By Dr. Katherine Birchenough
No one would argue that a healthy weight is a key component of wellness. Not only does your blood pressure normalize, but you feel better and look better, which helps with psychological wellness. If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you’ve probably tried many diets over the years in an effort to shed pounds and improve your health. The problem is that for most of us, the weight seems to come back once we start relaxing a little bit.
This is characteristic of fad diets, which advocate unrealistic,non-sustainable rules for short-term rapid weight loss. They are easy to spot once you know what to look for. They lure us in because they speak to our need for control when we feel that things are out of control. Ultimately, these diets can damage your metabolism, making it even harder to lose weight the next time you put it back on. Here’s what you need to know: There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to real, sustainable weight loss. You can’t follow your trainer’s diet and expect to get the same results, because your trainer’s metabolic needs are likely very different than yours.
What’s the underlying cause of gaining extra pounds? Is it really that you eat too much and exercise too little? Or is there something more going on, such as inflammation, sluggish liver function due to toxin overload, hormonal imbalance or food sensitivities? The magic truly happens when you accept that you are an individual, and there may be more to the story. Sustainable, permanent normalization of weight requires metabolic repair. As we age, we become subject to a variety of things that impair normal metabolic function. Hormones change. We develop fatty liver due to a poor diet. Thyroid problems occur. We become insulin resistant. Our fat burning becomes inefficient. Stress raises our cortisol levels. Our sleep quality decreases. As a result of not feeling well, we become less active. We may feel worse and worse—to the point that our motivation suffers and we feel overwhelmed. Believe me, I’ve been there!
Simply reducing calories and increasing activity may work for some, but the majority of us will need a multifaceted approach. A modern, individualized weight loss program includes comprehensive lab testing for:
- Genetic factors
- Blood sugar regulation
- Nutritional status
- Body composition
Your weight loss program should also take into account your:
- Work responsibilities
- Social obligations
- Environmental exposures
- Stress levels
- Sleep quality
Body composition analysis using modern technology can also give you an idea of your basal metabolic rate so that you can accurately predict your calorie needs. At my practice, we use all of this information to create a personalized plan that may include an elimination diet, anti-inflammatory foods, intermittent fasting if metabolically appropriate, supplements for detoxification, nutritional repletion, adrenal support, and thyroid or hormone nutraceutical support. I also use prescription and compounded medications as needed for blood sugar control, low thyroid, hormone replacement, appetite suppression, and metabolic support.
We also make recommendations for appropriate exercise. You may be healthy enough to do high-intensity intervals, or you might need to increase your physical activity in a safe and strategic way. If you’ve got a high amount of visceral (belly) fat, you may need to reduce the intensity and focus on a more restorative mode for a period of time in order to lower cortisol. And finally, ongoing support and accountability from an expert team is essential for success.
Through our testing, training and combined years of clinical experience, doctors certified in functional medicine, such as myself, understand that complex conditions require an individualized approach, and we provide you a roadmap back to health and wellness. If you are tired of yo-yo diet cycles and gimmicks, I encourage you to seek a more comprehensive and lasting approach. You deserve it!
Katherine Birchenough was the fourth MD in the state of South Carolina to be certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine. A South Carolina native, Dr. Birchenough is a University of South Carolina School of Medicine graduate, board-certified in pediatrics and emergency medicine, and has recently devoted herself full-time to her wellness practice. Dr. Birchenough practiced traditional medicine for more than 12 years, diagnosing and treating diseases but not really getting to the root cause. Over the years, she watched as unhealthy environments and poor lifestyle choices affected the health of her peers and her patients—at one point even herself—and knew that something had to give. She realized the pursuit of health, beyond just the absence of disease, is a specialty in and of itself but wasn’t available to traditional medical students. This realization brought her to a new career path in functional medicine and has fueled her passion to treat the patient, not just the symptoms.