Now that January is over, some of the "screaming" about HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT has finally quieted down. I detest January for the simple fact that every yahoo out there has a new "breakthrough" to help you lose weight! Without any exercise!! And without dieting!!! And without any work whatsoever!!!! Oh yeah, they also have a bridge to sell you...
For the last bunch of years, I've been "hunkering down" in January and letting all the bullshit flow down the hill - and in February I dust myself off like Punxsutawney Phil (today is Groundhog Day after all) and try to answer all the weight loss questions that have piled up throughout the month of January.
Why are we fat? Well it's "simple" - right? We just eat too many calories and burn off too few. Wait - isn't it our high fat Big Mac diets? No, it must be the carbs - so if we just cut out carbs, we should be thin - right? Not so fast - what about the gluten - isn't that poisonous?
Obviously, I'm poking a little bit of fun into some of the overly simplistic theories that I hear "experts" throwing around. Energy metabolism isn't a simple "on/off" switch - it really takes constant tweaking to achieve just the right "setting" - which is what I'd like to discuss with you over the NEXT FIVE WEEKS.
For the next 5 weeks, I'll be sending this Talbott Times Newsletter out with a "Weight Loss Wednesdays" theme (Feb 2, 9, 16, 23, and March 2). Each week, I'll cover some important aspects of energy metabolism that MUST be addressed if you truly want to lose body fat and reach your "fighting weight" (defined below).
· Feb 2 (Today) - Overview of SENSE
· Feb 9 - Role of Stress & Sleep in Weight Loss
· Feb 16 - Exercise (the 3 types that "matter")
· Feb 23 - Nutrition & the Helping Hand
· March 2 - Dietary Supplements - pros & cons
BAD NEWS = I don't have any "breakthroughs" for you.
GOOD NEWS = What I DO have, however, are some very sound, scientifically-proven techniques for getting the "most benefits" with the "least effort" (but there is still plenty of effort if you really want to see optimal results).
I've been conducting the very same program for the last 10 years (yeah, boring, I know) - but it's been used with success by elite-level endurance athletes, busy soccer moms, traveling businessmen, and everyone in between.
Every time that I offer the program "in-person" it fills in a few hours and we have to turn people away. I've outlined the program previously in books including The Cortisol Connection (www.cortisolconnection.com) and The Cortisol Connection Diet (www.cortisoldiet.com) - and those books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It works for about 90% of the people who try it - which isn't a "perfect" track record, but I'll take 9-out-of-10 and be pleased.
My program is called "SENSE" because it both makes sense (get it?) and each of the letters in SENSE stands for a component of the program:
S = Stress management & Sleep
E = Exercise
N = Nutrition
S = Supplementation
E = Evaluation
The whole idea underlying SENSE is that in addition to diet/exercise, we incorporate "metabolic balance" to help normalize your hormone profile and help your diet/exercise regimen to "gain traction" and work better. What you'll generally feel is that you're not on a "diet" and that you're not "killing" yourself with exercise. Energy levels, mood, and mental focus are kept very high (the combination of which we measure as "Vigor" and is associated with optimal physical and mental performance). It might be more accurate to think of SENSE less as a "weight loss" program and more as a "Vigor Improvement" program. SENSE helps you FEEL GOOD FIRST (so you can "stick" with your diet/exercise regimen) and achieve that target weight.
What's a Target Weight?
Your target weight is typically the weight you have in mind that you want to achieve at the "end" of your diet. Whatever that weight is - forget about it. Instead of an arbitrary target weight on the scale, I'd rather have you achieve your optimal "wellness weight" - which is the weight at which you FEEL BEST. This weight is almost certainly not the lowest body weight that you "could" achieve - it's probably a few pounds higher.
If you were a boxer, you would have a "fighting weight" - at which you're at you peak fitness, strength, vigor. If you're a triathlete or marathoner, you probably have a "race weight" at which you're most likely to have a personal best performance. If you just want to feel good on a daily basis - you need to have a "wellness weight" to strive for - and you need to realize that it might take weeks or months or even years (yes, years) to achieve. The amount of time and effort to hit (and maintain) your wellness weight will be partly determined on your starting point. Are you just a few pounds away after an "off-season" with too much fruitcake - or are you 50 or more pounds overweight after years of neglect?
To use myself as an example, my "race weight" in college (as a lightweight rower and a member of the US National rowing team) was an emaciated 143lbs and 4-6% body fat. At 5'10" this is "too low" for maintaining wellness - but I could hit that weight every week during the season and still race well - but I was also moody and grouchy and had trouble concentrating on school work. Now, as a knucklehead who does Ironman triathlons and 100-mile ultramarathons, I feel much stronger, and happier, and vigorous racing at 158lbs and 9-10% body fat. Right now, I'm at about 165-166 and 13-14% body fat - so I have a few pounds of fat to drop in the 8 weeks until my first event of 2001 - the Umstead 100-mile trail run in Raleigh, NC. So I'll be following the SENSE program right along with you...
