Weight gain does not discriminate based upon body shape, and it’s most attracted to people with hormone imbalances, chronic overeating, and an inability to cope with stress. So how do you win what appears to be a lose-lose game?
I have a 9-point plan that works. I know what I’m talking about. I talk the talk and walk the walk! I deal with constant, never-ending stress just like you do. I am 53 and a size 4. It’s not easy but I do it, and I know what I’m talking about. The following steps are unlike any diet you’ve ever seen, because getting thin (and staying thin!) requires a well thought-out, intelligent strategy for long-term success. There are plenty of books and websites centered around the topic of weight loss, so this is not the be all/end all plan for everyone, but it’s definitely going to work if you commit to it.
The Suzy Cohen Plan to Outsmart Fat Cells
1. Shrink Portion Sizes.
One of the absolute fastest ways to losing weight is to reduce the amount of food that you eat. Instead of eating two platefuls, try one instead. And serve yourself on a smaller plate to begin with! The most important food group to shrink the portion of is your carbohydrates. For example, if you customarily eat bread with a meal, then don’t! Cut the bread out. Or cut down on the carbs some other way… leave the croutons off the salad, order a different vegetable instead of a baked potato, order a protein-rich main dish instead of pasta. You can do this!
Carbs will kill your figure; we all know that. But the main point is to cut down on your portions. You will see how well this work if you do it, and by day 4 or 5, your stomach will hurt if you eat the amount of food you ate last week! It happens that fast because your stomach is a muscle. You have to train your muscle with a very clear message that it can be full on THIS amount of food, not that. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. The mental chatter of “I need to get my money’s worth here” is not doing you any favors. And it’s no bargain when you have to keep buying bigger and bigger jeans!
You are born with a finite number of fat cells. They shrink and expand just like Spanx! The bigger they get, the more estrogen they make. Simply stated, the more we eat, the larger our fat cells become. Control of portion size is paramount. If you can shrink your portions, you shrink your fat cells.
But shrinking portions is not done overnight. This requires several weeks to accomplish properly. You have to wean yourself off large plates and second (or third) helpings. Think of food as a drug, and just like a drug, you want to wean off it methodically and slowly.
You can’t starve yourself either! One major mistake people make is by going on a crash diet. It rarely ever works and you know it. Anyone who’s ever crash dieted has gone on to gain the weight back again, at least some of it. Maintaining a size 2 after you’ve been a size 10 all your life is virtually impossible to maintain if you achieved the size 2 AFTER a crash diet. This is because your body went into starvation mode in order to achieve the size 2. That changes hormones way too abruptly in your body! It sends a signal to your brain that you are basically dying, you’re starving yourself to death! Your body goes into a phase called catabolism. It revolts in a way that is intended to preserve your life.
Your body is forced to live off muscle tissue, breaking down the muscle since there’s so little nutrition in your diet. Your triceps, your chin and your thighs start sagging and lose muscle tone. Severe and sudden caloric restriction slows down your metabolism too, the opposite of what you want. So you might look thin for a few months, but this temporary state of “fitness” is far from it. Pretty soon you will go back to your old habits of eating, especially when you are stressed, and then you gain back all the weight you lost. It’s partially due to the fact that you never changed your habits, which won’t work long-term. You’ll just do yo-yo diets all your life and convince yourself that they “work” because the temporary result is a size 2. But from a physiological stand point, you’re putting more stress on your body.
2. Restore Nutrients.
First satisfy all nutrient deficiencies and then go on a diet, if you must. If you do not satisfy all those nutritional deficiencies you might have in, say, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, B complex vitamins and magnesium, then your body will become even more depleted in these. This is not only dangerous for your skin, hair, nails, and heart, but also your fatty tissue-laden eyes and brain. A clean diet should help you with this, and of course if you have a specific nutrient depletion you need to supplement. For example, if you take a statin, you are probably low in CoQ10, vitamin D and selenium due to the “drug mugging” effect.
Also, if you do not satisfy your body’s nutritional deficiencies, it will cry out for all kinds of quick-energy foods like candy, bread, and other carbs. You can’t lose weight if you’re downing 5 Little Debbies every day because you’re feeling low. Your body communicates hunger, thirst, stress and fatigue through sugar cravings. Stay nourished through the regular consumption of healthy, filling food and your body will thank you!
