so we stop gaining weight. The end goal of this game is a body we are comfortable in, are proud of, and even enjoy using. We want to be relaxed about food by knowing we are making safe and nutritious choices. We can realistically have bodies that naturally and habitually want to move and do enjoyable activities that relieve stress.
Let’s start by looking at how we should approach the game. What mindset does it take? What has worked in the other games you are good at? Fierce concentration and rigid control? A lighthearted, “don’t overthink it” approach? It’s up to you and you may want to switch back and forth.
A major opponent to us in this endeavor is our own body. It naturally conserves energy and needs prodding to “waste” energy with unnecessary movement. Modern industries provide us with the means to live while barely moving. Another major opponent is the processed food industry. Their game is to make money off of what our bodies are genetically wired to do — seek dopamine and pleasure. It’s complicated but we can see that taking the easy, tasty way is not good for very long if you want to maintain a healthy body weight.
So to enjoyably play the game of modern life in bodies evolved for prehistoric life we need to understand some of the biology involved. The good thing is we can use the body’s ancient mechanisms for making habits to lay in good habits that can get us through a lot of stuff. Also luckily, Mother Nature included decent minds in the package so we can understand all this and get around the body’s wily ways and the “traps” of modern society.
Attention and intention are large parts of this (or any) game. Space out and we find ourselves mindlessly eating junk and being too inactive. We are playing in an animal body with circuits in it. By gentle resisting and coaxing we eventually can prevail — if we don’t lose our patience while laying in better habits and give up.
Like pro athletes we can set up “better” circuits (habits) in our minds and bodies. Habits have triggers that start a routine that gives a reward. After some practice we can understand the fundamentals of habit formation. We can start to get control of the healthy body weight game and play better automatically — by habit.
Dieting to achieve a healthy body weight uses the idea of resolutions to alter our behavior and create habits. Research shows it takes around 66 consecutive times of doing something for it to become a habit. Functional MRI data shows the brains of successful dieters have trained the “restraint” part of their brain to kick in when tempted. The point is many behaviors, like restraining ourselves, can be made a habit. For example shunning cigarettes, alcohol, or flour and sugar.
Forfeiting: quitting before you start
Like most games, if our head isn’t in it and we don’t actively steer our bodies, we are going to lose. Our mental and emotional state is an important factor in any game. It’s the old “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” thing. If your mind is right you will win.
So we need to make a habit of having a “I’m happily doing this healthy body weight thing until I die” attitude. The good thing is that this attitude can be made into a habit itself — it just may take a while. Once it’s a habit, good or bad, we’re not going to quit it easily. That’s the beauty, and the curse, of a habit.
It’s your game alone, to win or lose
So we need lots of game plans: resolutions on how we will behave when we have problems like craving, or decisions to make about food and exercise. Since we each have to outsmart our unique genetics, memories and environments we each need our own ever-changing game plan.
This means we each get to research and experiment to see how good a body and life we can build with what we have to work with.
Resolutions, behavior, habit
The resolutions we make determine our daily behavior which then becomes our habitual behavior. Resolving to keep making and tweaking resolutions is essential because we and our environment are constantly changing.
You may want to write down your resolutions to visualize how your present resolutions came about. It will also give you a place to record symptoms and new knowledge you want to test—so you can make resolutions about it. Mainly you want to keep track of how many times you have done something good or bad to keep score in this game.
Adjustments to our resolutions must be made constantly. We are amateurs learning to play like pros (our body, our minds, modern society). Our job is resistance, listening to the body, working with it, and planning for the next action using hard-won data on what worked and what didn’t. This will eventually lead to a healthy body weight.
Getting our mind right is one thing; keeping it right is the hard part. That’s where the evolving resolutions and new knowledge come in. Just knowing every single good behavior we perform strengthens a future habit reassures us we will win simply by keeping at it. Keep the faith baby.
A three step game plan to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
These three steps are a logical, safe way to play the healthy body weight game. Mainly, these steps are based on the information found in previous articles I’ve written on hormones, stress and inflammation. Thankfully, there is no calorie restriction for steps 1 and 2.
