There are countless diets, cleanses, and 30-day challenges all geared to help people lose weight, heal their digestion, and feel more energy. Yet these temporary protocols fall short when it comes to true transformation. With all the nutrition guidance available, why do millions of people weigh more than they want and feel anxious and depressed about it?
Nutrition expert Carly Pollack lived this vicious cycle until trial and error, and over a decade of academic study and self-healing, led her to the incredible insights she’s shared with thousands. In Feed Your Soul: Nutritional Wisdom to Lose Weight Permanently and Live Fulfilled, she presents her unique understanding of body science, brain wiring, and spiritual principles to facilitate real, long-term change. We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book.
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The human body is a complicated system, much more complicated than the theory of “calories in versus calories out.” When the body is in balance, there is some truth to eating less and moving more, aka burning more calories than you consume. More often than not, however, we are stressed-out and hormonally out of balance. This makes it all too easy to pack on the pounds, despite our best diet and exercise efforts.
We live in a “cortisol culture,” a culture that thrives on the idea that the harder you work, the more successful you become. Most people would rate themselves a 5 or more on a stress scale from 1 to 10. Even though we are sitting at our desks and not outside in loincloths running from our predators, we are still under a great deal of stress, putting our bodies in a chronic state of fight-or-flight. Our adrenal glands are pumping out cortisol and adrenaline, which eventually makes us feel burned-out, tired, and depressed. Since everything in our bodies is connected, if our stress hormones are out of balance, the odds are that our entire hormonal system is out of whack, thus taking a toll on our health as a whole. Ever hear the saying “stress will make you fat”? Our ability to burn stored fat as fuel is directly influenced by our state of hormonal balance, or lack thereof.
Shelly is a thirty-two-year-old single project manager for a tech firm in Austin. She works fifty-hour weeks, each day rushing home in traffic to let her poor dog out before he pees on the carpet. She is under constant stress from her job and feels like she could be fired at any minute. By the time the weekend rolls around, she is exhausted but feels pressure to go out and meet people. She wants to have a family but feels like time is not on her side. Every time she talks to her mother, she is reminded of how old she is when she hears, “Why haven’t you signed up for online dating yet?” Shelly is also stressed about her body. She is fifteen pounds overweight from all the erratic food behaviors she’s acquired from late nights at the office, with no time to cook. She drinks coffee to get going in the morning and wine to help her wind down at night. She goes to bed too late, her PMS is horrible, she gets sick a lot, her hair is thinning, and it feels like she gains weight much more easily than she can lose it. Because she constantly worries about her weight, Shelly has become an overexerciser, which only puts more stress on her body. This high-intensity exercise pumps out even more cortisol, which is blocking her ability to lose weight.
Shelly is a perfect example of the average hardworking woman. The stress she experiences is common in our culture and wouldn’t raise much of an eyebrow in most people hearing of her daily grind. Her adrenals are fatigued, which in turn is affecting all her other hormonal glands. She has symptoms of underactive thyroid, estrogen dominance, weak immunity, and insulin resistance. These hormonal systems all work together. You can’t put stress on one without putting stress on another. Soon enough, the entire system is off balance, causing Shelly to gain weight, which in turn makes her more stressed.
This never-ending cycle of stress, the body’s response, and the reaction to the response can only be healed if we eliminate the root imbalance, which for Shelly is lack of self-care and a rotten belief system about never feeling enough. Shelly won’t lose weight until she balances out her hormonal system, and that starts with lowering her stress. How do you know when your body is hormonally out of balance? You will experience any or all of the following: fatigue, trouble sleeping, food cravings, mood swings, severe PMS, and weak immunity.
Behavioral Patterns That Sabotage Weight Loss
If your stress levels are under a 5, on a scale from 1 to 10, and you don’t resonate with the above list of symptoms for hormonal imbalance, the cause of your stubborn weight loss is most likely behavioral. There are always exceptions to the rules, but I have found that there are four behavioral patterns that sabotage our weight loss, and it’s not hard to be stuck in at least three out of the four.
Let’s start with the most obvious, overeating. It’s pretty hard these days to figure out the correct portion of food to eat, especially with dining out on colossal restaurant portions, eating on the run, and mindlessly snacking throughout the day. The practice of conscious eating will help you get in tune with your body’s needs. The most general and effective rule of thumb is to eat, at one sitting, only what you can carry in your two hands.