3. Eat Mediterranean Style.
First, clean out your kitchen pantry of all the junk food that tempts you. If it’s not around and easily available, you are so much less likely to eat it. If there’s any type of meal plan that I recommend above others, it’s the Mediterranean diet. It focuses upon whole, nutritious foods, fatty fish, little red meat and poultry, no processed foods, no chemical-laden foods, no artificial sweeteners, and encourages healthy grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and helps you satisfy all your nutritional requirements easily. Paleo and ketogenic diets are rich in fat, but devoid of minerals and over time can impact your cardiovascular system and raise blood pressure (especially if you do them incorrectly, which most people do).
You need to acquire healthy muscle tissue first. Start toning up your body. Sculpt it with lower weights and more repetitions. Don’t make any changes in your exercise regimen yet except this. Start preparing for losing weight by adding toned muscle. You can buy dumbbells and work on your biceps and triceps first. Sexy arms are nice because no matter what your waist looks like, you can begin to wear sleeveless tops again. It may take a few weeks or a couple of months, but work on toning up. If you’re toned up, you’re already hotter, regardless of your size! And I bet you will like the way your toned arms look, instead of bone and fat hanging on there after a crash diet. So tone up first, and also mentally prepare yourself for what you will look like in the coming months.
5. Enjoy Your Exercise
Find some methods of exercise that are fun to you, then do them! And do them frequently! It doesn’t matter if its rollerblading, kickboxing, yoga, volleyball, Ellipticals, Barre, Zumba, Pilates, MixxedFit or running with your dog! You can even swim with dolphins if you live near them! Just move!
If you enjoy your exercise, it’s not so much of a stress-laden chore. It’s a healthy activity that promotes wellness from head to toe. And if it makes you smile or giggle, the added bonus is that it releases all kinds of good-for-you neurotransmitters and hormones. Raising endorphins counteracts high cortisol. So the more fun it is, the better. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to do it! Most of all, you’ll exercise more often when you look forward to the activity.
And once you find an enjoyable fitness program that you tones you and improves aerobic function, do not drop it like it’s hot, the minute you achieve your weight loss goal! Make it your habit.
A little more tough love coming right now, but I see this time and time again. If you make the gym your habit when stressed, instead of a pizza, you will soon find yourself loving what you see in the mirror at the dress store! So often, we turn to food or alcohol when stressed – instead, CHANGE your habit, and when you’re stressed, hop on the treadmill! You want this to be an intelligent strategy for life-long health, not a quick thing to lose weight. You want all these good activities you’re engaging in to become your habits.
6. Eat slowly.
Sadly, wolfing your meals down will make you fat. This is because your body doesn’t get the STOP signal from leptin; it requires about 15 minutes to come out and say, “Alrighty then, I’m full, you can stop eating now.” You cannot “hear” the voice of leptin if you eat fast and furiously. I’ve found that if I eat during the Survivor reality show (during the Immunity Challenge) I eat faster, and I eat more. So eat mindfully and with a focused, relaxed brain. Try anything – even setting a timer between meals.
Along the same lines, if you find that you crave dessert as soon as the last forkful of savory food is down your throat, just Step. Away. From. The. Table. Really – give it an hour or so to figure out if you REALLY need that dessert – and I’ll bet you’ll be just fine and perfectly satiated without it. You just need to give your brain a chance to keep up with your tummy!
7. Try Adaptogenic Herbs.
I find the older I get, the wiser I become about other cultures and their remedies, for example, Chinese medicine. Its whole philosophy focuses on massaging the body and increasing blood flow and lymph movement. This helps your organs to release toxins from childhood and reduce inflammation. Certain herbs that are considerations include the following, but please ask your doctor if these are right for you because they impact systems from head to toe:
- Holy Basil
It’s important to create some white space for yourself, in order to modulate cortisol. In order to outsmart a fat cell, you have to shrink it, and in order to do that you have to reduce cortisol. You can only do that if you reduce stress. The white space on your calendar equates to feel-good endorphins like dopamine and serotonin. (These also translate to better sleep, and great sleep can contribute to weight loss!)How does this happen? Low serotonin (due to high stress and a tight schedule) means you have less melatonin. Serotonin makes melatonin, which makes you sleep, which then reduces your waistline. So if you want to outsmart your fat cells, relax a little. Everyone is not your responsibility. People can (and should!) be responsible for themselves.
