Our diet and lifestyle play a big role in whether or not we are healthy with few exceptions. In medical school students are taught to identify disease states and how to target them. ‘For every ill there is a pill’ is often a common mindset. But the paradigm is shifting and people are beginning to see a bigger picture. Nothing happens in isolation and more people are now aware that a disease state doesn’t just happen overnight.

Arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer are all influenced by our genes to some degree, but our diet and lifestyle choices almost always trump genetics. A common risk factor for all of these conditions is obesity. It’s the extra weight on the joints, and the added stress on the heart and entire body that takes its toll over time. If there’s one risk factor that is within our control, it’s our weight and yet it is the one area that people struggle with the most.

In the doctor’s office, weight loss is often addressed in passing. The doctor suggests that weight loss will help and the patient is sent on their way. There’s a hope that, by the next time the patient comes back, there will be some progress in that area, but all too often the scales tip the wrong way and the problem doesn’t get better. Even when the doctor has practical advice to help weight loss, there are few positive reinforcements for patients to stick with this advice over the course of months.

Regular visits to a doctor are certainly important, but when it comes to weight loss, another type of professional is important—and that is the life coach. Doctors fill important roles but we can’t expect them to plan our meals. How do you change the habits you have developed over decades? It takes time and diligence. A life coach who focuses on weight loss can help bridge the gap between where we are and where the doctor would like us to be.

Most people have a blind spot when it comes to diet. It’s easy to have a sugary treat here and there and still think you’re doing well. However, it’s rare for dieters to be successful by themselves. In fact, it’s more the exception than the rule. About 80% of the time they either don’t reach their goals or, if they do achieve their goals, they gain the weight back again. Working with a professional helps us see our blind spots and gain a new perspective. The accountability of seeing your life coach weekly is the key to success.

When you change how you look at things, those things will change. keeping a diet journal is vital for any weight loss protocol. Seeing the foods you’re eating in black and white is important to honestly assess your diet and avoid mindless eating. Are you eating enough vegetables? Are you getting enough protein? The only way to know is to actually track what you’re doing.

A skilled life coach does more than police your food. What is the emotion behind overeating? Are we really hungry or just lonely and bored? Our relationship with food may just be part of a bigger life issue. Maybe we need to take stock of our lives and nurture the relationships that nurture us. Early man may have gathered with his clan around a campfire to eat, but today many of us live alone and don’t bother to cook full meals just for ourselves.

For others it’s not so much companionship, but they’re just tired. Sleep deprivation alone can make us gain weight. One study on sleep deprivation found that subjects developed into a pre-diabetic state quickly when they were made to stay awake. Patients may start out simply wanting to lose weight, but then confront other issues such as their compulsion for being busy and productive every waking moment. Why can’t evenings be a time to relax and unwind?

Sticking with a diet is hard enough, but how do we know that we are on the right diet? When we don’t have the results we want, it’s easy to discard the diet and move on to the next. For every piece of dietary advice there’s a counter argument to do just the opposite. Nutrition science should be straightforward, but who doesn’t have an unbiased opinion about food?

For every good food out there, someone has a reason why you shouldn’t eat it. Bread may have been the staff of life for most of human history, but many people now find that a gluten-free diet works for them. Yogurt may be touted as the secret to a long life, but others point out that dairy consumption itself is unnatural and no other species on earth regularly consumes the milk of another species or even consumes milk past infancy.
Juicing may be packed with antioxidants and enzymes and is a good way to get the recommended 5 fruit and vegetable servings per day—but is that burst of energy you feel afterward just a sugar rush that will leave you feeling tired an hour later?

One useful approach to food is metabolic typing. Foods that work for some people do not necessarily work for others. The Metabolic Type (MT) diet looks at how a person is hard-wired and determines which of the 16 types they most closely resemble. Based on the MT results, a person adjusts their eating habits and eats foods that harmonize with their type. Just as you wouldn’t put diesel in an unleaded tank, a body should be given the right food based on their particular requirements.

The right diet helps a patient gain a sense of control, once there is clarity on which meals and snacks help a person have high energy and sustain them for hours at a time. This type of diet has built-in reinforcement. You lose your taste for eating the garbage you used to consume and your own body gives you feedback that you’re on the right track. For many who have struggled for a long time with food, there’s a great sense of liberation in knowing what works for them and not falling prey to the fad of the month anymore.

Eating right on a whole foods diet shouldn’t be that complicated. Grocery shopping and meal planning happens in a targeted manner with well-informed choices rather than in a random, haphazard way. Besides helping you lose weight, a proper diet will also help with energy, mental clarity and overall health.

While herbs and nutritional supplements may be useful adjuncts, food is the foundation of wellness. A supplement should be just that—an addition to an overall healthy lifestyle. Eating right will help a patient move toward a healthy body mass index (BMI), but there are supplements that are a small push in the right direction. If you’re not eating right, no pill is going to make it all better. Losing weight takes diligence and commitment but with the right tools and good support, anything is possible.

Dr. Henderson is a licensed naturopathic physician and the director of the weight and wellness program at The Life Center. The Life Center has offices in North Haven and West Hartford. For information, call 203-239-3400 or visit TheLifeCenterofct.com.