Most people are surprised by the second weight-loss roadblock, which is undereating. The science of this is pretty straightforward. The body needs a certain number of calories to sustain itself. Dropping below this number at first can cause weight loss. Stay there for too long, however, and your body will adjust your metabolic thermostat to function on a lower amount of caloric intake. Remember, your brain doesn’t care if you look great in a bikini; its only job is to keep you alive. It will manipulate anything in the body to ensure your survival. Your thyroid produces a hormone called Free T3. This is the “flame” of your metabolism. Undereat for long periods, and T3 will lower the output of your metabolism. I know countless busy professionals who sacrifice their needs (like eating a solid lunch) to “get it all done” in the workplace. They don’t eat enough but don’t feel hungry because they are jacked up on four cups of caffeine, which is an appetite suppressant. Eventually, the weekend rolls up, a friend comes into town, and they celebrate by increasing their calorie intake dramatically, and they do so on a slower metabolism. Poof, they gain weight quicker than a premenstrual woman at a Potato Chip Expo.
Wrong Ratio of Macronutrients
The next weight-dropping snafu is that you aren’t eating the right ratio of protein, carbs, and fat for your unique medicine. I find that for most people, the exact ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is the least of the roadblocks when all the other guidelines are in place. In fact, I think we drive ourselves crazy counting our calories and weighing our foods as a distraction from the deeper work we need to do to lose the weight. That being said, some of us will be much more sensitive to carbohydrates than others. When we eat carbohydrates (think beans, grains, potatoes, bread, pasta, crackers), they break down into sugar molecules. Sugar causes insulin to spike. Insulin is a hormone that removes the sugar from your blood and stores it as fat; you know, that “fuel for next time you need it” that you won’t ever need because there is rarely a time with no meals or snacks.
The body has only two sources of fuel: glucose and stored fat. For people sensitive to carbohydrates, even eating what experts would consider a low-carb diet might be eating too many carbohydrates for the body to tap into its stored fat as a fuel source. If you suspect this might be an issue, try limiting your carbohydrates to unlimited green vegetables and one serving of berries, and hold off on the beans, legumes, grains, and starchy veggies until your body gives you feedback as to whether or not your insulin plays a factor here. If you start losing weight by limiting these carbohydrates, you can consider yourself sensitive to sugar.
Lack of Movement
The last, and one of the most likely, reasons that you may not be losing weight is that you aren’t getting enough exercise. Unless you have a job that keeps you continually active, you will find that even a moderate exercise routine is not enough. Over the years I have acquired an affinity for working out. At times it’s my favorite part of the day (did I just say that?!). I love getting sweaty, rocking out to music, and getting rid of any stuck negative energy. I typically exercise three to five times a week. I sound like an active Sporty Spice, don’t I? Before I join the Spice Girls on tour, let’s also consider that I sit while writing, coaching clients, and recording videos at least forty hours a week. So I’m active for three to five hours, and I sit on my butt for forty. Calculate the math for yourself right now. What’s your ratio, and could this be your issue?
Despite having a consistent workout routine, I noticed a weight-loss plateau. I needed to take my fitness to the next level, but I didn’t want to add any more squats or push-ups to my regimen. The thought of another workout class just didn’t seem appealing. That’s when I remembered the simple and overlooked art of walking.
I spent a month in London studying abroad. I ate out three meals a day and didn’t pay much attention to my food choices. It would be safe to say that gaining a good ten pounds would have meant I lived it up. I did, however, walk everywhere and spent a few hours a day being active. When I came home and checked my weight, I hadn’t gained an ounce. I am not one of those people. I gain weight on vacation, I gain weight eating carbs, I gain weight when I simply walk by a bakery and inhale. Instead of my normal routine of sitting for eight hours and moving for one, I was active for seven hours and sitting for two.
It’s all about that activity. The only way to lose weight is to quit your job and move to Europe. I’m kidding. You may, however, need to add in many more walks during lunch, after dinner, and on the weekends. It’s not always about increasing your workouts but increasing your overall movement.
If you try to manipulate these behaviors and still have no luck, I recommend that you see a holistic MD, a naturopath, a certified clinical nutritionist like myself, or someone you trust who can run lab tests and uncover the deeper issue for you. Whatever the case, do not lose hope. The body has a miraculous ability to heal itself, and no matter how long it has been imbalanced, it is always trying to restore itself to health. When you get healthy, your weight will stabilize as well.
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Carly Pollack is the author of Feed Your Soul and the founder of Nutritional Wisdom, a thriving private practice based in Austin, Texas. A certified clinical nutritionist with a master’s degree in holistic nutrition, Carly has been awarded Best Nutritionist in Austin five years running and has helped over 10,000 people achieve their health and happiness goals. Visit her online at www.carlypollack.com.
Excerpted from the book Feed Your Soul. Copyright © 2019 by Carly Pollack.