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Avoiding Seasonal Weight Gain
As summer winds down, a common question I get from my patients is, “How do I avoid gaining weight during the fall and winter?”
Each fall, our ancestors would greatly increase their fruit, grain, nut, and seed intake. This intake of excess calories would accomplish winter insulation and energy storage—as the famine of winter and early spring was just around the corner.
Hacking this evolutionary tendency in modern days is important for a few reasons.
In general, our modern American population:
- Does not need the amount of insulation that our ancestors did.
- Does not gearing up for a winter famine.
- Already consumes more calories than we need year-round.
- Already has years of excess caloric intake stored as fat.
So, how do we adapt? It’s easier than you think, thanks to these 7 simple hacks!
1. Meal Time Basics
Eat no more than 3 meals per day, without snacks. When being fed every 2-3 hours, the body is not encouraged to burn any of its stored fat for energy. (1,8)
Why should it bother digging out the fat stores for energy when it is being spoon-fed all day long? When you eat 3 meals a day and have ample time between meals, the body is forced to burn stored fat. (1,8)
Once fat is restored as your active fuel supply, you will see balanced energy levels, more stable moods, greater mental clarity, better sleep, fewer cravings and natural weight management.
The keys here are to make each meal count and try to make lunch the main meal.
Follow these meal time basics:
- No snacking between meals.
- Only drink water from supper to breakfast each day. For best results, aim for a 13-hour fast each night.
- Make supper smaller and earlier (before 6pm).
- Make lunch the main meal and relax while eating – no eating on the go or in a hurry.
- As you become a better fat burner, you can try skipping supper to make the nighttime weight loss fast even longer.
2. Ayurvedic Weight-Balancing Fruits
Triphala is an ancient Ayurvedic herbal formula consisting of three fruits: amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. These are all-fall harvested fruits that have been shown to support healthy weight loss. (2)
Triphala has been used for thousands of years as an intestinal scrub to clean the villi and support better elimination, healthier digestion and weight loss.
Years ago, I had a patient who came for a follow-up visit around 10 years after I initially saw her. She reported that she had lost 50 pounds by following my instructions to take 2 capsules of triphala after each meal.
Note: The results shared here are not typical or expected for short- to medium-term use of triphala. While supplementing with triphala can help support healthy weight loss, the only tried and true method of losing substantial amounts of weight is changing one’s diet and exercise in accordance with the supervision of a certified health professional.
3. Flushing Fall Roots
Every fall, while there is an abundance of yummy, in-season, calorie-rich foods to consume, there are also detox and weight loss foods being harvested!
The cleansing roots of spring, such as dandelion, burdock, turmeric, ginger and berberines like Oregon grape, goldenseal and barberry, are harvested in both the spring and fall, suggesting that a great time to detox, reset digestion and (if needed) lose weight can be the fall – if we eat the right seasonal foods!
Counteract the winter weight by drinking more dandelion root tea or eating dandelion greens.
Make meals bigger, but cleaner. For example, have a huge, leafy green salad with kale, spinach and dandelion greens, or enjoy a fruit salad for breakfast. Avoid processed and refined foods.
Yes, fruits alone can help you lose weight, as most fruits have weight management properties. (3) The problems typically come when you eat fruits alongside starchy carbs or fats. Eating these together can overshoot the body’s calorie requirements, resulting in stored fat and unwanted weight gain.
4. Easy At-Home Detox
At the junction of the seasons, Ayurveda recommends a more intensive detox regimen to reset the digestive function, which can get boggy and congested over time, especially with over-eating and/or eating foods that are inappropriate to the season, and provide rejuvenation for all of the organs that work so hard to keep us functioning.
Typically, these more intensive detox phases kick your natural daily detox function into a higher gear, encouraging the body to do a better job of cleansing on a regular basis.
An intelligent detox will always seek to open up the detox channels first, to make sure that once toxins are released, they are quickly eliminated through the excretory system lest they be pushed from one fat cell to another, or default back to the liver, which may send it back into the bloodstream. You want to make sure that the cleanse you are doing has a clear plan for where the toxins will end up – and you want that to be outside of your body.