Step 1. Establishing a healthy hormone regime with 7 habits.
To have a chance at weight reduction, for hormonal reasons, we need to eat well, sleep well and handle stress. The program tries to get our hormones and neurotransmitters to do what they were meant to do before modern society developed.
For example we did not evolve releasing insulin in large amounts. The food we ate wasn’t starchy until Agriculture showed up only 11,000 years ago. Insulin was always being released by ancient foods, but the fruits and honey were the ones that really spiked blood glucose levels. Both took effort to obtain, the fruit came with lots of fiber and the honey was limited in amount. It was hard to get fat on either — maintaining a healthy body weight came naturally.
Habit 1 is eating protein, fat and fiber at every meal. The idea is to have an over-abundance of all nutrients. Each cell in your body is a protein factory. Proteins are strings of amino acids. Eating protein puts amino acids in the blood. Fats give us long term energy and a feeling of satisfaction. Fiber keeps our gut happy by providing a matrix for the “good bacteria”. Over time the body builds freely what all of its cells need so it doesn’t crave. The body trusts it is living in times of plenty so it doesn’t hoard fat — naturally maintaining a healthy body weight. It is “normal” unless it is being fed something it is allergic to — this is addressed in step 2.
Along with protein and fat, some fiber from vegetables and fruit are needed to sustain the good gut bacteria. Good bacteria use soluble fibers, like inulin, to make mucous and compounds that help prevent “leaky gut.” Leaky gut is a condition where large food proteins slip into the bloodstream causing systemic inflammation.
This doesn’t have to be boring, just get some protein, fat and fiber in each meal. It gives you an opportunity to explore your creativity in the kitchen. Trying new foods in new recipes allows you to find those that taste really good to you—they light you up. The tasty foods release dopamine the way flour and sugar do—but more slowly. Spices, especially hot ones, affect the brain chemistry, so don’t rule them out. Tastes change over time, especially when our hormones are in flux. Luckily, the cuisines of the planet are at our fingertips.
So a good resolution is to make a habit of getting some protein, fat, and fiber from real food at each meal. This will get you on the path to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Habit 2 is shunning processed food. Processed food is the metabolic devil, making it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy body weight. These foods are high in energy but low in nutrition. We keep eating them because there aren’t enough nutrients in them to trip the stop button. Processed foods are usually full of simple carbohydrates like wheat, potato, or rice flour and sugar. Think cake, bread, bagels, muffins, chips, pasta, etc. It’s really good stuff for a reason. The flour and sugar quickly raise the blood sugar, the glucose, quite high compared to eating protein, fat and fiber. Insulin then has to be released to tell the muscles and liver to store the glucose as glycogen (animal starch). Repeatedly doing this causes the liver and muscle cells to become resistant to insulin. Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome result from prolonged insulin resistance. This is why exceeding healthy body weight is often associated with diabetes.
So our metabolic hormones get “messed up” relative to eating real food. Probably worse is processed foods cause addictive neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin to be released. This causes us to feel pleasure so we seek more and more processed food. We become addicted and have a “sugar dragon” in us demanding to be fed. Starvation is the only way to kill the sugar dragon. Eating protein, fat and fiber goes a long way to satisfy us while the dragon is dying.
What is really happening is similar to what happens in opioid addiction. Simple carbs and artificial sweeteners cause the brain’s reward system to put out dopamine, serotonin and other feel good molecules that fit into receptors on our neurons. We feel good and want more, and … more.
This is not being rewarded for a pro-survival activity like the bodies reward system was designed to encourage. Things like having sex, eating when starving or slaking our thirst. This little high is a chemical shortcut brought about by flour, sugar or artificial sweeteners.
The dopamine fits in receptors in our brains neurons . These receptors that are often shown like golf tees stuck in the cells of the gut and brain, the little cup is made to catch a molecule such as dopamine. The amount of sugar (or opioids sex or whatever produces dopamine) affects the number of receptors (the golf tees) produced and stuck on our cells. When the cup (receptor) has a molecule in it we feel fine. However, an empty cup causes pain and withdrawal symptoms- we crave. The body is telling us to go beat the bushes and do whatever got us that wonderful dopamine.
