You work out regularly and try to eat a healthy diet, but the scale isn’t budging, or maybe you’re feeling anxious or depressed but can’t pinpoint the cause.
According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, a Berkeley, California–based board-certified integrative gynecologist and the author of three New York Times best-selling books, the key to regaining your health lies in nurturing your body from the inside out.
“For women who have been struggling to lose weight, sleep at night, and find more energy and joy or who want to maximize their health and longevity, reconnecting the brain and body can help with weight loss, boosting energy, and alleviating anxiety and depression,” Gottfried says.
In her new book “Brain Body Diet: 40 Days to a Lean, Calm, Energized, and Happy Self” (HarperOne, 2019), Gottfried explains how to achieve brain and body balance through food and lifestyle changes.
Keep blood sugar under control
Blood sugar levels aren’t just a concern for diabetics. If you work out several times a week and follow a strict diet but still can’t lose weight, especially around your midriff section, insulin resistance may be the culprit.
“Insulin directs your muscle, liver and fat cells to remove glucose from your blood and store it,” Gottfried says. “When you have insulin resistance, your body is unable to properly convert the food you eat into energy to fuel your cells.”
Gottfried says insulin resistance increases the risk of pre-diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including stroke. It also increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s because of this amyloid beta connection.
“Keeping blood sugar under control is one of the single most effective and impactful things we can do to manage our health and how we age,” she says.
To reverse insulin resistance, Gottfried recommends limiting your intake of processed foods and sugars and increasing your intake of healthy fats (avocados, coconut oil, salmon and olives) and slow-burning carbs (pumpkin, squash, wild rice and sweet potatoes).
Ensure you get adequate vitamin D
Some studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and insulin resistance. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you aren’t alone. A lack of vitamin D can take a toll on your bones and overall health and cause symptoms, including depression, muscle pain, hair loss and fatigue.
“Both a vitamin and a hormone, vitamin D is essential for brain function, bones, thyroid and restorative sleep,” Gottfried says. “Vitamin D appears to have direct effects on your regulation of sleep.”
“The best food sources of vitamin D are liver and low-mercury fish such as herring, sardines and cod,” she says. “Sunshine is still the best way to get vitamin D, but if you have a genetic defect in your vitamin D receptor like I do, it may be almost impossible to get enough sunshine to keep your vitamin D in the optimal range of 60 to 90 ng/mL (the recommended range needed for a good night’s sleep and achieving a healthy weight). Most people need to take a vitamin D supplement to achieve the right levels.”
Improve your health span
While there’s no Fountain of Youth or no way to automatically increase your life span, Gottfried says it is possible to increase your health span.
“In the next 10 years, we’ll see a shift from a focus on diseases in the population to personalized health of the individual,” she says. “We have a revolution occurring in our understanding of genomics, environmental inputs, lifestyle factors, microbiome considerations, and how they define or defy health.”
There are also measures individuals can take to extend not only the years of life but also the quality of their life.
“Cut out sugar, alcohol and caffeine (if you metabolize it slowly like half the population),” Gottfried says. “Be aware of exposure to toxins, increase your vegetable intake and add in smart exercise, especially yoga, which is proven to help you dance differently with stress.”
Choose the right workouts for hormonal health
When it comes to movement, health and weight loss, the idea is that the more you do, the greater the results. But Gottfried says this isn’t necessarily true. So what can you do if you want to stay in shape but are struggling with hormone issues?
When your cortisol, insulin, thyroid and sex hormones (progesterone in women and testosterone in men) are out of balance, they can prevent you from achieving your fitness goals. And while movement can help, Gottfried says it’s important to ensure you’re doing the right workouts at the appropriate intensity.
“Racking up countless hours on the road or treadmill will likely trigger an undesired hormonal response, which can negatively impact your attempt to lose weight,” she says. “The longer your workout, even at a moderate intensity, the more cortisol your body is releasing. As we know, cortisol can negatively impact our efforts to lose weight. Do less cardio and combine it with strength training for best results.”
Photo credit: A.L., Unsplash