I have a client who is desperate to lose body fat around her waist. She had a baby a few years ago by C-section, which resulted in internal bleeding. As a result of this, they had to perform a number of surgeries via the same incision. Her lower abdominals are very weak. Are there any thermogenic food sources she could consume to increase her metabolic rate even slightly? I've suggested green tea and citrus fruits when she has her mid-morning snack. I've also suggested mustard, but none of the above help since she despises the taste. Also, we've tried lower abdominal exercises to help strengthen her lower abdominals. It seems that it only really works her lower abdominals when she raises her feet off the floor and holds the contraction for a period of time. Any suggestions?
There are two separate issues here with this question, and there are several pieces on the exercise front, so let’s look at your dietary concerns.
For those new to the issues we are going to cover, we should first review some basic principles connected to diet and weight gain, also those of thermogenics. Whenever we eat, the body can either burn the energy or store it. As through voluntary physical exertion, we also use energy to maintain our daily bodily functions (our metabolism or basal metabolic rate) and to process the food we eat (thermogenics).
Of the three main macronutrients in our diets (carbohydrate, protein and fat), the one with the greatest thermic response is protein, meaning that we will require more calories to process a protein heavy meal than a fat or carbohydrate based one.
What we eat also has other impacts. Insulin is a key hormone in the weight gain/loss situation, and its presence in the body is greatly affected by diet. Too much insulin will cause large swings in blood sugar and cause a storing of fat. Excess amounts can also prevent existing fat stores from being broken down for energy.
There are two main ways to affect insulin release. We can either avoid foods with a high glycaemic index (quickly raising blood sugar and triggering a large insulin release in response), or we can mix higher GI foods with protein to slow their release into the body. Eating small meals regularly with a good protein source in each can help control blood sugar levels and has the added benefit of increasing metabolism.
There are many foods that are associated with an increased thermic effect aside from protein, and if you have ever been out for a hot curry, then you will probably know a few. Many nutritionists would argue that when it comes to thermic foods, most people would be better served concentrating on getting their actual diet sorted before concentrating on the smaller details, but every little bit helps, right? All of the choices you mentioned are known for being thermogenic in action, as are cider vinegar, guarana and cayenne pepper, though they are all a bit of an acquired taste. Fennel is also a useful food choice for suppressing appetite, and it removes fat from the intestinal tract.
There are many hormonal and metabolic changes both during and after pregnancy. Thyroid function may well have been affected, and if so, this will have a significant effect on her ability to shift weight due to its effect on metabolism. Supplements typically used to address this are iodine and tyrosine. However, iodine can easily be toxic in excess and should be prescribed under the care of a nutritional therapist if thyroid problems are diagnosed.
Excess weight gain round the waist or an inability to lose this can be an indication of a cortisol imbalance. Ironically, many weight loss supplements that ramp up metabolism actually increase cortisol levels and should not be used excessively as long term, they will almost certainly be detrimental. Excess cortisol results in the typical “apple” shape (rather than the “pear” shape weight gain on hips and thighs usually indicative of oestrogen dominance). To verify levels and imbalances of the adrenal hormones such as cortisol, a simple saliva test called the Adrenal Stress Index can be carried out (this is available through nutritional therapists). There are many possible supplements available to help with this. For more guidance, check out the book “The Cortisol Connection” by Shawn Talbot.
Other supplements you might consider are:
- Glutamine - Increases glucose to the brain and therefore may stave hunger.
- L-carnitine - Has the ability to break up fat deposits and transport fatty acids for energy production.
- Tyrosine - May depress cravings in addition to helping with thyroid function. It also has antidepressant qualities. Not to be supplemented with an MAO inhibitor drug.
- 5 Hydroxytryptophan (HTP) - May decrease hunger by increasing serotonin to the brain. However, it is not to be used with antidepressants.
Supplements CAN really help for weight loss by promoting the body to burn more calories, especially the B vitamins that are involved in metabolizing food for energy production. Vitamin C, which is necessary for glandular function, choline and inositol (B vits) may also help the body to burn fat and are required for its breakdown in the liver.
As well as the above amino acids, consider the use of an omega 3 essential fat that can tap into the fat burning power of essential fats that prevent water retention (through prostaglandin production) and increase metabolism.
Finally, I would be inclined to add some protein to her mid-morning snack. Keep fruit intake focused on low GI sources such as berries, peaches and apricots while moderating those such as bananas and mango, always eating them with a protein source to control their effect on blood sugar. Perhaps suggest something like nuts or plain yoghurt for this.
There are many ways to increase thermogenics, although you are only likely to see any effect if everything else in the diet is correct. Focus on getting major points right first (such as mid-morning snacks), protein at every meal (to balance blood sugar) and reduce high glycaemic carbohydrates (fruits, sugars, sweets, etc).
Consider the use of a mixed essential fatty acid as these are safe, effective and carry a wide range of health benefits. Also, consider other supplementations to help with possible hormonal issues with thyroid function or possible excess cortisol, and you should be well on your way! However, be aware that supplementation needs to be used with care, and similar to training and diet, it should be individualized. For optimum results, encourage clients to work with a nutritional therapist who can provide a more targeted and effective nutritional plan.