What Can You Expect from SENSE?
As I mentioned above, I've been using SENSE for about a decade, and we always set out to recruit as many "hard cases" as we can find (people who have tried/failed to lose weight or keep it off - athletes who struggle to lose those "last few" pounds despite heroic changes to their diets, etc). This SENSE approach has been presented at some of the leading research conferences in the world, including the American College of Nutrition, Experimental Biology, the American College of Sports Medicine, the International Society for Sports Nutrition, and the Obesity Society.
Attendees at these research conferences generally find that the most interesting feature of SENSE is not any single aspect of the program, but rather that the synergy between the component parts is so effective when melded into a single approach. For example, we've known for years that regular exercise and a balanced diet are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle program, but what SENSE shows is that by building on the diet/exercise foundation with attention to Metabolic Balance (cortisol, testosterone, etc), the "standard" results with respect to indices of fatigue, depression, and Vigor can be optimized, much to the delight of our participants.
When I look across the last several years of conducting SENSE (in person with approximately 1,000 participants), we generally find the following "average" results:
· Metabolic Balance improves. Cortisol level drops and testosterone level rises, resulting in a rebalancing of the cortisol-to-testosterone ratio toward one that favors increased energy, reduced depression, improved mental function, lower tension, and elevated Vigor. Our participants generally see a change in this C:T ratio of 15-20%, and it is one of the major biochemical effects that makes them feel so good, with elevated mood, abundant energy, and clear thinking.
· Vigor, well-being, mood, and energy levels increase and depression and tension levels decrease, often by an astonishing amount (15-50 percent), due to the restoration of the Metabolic Balance that has been upset by previous stress exposure.
· Individuals lose about one pound of fat each week (if they are trying to lose weight with attention to their diet/exercise regimen). I say "fat" instead of just "weight" because it's important to know that our participants are losing the fat and keeping the muscle-meaning they are thinner and healthier, but they maintain their metabolic rate, which helps them keep the weight off.
· Cholesterol falls by about 20 percent (both total cholesterol and "bad," or LDL, cholesterol). This is partly due to better eating, partly due to hormone maintenance, and partly due to a gradual loss of body fat.
Why is SENSE So Effective?
One of the reasons that SENSE is so effective is because of its focus on the "stress" piece of the equation. Among normal healthy individuals, the chronic stress of daily living (bills, traffic, deadlines, family issues, sleep deprivation, etc) represents a scenario of varying degrees of elevated cortisol and suppressed testosterone (overall increase in relative C:T ratio) that can lead to alterations in psychological mood state (vigor/burnout, depression, tension, etc - all of which we can measure in our studies).
It would be expected, and our current data support, that maintaining normal metabolic hormone balance helps to restore a positive state of Vigor (mental/physical energy) - and helps you adhere to the diet/exercise regiment that improves wellness and performance.
It's interesting to note that individuals who are "stressed" in what appear to be different ways, including dieters (restricting calories for weight loss), athletes (overtraining), and normal stressed-out and sleep-deprived individuals all share the same metabolic hormone disruption (elevated cortisol and suppressed testosterone). Interestingly, it would be expected for cortisol (a catabolic hormone) to rise and testosterone (an anabolic hormone) to drop following several weeks of dieting.
This change in hormone balance (cortisol up and testosterone down) is an important cause of the familiar "plateau" that many dieters hit (when weight loss stops) after 6-8 weeks on a weight loss regimen. By maintaining normal cortisol/testosterone levels, a dieter could expect to also maintain their muscle mass and metabolic rate (versus a drop in both) - and thus continue to lose weight without plateauing. For an athlete, that same maintenance of metabolic hormone balance (versus an imbalance) could mean the difference between an overtraining state with subsequent illness or injury. For a typical stressed-out/sleep-deprived mother of three, the improvement in psychological mood state (vigor, depression, fatigue, etc) could mean all the difference between thriving or succumbing to a life filled with chronic stressors.
Decades of scientific research from scientists around the world show us that stress does a lot of "bad things" to us (whether that stress comes from bills or overtraining or dieting) - and most of our "modern" diseases are stress-related and directly due to the metabolic imbalances caused by stress.
Sitting here writing this at the start of 2011, we finally know "enough" about chronic stress, metabolism, and mood state (vigor) that we can use each (or all) of the aspects of SENSE to truly change how our bodies respond to stress and how we feel and perform in a meaningful way.
Whether it means hitting your "wellness weight" in 2001, or achieving a personal best race time, or simply feeling better than you've felt in years, I hope that you'll join me over the next few weeks to learn more about the SENSE program and how it can help change your life - and when it does, maybe you'll be motivated to help others change their lives as well.
Please "tune in" next week for a discussion about why Stress Management - and especially getting enough SLEEP is vitally important for your weight loss efforts...
Thanks for reading,
Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, LDN, CNS, FAIS, FACSM