This is the sugar dragon wanting to be fed. She backs down a bit with a dose of fat and protein. This is similar to heroin users eating sugar to feel a bit better. How bad we feel depends on how many receptors we have and that depends how hooked we are. How long it takes for the receptors to appear and disappear depends on how much we fill them and how often.
The point is we can influence the number of receptors by the amount of dopamine we release. This depends on the amount of flour, sugar, sweetener, etc. we consume. So if we slow down and eventually stop consuming the receptor number stops changing and cravings stop. Our body chemistry is changed back closer to what it evolved for — real food.
Often depression, anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms drive people back to flour and sugar. The good thing about this program is you wean yourself off the processed food gradually. Influencing the number of the receptors is the goal. Under duress (like withdrawal) our bodies will steer us towards what we need, like leafy greens or green beans with loads of butter. We will gladly try new things readily looking for relief. Hot spicy food or dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), etc. may be sought out. The continual dosing of the body with protein, fat and fiber helps get over this as will the remaining habits.
Exercise (like walking or dancing) may look a lot more doable if you are full of a fatty meal and feeling antsy. You may sleep more or less as the brain changes back to “normal.” Everyone is different and has to figure out for themselves how to handle something addictive, like smoking, drinking or eating processed food. Of course you may choose to stay addicted and simply restrict the calories from processed food. At least you know what’s going on when you crave.
You may quit and get to an acceptable healthy body weight and then add simple carbs back occasionally. The term for occasionally using something addictive is “chipping.” I chip simple carbs on special occasions like weddings, parties, etc. It takes a few days for my guts to recover.
Habit 3: Shun snacking. The main reason for shunning snacking is hormonal — to burn the glucose out of your blood. You may have to eat like a pig at each meal for awhile, but the body will get trained eventually. Our hormonal profile differs greatly without snacking. If you have to snack on processed food, have some protein, fat and fiber — even in small amounts. Not snacking will allow hunger hormones to enhance your sense of taste and smell greatly.
Habit 4: Get plenty of sleep.
We need a sleep hygiene routine to influence many genes which affect many things related to maintaining a healthy body weight. This habit establishes a bedtime ritual starting at the same time every night, including weekends. Mainly it includes getting off the screens an hour or so before bed and reading, listening to music, etc. Science says having a cool bedroom helps the hormonal profile we need for sleep.
Habit 5: Exercise regularly. The idea is not to burn calories; it is to get your body chemistry “normal” so you feel good. Our bodies go chemically “weird” when the muscles aren’t used enough. The benefits of exercise do not need to be listed, but getting more exercise changes our hormones and lessens the affects of stress hormones. Just fake it till you make it. Exercise helps tremendously with maintaining a healthy body weight.
Habit 6: Handle stress. This is a wild-card in the healthy body weight program that can wreck everything. Since we all have our own minds and stressors we each need our own strategy for dealing with stress. The idea is to take stress relief as seriously as the other habits. The stress hormones cause us to seek sugary, fatty foods for relief and not care about tomorrow. Stress hormones cause us to accumulate belly fat that puts out its own hormones goofing things up more.
The two best stress relievers for me are exercise and music. Exercise lets us “get it out our systems” and music does good things in our brains by keeping us “in the moment” and exercising our memories. There are plenty of stress articles with advise you can pick though choosing and trying. Some of the best is to go through extraordinary efforts to not generate it in the first place.
Habit 7 is: Setting goals and tracking data related to your goal of getting to your healthy body weight. We can get anywhere if we can keep our eyes on the prize. Time is on our side if we are getting a little better every day. By starting to keep track we can see what works and keep it up. We can experiment and get our routine where it works day in and day out.
If you can’t do anything else, set some ridiculously doable goals and keep track of what you think is important.
In summary, step 1 is resolving to:
- Establish healthy habits to reduce stress and sleep well.
