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The E.S.M Top 5 Tips for Weight Loss

In the southern hemisphere where I live, spring has sprung.  The trees are in blossom, the days are getting longer and warmer and the scent of freshly mown grass is in the air.

Cherry blossom time

Cherry Blossoms by Xerones, Flickr

People are starting to look at their pasty bodies with growing remorse and regret for all the stodgy tummy-warming pastas, curries and roasts that were eaten with gusto during the cold months of winter, while contemplating getting their kit off at the beach this summer.

A prospect that sends a surprising number of us to panic stations.

I know for myself, the thought of baring a bit of skin on a sunny day used to sometimes lead to 10,000 wardrobe changes before leaving the house, much moaning that “I have got nothing to wear” as I flung rejected clothing all over the bedroom and a frustrated Andrew who would jingle car keys while telling me that the outfit I was wearing looked fine…as did all the others I had tried on.

The problem was not my clothing.

In a FITNESS magazine survey of over 1,000 women a staggering:

  • 48% say they’d only feel confident flaunting a bikini after losing more than 20 pounds [about 9kgs]
  • Only one-in-ten women (11%) feel “bikini-confident as is

The 2000 AusDiab study showed that:

  • Almost 60% of adult Australians are either overweight or obese
  • 30% of adult New Zealanders are overweight and 20% are obese.

A global obesity study recently reported in the Lancet, found that the obesity rates in Australia and New Zealand are the third fastest growing in the world with thepresent title holder being the US.

Getting your weight-loss ducks in a row

It was at about this time last year that Andrew and I decided it was time to make a concerted effort to lose some weight.  We changed what we were eating and got some good results.  Further reading led us to experimenting with making some more changes and we continued to drop body fat at a good rate.  So although we tinkered with our approach as we went along, the tips or ducks listed below reflect our learnings along the way and are streamlined for you in – what I think is their – order of importance.


Spoiler Alert!

The single biggest mental adjustment I had to make about losing body fat is very neatly summed up by an Australian final year medical student, Anastasia, on her blog primalmeded:

Our weight is regulated by hormones, not calories”

The most important hormones for weight regulation are cortisol, insulin, serotonin, melatonin, estrogen, testosteroneleptin and ghrelin. You have probably heard of some of these before but didn’t realise they had any impact on your level of body fat.  It is important to have these hormones, not only in the right quantity, but also in the right rhythm.  So they need to be high at the right time and low at the right time…timing is everything [1,2].

Given that, these 5 duckie tips do not pay any lip service whatsoever to the old calories-in/calories-out dogma of weight loss:

To lose weight and be healthy, you must eat less and exercise more

read: starve yourself then get on a treadmill and run like you are being chased by a relentless saber-toothed tiger which will make you hungrier than before, tired, bumble-brained and irritable.  As an added bonus this will send your cortisol levels through the roof, because your body thinks you are in serious danger from all that running, resulting in excess glucose release from the liver, increased insulin resistance, misery and weight gain [1].

Both of the books, ‘Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar and Survival’ – T.S Wiley & Bent Formby [1] and ‘The Paleo Solution’ – Robb Wolf [2], reference evidence which suggests that – from an evolutionary perspective – our current environment is at complete odds with what we are genetically wired up to deal with.  Our ancestors dealt more with acute stresses like being chased by saber-toothed tigers – it didn’t happen too often and was over fairly quickly…one way or another.  Whereas, we generally have to deal with constant, chronic stress that is present day in and day out from our work, lifestyle, high density living and anything else you can think of that might play on your mind causing you to worry.

A relentless saber-toothed tiger that can chase you day in and day out does not exist in nature so our genetically wired fight/flight response is redundant when dealing with the constant nature of modern stress.  This causes big issues with our hormonal regulation.

Modern electricity and inside lighting allows us stay up later watching TV or surfing the internet so we wind up getting more light exposure and less sleep than our ancestors.  We eat processed foods that often tap into the dopamine reward pathway creating cravings and overindulgence followed by both blood glucose and insulin spikes.  Not only this, but often the processed foods we are eating are damaging to our gut which contributes to stress and inflammation [1,2].

[Because this was becoming a woolly mammoth of a post I have simply listed the duckie tips with a brief explanation and over the next few weeks [edit: few months] I will round out a more detailed answer for why each of these particular ducks need to be lined up for optimal weight-loss.]

