Podcast 132: Accessible Herbalism for Weight Management

The holistic approach to herbalism for weight management doesn’t start with a search for “fat-burning herbs”. Instead, we focus on building health first & foremost. As we build good health, losing weight becomes easier and more permanent.

In this episode we’ll explain why it’s hard to lose weight – there’s an evolutionary, physiological basis for it. It’s not just about calories in & calories out! Weight management can be stalled by issues with the thyroid & other hormones, insufficient sleep, and even meal timing.

Of course, what’s in the meals matters too! Unforunately, the food that’s most easily available & cheap isn’t what’s healthy. The good news is, it is possible to eat healthy on a budget. Try reading through our tips for finding low-cost high-quality food, for a start.

And there are helpful herbs for weight management too. Medicinal plants can help on a hormonal level, reduce sugar cravings and improving the hormonal aspects of blood sugar regulation. Herbs and seaweeds (order seaweed online here) can also provide a ton of nourishment – vitamins, minerals, plant-powered antioxidants, and lots more – in case you didn’t or couldn’t get enough vegetables and nourishing foods.

(Our discussion of herbs starts around 41:10 if you’ve got food, sleep, & movement all dialed in and just want to hear about the plants.)

Herbs discussed include: cinnamon, tulsi, kelp & red seaweeds, nettle, dandelion, & parsley.

This is part 4 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.

We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:

Mutual Aid Resources

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:02):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:20):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:25):
All right. Well, today I am pretty excited to talk about obesity and weight management, but we want to just talk a little bit about this series first. Today’s episode is part four in a series of strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially in underserved areas.

Ryn (00:47):
Yes. And the purpose of this series is to offer community herbal information in an accessible and inclusive way so that people can take action to support their own health.

Katja (00:57):
You know, in many parts of our country, there simply isn’t accessible medical care available. Or in other cases there is, but it’s so understaffed that it’s difficult to get quality care. So we want to provide some tools that’ll help fill in this gap. This is not medical advice. It is safe, accessible, self care strategies that will help improve health outcomes. We believe that all people have a right to accessible high quality healthcare. And we also want all people to have the tools to care for themselves as well.

Ryn (01:31):
So our plan here is to work with a relatively small number of easy to get inexpensive herbs. So you’re going to notice the same plants turning up in multiple episodes. There are other plants, of course, that you could work with. But the ones that we’re highlighting here are ones that are effective and accessible widely. So we’ve chosen herbs that are generally safe as well, and don’t have any interactions with medications, except for those that we note specifically. And we’ve been making a point to do that every single time.

Katja (02:00):
Yes. So don’t worry. You’ll catch it.

Ryn (02:05):
Yeah. And, also a printable version of this is going to be available at the end of the series, along with some information about getting started with your own community health collectives. So we’re making all of this available free to everybody, because we want everyone to know this stuff and to have these skills. And so, if you want to support this work, then you can find out more at commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid.

Katja (02:31):
All right. And one other thing before we get started is that we want to do our regular reclaimer, because we’re not doctors. We are herbalists and we’re holistic health educators, and we don’t want to present ourselves as anything other than that.

Ryn (02:45):
Right. The ideas we discuss on our podcasts do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. And these discussions are for educational purposes. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly for you, but they will give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research a bit further.

Katja (03:05):
And finally, we want to remind you that your good health is your right and also your own personal responsibility. So this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed by herbalists on the internet, or prescribed by your physician, that’s always yours. You have that power.

Ryn (03:26):
All right. So like you said at the beginning, we’re talking today about weight management and about obesity. And this is tricky. Weight issues are tricky. You know, we need to have healthy bodies, but everyone’s healthy body is going to be a bit different. Bodies are just not the same, one to the next. But we’re sold images of what health is and what beauty is. And so often it’s all about being skinny, but that’s not it.

Katja (03:55):
Yeah, no. That’s what we see in the media. That’s what we see in the magazines. That’s what they tell us is what’s pretty. And so that’s what we think we have to be. And there’s a lot of pressure to be whatever they tell us is pretty, but all we need to be is healthy. That is inherently already beautiful. I also want to stress right off the bat here that everyone’s body is different, but also everybody’s situation is different. So the ideas that we’re going to go through here are a starting point. And we really hope that there will be something here that will be helpful for everyone. But I want to be clear that there’s not just a one size fits all answer to weight management issues. And so just take what works for you. Take what helps you. Add it to other things that you have found that helps you. And that’s all we ever can do, right, is just keep trying.

