5 Non-Exercise Related Weight Loss Pointers
Tired of doing cardio until the point of exhaustion with little to nothing to show?
Traditionally, we are told if we eat fewer calories than we burn, we will lose weight. Unfortunately, we are not strictly a chemistry set, and therefore, do not adhere to the laws of thermodynamics. If this is the case, then what is it that we should focus on for sustained health, wellness, weight loss, increased energy and overall fitness?
Humans are incredibly complicated systems. To consider only one aspect of the human without the others is archaic and outdated. If we eat the same number of calories in sugar versus corn syrup, we will not weigh the same in the end. If we try to follow a diet when we have been taught to derive pleasure from certain foods, then we will most likely not have the willpower to overcome our cravings. If our diet and exercise programs do not conform to our social lives, the pressures from feeling like an outsider can quickly push us toward throwing in the towel.
To create sustained and long-lasting change, one must focus on several key aspects. We are involved, interrelated systems of cells, organisms, structures, thoughts, and emotions. We are chemical, biological, psychological, social and spiritual. The rest of this article is broken into these critical aspects that impact the human condition and therefore weight loss.
Our bodies consist of countless chemical reactions. These have a tremendous effect on our mindset and everyday experience. They help to determine how much we are compelled to eat at any given time. If for example, we stress out at work, we release cortisol. This hormone helps to store fat around the waistline.
By the first law of thermodynamics, any closed system must have a conserved amount of energy. That is to say that our bodies will either use, store or excrete calories. By this pure definition, if we eat more than we burn, we will store the calories. This is true to some extent but is modified by the composition of the calories consumed and the type of exercise that is conducted. Someone who takes in large amounts of fat and protein, along with an exercise regime of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) such as sprinting or weight training, will be leaner and have increased muscle mass. This is just because your body responds to stressors. Food and exercise are stressors. Each different type of diet and training is a different stressor which produces a different result.
If the food that we take in has such a tremendous impact on our physical well being, perhaps it would behoove us to explore what it is. Food is a combination of compounds and chemicals. Foods can be split up into two main categories, artificial and natural. Here, artificial means anything derived, synthesized, or created by man, usually in a lab. There is the flip side, or natural, meaning anything that comes directly from the earth (Ie. spinach, apples, meat, nuts, berries, etc.). The point of bringing this up is that “natural” foods have all of the chemicals and compounds necessary for your body to break down and utilize the nutrients within the food. There is also the notion that many man-made chemicals are either indigestible or unrecognizable by the human body. This is why artificial sweeteners have no calories, your body does not recognize that substance as a calorie and therefore passes it straight through. It does, however, give the brain the false notion that there are a significant amount of calories entering the system. This is why people who ingest a substantial amount of artificial sweeteners will notice an increase in appetite. Your body thinks it’s getting calories, it’s not, and then it wants them.
The type of each calorie that we take in determines how our body will handle it. For example, it takes much more energy to break down one gram of protein as opposed to one gram of fat. It is also known that certain types of pure fat cannot be stored as body fat. This is tricky because often you are not only ingesting pure fat. The last part here is carbohydrate. Most people take in far too much to burn in a single day. They lead sedentary lives, and their bodies cannot utilize all of the bread and refined carbohydrate that they take in. This has an adverse long-term effect on insulin sensitivity. If your blood sugar is getting spiked at every meal with a load of refined carbohydrate, your body gets very good at depositing fat, and your pancreas gets very tired of secreting insulin. These are the makings of a diabetic.
There is also a known “gut to brain connection.” That is to say that depending on the state and composition of your gut flora (bacteria), they will have either a positive or negative effect on how you think. Many artificial foods wreak havoc on the gut biome. If your gut bacteria is weak or of the wrong composition, it is difficult if not impossible for your body to derive the nutrients that it needs out of the food that you consume. So, not only are we taking in foods devoid of nutritional value, when we do take in nutrients, our bodies cannot absorb them. This means that often our bodies are starving for nutrition.
The amount we eat and exercise has a tremendous amount to do with our psychological state or our mental well being. If we sit at a job that we dislike all day and stress out, we are likely to be too tired when we get home to exercise (thanks, cortisol!). There is a chance that we eat to deal with some past or present trauma, pain, boredom, etc. instead of getting at the cause of this suffering. This becomes like a band-aid, treating the symptoms and not the reason. We must train ourselves to realize that when we come home from work tired and stressed out, the very thing we want to do least is what we need to do most. Implementing an exercise plan and following it regardless of how tired you seem to be is essential. It is highly likely you will feel an overall improved mindset and energy level after conducting a tough workout session.
We are inherently social creatures. We rely on social structures to survive. So if we live in a social hierarchy, it might behoove us to tell other people of our goals. That way we are held accountable by the group and not only ourselves. It is often much more powerful for an individual to be held responsible by another or an entire team than just oneself. This is why people hire coaches.
Another critical action here is to surround yourself only with positive and supportive people. If people do not support your goals, remember: 1) that is their issue or insecurity, not yours and 2) they are not your friend. If you want to thrive and not just survive, you need to form a supportive group of friends, colleagues, and family. After all, we become the culmination of the people that we surround ourselves with.
As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin so elegantly put it, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." Therefore, we must ensure that we have a solid spiritual practice in place. This will vary significantly person to person. However, in general, it will allow us to understand our feelings and thoughts from a profound and fundamental place within ourselves. This is a place much like deep in the ocean during a storm. It is a place of stillness. To go to such a situation, we must practice methods of mindfulness and meditation. By being mindful we can determine when it is that we are famished and need nourishment, as opposed to eating out of boredom, stress, or loneliness. Mindfulness can also be helpful for dealing and healing past traumas that may have not previously been addressed.
From the above, we can realize that we are very involved beings. To think that just counting calories is a sustainable route to lasting health, wellness, weight loss and fitness is not a reasonable assertion. We must look at our life from an overall flowing and changing system.
The number one thing to recognize is that you are not your body. The mainstream media puts so much effort on how we should look. Genetics is a real thing, and some people will never have an effortless six pack or be six feet tall. We must work on this attachment to being vain. We are far more complex social, psychological and intellectual beings. Our pursuits are much better spent not fixated on the vain and superficial.
It is important to consider exercise and diet regimes that fit into your lifestyle. There are benefits and pitfalls to every method. As for an actual approach, you must start to try things as methodically as you can. Keep a journal, keep track of what it is that you are doing and trying. Make a note of what works and what doesn't. Perhaps more importantly, keep track of how you feel, how you look and how your inner mental state is. Leading a life that is as happy, fulfilling and energetic in every moment of every day is the best possible marker for success. So, if you think that a strict vegan diet will do that for you, then go for it. Most people just need some balance. More fruits and vegetables, less alcohol and sugar along with an increased awareness of your thoughts. This will ensure you are eating when you are hungry and moving your body as much as possible. The important thing is to try to take as many small steps as possible. Track the changes and pat yourself on the back when you look back in your journal and see all of the progress that you have made.