Functional Medicine has a unique approach to weight loss, because instead of prescribing a treatment or regime on mass, it follows the philosophy of looking for underlying causes of weight gain or issues interfering with weight loss first. This means the prescribed regime is specific to the individual and is more likely to work because it takes into account the unique history and health status of the patient.
Long-term weight loss takes a lot more than exercise and calorie counting. There are many more elements of health that we need to consider to find the right sustainable and natural roadmap to managing and maintaining a healthy weight.
The Functional Medicine approach to weight loss
At its core, Functional Medicine is about finding the root-cause of a health problem and then coming up with a personalised treatment plan accordingly that utilises natural solutions and a scientific understanding of the body. Using Functional Medicine for weight loss is no different.
We look at the body to see what could be causing weight gain and what barriers there are to weight loss. As well as lifestyle considerations like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, there are more in-depth considerations including hormonal imbalance, stress and high cortisol levels, poor sleep and sleep apnoea, gut and microbiome health, ingestion of inflammatory foods and exacerbating health conditions.
Often patients turn to Functional Medicine for help with a health condition and may have weight loss as a secondary goal or as a positive side effect of following the Treatment plan. The changes we make in Functional Medicine allow the body to function at its best and therefore the metabolism and all the systems involved in maintaining weight are optimised too.
Through Functional Medicine, you might identify that one or more of the following are causing your issues around weight.
What could be preventing weight loss?
Hormones help to determine the metabolic speed and capacity of the body. The thyroid hormone in particular affects the body’s ability to burn fat and turn it into energy. Low levels of the active Thyroid hormone (Liothyronine), can lead to weight gain, feeling cold and tired, brain fog and poor memory. Without good metabolism there are also changes to skin and hair and the gut is more sluggish.
The Functional Medicine approach to low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is aimed at reducing autoimmunity towards the thyroid gland through reduction in inflammatory trigger foods, ensuring good micronutrient supply to optimise thyroid hormone production and metabolism and maintaining normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol by reducing inflammation and managing psychological stresses.
Imbalanced or excessive levels of sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone may also affect body composition leading to fluid retention, weight gain and increased fat deposition. Large fluctuations in hormone levels in the peri-menopause and during menopause can make maintaining stable and healthy weight very challenging for most women.
The Functional Medicine approach to the peri-menopause aims to provide supportive micronutrients and lifestyle changes to help the body manage hormonal metabolism more smoothly. However, we also use herbal medicine and our specialist Endocrine Clinic helps to treat patients who would benefit from Hormone Replacement therapy.
A critical but often overlooked part of your body’s system is your microbiome. This is the interconnected community of microbes living in your gut (and elsewhere in and on the body). If your gut becomes damaged or inflamed or is not able to move and function properly, you may develop an abnormal imbalance in the type of bacteria colonising the gut, or the small intestine (which is usually fairly sterile), may become overgrown with bacteria. This can be exacerbated by antibiotic use, stress and gastrointestinal infections.
The balance and health of your gut flora can critically affect how nutrients are absorbed, the vitamins released by the microbiome from the food you have consumed and we know that it can even affect your risk of becoming overweight.
Using Functional Medicine principles, you can reset your system, improve gut function and absorption of nutrition and build a healthy and thriving microbiome.
Your gut may become damaged due to the consumption of inflammatory foods that trigger the immune system to produce an ‘attack’ response often in the form of antibodies towards specific food proteins. This inflammation prevents the gut from functioning properly and a whole host of symptoms can be triggered including weight gain, fatigue and brain fog. You may be unable to absorb the nutrients you need and cortisol levels may rise – causing a variety of symptoms from sleep loss and anxiety to central weight gain.
Food sensitivities often go undetected. It’s not until we take patients through the process of food elimination according to the autoimmune paleo diet and reintroduction with careful monitoring symptoms that patients realise which foods they are triggered by.
As Functional Medicine looks at the whole of a person, lifestyle considerations are also important. While working with patients on identifying inflammatory foods and other triggers, we will also guide them through lifestyle changes to keep the body healthy.
Getting enough quality sleep, having ways to deal with the stress of life and exercising for strength and wellbeing are all good for the mind. But they’re also good for the body’s system as they impact hormone balance too. It has been well documented that stress and sleep deprivation can both lead to higher caloric intake, often creating carbohydrate craving and leading to an increase in unhealthy abdominal fat increases and weight gain.
An increase in sedentary lifestyles and long working days sitting at a desk can also have a major impact on weight management. Learning strategies to help us move better, improve metabolism and exercise smarter are key strategies to a successful weight management plan.
The Functional Medicine approach helps patients to consider sleep and stress management to be as important as optimising diet and exercise. Our holistic approach is supported by our expert Nutritional therapist team who are also trained in supporting healthy lifestyle changes.
Should you use a Functional Medicine approach to lose weight?
The holistic, in-depth and personalised approach of Functional Medicine is well-suited to achieving sustainable weight loss through natural methods. If you want a quick fix, this isn’t the approach for you. However, if you’ve been struggling to shift weight for a while now and conventional methods aren’t working for you, Functional Medicine can help identify barriers to healthy weight maintenance and provide a roadmap to long-term weight management.
The most accessible way to leverage Functional Medicine is The Functional Foundation Programme. You’ll be guided by me, a Functional Medicine doctor, through the principles and practices of Functional Medicine and how to apply them to your unique situation. You’ll be supported through implementation by my colleague, a certified health coach to ensure the best results possible. Find out more here.