Helping Patients Achieve Permanent Weight Loss

 In Anxiety/Depression/Mental Health, Education, Gastrointestinal, Mind/Body

Kendra Pearsall, ND

Sixty-six percent of the population is overweight (Davy and Hall, 2004), so every ND needs to address this problem. This article will discuss the top seven items to address in a weight-loss program based on the success I have had in my bariatric practice.

1: Emotional Eating

Most people engage in emotional eating at one time or another, but when it becomes a regular habit it can lead to weight gain. Emotional eating is when a patient eats for reasons other than genuine hunger: boredom, stress, anxiety, depression, food cravings, energy boost, etc. There are many ways to address emotional eating. One includes understanding patients’ biggest emotional triggers and issues. Emotional eaters use food as a drug, as a way of self-medicating their negative emotions. You can teach patients emotional coping techniques like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), where energy meridian points are stimulated on the body by tapping on them with fingertips instead of with needles. EFT is an easy energy psychology technique that can zap negative emotions in minutes, with permanent effects. My weight-loss program uses a wide variety of emotional techniques on patients, including EFT, hypnosis audios, relaxation and meditation techniques, and principles from popular self-help books for patients like Loving What Is by Byron Katie.

2: Brain Chemistry Imbalances

What some doctors do not realize is that emotional eating, addictions, depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking and pessimism are often the result of any number of neurotransmitter deficiencies, which are epidemic in our modern culture (hence, the ubiquitous use of psychotropic and illicit drugs). One of the most common is serotonin. Patients experiencing low serotonin can have any number of symptoms, including emotional eating, binge eating, anorexia, insomnia, workaholism, anxiety and low self-esteem. Other common brain chemicals that affect emotions and weight are catecholamines and endorphins. In-depth questionnaires can pinpoint which neurotransmitters may be low according to patients’ symptoms. To learn more about correcting brain chemistry imbalances with amino acid therapy, I recommend reading The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.

3: Food Sensitivities

It is truly amazing what happens when overweight patients begin a food allergy elimination diet. Without doing anything else, the vast majority will begin to lose weight. One of the reasons food sensitivities cause weight gain is that they cause people to be addicted to the foods they are allergic to because of the serotonin boost they get when they eat them. Wheat and dairy are the most common culprits, but it is astonishing how many people are sensitive to grains in general. Even gluten-free grains can cause weight gain. This may also be due to insulin dysregulation in the presence of high-carbohydrate foods like grains. I provide patients with a menu plan, shopping list and recipes for three months, as we introduce possible allergenic foods every three days. This kind of approach cannot test for everything, which is why it can be helpful to also perform blood testing for food sensitivities. For more information, patients can read Your Hidden Food Allergies Are Making You Fat by Rudy Rivera and Roger Deutsch.

4: Nutritional Deficiencies and Low-Calorie Dieting

Nutritional deficiencies are common, especially in chronic dieters. Most diets on the market recommend a 1,200-calorie per day diet. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that anything less than 2,200 calories for an adult is considered starvation. Low-calorie dieting has a devastating effect on one’s metabolism. It also leads to nutritional deficiencies and adrenal fatigue, and will cause rebound overeating, where the dieter becomes a food addict.

Nutritional deficiencies also occur when people try to avoid eating fat, because they have been brainwashed that fat is fattening. It is likely that many overweight patients have been eating too many carbs and not enough quality fat and protein – especially if they crave fatty foods. Two of the best fats for weight loss are the EFA’s krill or fish oil and coconut. Coconut fat contains medium-chain triglycerides which actually help boost the metabolism. The menus provided in my weight-loss program are based on a whole foods elimination diet with plenty of healthy fat, protein and vegetables. For more information on the role of fat in weight loss, suggest that patients read Eat Fat Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. It is important for patients to be on a high-potency multivitamin, since vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to food cravings and overeating.

5: Hormone Deficiencies

The main hormones I focus on are thyroid, adrenal, and female and male hormone deficiencies. I use questionnaires to assess for deficiency symptoms and also provide lab testing suggestions. Hormone deficiencies can cause big problems when it comes to weight loss. For example, if a patient has low thyroid function, it will be a struggle for them to exercise because of their low energy.

Sometimes, a sluggish thyroid can be due to low-calorie dieting, which, unfortunately, will make a sluggish thyroid even more sluggish.

Other hormonal issues are associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause and andropause. For example, PMS symptoms indicate that a body is out of balance, which can cause many cravings for food. Low testosterone will inhibit the ability of the body to build muscle, which is why it is not uncommon to see older men with “pot bellies,” due to the imbalance of testosterone to estrogen.

Adrenal hormones are weakened by a high-carb, high-sugar diet, because if too much insulin is released in response to high amounts of sugar, then the adrenals will work hard to release adrenaline to compensate for a drop in blood sugar.

Another big strain on the adrenals is low-calorie dieting, or when patients try to fast for long periods of time. Any kind of extreme emotional stress also can be taxing on the adrenals. The adrenals kick in during any kind of stressful situation, including when patients are sick.

The biggest stressors on the adrenals are:

  • Eating sugar and other high-carbohydrate foods like white flour, white pasta
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee
  • Tobacco
  • Illness and/or chronic emotional stress
  • Low-calorie dieting, or eating a nutritionally poor diet

6: Detoxification

We live in a very toxic world. More than 2.5 million tons of pesticides are used worldwide, and many of these pesticides are cancer-causing agents (Rapp, 2004). Research based on fat samples from thousands of people has shown that 100% of subjects had toxic chemicals stored in their abdominal fat (Rapp, 2004).

When the body encounters a toxin, it will try to eliminate it through the liver and other metabolic pathways. But if the liver is sluggish due to an unhealthy lifestyle, or if the toxic burden is too great, then the body will not be able to remove it. Instead, the body will store it inside fat cells in an attempt to keep it away from the rest of the body and will resist weight loss as a self-protection mechanism.

In addition, if the liver is clogged, it impedes lipolysis.

My weight-loss program includes a three-week detoxification period, which includes a five-day juice cleanse followed by candida and parasite cleansing, as yeast overgrowth in the body can lead to cravings for starches, sugar and alcohol. Researchers estimate that 25% to 35% of the population suffers from yeast and fungal conditions.

7: Lifestyle Modification

The last secret is looking at patients’ lifestyle as a whole, as numerous lifestyle factors have a huge impact on weight. Do patients engage in strength training three times a week? Are they getting enough sleep at night? (Sleep deprivation decreases leptin levels and increases appetite). Do they have adequate digestion and elimination? Do they have healthy ways of coping with stress? Is their sex life fulfilling? Do they have balance in their life? Do they live in a toxic environment or with toxic people? How are their relationships? Do they have a spiritual foundation? These are questions the ND is in an ideal position to approach and discuss.

PearsallKendra Pearsall, ND, a 2001 graduate of SCNM, is director of, home of an online weight loss program that helps clients attain their permanent ideal weight with naturopathic approaches and natural lifestyle changes.




Davy KP and Hall JE: Obesity and hypertension: two epidemics or one?, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 286:R803-813, 2004.

Rapp D: Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call. Buffalo, 2004, Environmental Medical Research Foundation.

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