Posted by Michael Finkelstein | January 5th, 2016
Slow Medicine for Healthy and Sustainable Weight Loss
The Key Ingredients of Weight Balance
Many of us feel a sense of “lack,” or deprivation, in some area of our lives. Looking for comfort and escape, we turn to food. We then berate ourselves for being “bad” and go on punitive diets, in a never-ending vicious cycle. Diets fail not only because they “feed into” this deprivation cycle but also because they fixate on the food itself, with a litany of do’s and don’ts – making us obsessed with what goes into our mouths. Ironically, this stress leads us right back to food. Sustainable weight loss comes from nourishing ourselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, in a never-ending positive loop. By “feeding” our hunger on each of these levels, we shift our core relationship to food, coming into harmonious balance and gently shedding pounds, without effort or struggle.
How Weight Struggles May Impact Your Life
If we struggle with our weight, we may experience anything along the spectrum of physical and emotional difficulties. We may suffer from diabetes, heart disease, or chronic pain that is triggered by carrying around more than our frame can handle. We may have difficulty walking, cycling, swimming, or engaging in other physical activity – further exacerbating the core problem of weight management, by causing us to live a relatively sedentary life. We additionally may feel crippling discomfort in our body and, given our society’s biases about size, shame about how we look – leading to isolation, depression, and even self-hatred. All of these struggles in turn may set off a chain reaction of difficulties, adversely impacting our lives socially, professionally, financially, medically, and more.
What’s Going on in Our Bodies
At any given time, there are an untold number of chemical reactions taking place in our cells – among other things, digesting and assimilating nutrients, converting those nutrients into energy, and eliminating the rest as waste. The sum total of all these chemical reactions is known as “metabolism.” When we are in balance on every level – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual – our metabolism is in peak form, in turn utilizing calories in the most efficient way possible. When we are out of balance, however, on any or all of these levels, our metabolism is compromised. We store calories as fat instead of burning them as energy, and we therefore need excess calories to accomplish the same metabolic functions.
That’s because our bodies were designed for survival in the wilderness – where we were likely to have excess food one day and no food the next. In response, we developed the capacity to overeat and store the excess as fat, to be utilized during leaner periods. Our bodies have not quite caught up to the modern era, however, so our brains are unable to distinguish between the metabolic imbalance caused by insufficient food and that caused by stress. So when we are on a tight deadline for work, or when we are stuck in the traffic jam from hell, or when we have just broken up with our romantic partner, our body sends out hunger signals and even goes into starvation mode – compelling us to inhale that pint of New York Super Fudge Chocolate Chunk ice cream, medical advice and common sense be damned.
In other words, to our primal brain, spiritual, emotional, and mental hunger equals physical hunger. As would be the case if we had not eaten for days, we feel desperate cravings for sugars (including carbs) and fats – pizza, cookies, ice cream, and other classic comfort foods. Not only are we driven to gorge on these foods, but typically we also are unable to stop ourselves from doing so. The higher functions of our brain, such as our will power and the intellectual understanding that we do not really “need” an entire hot apple pie (Right! Now!), are “hijacked” by the primal functions of our brain. We are in survival mode.
The Conventional Approach
Conventional medicine approaches weight loss by measuring weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar; by setting goals for bringing these numbers down; and by advising patients to eat a low-calorie, high-nutrition diet and to exercise regularly. This approach successfully alerts patients when a problem has manifested, and it educates patients about the importance of physical activity and nutrient-dense foods. It fails, however, to recognize that excess weight is not in and of itself the problem, but rather, that metabolic imbalance is. Conventional medicine additionally fails to recognize that there are complex bio-psycho-social dynamics behind metabolic imbalance, and to provide patients with the tools for mastering those dynamics.
The Slow Medicine Approach
Slow Medicine optimizes metabolism, and therefore weight, by recognizing and “feeding” the many forms of hunger. Through a comprehensive inventory, we identify where in our lives we feel “lack.” We then begin filling those voids in positive, constructive, and healthy ways, by activating the seven spokes of the Slow Medicine Wheel of Health:
- our physical bodies (play tennis, practice yoga)
- our mental-emotional states (recite positive affirmations, practice guided imagery)
- our relationship to others (go out with friends for dinner, play games with the kids)
- our relationship to the natural world (go on a hike, watch birds in the backyard)
- our community (attend a neighborhood block party, join a networking group)
- our relationship to the Divine (attend services at a local spiritual center, pray at home)
- our life’s purpose (teach children, volunteer at a homeless shelter)
We even can activate multiple spokes simultaneously, and therefore amplify the impact of each, by practicing “healthy multitasking” – creating a synergistic and compound effect. Instead of walking on a treadmill at the gym, for example, we can go for a walk (physical body) on the beach (relationship to the natural world) with a friend (relationship to others). As we feed our hearts, minds, and souls in these ways, we achieve balance in our lives, and therefore in our metabolism. We then can focus on feeding our bodies, without confusing the hunger of our cells with the hunger of our lives.
Even through this act of eating, we can utilize physical nourishment as an opportunity to feed ourselves on multiple levels, by activating any of the seven spokes of the Slow Medicine Wheel of Health. Here are some examples:
By buying our produce at a farmer’s market, we not only can bring home some of the freshest and most nutrient-dense food available (our physical body), but we also can develop relationships with the vendors, performers, and locals coming out to the market (our community), all the while supporting local and sustainable agriculture (our life’s purpose).
By choosing produce with a diverse array of colors, textures, smells, and tastes, we not only can satisfy the hunger of our cells (our physical body), but also delight our senses (our mental-emotional state).
By getting creative in the kitchen, and by invoking a state of mindfulness in the presentation of our food – even in the creation of a simple dish like a fruit salad – we can unleash our inner artist (our mental-emotional state) and practice meditation (our relationship to the Divine).
By adding colorful flowers to the table (our relationship to nature), playing soothing music (our mental-emotional state), and offering a prayer of gratitude before eating (our relationship to the Divine), we not only can enhance the experience of eating but also optimize the process of digesting our food (our physical body).
When we prepare our food and/or when we eat it, we can invite those we love to join us (our relationship to others).
Three Steps to Getting Started
To get started on the Slow Medicine approach to healthy and sustainable weight management, take these three steps:
- Feed Your Body Wholesome Food
Eat more colorful, seasonal produce – choosing an array of green, red, blue, orange, white, and yellow vegetables and fruits. Start by adding just one extra serving a day, be it a small plate of sautéed greens, a side of baked squash, or a cup of apples cooked with raw honey and cinnamon.
- Feed Your Emotions
Release the negative and embrace the positive, by doing stream-of consciousness journaling – through which you can get out all your anger, resentment, and frustrations. Play with children or animals, so that you reconnect to the simple joy of being alive. Reach out to friends and community, new or old, and begin to cultivate loving and supportive relationships that take you to your happy place.
- Feed Your Spirit
Activate your inner artist and express your soul, through dancing, painting, singing, or taking photographs. Get out into nature, however you are able – whether going for a walk in the woods, driving along the beach, or sitting in a local park. Join a meditation group, house of worship, or yoga class, to access the Divine within and all around you – connecting to something greater.
On Friday, January 29 at 11:30am EST, I am offering a free 30 minute consultation on the Slow Medicine approach to healthy and sustainable weight loss. Call (641) 715-3580, and enter access code 949875, to speak with me directly, and I will answer any questions you have about your symptoms and struggles in particular, or the Slow Medicine approach to balanced weight in general. I care, and I look forward to speaking with you and helping you. Until then, may you be blessed on your path, and remember this:
Yes you can heal yourself.