Holistic medicine approaches a person as a whole being, addressing the root causes of a problem rather than merely treating the symptoms. As a result, a holistic approach can help you achieve meaningful, long-term weight loss. Where other weight-loss efforts fail, a holistic weight-loss program can help you shed extra pounds while understanding the comprehensive causes and effects of weight gain and loss.
Why Holistic Weight Loss?
While weight gain is not itself a “disease,” overeating and obesity can contribute to a number of serious health problems, including type II diabetes, stroke, various kinds of cancer, and heart disease. Maintaining your weight close to its ideal, then, is a key component of overall health. Not only will a healthy weight help prevent debilitating diseases, but it will also result in a higher quality of life.
Weight is largely a function of two components: diet and exercise. A holistic weight-loss program helps you work with the underlying causes of a weight problem on both sides of that equation. Why do you eat more than you should? How can you eat in a healthier way? Why do you not exercise enough? How can you improve your exercise regimen? What factors—physical, psychological, social—are contributing to your diet and exercise decisions?
Discovering the answers to these questions can help you avoid undesirable patterns that prevent you from achieving an optimal weight.
Weight loss is balance
When body’s all major systems are in balance, we not only feel good, but our adrenal glands are able to protect us, our hormones relay their messages smoothly, our digestive system can adequately nourish us, and we can efficiently get rid of or “detoxify” the things we don’t need. All of our systems depend on one another and if one is out of balance, the others can suffer, making weight loss a miserable uphill battle.
Discovering if you have a systemic imbalance in your body may be the missing piece to your weight loss puzzle. Whether it’s hormonal imbalance, adrenal dysfunction, neurotransmitter, digestive, inflammatory, or detoxification system imbalance, correcting it is key to natural and lasting weight loss — and to your overall health. Because once your body is restored to its natural balance, excess weight will come off.
This is the key to long-term weight loss, and this is the core of the holistic approach.
Holistic Weight Loss
There are a number of methods by which you can apply holistic methods to your weight-loss program:
1. Positive Messages
It is tempting to turn food, and your relationship to it, into an enemy. Many of us (often as a result of childhood and environment) punish ourselves for our food choices, or use food as a means of self-control. Oftentimes, this only reinforces a weight problem, making it even more difficult and intractable. People whose parents used food as a means of control—to instill a certain discipline, for example, or redirect a child’s behavior—are more likely to be obese as adults. One way to break this pattern is to engage in positive messages. Phrases such as “I can control my eating” or “My desire for a snack will soon pass” can help reinforce positive behavior. Similarly, positive thoughts such as “I love being healthy” or “I’m proud that I ate responsibly today” can help to reframe your relationship with food.
Meditation is a helpful holistic technique across the board. It helps practitioners to acquire a greater mindfulness of their feelings and thoughts, becoming cognizant of emotions they never noticed before. Meditation can, for example, help binge eaters become aware of how they use food to deal with problematic emotions. It can also help them notice when they’re actually hungry and when they’re full. Both of these work together to address the underlying causes of overeating.
This therapeutic discipline helps problem eaters modify their behavior. Less concerned with finding underlying causes for behavior, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is about learning how to alter one’s behavior to achieve a specific goal—such as weight loss. When a person seeks the help of a cognitive-behavior therapist, he or she will learn to replace long-established patterns with productive behaviors. A therapist might explore problematic thought patterns—beliefs such as “If I am upset, I deserve to eat,” for example—that drive you to binge. CBT can also help reframe an obsession with body image, allowing you to lose weight because it’s healthy, and not because you dislike your appearance. Such techniques can prove powerful in weight loss.
Keeping a journal and engaging in other self-monitoring techniques help make you more aware of what you’re eating—and why. Sometimes merely seeing a list of everything you consume throughout the course of a day can help you to avoid trips to the kitchen. More fundamentally, reflecting on the emotions, drives and outcomes associated with your diet and exercise can help shed light on an otherwise visceral, and often unmanageable, struggle. There is a rich and mutually reinforcing relationship between self-monitoring and other techniques, such as CBT, meditation, and positive messages.
