Functional Weight Optimisation

Thinking About Weight Loss

Functional Weight Optimisation

Thinking About: Weight Loss

If we focus our attention on the causes of weight issues, the consequence may often take care of itself.”

In summary, Functional Medicine is the scientific approach to health concerns that focuses on identifying any potential root causes for each individual. Whilst many people may have the same ‘diagnosis’, they will more than likely each have a different combination of triggers or drivers underlying it.

Functional medicine helps to isolate what those root causes may be, and then primarily uses targeted lifestyle modifications (specific shifts in nutrition, movement, sleep, social support and stress management strategies) to help reduce or remove them. Although not the same title, this is how I have been working since I started my nutrition practice in 2008.

When it comes to weight management, I think this personalised approach is a more effective strategy than any ‘off the shelf’ diet plan. The identification of key drivers in appetite and weight is a critically important, yet often overlooked, part of the picture. We all have unique genetics, environmental influences, medical or nutrition histories, life stress, time pressures and so on. Given the vast complexity that this brings, a simple mantra like ‘just eat less and move more’ is not so helpful and unlikely to be successful in the long term.

The functional approach to weight loss, however, is very different. Before we even begin to tackle the weight itself, we start by identifying which of these root cause influences may be having a significant effect. For example, could difficulties sleeping be driving up hunger hormones and therefore appetite during the day? Could a niggling injury be preventing regular, enjoyable exercise? Could time pressures mean that it’s difficult to cook healthy meals from scratch? Could stress be leading to an over-reliance on food for emotional support or comfort?

Taken all together, these predisposing factors can eventually lead to weight change over time. But by first identifying, and then removing or reducing their impact one by one, weight can gradually come back into balance without it ever having to be the main focus. Weight loss in functional medicine can therefore be a side effect.

It is not, however, a ‘quick fix’. Often, these triggers have been accruing for a number of years, or even decades. Expecting complete resolution within a few weeks is unrealistic. Sustainable weight optimisation (as we would also use the same approach to those who may need to gain weight) takes time.

If you are looking to bring your weight into a healthy balance, why not begin by giving yourself permission to take it slowly? I would encourage you to give yourself the whole of the year to work on and practice these lifestyle shifts. By this time next year, not only could you be at your goal weight, but you could also have gained a number of healthy habits that will support your wellbeing long into the future as well.

If this approach is something you may be interested in, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Firstly, I would urge you to work alongside a qualified Functional Medicine Practitioner if at all possible. They do not have to be doctors – many excellent practitioners are Nutritional Therapists, for example. You can find a local practitioner through the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website: ifm.org/find-a-practitioner/

2. Next, start to have a think about any aspects of your life, health or mindset that you feel may be contributing to your weight concerns. Make a list if you find it helpful. Nothing is too small – and remember, you don’t have to show it to anyone else!

A few examples of common triggers may include (although of course, this does vary considerably from person to person):

  • Poor sleep, or shift working
  • Lacking confidence or time to cook from scratch
  • Injuries or pain which limits your ability to exercise
  • Hormonal fluctuations, such as menopause
  • High intake of ‘hidden’ energy, such as in soft drinks or alcohol
  • Often eating on the go or whilst distracted
  • Stress or significant life events
  • Emotional or comfort eating, or eating when bored
  • Regular consumption of highly refined foods, which do not fully satisfy your appetite
  • Family members or friends who undermine your attempts to change your lifestyle (even if well-meaning!)
  • Not being sure what a healthy diet really consists of

3. Next, pick the easiest trigger to work on, and brainstorm various ways that you may be able to remove or reduce its impact on your eating habits.

Try to break each one down into manageable steps; what could you try to change? Would you benefit from professional advice (such as booking an appointment with your GP or a physiotherapist)? What has worked for you in the past? Are there any other resources (books, websites, food delivery companies, courses etc.) that could help?

4. Give yourself a decent amount of time to work on each trigger before moving on to the next one. I would suggest a month minimum. It is always far better to take things slowly but make them last, than to rush and given up a few months down the line.

5. If you are struggling with any aspect in particular, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It is never a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of insight and strength.

 

good luck

Written in collaboration with Dr Rosamund Yoxall

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Portrait of Amelia Freer holding kale

Why Clean Eating Needs a Side Order of Common Sense

This article was written in 2016 following the media backlash around clean eating. Although the situation is rather a lot calmer now, many of my thoughts on this topic still stand.

Portrait of Amelia Freer holding kale

Why Clean Eating Needs a Side Order of Common Sense

Just like fashion, trends in dieting come and go. I’ve been an interested observer of these for well over a decade now, watching each new idea peak in popularity before fading away in readiness for the Next Big Thing. So the enormous rise and subsequent criticism against clean eating comes as no surprise to me.