Two more key points to look for in an effective and carefully designed detox program are the goals of blood sugar balancing and the resetting of digestion. Unstable blood sugar can lead to fatigue, irritability, inability to focus, headaches, light-headedness, anxiety and depression. Unstable blood sugar is also the root cause of many common imbalances in the west.
A detox is a perfect time to balance the blood sugar through the elimination of empty-calorie foods and proper timing of meals throughout the day.
Example (4-Day Short Home Cleanse Protocol):
- Every morning for 4 days, take increasing doses of melted ghee (clarified butter) blended into a small amount (1/4 cup) of warm milk.
- Eat a non-fat diet for these 4 days. For best results, eat a traditional Indian rice and bean dish called kitchari as your meals.
- On the evening of day 4, drink a cup of smooth move, senna tea or another gentle laxative to flush your intestines.
5. Re-Connect with the Natural Light/Dark Cycles
As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, our bodies are designed to produce more melatonin and sleep more.
Melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland during the dark cycles, not only puts us to sleep, but it can also support healthy weight loss. (4)
To our misfortune, studies show that modern humans are more disconnected from the light/dark cycles than ever before. (5) Chronodisruption, due to excessive exposure to artificial light at night and other factors, blocks the adequate production of melatonin that we so greatly depend on for healthy sleep cycles. We also tend to produce less melatonin as we age.
Studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder found that reducing the exposure to artificial light at night can re-establish normal levels of melatonin production and reset the body’s natural circadian clock – in just one weekend! (5)
Perhaps one of the best ways to curb winter weight is to avoid late nights in front of the smartphone, computer and/or TV this fall and winter.
The longer you are up after the sun goes down, the more the body is convinced that you are in an endless summer. The “Endless Summer Effect” triggers the genetic clock to start eating more in preparation for the perceived winter famine to come.
6. Exercise Outside and Get More Sun
One way to help the body lose weight and balance its natural rhythms is to get more daylight. The first morning sunlight instantly blocks any lingering melatonin production during the day, making room for more calorie-burning energy.
The LESS melatonin you make during the day, the MORE you make at night. Nighttime melatonin helps you lose weight and daytime melatonin production helps you gain it.
The CU study mentioned above also found that healthy residents of Boulder were producing daytime melatonin and having energy crashes during the day. (5)
With shorter days, it becomes difficult to find time to exercise, which can add to the fall/winter weight gain woes.
It turns out that shorts bursts of exercise can be as effective as longer duration exercise. I recommend trying my 12-Minute Workout:
- Warm up for 2 minutes with a walk or slow jog, breathing deeply through the nose.
- Do four 30 second to 1-minute fast-twitch muscle activation surges, breathing deeply through the nose. This could be jumping jacks, stair step-ups, shadow boxing or sprinting outside. Follow each surge with a 1-minute rest period, breathing deeply through the nose.
- Cool down for 2 minutes with a walk or slow jog, once again, breathing deeply through the nose.
- Repeat this every day, outside whenever possible, during the fall and winter.
7. Vitamin D And Weight Loss
Optimal levels of vitamin D have been shown to support healthy weight loss.
Our ancestors got their fall and winter vitamin D from organ meats, fish, fish liver and eggs. (6,7)
Many foods are “enriched” with vitamin D, but with vitamin D2 instead of D3. Vitamin D2 is called ergocalciferol and is a synthetic form of vitamin D. It is not as effective as natural vitamin D3.
Today, getting adequate levels of vitamin D may require supplementation. Experts at the Vitamin D Council suggest getting vitamin D3 levels checked annually and maintaining levels higher than the current recognized FDA standards.
For optimal health, they suggest keeping levels between 50-80 ng/mL.
I suggest using an easy-to-digest form of vitamin D made from sheep lanolin, rather than the often difficult-to-digest fish oil form of vitamin D3.