Written by Amber Moore, ND and Co-Authored by Eileen Park, ND
Optimal body composition is critical for preventing disease (both chronic & acute) as it helps optimize organ function, balances hormones & neurotransmitters and minimizes inflammation in the body. Since inflammation is linked with most chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies and cancer (and the list goes on…), an effective way to treat or prevent such illnesses is to ensure optimal body composition. I specify body composition instead of weight since research shows that the number on the scale does not necessarily correlate to how healthy you are.
Instead, the ratio of lean to fatty tissue that makes up your total body weight is a better indicator of this. Keeping the percentage of fat low and lean muscle mass high is ideal for wellness. The optimal body fat range for health is 10-18% in men and 17-25% in women – fall outside of this range, and you are at increased risk of many health complications.
When you schedule an initial consult with one of our Naturopathic Doctors, we will conduct a Bioimpedance Analysis (BIA) scan to find out your individual body fat and muscle mass percentages – we use this information to assess risk of disease and monitor the outcome of our treatment plan.
Because weight loss and optimal body composition is a goal for so many people, there are constantly new diet trends, programmes and supplements being developed and marketed to the public. Fortunately, there is also a lot of clinical research going on in this field to help us determine what actually works and what does not. Below is a summary of some of the more current research related to optimal body composition.
Exercise and Lifestyle changes are critical for healthy and sustained weight loss
▪ Interval training: high intensity alternating with low intensity exercise is better than long distance exercise for weight loss. Over 10,000 subjects were observed over 10 years and found that intensity of exercise was more effective than volume of physical activity in weight loss and thereby decreasing risk of diabetes and heart disease (Laursen et al. 2012).
–>Translation: Don’t nix the long run if you love it, but add weekly interval sessions to your exercise routine to maximize weight loss. If you’re pressed for time for a workout, interval training trumps steady-state cardio in terms of overall calories burned (keeping your metabolism revved for up to a few hours post-workout!)
▪ Guided lifestyle interventions: coach led/DVD lead weekly lifestyle interventions (i.e. weekly guidance and being accountable to someone improved results as opposed to working alone) produced significant weight loss among overweight or obese adults (Ma et al. 2012).
–>Translation: Have someone to be accountable for when it comes to exercise – join a running group, go to the gym with a friend, or hire a personal trainer. Telling the world (i.e. friends and family) helps too, so facebook and twitter away! Having someone else rely on you makes it more likely that you’ll show up, and the encouragement is an added bonus.
▪ Optimal Sleep: the largest and longest study to date on sleep habits and weight, following 68,000 women for up to 16 years, found that women who slept five hours or less per night (in comparison to seven hours) were 15% more likely to be obese (Patel et al. 2006).
–>Translation: Hit the sheets for 7-8 hours a night! Sleep deprivation is a major unrecognized barrier to weight loss – read more at this great Harvard Health article http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/
It is well documented in scientific literature that stabilizing blood glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity is critical for weight loss and maintaining optimal body composition. As a result we are always finding “new” ways to achieve this.
▪ Legumes: increased consumption of legumes as part of a low–glycemic index (GI) diet improved glycemic control and reduced heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus compared with a diet including high wheat fiber consumption. 121 subjects were studied for over 1 year and those eating more legumes had lower HbA1c and lower BP and heart rate (Jenkins et al. 2012)
–>Translation: legumes are great for weight loss – not only are they high in both fiber and protein (which both slow stomach emptying and help stabilize blood glucose levels), but they also provide a great source of many vitamins and minerals. Try swapping in legumes for one of your weekly meals and embrace “Meat-free Mondays”!
▪ Ground Cinnamon: adding ground cinnamon to a meal may help regulate blood glucose levels in normal-weight and obese adults immediately after meals. A recent meta-analysis which summarized the research of ten randomized controlled trials found that cinnamon consumption helped decrease fasting blood glucose levels, in addition to improving blood lipid parameters (Allen et al. 2013)
–>Translation: add ½ tsp ground cinnamon to your oatmeal or breakfast cereal to help keep blood sugar spikes at bay. It’s also great in coffee or tea!
▪ Supplements: the following supplements seem to have the most research behind them with regards to improving insulin resistance according to the National Institutes of Health: Alpha Lipoic Acid, Chromium, Omega-3 fatty acids and EGCG (polyphenol from Green Tea; Udupa et al 2013; Wu et al. 2012; Hua et al. 2012). Vitamin D3 (Belenchia et al. 2013) and myo-inositol (Artini et al. 2013) are other important supplements to consider for insulin resistance. As per usual, you should always consult with your Naturopathic Doctor before starting supplementation.
Are you one of those people thinking “I’ve tried everything (perhaps multiple times) and I can’t seem to lose the weight”? We hear this time and time again, and we believe you! Sometimes it’s more than just diet and exercise that you need because other factors are at play:
▪ Sluggish Thyroid: your thyroid is the primary controller of your overall metabolism, so when its function is impaired this can cause weight gain and makes weight loss quite difficult. Your GP may test for this (by running TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone) but unless TSH falls outside of the normal range your thyroid is considered healthy. Problem is, you can still fall within the “normal” range yet have a slow thyroid and be symptomatic (this is called sublaboratory hypothyroidism).
▪ High Cortisol Levels: cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. This response was an evolutionary advantage since cortisol increases blood sugar levels, giving the body lots of fuel to run away from the lion (which was the stressor millions of years ago). Fast forward to today, and a multitude of other less harmful daily stressors cause this same response. Over time, this response can lead to weight gain and many other effects including muscle tissue breakdown, osteoporosis, immune system suppression, hypertension and sex hormone abnormalities.
▪ Cortisol Testing: We use a variety of tests to assess cortisol and adrenal stress including but not limited to salivary cortisol via Genova Diagnostic Labs and serum and urine cortisol through Gammadyncare Labs and Meridian Valley Labs.
And the Mediterranean Diet wins again! Despite all the newest fad diets, yet another study shows that this diet allows for sustained weight loss.
▪ Mediterranean Diet: over 300 subjects were followed for 4 years after a weight loss intervention and compared to a low carbohydrate or low fat diet; individuals were able to regain less weight with the Mediterranean diet. Moreover the Mediterranean diet produced the best long-term reduction in total cholesterol (Schwarzfuchs et al. 2012).
And when we say diet, we don’t mean diet… a nutrition plan (diet) is lifelong, so the goal for weight loss is to follow a nutrition plan that you can (and want) to follow for life. Weight maintenance is the overall goal, so if you can’t stick with a diet long term research shows you tend to go back to your old patterns and gain the weight back. But with the right education and support, reaching your optimal weight is achievable and can lead to a better, healthier you.
–>Bottom Line: We’re here to help. We know that weight loss isn’t easy, and that’s why we support you through every step of the way. By constructing and individualized nutrition and exercise plan, managing stress levels, optimizing sleep, and addressing emotional health we can work together to achieve your weight loss goals.<–
~Amber Moore, BSc(hons), ND
Amber is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor practicing as part of The Wylde Natural Health Team. She enjoys helping patients with a variety of health concerns, and has a special interest in sports medicine and pain management, skin and digestive concerns, weight loss and mental health. In addition to her private practice, Amber is currently part of the competitive Clinical Residency program at CCNM, teaching naturopathic therapies to students and supervising fourth year interns at the college’s teaching clinics.
Read more about Amber on her Bio Page
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