However, despite the fact I’ve not specifically promoted the clean eating trend, as a fully-qualified nutritional therapist and author in the public eye, I find myself increasingly included in the opinion pieces surrounding its backlash. While this is an inevitable (albeit unwelcome) part of my job, I feel the storm around the topic of clean eating is becoming increasingly unhelpful for both sides of the argument.

This is especially true as we gear up for celebrations and events such as Christmas – what with all the indulgent foods and drinks that go with it, it’s tempting to pour scorn on clean eating and write it off as joyless. However, neither extreme – the indulgences of December nor the January detox – is good for us. So I feel compelled to respond, not to state whether clean eating is right or wrong, but rather to pour a healthy dose of common sense and calm onto the stormy waters.

The clean eating trend was originally born out of a desire to reduce the amount of junk or processed foods we consume, and increase our intake of unprocessed, whole foods. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about that – indeed, it’s the same advice given to us by public health bodies.

However, this simple message has subsequently turned out to be both its blessing and its curse. Rather than being able to reject clean eating as a fad and carry on, nutritional professionals, like myself, have found that this one has rather muddied the waters. Because what may have started out as sensible, healthy advice, also has the potential to morph into a far less beneficial, sometimes even dangerous, message.

If we take clean eating back to basics, strip away the marketing hype, remove the shame-inducing labels and ignore its unrealistically glamorous portrayal, we’re fundamentally left with a diet that matches almost exactly what I’ve been encouraging my clients to follow for years: fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, plus some complex and unrefined carbohydrates. These ingredients need not be expensive. Nor difficult to find and cook. And they are a big step up, health-wise, from the refined, high-sugar and high-salt foods we have come to consume in abundance.

Perhaps amongst the hype, however, we’ve forgotten that the clean eating ‘trend’ is nothing new. It’s simply the way our grandparents ate. So to my mind, it shouldn’t be about limiting important food groups, nor about a strict adherence to a set of rules and letting nothing else pass your lips. Instead, it should be about flexibility, moderation and enjoyment – with space for an occasional treat when you fancy it.

For those who embrace clean eating in such a balanced way, the results can be transformational after years of perhaps being stuck in a dietary rut, and such achievements shouldn’t be belittled or judged.

The rise of in popularity of clean eating has also resulted in more readily available healthy ingredients, inspirational cooking resources and wonderful grass-roots movements encouraging young people into the kitchen. In restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and even fast food chains, the choice of healthy options is now better than ever.

This simply wasn’t the case when I started out in practice. And having spent the past fifteen years trying to encourage people to eat more healthily, these changes have helped enormously. And frankly, I have to applaud a movement that’s elevated kale (traditionally a cattle feed) to almost cult-like status. Making everyday vegetables sexy is the holy grail of nutritional practice and clean eating has managed it in bucket loads.

 

Salmon Soba Noodle Salad by Amelia Freer

However, the clean eating trend is not without its problems. But I wonder whether these problems lie more in the delivery of the message, rather than in the actual message itself?

Successful trends attract businesses, and people, ready to jump onto a commercial bandwagon with little regard for the core values of the trend. However much marketing dust is sprinkled on it, a cake labeled ‘clean’ is still a cake. The same goes for expensive green juices, and all-singing-all-dancing superfood powders. They may be nice (and I do enjoy them myself occasionally), but they’re not necessary for good health, despite what the marketers tell you.

Most worrying of all though, is the rise of disordered eating as a result of this trend. Warped clean eating messages promoting strict food rules or shame-inducing body images are on the rise, and are now able to reach us 24/7 through social media and the internet.

Although the development of disordered eating is multi-factorial, I never underestimate the power of such messages. The pressure to be ‘picture perfect’ at all times was something I’m grateful I didn’t experience growing up, but I can see how vulnerable this could make anyone feel. And such feelings are certainly not confined only to adolescents.

And of course, many people giving advice on clean eating aren’t necessarily qualified to do so. I’ve read a lot in the press about the lack of regulation in nutrition which is a problem that needs addressing and is certainly adding fuel to the fire. Practicing nutrition absolutely requires appropriate, validated training, so I’m very much in favour of regulation. However, we must also be conscious that many of the articles slamming clean eating aren’t written by nutrition professionals either.

It’s important to remember that no food trend should justify eliminating vital nutrition from our diets. Nor should it become the catalyst to ignore the physical cues to eat. We must eat well to survive and prevent disease. Food, after all, cannot be ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. It is just food. And good food is not only important for physical health, but also for our emotional and social health too.

So why not start afresh and take clean eating back to being healthy eating again? Remove the restrictive rules, the excessive promises, the inflated prices, the hidden sugars…and even the name. For many, the term ‘clean’ has come to imply a moral high ground or value judgment that is, at best, simplistic, and at worst, manipulative.

Because what started out as a positive move towards a whole-foods based diet now feels like it’s slipping dangerously close to a divisive, commercially-driven fad, encouraging the most vulnerable to feel dangerously inadequate.

