Being healthy allows us to live happy and successful lives. Without health, nothing else really matters. And because many of us like to blame our genes or our life circumstances for the diseases we have to face (including being overweight or obese), we need to start by being honest with ourselves. If we are healthy or not does not depend on our genes or our life circumstances, full stop. It fully depends on the choices we make and how much effort we put into gathering the right information and into taking action towards a better health and better future. Having the weight you want and feeling always as good as you would have just completed a week of detoxing holidays is what we are aiming for.
And to achieve our goals we always have to work on three aspects: loaded with nutrients meals, challenging physically exercises, and sorting out our emotional problems. This is the prescription for continued and lasting success.
What is weight loss?
Healthy weight loss is a reduction in unnecessary body-fat, while preserving fat which protects our organs. Maintaining healthy weight cannot be overstressed, as extra pounds increase your chances of suffering from chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, and cancer.
While we are writing this content, we are on a health and fitness promotion tour in Saudi Arabia organised by the KSA General Sports Authorities . And while we were under the impression that the situation in the US and the UK is bad, we were stunned with the health issues in Saudi. We were allowed to look into our future (if we do not change). 80% of Saudi women are overweight, and 28 year old people suffer with strokes, kidney failure, heart attacks. By the time they are 50 years old (if they are still alive), they are bed-bound, fed by NG (tube going into their stomach through the stomach wall), unable to move, having severe pressure sores (large open wounds that never heal because of the constant pressure and poor blood supply), and suffering from terrible mental and physical pains. And all that is because of lack of education about health and fitness, which would allow them to change their cultural habits, help them to make better choices, and get their priorities straight. Only yesterday, I stood in front of a university teacher who was explaining to me that “the girls really can’t exercise right now because they have exams coming up in the next few weeks and that’s their priority”. I looked into her face and said, “If they don’t exercise right now, more than 30% of them will have diabetes and everything else that comes together with being overweight, eating badly, and not exercising. Taking the fact how young people in Saudi suffer with strokes, kidney failure, heart attacks and cancers, they may also quit university and stop wasting their time as they won’t be able to actually use their education because they will be too sick to do so…” I smiled, the teacher did not. “Do you still think the exams take priority over their health?” As you can imagine , this time the answer was “NO!”.
I think we all should be happy about the fact that in the UK and US, we are in the slightly better position, but we also have to ask ourselves why despite all the education and information we have access to, we still make bad choices. This could lie in the fact that our schools and universities have been entirely focusing on academic achievements, leaving the art of emotional intelligence, taking responsibility, leadership, and treating the body as the most valuable property and investment, out of our curriculum. Unfortunately, we all are paying the price for it now.
Ask yourself a question: Do you really want to continue using excuses that keep you from being healthy? Do you want to continue to struggle with your weight? Or, do you want for once transform your body so it makes you feel great?
How to achieve the weight that makes you happy?
It is easy to say that to lose weight, you should consume fewer calories than you burn, but has this statement ever really helped anyone? I doubt.
So the first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why do we have to eat so much and “rest” so much that we become overweight?”
Most of the time the answer is very simple: bad habits and emotional stress. And this is why dieting alone almost never helps and often causes a yo-yo effect. And even if you add exercise, you may still struggle unless you change the whole package. For weight loss to be sustainable, it has to be part of a healthy lifestyle change, which includes a tasty and full of high quality nutrients diet, physically challenging exercise, rest, and increase of your emotional intelligence (so you can deal with stress and your bad habits better).
One of the challenges in losing weight is of course the transformation of our diet. It is easy to say to just eat less, but if we don’t understand why we eat too much and if we don’t apply our logic when we make choices, our willpower can easily let us down.
Hunger can mean at least two different things: homeostatic hunger (real hunger) and hedonic hunger (emotional or caused by sugar-salt-fat addiction hunger).
Homeostatic hunger is the traditional concept of hunger: when your stomach grumbles because you have not eaten for several hours. It means your energy stores are running low, so hormones in your body signal that you need food for fuel. As such, levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone) begin to increase, which are then curbed when you start eating. Just because you are trying to lose weight does not mean that you have to fight this hunger as much as possible. Your body needs to function. But, you need to be more discerning about the kinds of food you eat. For example, zero-calorie sweeteners can mix up fullness signals and trick your brain into thinking that you have not eaten much, when in fact you actually have, consequently making you eat more. Also, ultra-processed foods, which contains lots of fat and sugar, trigger the pleasure centre of your brain, making you want to eat more of them.
Hedonic hunger, on the other hand, is the type of hunger when you want to eat (or crave food) even though you are not actually hungry; you eat to satisfy your emotional needs or your addictions. Unfortunately for us, our primary survival instinct from thousands of years ago predisposes us to crave for very caloric foods, high in fats, and sugars. Back then when food was hard to get, eating high in calories foods made more sense, but not today. And, since highly caloric foods with exact the combination of salt, sugars and fats that turn us into addicts, have become widely available, hedonic hunger has become one of the biggest problems of our times. Hedonic hunger can be harder to fight than the real hunger, but there are ways to fight it.