So, in the Eat. Sleep. Move order of importance, our top 5 critical…and possibly surprising…duckie tips for leaning out and dropping body fat:

Rubber Duckie #1: Sleep.

“Sleep as much as you can without getting fired or divorced” – Robb Wolf.

Sleep deprivation is stressful on your body and raises both cortisol levels and ghrelin levels while reducing melatonin levels. This increases your appetite, makes you groggy in the morning when it’s wake-up time and affects how much excess glucose is stored in your fat cells as opposed to the liver and muscle cells [1,2].

Rubber Duckie #2: Eat Real Food. Cut out the crap.

I love this comment from Laura on the whole9 blog ‘if I can’t pronounce it, spell it, kill it or grow it, I don’t eat it.’
Even just cutting out processed foods (bread, pasta, cakes, pizza etc) will naturally drop the amount of glucose hitting your system all in one hit, which will keep insulin secretion on a more even keel.  It will also reduce dopamine mediated food reward associations that lead to cravings and over eating.  In addition, eating foods higher in protein and fat will produce greater release of a hormone in the gut (peptide YY) that tells us we are full.   It also increases our brains sensitivity to the “full” signals sent by the hormone leptin which controls our levels of body fat.

Rubber Duckie #3: Stress Less. Don’t Worry be Happy.

Reducing stressors on your body and in your life will help to restore a normal cortisol and sleep cycle, reducing fat storage and carbohydrate cravings.  This will also to help restore our balance of dopamine and serotonin and contribute to better insulin response and appetite control.

Rubber Duckie #4: Heal Your Gut.

It’s not about what you eat, its about what you absorb.  If your gut is damaged, this registers as a stress on the body.  This stress can raise cortisol levels, contribute to general systemic inflammation and affect appetite control.

Rubber Duckie #5: Move. Just enough but not too much.

Exercise increases the sensitivity of your muscles to the action of insulin which will help to lower blood glucose levels, but too much exercise can register as a stressor which will increase your cortisol production.

Despite the shameless attention grabbing title of this post, the benefits of getting these ducks in a row are far reaching and much more worthwhile than just the aesthetic.

These ducks are crucial for your general health, performance and longevity (to borrow a Wolf-ism).

And they are additive.  As you can see, most ducks relate to reducing stressors in your life and on your body (thus reducing the harmful effects of constantly high cortisol levels), if you can manage or reduce some of these stresses it becomes easier to manage others.

Even though Andrew and I started lining up our ducks with the goal of losing weight, we have continued down this path because of all the other benefits.  We feel better, are more alert, have more energy and are less moody.  As a result we are kinder to each other and our relationship is better for it.

Did these weight-loss tips surprise you?  Have you ever tried any of the lifestyle modifications listed above?  Did they work for you?  Was it hard to stick with the changes?

Feel free to tell me what you are thinking in the comments below.

Until next time Eat. Sleep. Move…& remember it’s all about the hormones!


References and Further Reading or Listening:


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4 Responses to The E.S.M Top 5 Tips for Weight Loss

  1. Kathy Reid Saturday 8 October, 2011 at 6:43 PM #

    Very well documented blog Crystal….and with great added info links.
    Love the concept of your ‘weight-loss ducks’ and endeavouring to get them all in a row!
    Your perspective on weight loss and our hormones out of whack is often never considered. I know I’m susceptible to high cortisol level at times and when I’m really stressed trying to get a decent nights sleep is impossible.
    Look forward to your further posts expanding on your 5 duck’s helping us to reduce stress in our lives and controlling weight!

    • Crystal Saturday 8 October, 2011 at 9:20 PM #

      Thank you!
      The thing that interests me most, is that you can be eating all of the right stuff, have all of your nutrition completely ‘healthy’ and dialled in but STILL not have optimal levels of body fat. If you are trying to lose weight, your efforts could be completely stymied by something as simple as getting not getting 8-9hrs sleep a night!
      I think that the stress management side of things is the hardest to take control of sometimes, particularly when you are so out-of-whack that nothing seems to make a difference.
      I do have to admit though that the concept of getting your ducks in a row is not mine, it is something that Robb Wolf references in many of his Paleo Solution Podcasts.


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