Naturopathic Approaches To Weight Loss

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 2:10pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

There are many ways to lose weight. The simple formula of "eat less, exercise more" works for most people. As a naturopathic doctor, I witness patients losing weight on any number of diets-and then regaining those pounds almost as soon as they've finished dieting.

From a naturopathic point of view, it's interesting to understand why a person is overweight and how she can change her eating habits for lasting change. The naturopathic approach to excessive body weight is (as it is with all other unhealthy conditions) to find and treat its cause. Naturopathy emphasizes the body's ability to heal itself and to minimize interference with the healing process. Although many diets produce weight loss, they can also negatively impact the body.

Causes of being overweight

There are many reasons that people are overweight. We tend to overemphasize the self-control part-imagining that overweight people simply lack self-control. This is not true in all cases. Laboratory tests can reveal physical problems underlying weight gain. Without treating the cause of those extra pounds, when a person cuts back on calories and increases exercise, she may still find it a significant struggle to lose weight.

In addition to laboratory tests, a naturopathic doctor also will be interested in knowing what foods a person likes to eat and when. She will want to know what her patient feels or hopes to feel when eating sugar or high fat foods, or drinking alcohol, and whether or not eating successfully fills a need.

Here are some common causes of weight problems from a naturopathic perspective:

1.   Weight problems due to physical imbalances

Diseases that cause people to gain weight include low thyroid hormone, pituitary disorders, adrenal gland malfunctions, blood sugar imbalance, and fluid retention due to drugs, liver disease, or kidney disease.

2.   High stress as a cause of weight problems

A lot of stress in life leads to the body producing high stress hormones, which include cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones lead to fat storage around the abdomen. High stress can be caused by work or family situations, or the result of accidents and injuries.

3.  Weight problems as a result of toxicity

The body will hold on to extra pounds to dilute toxins in the body. Toxins can be heavy metals, pesticides, or foods and other things that the body can not process.

4.   Food and drink addictions leading to gaining weight

Alcoholism is one addiction that causes weight gain. Sugar or coffee addictions can also cause overeating and weight gain.

5.   Gaining weight due to emotional reasons

The body can hold on to weight for emotional/energetic reasons. Extra pounds may help a person feel more grounded or nurtured. They can provide insulation from the world or a way to escape for a while from whatever is going on. Sometimes people eat to fill an internal void or to deal with emotional toxicity.

6.   Lifestyle challenges contributing to weight problems

It is also important to recognize that some people find it difficult to make changes for logistical reasons. They may dislike cooking or lack the time it takes to implement new habits.

Weight gain: treat the cause

Once doctor and patient have discovered the reason behind the extra pounds, they can begin to treat the cause to achieve long-term weight loss. Otherwise, the pounds remain a symptom from which diets provide only temporary relief. Treatment may involve a cleanse or a fast to release toxins from the body. It may involve healing the intestines or supporting the hormonal system. Reducing stress can make a tremendous difference in reducing cortisol levels in the body. Recognizing and treating the cause of an addiction may be what is needed. Finding solutions to logistical and environmental problems may involve hiring a chef once a week to cook a well-balanced meal and, in the process, nurture the client. It may involve finding a life coach, to help make personal or lifestyle changes. Energetic problems can be helped with talk therapy, homeopathy, flower essences, bodywork, acupuncture or other therapies.