How to deal with emotional eating and cravings?
Do not keep any kind of junk foods at home because if it is there, “it will call your name” and you will eat even if you don’t need to. Now we are not saying don’t ever eat anything sweet. We all know that as soon as we leave the house, everyone who likes us will try to feed us with coffee and either chocolates, cakes, crisps, ice cream, or something else that’s equally unhealthy, and that’s already more than what we should be eating. It is very unfortunate that we have acquired this bad habit of expressing our love to one another by serving each other things that actually make us very sick. If you really care about someone, you may want to change this habit too.
Instead of jars full of crisp and cookies, always keep baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables at home. Make sure they stay somewhere you can see them, so if you crave, you go for an apple (or any fruit you like) rather than chocolate.
From years of experience, we also know that cravings reduce significantly once the body becomes saturated with all the phytochemicals it requires. Phytochemicals are chemicals that originate from plants and that repair our DNA, cells, organs and the whole body. An easy-to-use example is to start every morning with some smoothie.
Smoothie for total beginners who “hate” greens
Blend 50g of spinach and one leaf of kale together with a small glass of orange juice. Don’t get excited about the glass of orange juice “full of sugar”! The lack of greens will kill you 100 years before this small glass of orange juice will.
Smoothie for greens lovers
Add to the beginners smoothie a floret of broccoli, 1/4 of celery stick, +/- 1cm slice of any cabbage, few leaves of mint if you like the taste and replace the orange juice with water but only if you really enjoy the smoothie this way. In our experience, if you don’t like something you find any excuse not to do it persistently. So one more time: the lack of greens will “get you” much faster than a small glass of fresh orange juice. And if there is no other way to get the greens into you, but via the orange juice, then add the orange juice to your smoothie (small glass, not a litre).
The next question you should be asking yourself right now is, “Why did we choose these particular vegetables?” These vegetables are part of the cruciferous family that has the strongest phytochemicals to repair DNA damage and prevent cancer and bacterial infections. They also have anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties and much more. If you get into the habit of drinking freshly made smoothie with the ingredients we recommend, within few weeks you will notice significant changes in your body and your well-being overall. Remember that the freshly made smoothies have the highest bio-viability and within four hours of being made, 70% of the phytochemicals become inactive. This is why you can never buy true health in a tablet in a supplements store.
So, when emotional hunger strikes, make sure to consume something that is delicious but healthy at the same time, so you actually improve your health as you eat rather than become overweight and sick.
Moreover, a 2015 report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says that individuals who follow a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low in meats and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages tend to have automatically healthy body weight, without dieting and watching what they eat.
How to eat so you never have weight problems?
- Regular meals
- Size of the portion
- 80% of fresh vegetables on your plate
- Replace salt with herbs and different spices
- Minimise processed foods, including oils and sugars
If you go to bed around midnight, eat your last “big” meal at 6pm. After six o’clock, enjoy light green smoothies, a small portion of steamed vegetables or fresh fruit, but don’t have big meals that need hours to be digested. Of course, this will not apply if you for example work during the night or if you do heavy weights exercise later at night. Use your logic to adapt this rule to your lifestyle.
The first sign of having insufficient amount of hydration is actually feeling of hunger; the feeling of thirst comes when the body is really dehydrated. Make sure to drink 2.5 – 3 litres of water (does not include coffee as caffeine dehydrates). Again, this number needs to be adjusted according to your life. If you are in hot environment and/or exercising, you will need more water. If you have problems with the pump function of your heart and fluid retention, you need to listen to your doctor’s advice and restrict the fluid intake appropriately.
Eating regularly and planning your meals will prevent you from overeating and from eating unhealthy, high in sugar and fats foods. If you starve yourself (unless of course it is a part of planned fasting) and even worse you have a glass of alcohol on top of the hunger, then cheese pizzas, french fries, hamburgers, doughnuts, and chocolates will almost certainly end up on your plate.
Size of the portion
Americans and Brits (and many other “overweight” nationalities) simply eat too big portions. This is the result of eating foods which have very little nutritional values except fats, sugars, and protein. Currently, the typical US and UK diet is made of >90 % of processed foods. Also, 50% of our diet comprises animal products. And because our body doesn’t get what it needs, it simply asks for more. Smaller portions more frequently is great idea, but what is a smaller portion? The easiest rule which really works is make a fist with both hands, put them together, and that is the size of your meal.
80% of fresh vegetables on your plate
No matter what you eat, make sure that more than half of your plate is filled with fresh salad and/or fresh crunchy vegetables or fruits. Eat the salads, vegetables or fruits always first before you eat rice, pasta, potatoes or animal products. This way you will first provide your body with amazing nutrients and then eat much less of the fatty and salty animal products.
