Losing It: The Science of Weight Loss, Part One

From the science to the supermarket, the experts weigh in on your options. Follow this three-day series for their tips. 

The Genetic Link in Weight Loss 

Another failed diet? A DNA test may be able to reveal your best weight-loss strategy. Canadian-based Newtopia, which offers an online personalized weight-loss program, uses genetic testing to determine whether clients will do better on a low-fat or a low-carb weight-loss plan. “We are all controlled by DNA, which determines how our body reacts to food, exercise, even our emotional response to dieting,” says Newtopia founder and CEO Jeffrey Ruby. “Weight loss and optimal health are all about designing lifestyle habits for your unique genetic makeup. Genetic testing allows us to create personalized lifestyle plans based on your genes to help you lose weight, get in shape or best deal with stress.” There is emerging research to back this up. A study by Interleukin Genetics and Stanford University found that women on diets well matched to their genes lost more than twice as much weight as those on mismatched diets. 

Newtopia sends clients a saliva DNA collection kit and postage-paid return envelope to mail the sample to its labs in Montreal for analysis. They search your DNA profile for three key genetic markers associated with weight gain. “The first gene variation indicates the right proportion of fats, carbohydrates and proteins for you to lose and then maintain your weight,” Ruby says. “The second gene variation reveals if you should be working out at a vigorous pace versus a moderate pace — some people lose weight best with walking, whereas others need to run. The third gene variation discloses how your body responds to pleasure and rewards, and shapes the behaviour management tools that will be most effective for you based on your personality type.” Taken together, Ruby notes, “the genes provide an indication of whether you have a genetic predisposition toward weight gain.”

Newtopia’s program includes online coaching and a wireless pedometer and scale, which upload your daily habits to an online portal accessible to you and your online coach. This keeps you accountable and your coach updated on your progress. Cost: $179 for genetic testing, assessment and a two-week kick-start program (you also receive a complete lifestyle plan, a two-week supply of natural health products and live online coaching sessions). www.newtopia.com 

Hormones and Weight Loss 

Our ability to lose weight is influenced by more than 16 different hormones, among them insulin and cortisol, along with hormones that govern sex drive and affect mood and stress levels. Hormones dictate every aspect of weight loss, how our bodies burn and store fat, cravings and our appetites, naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, author of The Hormone Diet (www.thehormonediet.com), explains. She says that certain hormones are fat-loss friends and others are fat-loss foes. “Insulin, for instance, is one hormone that is always telling your body to store fat,” Turner says. “So, if you’re eating in such a way that increases insulin, like so many of us do, you won’t lose weight.” According to Turner, food that increases blood sugar levels, including high glycemic carbs, will increase insulin. Men with raised insulin levels tend to have the largest waistlines or the most belly fat. Pre-menopausal women tend to collect weight around their hips, thighs and breasts; post-menopausal women, like men, accumulate fat around the belly due to high levels of insulin and sometimes cortisol, the hormone the body releases in response to stress. She also believes sleep deprivation and stress cause hormonal imbalances, which can contribute to our expanding waistlines.

Sleep and Weight Loss  

Holistic pharmacist Sherry Torkos, author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (www.sherrytorkos.com), believes there’s a correlation between a good night’s sleep and weight control. The University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin have backed up her theory, by publishing the first comprehensive joint study to suggest that lack of sleep (volunteers in the study slept 5.5 hours a night) can impede an overweight adult’s ability to lose fat when put on a calorie-restricted diet. Perhaps even more distressing, the study showed that this same sleep-deprived group lost nearly four times as much lean muscle mass (key to keeping our bodies strong as we age) as they did fat. When participants were allowed to sleep for a full 8.5 hours, the trend balanced, showing a greater amount of fat loss.

Here are tips from Torkos for optimizing weight loss by sleeping better.

• Choose bedtime snacks wisely. Sugary foods such as cookies, ice cream and candy bars can cause a sugar rush and keep you awake. Avoid these foods within four hours of bedtime. Also, avoid heavy and spicy foods before bed that may trigger heartburn and gastric reflux and affect your chances of staying asleep. If you must snack, choose foods that contains tryptophan, an amino acid that stimulates the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that facilitates sleep. Try whole grain crackers and cheese, turkey or bananas.

• Prepare your bedroom so that it invites sleep. Ban the TV and hang room-darkening shades or heavy curtains. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, use a white-noise generator or perhaps a fan to help mask the sounds around you and create a feeling of peace in the room.

• Consult your doctor. Antihistamines and decongestants, beta blockers, thyroid medications, antidepressants and pain medications (containing caffeine), can contribute to sleep problems. —Charmaine Gooden