- Establish an exercise routine you enjoy and can keep at. Try not to challenge yourself more than a little so you don’t quit.
- Handle a sugar/flour addiction. High energy, low nutrient food is shunned and replaced by lots of real food properly cooked.
- Eat protein, fat, and fiber at each meal or snack and when craving.
Again, the regular dosing of protein reassures the body nutrients are abundant and on the way. This keeps the sugar dragon, a name for the withdrawal feelings, from having a legitimate reason to bug you. The fiber is filling and will get the good gut bacteria established and nurturing the gut lining to lessen inflammation. The fat keeps (true) hunger away for hours. With all this in place, your body should start shifting toward a health body weight.
Step 1 is like spring training or orientation for a job. Each of these habits can be stressful accomplishments that should be established and settled before adding more. Remember, we want to lower and avoid unnecessary stress. Unfortunately, the next steps are unavoidably stressful.
It may take a month or so just to kill the sugar dragon. During this trying time, the exercise will give you some muscle tone and stamina. Also, the hormonal changes will give you true hunger pangs and enhanced smell and taste.
You will be eating unrestricted amounts of healthy food in this step. Go on to the next steps at anytime you feel ready. It’s your game after all and only you know when you may able to handle it. But keep at it — you’re already on your way to achieving a healthy body weight!
Step 2. Handling inflammation to eliminate brain fog and fatigue.
Step 2 is messy. It is mainly detective work to find what foods trigger an immune response. The good news is we still aren’t restricting calories and we can dose ourselves with as much protein and fat as it takes to satisfy us while we get through this step.
When an autoimmune reaction due to a food allergy disappears, brain fog disappears and energy levels rise. Exercising and staying upbeat to take on life is easier when we are running on all cylinders. Also, allergens in the blood mobilize white blood cells that cause systemic inflammation. Inflammation is dangerous as it may kick off plaque formation in our arteries and many other nasty things—like dementia.
Most of us are not aware when we have systemic inflammation in our bodies. It can be as violent as intestinal distress or as silent as plaque buildup in our arteries. We know we feel better or worse at times and perhaps suspect our diet. Only when we specifically stop eating a food group like wheat, dairy, etc. and feel great do we “get it.” Once people discover and remove an inflammatory food group, they no longer experience things like brain fog, fatigue, anxiety or depression.
These are seven of the most common inflammatory food groups:
- Sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- Legumes (soy, peanuts, or beans)
- Transfats (from margarine, processed and fried foods) and omega 6 fats found in vegetable oils like corn and soybean oil.
- Food additives like MSG, sulfites and preservatives, medicines and supplements.
Eliminating inflammatory foods from our diets for about a month will decrease or eliminate systemic inflammation. Unfortunately we may start to react to anything at any time. This includes common foods like those in the nightshade family like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
Elimination and reintroduction is the process to find an allergen. Reintroducing one food group at a time identifies which ones cause problems. It’s like testing a sweater to see if it makes you itchy.
There are programs to identify the food groups that your immune system reacts to. One is Dr. Amy Meyer’s 28 Day Metabolism Makeover. Another is Melissa Hartwig’s Whole 30 Program. Whether you do it yourself or with a program, eliminating foods that mess with your immune system is vital for good health.
Besides triggering systemic inflammation, allergens interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption. This is counter-productive to providing full nutrition to the body so it stops bugging us to eat. Again, food allergens are key factors in systemic inflammation, low energy levels, and affect the brain’s functioning in the form of brain fog, anxiety and depression.
Weight loss is easier when we feel good. Achieving weight loss is just about impossible when we are down. Inflammation messes with our hormones and immune system compounds, bringing us down. Simply think of your energy level and how well you think when you are sick and you’ll understand why this needs to be addressed.
Each of us has a unique immune system and each of us reacts differently to the various compounds that cause systemic inflammation. A food group may barely affect us or it may give us severe diarrhea or constipation.
If we are no longer exposed to something we are sensitive to, our immune systems calm and we have clear thinking and energy. Once the brain fog clears, it is easier to not get disheartened before good habits have been established. Thinking clearly and having some energy aids in our making of the healthy habits we need.
