In the new year, societally, we trend towards goals for weight loss. The $70 billion “diet” industry continues to grow, along with obesity, at a substantial rate. There are complex issues that contribute to this epidemic, including genetically modified foods, antibiotics and hormone-laden meat and dairy products, “frankenfoods” made in a laboratory that inhibit our bodies’ satiation signal, toxic byproducts that change our microbiome, micronutrient deficiency, and more. Obesity also inhibits our immune function, impacts hormonal balance, and creates cardiovascular concerns. However, Traditional Chinese Medicine takes all of these into consideration.

Individual assessment and differential diagnosis is key in TCM. The central tenet and true beauty of TCM is that it takes each individual’s nuanced presentation into account. With a basis of diagnostic clarity for the patient, we are able to build a good foundation for healthy re-patterning. First in importance is understanding we can’t simply accept the basic calorie in — calorie out model. This over-simplified model assumes two important untruths: first, that two foods with the same caloric load is handled the same by the body and secondly, that all calories eaten are absorbed. This model is similar to understanding that a car’s fuel intake must produce an equal amount of energy. In Traditional Chinese Dietary Medicine, each food produces a different energetic response in the body. As well, whether it is cooked and how it is cooked can dramatically change if and how the food is absorbed in the body. Nutrient dense whole foods are easily recognized by the body, as well as broken down and used adequately.

Lessening food intake is often the first switch people make on the path to weight loss. While eating less is a part of establishing a new weight “set point’,” our food choices are more important for making any change possible. Dieting strictly for weight loss and not considering changing to healthier food choices can severely damage other aspects of a person’s health. When your body senses the loss of food, it switches into famine mode, slows your metabolism which adjusts the fat stores currently in reserve. This recipe is not sustainable and can leave one feeling frustrated and potentially cause additional health concerns. Below are some sustainable healthy ways to create long lasting change.

Establish meal rhythms. Eating at regular intervals by eating small meals to ensure blood sugar regulation. When we eat erratically, this stimulates brain-generated urgent hunger, a craving for anything that will raise blood sugar quickly. Skipping meals can also lead to overeating later. A good rule of thumb is to establish a feeding window, maybe you start eating at 10 a.m. and finish eating by 7 p.m. This gives you nine hours of the day in which to eat all of your meals. So, even if you aren’t hungry at 10 a.m., eat something small. Your feeding window should never go past 8 p.m., eating late at night both hinders our ability to digest and absorb the food, as well as get good quality sleep that night.

Eat satisfying meals. Sustainable diets are well-rounded and satisfying. Eat good quality fat, protein and carbohydrates in order to avoid cravings for poor quality fat and carbs. If you are eating whole foods which the body can recognize, the nutrients can be broken down and extracted for use. Note, very low or no carbohydrate diets are not sustainable and often dangerous, leading to insulin resistance, kidney damage and constipation. There is a significant difference between refined sugar, glutinous grains and non-glutinous grains (the carbs from gluten free, whole grains are the safest for most people).

Leave room in your stomach and pause. Our stomachs have the ability to stretch, we have all felt it. If we use the rule of thumb to fill our stomachs two-thirds full and leave the last third empty, then pause. This allows for the cascade of hormones that signal satiation and begin digestion to work properly. The suggested pause is not meant as punishment but can be a powerful tool to avoid overeating. Use the pause before going back for seconds and before dessert. Here, we create time to notice how we feel and see if the food has landed, to see if we feel full.

As we move into the new year, may you be motivated to make healthy choices to feel the best you can in mind and body.

Dalite Sancic is a doctor of eastern medicine at Rutland Integrative Health.

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