Replace salt with herbs and different spices
We hugely overdo salt, which is responsible for high blood pressure and fluid retention (including puffy eyes, if you wonder). By using a great variation of spices and fresh herbs, you can very quickly reduce the amount of salt you use.
Minimise processed foods
Processed foods are bad news for our health because they almost don’t have any of the antioxidants or phytochemicals we need. This means that no matter how much you eat and no matter how overweight you are, your cells are starving, ageing, and dying prematurely. Processed food is almost anything with a list of ingredients on it. This list also includes: white rice, white pasta, white flour, white bread, the whole aisle next to the Frosties and Kellogg’s and also almost anything you can find in the fridge section.
The body has natural mechanisms for detoxing or getting rid of unwanted chemicals. The two organs that are mainly involved in this process are the liver connected to the intestinal tract and the kidneys which excrete water soluble substances. Lungs and skin are also involved in the detox processes. Despite the fact that most of us wouldn’t dream to leave the house and go to work without having shower and brushing our teeth, we treat our body like a garbage bin that never needs to be emptied or cleaned.
Ideal detox would be to have such a healthy lifestyle that it would be a detox in itself, but today this is very difficult simply because most of the products we consume (particularly the animal products) are full of antibiotics, hormones, and harmful chemicals, and these include our tap water and of course the air we breath. And because of the environmental stress your body is already exposed to, you may consider four important ways of detoxing:
- Stop smoking, minimise or stop drinking alcohol, stop consuming refined sugars and fats, reduce to a minimum your consumption of animal products (unless they are organic, they all are fed with antibiotics, hormones, GMO corn and soy and more, even the fish), drink plenty of water and sleep as often as you can between 11pm and 6 am.
- Fasting has been proven consistently to be a life-prolonging miracle. You can start simply by doing a 12-hour fasting (stop eating by 6pm one day and don’t eat until next morning 6am, but drink water as usual 2.5-3L/day). The 12-hour fasting can be done daily. It can also become a part of your healthy lifestyle. If the 12-hour fasting works for you and you feel fine you can extend that to 24 hours, but drink water as usual. You can do the fasting days as often you wish; weekly or monthly, it all depends on you. And then there is a more advanced fasting where people go for retreats to fast (+/- having colonics) but I would strongly suggest to do that under supervision in highly recommended places. NOTE: If you have any medical conditions, you must first consult a specialist who can recommend you an appropriate way of fasting. Anyone with diabetes and on diabetic medication has to be very careful as during the fasting, blood sugars may drop dangerously low.
- Clean your gut! Taking in consideration that the liver is the most important detox organ in our body and the fact that a lot of liver “excrements” end up in our gut, we really should be making sure that we eat tonnes of fibres because they make us go to the toilet few times per day (if you eat enough) and therefore they clean your gut of the toxins. One example is cholesterol. Almost everyone in developed countries who has passed the age of 40 has too high cholesterol levels. 50% of cholesterol is reabsorbed in our gut. The more fibre and less fat you eat, the less cholesterol is being reabsorbed and more is excreted. The same applies to many other fat soluble, sitting in our guts toxins. Scientific studies have consistently shown that a low fibre and high on animal products diet causes colon cancer. There is nothing wrong to have now and then a little laxative to clean our bowels (drink extra water) but the real gut detox is a diet high in fibre and cruciferous vegetables (raw is for bacterial and cancer protection, cooked helps to remove the bile and the toxins).
- Drink water! It is necessary for the entire body to function.
Another important factor in a successful weight loss program is increasing your physical activity. For one, exercise, more specifically short, intense workout, has been found to curb the levels of the hormones responsible for driving appetite. Furthermore, a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that individuals who engaged in the most vigorous exercise, such as running and jumping rope, saw a decreased risk of developing metabolic syndrome by two-thirds. If you have metabolic syndrome, you tend to have excess weight around the waist, high blood pressure, low good cholesterol levels, and difficulty controlling blood sugar levels.
Generally, experts recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. However, if you want to achieve long-term weight loss, you may have to increase your exercise. In a 2008 study of the National Weight Control Registry, it was found that individuals who lost at least 13.6 kg and maintained for a year or longer reported at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.
Remember; you cannot be healthy without exercise no matter how skinny you are, full stop!
Getting enough sleep at night is also important in having healthy weight. The National Institutes of Health points out that if you are sleep deprived, the levels of ghrelin or hunger hormone levels increases while the levels of leptin or satiety hormone decreases.
As such, people who get good quality seven to eight hours of sleep a night tend to have the lowest body mass index (BMI). On the other hand, those who sleep fewer than six hours a night generally have higher BMI. This is probably because lack of sleep makes them eat more and also because if you overeat and don’t exercise, you often have poor quality of sleep and/or suffer from insomnia.