In summary, step 2 is resolving to:
- Address inflammation with an elimination/reintroduction program.
If you are still feeling unwell after your successful reintroduction of the food groups it is time to consider other culprits in your diet that weren’t considered the first time around. Other foods or medications or supplements possibly are causing inflammation. Our immune systems change constantly and who knows when a reaction will develop. When in doubt repeat the elimination and reintroduction procedure including new food groups. Yes it is a big bother, but I don’t see any other way to find an allergen.
Step 3. Tweak the good habits and slowly reduce caloric intake by reducing fat.
After you do the massive work to get first two steps done, you are finally set up to succeed at losing some weight. More than likely, when you reach Step 3 you have already lost some weight or gained some (beneficial muscle) weight after changing your habits in Steps 1 and 2. There are plenty of reasons, mainly hormonal, why you don’t want to restrict calories before this.
After the good habits are established, you should be well-rested, somewhat happier, and have some muscle tone and stamina. The important thing is your hormones should be “normal” because of the stress and sleep handling, and the processed and inflammatory food avoidance.
For this step you need to be able to make plenty of tasty, highly satisfying meals. If you have been exercising regularly, you can increase the length and/or difficulty of your workouts. This exertion should kick you into fat burning mode and magic weight loss may occur (see hormone article). Remember, take it slow. You don’t want to overdo it and quit or “take a break,” never to return to your routine.
Now you can stress your body with a whiff of starvation by reducing fat a smidge. Hopefully calorie reduction will not slow your metabolism like crazy. If it does reduce your metabolism (don’t worry, you’ll notice), go back to eating the way were until you get your pep back. After a while you can try fat reduction again or try increasing caloric output. The protein should stop the metabolism slowdown but who knows how long it will take for you or what will shake it up.
So step 3 is to slowly reduce fat — it’s the last high energy item in the diet. The body will freak out some but it’ll chill as long you don’t get too low too fast. Do this reduction very slowly, off and on, until you reach the weight you want. Simple, yes… easy, no.
You will figure out how to do fat reduction using the same methods you used to establish the other good habits. To handle hunger pangs, increase the protein for a while. This is the equivalent of using fat to tame the sugar dragon. Hopefully, the body is healthy and not worried about nutrients not coming in regularly. If so, it will not bug you very long about the calorie reduction.
As calories are restricted, weight loss may happen slow, or fast, or not at all. The important thing is the slowness of the fat (and therefore calorie) reduction and continual tweaking of your stress handling mechanisms. Strengthening your ability to handle stress, i.e. your stress-handling habits, can not be forgotten because you are definitely stressing your body with calorie reduction and more exercise.
In nature, starvation is the number one stressor. We evolved around this so it is important to understand that many genes have to turn on and off as we patiently convince our bodies to let go of fat.
In summary, step 3 is resolving to:
- Decrease the fat calories very slowly.
- Increase caloric output. Try to get a little more winded faster.
- Keep trying new recipes until you know what you are doing and can make a wide variety of healthy, tasty meals that light you up.
Knowledge is power
The mind directs behavior based on survival optimization using its accumulated data. The side of the scale towards unhealthy behavior has data such as memories of how good sugar tastes and makes us feel. The data on the good behavior side holds things like the benefits of a higher quality of mental, physical, and emotional health.
When we are born our brains operate our bodies automatically using the wiring in the brain stem — the lizard brain. The body’s behavior is directed on a stimulus-response basis. Upon maturing the midbrain and forebrain give us increasing analytical power to direct our behavior using the data collected over time. At around 25 our brains are mature (“ripe”) and we have analytical brains running simultaneously with the stimulus response lizard part of the brain.
To tip the scale towards good behavior, i.e. good habits, we can use knowledge in our data banks to overwhelm the data generating unhealthy behavior. Perhaps the best habit we can cultivate is the continual accumulation of knowledge. The data is for use by our minds to direct us in healthy behavior. Knowledge is therefore a key element, perhaps the most important element, in our laying in of good habits.