One final thought. Even once we’ve brought a little common sense to the clean eating debate, it might be helpful to zoom out to the even bigger picture. In these troubled times we find the world in, I try to remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to be living in a democracy where most people have a choice about what to eat and how to live their lives. There are many millions who do not have this privilege. So although it’s easy to get caught up in the detail, let’s try to stay grateful for simply having food on our table.

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What's Your Body Image?

what’s your body image?

With today’s cultural and technological appetites, especially for social media, we have laid sadly ourselves bare to the constant bombardment of staged and altered images of perceived beauty. For many, the relentless nature of it has become an assault on our rational minds. Selling the idea of physical perfection is now a multi billion-pound, 24/7 business.

 


We no longer serve as mere observers, we are now also participants, creating our own content or seeing ourselves recorded in the videos and photographs of others – it has become increasingly difficult to remain visually anonymous. It can feel as if the scrutiny and pressure is all-pervading; instead of relaxing and being present in the moment, we are worrying instead about how we look, how we will be recorded, and how many social media hits we’ll receive. These worries may be justified: many people now rely financially and professionally on their ability to promote an inspirational lifestyle (even traditional occupations command a headshot or visual representation) and the added pressure of a thousand anonymous eyes can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Away from our digital footprint, we are also open to the scrutiny of others ‘in the flesh’ so to speak – people we meet during our day, each of whom presents an opportunity for our natural curiosity of comparison to rear itself. “Does so-and-so look slimmer than me? Younger? How about their hair – is it better than mine? Oh, I wish I had their shoes…”. Much of this internal dialogue is so automatic that we are often barely conscious we are even doing it. And yet we may have been thinking that way for so many years that it has now become a deeply inherent daily habit.

Turning our attention inwards, the mirror is yet another cue for our automatic chatter to rev up uncontrollably. But, notably, have you ever taken a moment to pay attention to what it is you are actually saying to yourself? One day, write down these internal thoughts and statements, as once seen objectively in black and white, many people are taken aback by how unkind and derogatory they can be to themselves. Would you talk to friends like that? No! Furthermore, let me pose one further question: does it work? Do the constant negative comparisons, unpleasant comments to your reflection and the feelings of self-doubt empower you to lead a healthier, happier life? Again, no. I thought not!

So let’s explore the idea of body image a little deeper. With better, greater insightful understanding, can we afford ourselves a more positive, contented, kinder view of our incredible selves (for we are all incredible in different ways!)?

What is Body Image?

Body image is a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation (how we inherently feel about ourselves) and by noting the reactions of others (be that personal and/or cultural). It is a self imposed verdict of our own aesthetic born from past and present experiences, perceptions and beliefs – but, thankfully for those with a negative body image, it carries huge and positive scope for change.

How do you move towards a more positive body image?

If you feel your negative body image is significantly and detrimentally impacting your life, it may be sensible to seek out help. There is nothing at all to be ashamed of in recognising that your negative internal dialogue may be affecting your happiness, relationships and daily activities.  An element of support to break the cycle of negative thought would be a good thing, not only for you but also for those around you.

Blog Post: What’s Your Body Image?

What does a positive body image look and feel like?

I can hazard a guess that many of you understand what a poor body image feels like. But what about the flip-side?

Well, firstly, it is an honest, clear and true perception of your shape, without skewed perception or lens of negativity. Contrary to often popular belief, having a positive body image is neither a sign of arrogance, nor ignorance (of the things that we can do to keep ourselves healthy and optimally nourished – I say this as the media is too often scathing of women that defy the need to conform to what many regard as ideal body shape).

Next is a true appreciation of your natural body shape and a deeply held understanding that physical appearance is in no way a reflection of character, personality or value as a person. Sadly, this belief can be a hard one to shake. We are repeatedly conditioned by marketing and advertising to believe that skinnier, younger, wealthier, blonder etc. means better in some way. This message feels particularly strongly pushed toward women. But of course it is not true. When we actually stop to think about it, we all know this logically – there will be hundreds of people you look up to and feel inspired by, whose bodies do not conform to the marketer’s vision of what is ‘right’.

Outward appearance is only one minute part of what makes up a person’s contribution to this world, yet we often seem to be giving it the biggest chunk of our mental energy. Perhaps a little more balance, a little more focus on the other attributes we aspire to, may be a useful starting point. What would your chosen attributes be? How could you give them more of your conscious space?

