How To Be Healthy and Happy Achieving Your Optimal Weight

How To Be Healthy and Happy Achieving Your Optimal Weight

Originally posted at

If you struggle with weight loss, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an astonishing 70 percent of Americans are overweight, while only 25 percent of adult Americans are at their proper weight (about 5 percent are underweight). Although most people who are overweight have tried at least one diet, a restrictive diet is the least effective way to lose weight, and may even make you fatter.

A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that on average, the more people diet, the more it leads to increased weight gain. Researchers evaluated 2,000 sets of twins, aged 16 to 25 years old.  They found those who embarked on just one intentional weight loss episode were two to three times more likely to become overweight, compared to their non-dieting twin counterpart. Furthermore, the risk of becoming overweight increased with each dieting episode.1

Why Dieting Is Bad For Your Health

Not only does dieting cause weight gain, but diets that are extremely low-calorie (anything below about 1500 calories per day) or diets that eliminate entire groups of foods (such as extremely low carbohydrate diets, or fat-free diets) are bad for your health for several reasons:

Diets tend to restrict nutrients along with calories. Your body wants and needs a balanced whole-food diet that includes fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

Restrictive diets can affect your body’s ability to effectively utilize different food groups for energy. Forcing your body to adapt metabolic pathways may initially result in weight loss, but over time, the negative effects on cellular energy metabolism can cause increased fat storage.

Restrictive diets hinder anabolic metabolism, which is responsible for building lean muscle. One of the best ways to decrease body fat while feeling healthy and strong is to focus on increasing muscle mass through diet, exercise, rest and sleep, with extra support provided by anabolic botanical formulas.

Being “on a diet” is not beneficial for you emotionally, nor is it healthy for your social life or your family relationships. Eating should be a pleasant respite in the day, a time when you gather with family and friends to “break bread”, interact, enjoy, and relax.

Metabolic Syndrome, Hormones, and Abdominal Obesity

Hormones are increasingly being recognized as playing a primary role in whether an individual successfully maintains lean muscle mass or instead easily accumulates excess fat. In addition to the glucocorticoid hormones produced by the HPAT axis, hormones produced by the pancreas (insulin), ovaries (estrogen) and testes (testosterone) are key players in body composition.

In recent years, a particular constellation of physiological traits has become well known as metabolic syndrome. The primary characteristics of metabolic syndrome are abdominal obesity, cholesterol abnormalities (high triglycerides and low HDL), hypertension, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to the decreased ability of cells to respond to insulin. While cells starve for energy, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, triggering the release of even more insulin. This causes the body to store all available calories as fat, even when dieting. Many chronic diseases are associated with metabolic syndrome, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many forms of cancer, such as breast, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

The vast majority of people suffering from metabolic syndrome are overweight and sedentary. But eating a diet high in carbohydrates and not getting enough exercise can cause metabolic syndrome even in people of normal weight.

We hear a lot about “insulin resistance,” which is the driver behind metabolic syndrome—but what really happens as the result of an unhealthy diet and life-style as well as aging is hormone/endocrine resistance. All hormones become less efficient, and therefore ‘resistant.’  One of the goals of a good botanical protocol is to improve hormone production, signaling, reception, utilization, and efficiency, along with the detoxification of hormone byproducts.

The sex hormones estrogen and testosterone have been garnering attention for the role they play in body composition. Researchers have noted that men who have metabolic syndrome are also likely to have low testosterone levels. This relationship, referred to as the hypogonadal/obesity cycle, appears to be initiated by low testosterone levels, which triggers the accumulation of abdominal fat. This sets off a chain of events that begins with increased aromatase activity, increased conversion of testosterone to estradiol, further reduction of testosterone levels, and increased accumulation of abdominal fat. The result is a variety of health problems ranging from cholesterol abnormalities, low energy, and memory difficulties to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and prostate cancer. It’s obvious that maintaining healthy testosterone levels is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass and avoiding excess fat gain.

Women also suffer the fattening effects of hormonal imbalances. Too much estrogen causes water retention, most notably in the abdominal area. This bloating is most noticeable in the menstrual cycle when progesterone levels drop and estrogen levels increase, triggering menstruation. As women age and enter perimenopause, progesterone levels decrease and estrogen dominates, and bloating can become a constant issue. After menopause, most women find that excess weight easily accumulates, particularly in the abdominal area. This is because when the ovaries shut down their production of estrogen, secondary production sites such as body fat take over the job of supplying estrogen, and the body wants to hold on to this resource. Balancing hormones is an essential component of losing excess fat and building lean muscle. It likely comes as no surprise that instead of hormone replacement, I recommend a combination of specific herbs and supplements to support hormonal balance and reduce the negative effects of stress, aging, and environmental endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruptors (EDs) are synthetic chemicals found in pesticides and some plastics that enter the body through the food chain, interfere with hormone balance, and disturb proper endocrine health. When ED levels increase, so does body mass index. Some of these chemicals mimic estrogen (xenoestrogens), and lead to a reduction in male hormones, resulting in increased fat. Levels of these man-made chemicals in the environment continue to rise; for example, the amount of polybrominated biphenyl ether concentration in women’s breast tissues continues to increase yearly.2

(For more in-depth information on metabolism, hormones, and metabolic syndrome, see my book,“Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease,” Healing Arts Press, 2013.)

A Comprehensive Plan For Achieving Ideal Body Composition

A nutritious, balanced diet is essential for achieving your ideal body composition. In general, I recommend a healthy whole-food, plant-based, Mediterranean-style cuisine. However, I believe that diet should be tailored to the individual, taking into consideration their health status, age, physical activity, genetic type, ethnic heritage, geographic location, season, personal preferences, and even religion.

