I enjoyed my recent email interview with Dr. Lucas MacMillan, a Naturopathic physician and clinic director at Delbrook Integrative Medicine Clinic in North Vancouver, B.C.
He talked about increased energy levels, healthy weight control, proper nutrition and intermittent fasting among other innovative health initiatives.
Due to a plethora of valuable information provided by Dr. MacMillan, our Q&A will be a two-part series, concluding with next week’s column.
Q: What are some ways to maintain healthy weight and sustain energy?
A: The first step is to pay attention to the details. If you are tired after bigger meals or going to sleep later or if you sleep over 8 hours… these are all common but under-appreciated reasons to feel tired.
Other common factors include thyroid function, low iron, and blood sugar dysregulation – all of which can be tested for and either confirmed or refuted within a day or two by simple lab tests.
In my experience, improving energy is the first step which allows others the energy and the potential for changing their habit, diet and/or lifestyle.
Change is hard for anyone and we need to have energy to handle it.
Q: How important is it to look at your eating patterns?
A: This is the question we should be asking more often. Somewhere along the way, calories became the target to blame for our weight gain and blood sugar concerns.
While I would agree to a point that calories play a part, they certainly don’t explain the whole picture, and are often a relatively minor influence on whether we gain weight or not.
Every time we eat food, our pancreas secretes insulin into the blood.
Even if we eat a spoonful of coconut oil, which doesn’t require insulin for digestion, absorption, or metabolism, we are exposed to more insulin.
This is a problem because excess insulin is arguably the most common cause of gaining weight.
If we constantly pepper our digestive systems with snacks and meals, we are regularly releasing more insulin into the blood.
Eating patterns, and especially when we don’t eat, are the key. Fasting of any sort and especially intermittent fasting can be a relatively easy answer to the problem of constant insulin secretion.
Q: Explain what is intermittent fasting and should one exercise while fasting?
A: Somewhere around 12 hours after eating, our metabolism changes to favour fat breakdown rather than carbohydrates as from food.
This gives our body a break from insulin, which helps to prevent problems with insulin sensitivity.
Given that insulin sensitivity is a huge part of our concerns today with diabetes, obesity, and weight gain, most if not all of us can benefit from intermittent fasting.
Despite the intimidation many feel from the word “fasting,” it’s generally quite easy, and many of us are doing it already.
To fast for 12 hours, simply stop eating food or consuming beverages with calories starting at 8pm, and don’t start again until 8am.
It’s that simple, and this is the protocol I have many of my beginner patients doing.
From there you can increase up to 16 hours a day, which is where some research suggests the greatest benefit, is. I rarely use anything beyond a 24 hour fast as I prefer to keep it simple.
(Those) exercising while fasting is completely fine, though some people tolerate it better than others.
If you don’t have any medical conditions then this generally isn’t harmful, but it’s always a good idea to ask a qualified professional about your unique case.
Both males and females can benefit from intermittent fasting, though males may be more likely to lose more weight.
As you may have noticed, we have not talked about decreasing your food intake anywhere.
Many people will eat the same number of calories, but they just eat it in a smaller eating window rather than spread through the entire day.
Interestingly, this approach may lead to improved insulin sensitivity, less insulin secretion, and more weight lost.
Q: Does age play a factor with weight control?
A: Age is a big factor, though I don’t believe it to just be the numbers controlling this. Hormones change with age, and especially so for women.
Estrogen and progesterone decrease massively at menopause, while cortisol increases.
This can lead to significant changes in energy, mood, and ability to maintain or lose weight. Further, the amount of muscle on our body decreases with age, which means we are losing some of our calorie burning ability.
While these certainly aren’t the only factors, it is easy to see how a lifestyle and eating pattern that was once balanced can tip the scales later in life.
I don’t believe age can be blamed for much of the concerns with weight, blood sugars and energy, but it changes the rules slightly, which may mean a different approach is needed to feel and look our best.
In next week’s column, Dr. MacMillan discusses the value of blood sugar testing, how to control our blood sugar and answers the question of whether to diet or not to diet.