If you are minute to minute, hour to hour, you’ll never get a nice good deep breath! This translates to higher cortisol. Treating yourself to activities like massages, which release tension and improve lymph flow, promote wellness, and help boost health in every way. Other ways to cut stress include meditation, saunas (which detoxify the body and, therefore, the mind), reading, shopping, listening to good books on Audible, taking hot baths with Epsom salts, getting a pedicure or facial… whatever nourishes you and gives you a sense of peace, calm, and bliss. Remember how in your younger years you used to lose weight faster? Well, yes, you had a faster metabolism and more thyroid hormone, but you also had less stress because you were very likely more carefree and focused on yourself.
Once hormones like cortisol come into play, you’re dealing with belly fat accumulation which sparks a vicious circle because the fat on your belly has more cortisol receptors, which then attracts more fat, which then makes more estrogen! It’s a difficult cycle to interrupt once your chemistry is on overdrive and the first domino of major stress has fallen. So because stress is at the top of this obesity roller coaster, make a note to yourself to reduce stress as much as possible.
Again, I’d like to mention healthy habits. You have to develop a habit for dealing with stress or you won’t lose weight. When I’m stressed I hit the gym. It raises my endorphins and makes me forget about the nonsense in my life. Other people, when stressed, may drink alcohol, use benzodiazpines or other drugs, eat junk food, or go shopping. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to shop as much as the next girl, but when you are stressed these things provide only temporary comfort – and sometimes contribute to greater problems.
So my point is, it is the HABIT that needs to change first and foremost. If you’re stressed, your go-to should be the gym, a walk, or something other than a mind-bending drug or comfort food. The God’s honest truth is we’re addicted to certain foods, in fact our brain seeks out chemicals in certain foods. None of us want to stop doing or eating the things that make us feel good, so I know this is hard to hear, and it’s hard to do, but it’s a fact, you MUST change your habits in order for stress eating to become a thing of the past. Remember stress sets off the cortisol, then causes belly fat, then increases estrogen, causing water weight gain too, and on and on it progresses!
9. Balance Two Key Hormones.
You need to evaluate the levels of, and then balance, your thyroid hormone and blood sugar. I’ve covered this extensively in the past. There are chapters on losing weight in two of my books, Diabetes Without Drugs and also, Thyroid Healthy. Balancing blood sugar and thyroid hormone are two other critical components that I have not elaborated on here, but they are equally important.
For some, it’s not about what you’re eating as much as your hormones. Many of you eat like a bird and still hold on to weight. That speaks to a hormonal imbalance, an undiagnosed intestinal problem or a blocked metabolic pathway. There are hormones such as those secreted by your thyroid gland that govern your metabolic rate. The better your thyroid is functioning, the thinner you’ll be. When you’re under stress, your thyroid shuts down. If your thyroid hormone isn’t working, or converting to T3, the weight loss will be stubborn. Then there is estrogen, which fluctuates by the minute and decreases as a woman ages. Estrogen is normally produced by a woman’s ovaries; however, it is also produced by the adrenal glands, the brain and adipose tissue (connective tissue comprised of fat cells).
There’s so much more I have to share on this, I could write my OWN book! Acquiring new healthy habits, while toning muscle, and reducing portions will go a long way. You can start that today. The obvious things I haven’t mentioned here are the choice of foods you eat. I’m not even going there right now because I know YOU KNOW what you should be eating. The pressure to be thin is never-ending, but for me, this isn’t about being “thin”; this is about being healthy.
If you want to outsmart your fat cells and WIN this fight, you have to commit yourself to the steps above. It may feel like a struggle on some days, but I believe in you. No matter what indulgence you get into, just go back to the plan and do the best you can. Don’t let anyone bodyshame you. You are who you are, and you are dear to someone so no matter how futile you feel it is, just stick with it. One day you will look into the mirror and love what you see.