Intuitive eating has been proposed as an eating style that fosters a positive attitude towards food, the body, and physical activity and consists of ten principles, but can be summarized into these three characteristics:

Researchers evaluating 24 cross-sectional studies found that intuitive eating was associated with less disordered eating, a more positive body image, and healthier emotional functioning.4 In addition, analyses of studies show that intuitive eaters have lower body mass index levels, (without internalizing the unrealistically thin ideal), lower disordered eating and eating disorders, eat a variety of foods, enjoy eating, have better cholesterol levels, and enjoy a psychological hardiness, which includes well-being and resilience.5

Theology and spirituality also correlate with better health and bodyweight. Researchers have found links between aspects of religiosity, spirituality and disordered eating, psychopathology and body image concerns. In evaluating twenty-two studies, the main findings were that strong, internalized religious beliefs along with a secure relationship with God were associated with lower levels of disordered eating and concern with body image. In contrast, a superficial faith coupled with a doubtful relationship with God were associated with greater levels of disordered eating, psychopathology and body image concern.6

Guidelines For An Optimal Diet

The following are my general guidelines for creating a healthful diet:

In addition to these dietary guidelines, I also advise my patients to: 1) Only eat when relaxed; 2) Only eat when sitting down at a table; 3) Before eating, say a brief prayer of thanksgiving and be aware of what, how, and why you are about to eat.

To Lose Fat, Increase Muscle

Maintaining or increasing lean muscle mass is the most important factor in weight loss. The more muscle you have, the more effectively your metabolism operates—which means you burn more calories, even at rest. A higher percentage of lean muscle is associated with numerous additional health benefits, including better blood sugar control, stronger bones, and improved sleep.

The following guidelines will help you build more muscle, while reducing excess body fat:

Nurture a Spiritual Relationship with Food

Did you ever hike in the woods and come across a patch of young spring nettles, a bush of wild summer berries, or a stream lush with wild watercress? Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed a summer garden abundant with spicy basil and sweet ripe tomatoes? Maybe you’ve climbed a cherry tree to harvest luscious fruit, or picked blueberries at an organic blueberry farm. All of these sensual experiences create a spiritual connection with our food in the way the creator of the universe intended. When we gather or harvest food, choose consciously from the abundance at a farmers’ market or grocery store, and take care in preparing the foods we eat, we are nurturing a spiritual relationship with the food that we consume. This makes it easy to eat well, providing our bodies with true sustenance instead of filling up unconsciously with commercial junk food.

Many people eat out of boredom, depression, preoccupation (they may be doing something else at the same time), or a lack of feeling love and connection. By consciously choosing to live in accord with our higher principles—which is the harmony between, and within our spiritual, environmental, and health-oriented self—we can develop a spiritual relationship with the food we eat.


Donnie’s Delicious Weight Management Tea

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar for storage.
Use one to two heaping teaspoons of herb mixture for each 8-ounces of water.
Bring water to a boil, pour over herbs, and steep for 5 minutes. Strain, and drink 3-4 cups daily.


Meal Replacement Smoothie

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Serves 1.



  1. Pietiläinen, K.H. et al. (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. International Journal of Obesity, | doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.160.
  2. Schecter A, Johnson-Welch S, et al. Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) levels in livers of U.S. human fetuses and newborns. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2007 Jan;70(1):1-6.; Dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls and other organohalogen compounds in human milk. Levels, correlations, trends and exposure through breastfeeding. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2006 Oct;50(10):922-33; Zuurbier M, Leijs M, Schoeters G, Ten Tusscher G, Koppe JG. Children’s exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 2006 Oct;95(453):65-70.
  3. Tylka, T. L. (2006). Development and psychometric evaluation of a measure of intuitive eating. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53,  226-240.
  4. Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women, Appetite. 2016 Jan 1;96:454-72. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012. Epub 2015 Oct 22.
  5. Tribole E. & Resch E. (2012-in press). Intuitive Eating (3rd edition). St.Martin’s  Press: NY,NY.
  6. Akrawi D1, Bartrop R2, Potter U3, Touyz S4. Religiosity, spirituality in relation to disordered eating and body image concerns: A systematic review, J Eat Disord. 2015 Aug 15;3:29. doi: 10.1186/s40337-015-0064-0. eCollection 2015.
  7. Handayani, Chen, J. Dietary Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes) Prevents Fat Deposition and Lowers Triglyceride in Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet. Journal of Obesity, Volume 2011 (2011).
  8. Anthocyanins show potent anti-obesity effects. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Voume 56, Number 3, Pages 642-646, doi: 10.1021/jf073113b.
  9. Whey Protein concentrate helps to increase muscle mass, promote fat loss, curb appetite, aid in immune defense, and gut microflora health. Nutrition & Metabolism 2008, 5:8, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-8.
  10. Bitter melon reduces adiposity, lowers serum insulin and normalizes glucose tolerance. (J. Qixuan Chen, Laureen L. Y. Chan and Edmund T. S. Li; Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) Reduces Adiposity, Lowers Serum Insulin and Normalizes Glucose Tolerance in Rats Fed a High Fat Diet1Nutr. 133: 1088–1093, 2003.)
  11. Mayo Clin Proc. 2008 Apr;83(4):460-9; Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2007.
  12. Bass, J., Turek, F., Sleep deprivation becomes new factor in obesity debate, Archives of Internal Medicine165: pp25-30, Jan. 2005.

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the FDA, nor does it constitute medical advice. We do not aim to treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease. We recommend consulting with a qualified health care professional if you have a medical condition, are taking medications, or if you are pregnant or nursing.