No one loses weight just by sitting around and thinking about it, but visualization can make it easier to keep your eye on the prize. Time spent visualizing what you will look like and how you will feel with less weight can help remind you why you are doing this in the first place. It can also help you imagine the behavior and lifestyle choices necessary for successful weight loss.
Physical activity in conjunction with a sound diet is a core component of holistic weight loss. Exercise does more than just burn calories: It changes your chemistry, releases powerful neurotransmitters, strengthens and revitalizes muscles, increases energy and contributes to happiness, tranquility and a sense of well being. Any attempt at weight loss would be incomplete without it. In developing your workout regimen, find a routine that addresses your unique needs, that challenges you appropriately, and—most importantly—that you truly enjoy. Finding the joy in taking care of yourself is a cornerstone of holistic medicine and the key to a long-lasting exercise ritual.
Most of us were raised to think that if we only ate less and exercised more, we could easily lose weight. But, calories in/calories out concept just doesn’t work for everyone.
No doubt we’ll continue to hear that it all comes down to calories and will-power. But the reality is, if you eat 1,200 calories of junk versus 1,200 calories of balanced nutrition, the messages your body receives are drastically different — no matter how much you exercise. Make that a lifelong pattern and over time it’s going to make a huge difference to your wellness and your waistline.
What’s more, you can have the discipline of a saint, but if you are sensitive to a certain food and continue to eat it — whether knowingly or unknowingly — you are perpetuating a whole cascade of negative messaging throughout your body that contributes further to weight gain and illness.
But all this is just the start of why relying on restricting calories to lose weight can get you into trouble down the road. Food is a form of information, so the kinds of calories you eat really do matter. Make them worthwhile and eat as well as you can 85% of the time. This leaves room to treat yourself every once in a while. Here’s how to be sure you get the right raw materials:
- Strive to eat whole, natural foods. Load up on vegetables and fruit, emphasize plant-based proteins like nuts and legumes, use whole grains in moderation rather than refined flours and sugars, and select high-quality meat and fish — the less processed the better.
- Help your metabolism operate at full capacity with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral complex and a combination of nutrients to specifically support your metabolism and burn fat. This micronutrient and phytonutrient support will help ensure that your cellular pathways are continually supplied to function well each day.
- Explore herbal formulas to help you get to the bottom of your weight loss resistance. If you have tried everything to lose weight, you may have a systemic imbalance blocking you from your best natural weight. Look into targeted phytotherapeutic herbs to bring your body back into balance.
- Drink plenty of filtered spring water, mineral water, or freshly brewed or iced herbal tea or green tea each day, to help flush any built-up “clutter” from your system.
A great read for your holistic nutrition approach is the following book: “Spot On: Nutrition: A holistic strategy for optimal health and performance” which is becoming a best-seller since July 2015.
8. Tailoring and Connecting
Finally, in the spirit of the holistic tradition, choose the techniques, principles, and approaches you need to achieve your unique objectives. No two people are alike, and no one method is a panacea. When you visualize, visualize the behaviors and results that resonate uniquely with you. When you exercise, choose effective routines that you yourself enjoy. If you decide to incorporate psychotherapy into your weight loss program, be fully present in the process and place yourself squarely at the center of your treatment. And when you engage in these activities, find the connections among them: Meditate after you work out, reflect on your day after therapy, engage in positive messages as you go about your routine. Across the board, embrace yourself as the owner and the subject of your weight loss routine, and make sound decisions accordingly. That will make all the difference in a successful weight loss strategy.
Remember that the above techniques should always be used in conjunction with a healthy and responsible diet and exercise plan. They must also be tailored to your unique goals, challenges and patterns, in the spirit of holistic medicine. Always consult your doctor before engaging in any weight-loss regimen.