How I Lost 220 Pounds & Kept It Off For Good
Back in the 1990s, I went through a period of time when my weight was completely out of control. No matter what I did to lose weight, I just kept gaining pounds. I tried every diet I could. I worked face to face with the late Dr. Atkins himself. I met with doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, fitness trainers, naturopaths, and homeopaths. But I just kept gaining.
Sure, I'd lose a little weight with whatever diet I was on at the time, but then I'd hit a plateau. I'd reach a point where I couldn't take the restriction anymore and I'd have a big binge. All the weight I lost would come back with a vengeance. By 2001, I weighed over 400 pounds.
In 2002, I gave up. I stopped trying to lose weight. Instead I started trying to heal my life, my mind, and my body. Paradoxically, by not focusing on losing weight anymore and instead focusing on healing, the weight started to melt off.
Over a two-year period from 2002 to 2004 I lost over 220 pounds—and I've been the same weight ever since. I don't diet in a restrictive sense. There's nothing I "can't" have and I don't measure quantities or count calories. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want and as much as I want. But because I've focused so much on healing my mind and body, I simply never crave junk food anymore. My body now desires extremely healthy foods.
How I sustained my weight loss:
There's a lot of talk these days about how impossible it is to lose weight and keep it off in the long term. In particular, one New York Times article revisited some of the success stories from The Biggest Loser a few years later and found that virtually all of them have gained their weight back and more.
Many doctors are now saying that dieting doesn't work, and some of them are going as far as to say that you can't lose weight and keep it off in the long term.
But what I've learned is that when a doctor says that you can't do something, what they really mean is that the methods they use do not work. It doesn't mean you can't do it—it just means that their methods are not effective. So I'd like to offer an alternative version of what it takes to create lasting, sustainable weight loss.
In a nutshell, sustainable weight loss comes when you address the real issues that are causing your body to hold onto weight. Sure, eating junk food and not exercising enough will cause you to gain weight. But what causes you to crave junk food or be too tired to exercise? You might say it's all just weakness, laziness, lethargy, and indifference. But there's actually a lot more to it.
Having lived through the experience of having a body that just wanted to gain and gain to now being in a body that's effortlessly thin, I can tell you that weakness and laziness have very little to do with it.
There's a certain hormonal condition that can happen in our bodies that can put us into fat storage mode. I call this set of hormonal changes "The FAT Programs" because they are part of a genetic program we inherited from our ancestors, designed to help us gain weight for survival reasons. When these FAT Programs are activated, our cells stop responding to two very key fat regulating hormones, leptin and insulin.
You may be familiar with the terms "leptin resistance" and "insulin resistance." Both are extremely common in people who suffer from weight issues. When we have leptin and insulin resistance, our bodies get transformed into human fat storage machines. We can become insatiably hungry and crave junk food constantly. Also, our metabolism slows down, so we're chronically exhausted. We become very efficient at making fat and we lose the ability to burn fat.
Weight loss comes easy when you're not at war with your body anymore.
When you combine these hormonal changes together with a world of all-you-can-eat empty-calorie junk food, you have a recipe for disaster. This is what causes morbid obesity. I lived through this, and unfortunately millions are living through it as we speak. While it's true that cutting out all junk food will help, since both leptin and insulin resistance cause junk food cravings in the first place, it becomes very difficult to be sustainable. It's a vicious cycle. So what do you do?
In order to reverse these hormonal issues, you have to address the other issues that are causing the problem. That's exactly what I did (without realizing it at the time).
When you address the other issues that are causing the problem, weight loss becomes sustainable because you’re simply not as hungry, you no longer crave junk foods, you have more energy to exercise, and you regain the ability to burn fat as fuel. When these changes happen, you're burning fat all day instead of making it.
These "other" issues that need to be addressed are any type of chronic low-grade stress or inflammation in your body. These cause elevations in certain stress hormones. And these hormones send a chemical message to the cells of your body to become leptin- and insulin-resistant.
Stress can be caused by mental, emotional, and physical issues, so you have to take a mind-body approach to healing. The way I lost weight—and the way I continued to stay thin—is by addressing the stresses in my life that were contributing to weight gain. Here's how you can do that, too:
1. Nourish your body.
Many of us are chronically malnourished, and that causes our cells to not function properly. So add in lots of super foods and real foods like salad greens, green juices, super greens, spirulina, chlorella, and sprouts. The key is to add these foods for medicinal purposes. Think of them as medicine—you're eating them to heal.
2. Heal your digestion.
Issues like leaky gut or having unfriendly bacteria in your intestines can cause chronic inflammation. To heal your gut, add in lots of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, probiotics, coconut kefir, and nut cheeses. For example, I usually have a couple of tablespoons of fermented veggies before each meal. I also recommend bone broths, as they have collagen that helps heal the intestines.
3. Get plenty of sleep.
Not having enough sleep elevates cortisol levels, which contributes to leptin and insulin resistance. So, make sure you always get at least seven to eight hours of sleep. I also recommend taking a nap in the afternoon, if you can. (Again, for medicinal reasons!)
4. Reduce mental stress.
Mental stress, just like any other type of stress, causes hormonal changes in your body. For some of us, it can cause the hormonal changes that activate The FAT Programs. Develop daily mind-body practices to heal mental stress, such as meditation, visualization, yoga, and chi kung.
5. Develop a detoxification lifestyle.
Toxicity is a chronic stressor on your body that can cause weight gain. So for starters, drink lots of water to help flush out toxins. When possible, add organic produce. If you eat meat, try to make sure it's organic and grass-fed, free-range, or wild-caught. By following these suggestions, you can develop a "detoxification lifestyle"—in which you're passively eliminating toxins in a gentle way, day by day, so that you are cleaner and healthier.
6. Address emotional and life issues.
Sometimes your life is the problem. When you ignore the issues in your life that are not ideal—such as being in the wrong career, relationship, or location—it causes chronic stress, which can cause your body to gain weight. Be willing to make some changes if need be. Use visualization and affirmations to help you make the life changes that are necessary. When meditating, ask for help from your intuition, higher self, invisible guides, guardian angels, or God. However you conceive the invisible support in your life, connect with it and ask it for help. Then, when the time comes and the opportunity presents itself, allow yourself to take a chance if it feels right, even if it's a bit scary.
Emotional issues and past trauma can also cause an elevation of stress hormones. Make an effort to address any emotional traumas you've had in your life.
Those are the real keys to sustainable weight loss. You may not lose weight instantly by focusing on the real issues—but you will be steadily transforming your body from the inside out.
The most common "complaint" I get when working with clients this way is that after a while they say they are just "not that hungry." My response is that that's exactly what's supposed to happen when your body wants to let go of weight! When you work with your body this way, as opposed to fighting cravings night and day, weight loss comes easily because you're not at war with your body anymore.
Losing weight and keeping it off then becomes totally natural, normal, and sustainable.
Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.