Asking yourself these questions can be a truly beneficial exercise, which may then lead to healthy lifestyle changes started with all of the right motivations. All too often it is about shape or weight and not, as it should be, focused on the celebration of having a happy, healthy, well cared for body and soul. We are better placed to seek out healthy changes started with all of the right motivations. After all, it is far easier and more pleasurable to maintain new habits if started with a true desire to nurture optimal health than it is to maintain habits that are for the sole purpose of running away from self loathing. Losing weight is never the key to happiness or fulfilment. But promoting your thoughts into a more positive place, daring to show yourself some support and affection, and making changes because you genuinely feel that your mind and body deserve to be nourished wonderfully well – now, that may well be the magic bullet that you’ve been searching for. The foundation for all lasting physical change starts with psychological change.

Finally, a positive body image is one in which you feel comfortable, confident and grateful for your body. Out-loud gratitude can be a brilliant way to instantly disarm the perpetual cycle of negative, internal dialogue. Why not try, quite literally, to thank your body for legs that can walk, kidneys that don’t need dialysis, and eyes that can see vivid sunsets? It is, obviously, a slightly trite exercise and you may well be suffering from a body that doesn’t work as well as you’d like, but by focussing on the good things and remembering that not everyone is lucky enough to share them, you’ll seek out a new perspective that you may have struggled to find beforehand.


“and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied, ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.’ ” – Nayyirah Waheed

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

1. Reduce the opportunity for comparison. Do you really need to check social media multiple times a day? Or continually compare yourself to contemporaries? It may help to temporarily suspend social media accounts to afford yourself space to invest in your body confidence.

2. Be kinder to yourself! If that sounds an impossible task, make it more achievable by being kinder at specific points in the day. For example, when getting dressed each morning, be more conscious of your internal dialogue and the moment you hear a negative thought, consciously say (in your head or out loud) “Be kinder!”. Practice this increasingly throughout your day and, soon enough, new connections will be made in your brain that break old, negative habits in place of new, positive ones.

3. Consider meditation. There is now a plethora of apps and programmes that offer beginner guides to meditation, some needing just a few moments a day to follow. Many focus on acceptance, compassion and gratitude, and these can be incredibly beneficial in allowing yourself the time and space to develop a more positive body image.

4. Explore mindful self-compassion. Unlike many self-esteem based exercises, mindful self-compassion avoids any external comparisons. It aims to teach you how to better manage feelings of inadequacy by learning how to respond with heightened kindness and understanding. It’s the practice of repeatedly evoking good-will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering. There are books, online articles and courses around the UK which offer assistance with developing this powerful skill.

5. Write to yourself from the perspective of a wonderful, wise sage. Seek out a quiet, private moment and write a letter to yourself with the sentiments of someone who knows your innermost thoughts and anxieties and is present purely to be kind, reassuring and supportive. Imagine it was sent from a best friend or cherished relative. Use your imagination and don’t hold back because no one else need ever read it.

6. Make a list of all the wonderful things you feel nourished by – be that physical, emotional or spiritual. Grab some blank paper and your favourite pen and jot down the times when you feel especially nourished, loved and cared for. Be as specific as you can. Whenever you feel negative thoughts creeping back, refer back to this list to reinforce the feelings of love and completeness.

If you are struggling, try breaking it down into the following headings:

• Physical nourishment, for example: Walking on the beach with the wind in your hair; picking berries on a sunny afternoon; drinking iced mineral water to quench a real thirst.
• Emotional nourishment, for example: Watching a comedy that makes you laugh out loud; listening to much loved music; sharing old and happy memories.
• Spiritual nourishment, for example: 10 minutes of guided meditation; a peaceful walk alone in the woods with no distractions; taking a moment to just be still and listen to the birds.
• Social nourishment, for example: Cooking and sharing Sunday lunch with best friends; spending an evening with cherished friends; weekends away with family.
• Intellectual nourishment, for example: reading an interesting new book; taking a one-off evening class in something creative like pottery or floristry; attending a thought-provoking lecture.

7. Rewrite your story. We tell ourselves multiple stories about who we are and what we are capable of achieving. All too often these stories only serve to limit us: ‘I am too unfit to exercise. I will make a fool of myself’; or, ‘I will never lose weight. I am too busy and it’s never worked before. I don’t want to feel a failure again’. The good news is that once you have identified the counter-intuitive sentiments of your own dialogue, you can consciously start to re-write it: ‘My body is adaptable. If I take things slowly I will be able to work towards that 5K run’; or, ‘Everybody has the potential to lose weight. I will make gradual lifestyle tweaks, maybe just one a week, so that positive change is more achievable’.

Try answering the following questions:

• What are the limiting stories or beliefs you tell yourself?
• With no restrictions, how would you re-write those stories?
• What one small thing could you do today, if you were that person you want to become?

Body image is an intensely personal, intimate topic. If you are someone who experiences negative body image, I do hope this article resonates with you – in whole or in parts. The good news is that there are simple and achievable things you can do to help lift yourself out of the vicious cycle of negativity. Finding what works for you can not only lead to a happier, healthier perception of our uniquely wonderful bodies, but also potentially a happier, health life all around.