Ryn (04:56):
Yeah. So on the one hand, we’re thinking about weight management, We need to be focusing on health, making healthy bodies, whatever size or shape they may be. But on the other hand, it’s important to acknowledge the reality that there’s so much pressure to have a body that looks a certain way. And the corollary is that you have to feel bad about yourself if you don’t. So that gets us into a lot of trouble.

Katja (05:22):
Yeah. Honestly, I find that if I am focused on being healthy, if that’s my goal, then I feel better about how I look. But if I’m focused on how I look, then I feel bad about myself. The reality is that for me, personally, my body is never going to look like what I think I should look like, or what I think is pretty, or what I was raised to believe is pretty. It’s impossible because I’m way too tall. Where I grew up, what I told was beautiful was to be small and delicate and breakable. And that was like the ideal image of beauty for a woman in the sort of cultural area where I grew up. And it was already impossible because I’m really tall. Like I already can’t be there. And even growing up, people were like, Oh, well I guess you can play basketball. Just as a kid, already, that was the only use that was left for me was like, well, I guess with that body you could probably play basketball. That’s all. And also I’m terrible at basketball. I can’t do it to save my life. So for me, a really big part of making sure that my body is healthy is also keeping my mind healthy. Right? So working to remove those ideas about what I was taught that beauty is, and to replace them with my ideas of beauty, what I have learned to find beautiful, which is so much more beautiful and so much stronger and bigger and amazing than what I was taught. So now my images of what’s beautiful are images of powerful women. And learning to appreciate that a strong body, regardless of what size it is, but a strong body can endure, it can carry, it can do heavy work and to see the amazing beauty in that. That mental work is really important to me as part of weight management issues. And that’s not just for women, it’s for everybody who has a body, you know?

Ryn (07:41):
Yeah. You know, me personally, I kind of hesitate to speak on this issue. You know, I feel like I should kind of step back and stay out of it a little bit because I’ve never really had a weight problem in that sense. I mean, if anything, I’ve been underweight for a lot of my life. So, I can, I can certainly identify with feeling less than perfect or not the ideal or not what I might think I should be or want to be or whatever else. And I think everybody has that experience in one way or another. So, we’re focusing here on weight today, but honestly this gets into a much broader discussion about self image and self esteem or self regard that so many people struggle with. And it’s hard to extricate yourself from the world of advertising, because that’s where a lot of these messages are coming in and where a lot of our expectations are being set. And so, I mean, you could say that that itself could be an important part of it, whether it’s making sure you’ve got your ad blockers running on your web browser, or whether it’s just trying to be intentional about the kind of media that you consume. And think about what’s being represented there and what’s being presented there as good or right or healthy or beautiful or appropriate sexy or whatever else.

Focus on Health Management

Katja (08:58):
So when we’re thinking about weight management, what we’re really thinking about here is health management like growing health. And that is way more important than whatever the number is on the scale. You can have a healthy body at a huge variety of sizes, right? Like you can be a skinny person with a healthy body, but not all skinny people are healthy. And you can be a curvy person with a healthy body and not all curvy people are healthy. But not all curvy people are inherently not healthy. Just because you’re curvy doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. I’m always going to be a curvy person, and I can work to make sure that I’m a very healthy, curvy person. And that’s what we’re really trying to get at here.

Ryn (09:47):
Yeah. And we’ll see, as we go along through this episode here, but one of the things that can cause weight gain or can cause a difficulty with burning fat that’s accumulated on the body is actually to do with state of health, with your hormonal health, your cardiovascular health. A number of different factors there are going to play in to make that either possible or extremely difficult depending on what state we’re at, so that’s got to be the kind of first place. Many so-called weight loss strategies are minimally effective if there are underlying health issues that aren’t addressed. So we like to start with that first.

Katja (10:28):
Yeah. Just really getting healthy, getting stronger, having resilience. And resilience to me means that your body can adapt when it needs to, and that you can handle most of what life throws at you. Right? Like obviously there’s always going to be something that’s a big challenge that maybe is going to trip us up. But resilience is that for the most part, if today I need to run around like a crazy person. I can do it. And if tomorrow I need to pick up some stuff, I can do it. And so that is what we’re really going for, that you can be mostly comfortable, mostly not feeling pain and mostly you can do the things that you need to get done in a day.

Ryn (11:11):
Yeah. So we’re going to cover this material in three sections. First, we’re going to talk a little bit about why it’s hard to lose weight and why sometimes even when you’re eating less and exercising more, it just doesn’t seem to work the way that you thought it might. Then, after that, we’re going to talk a little bit about food choices. It can be really hard to know which foods to choose in order to lose weight. So, we’re going to give some ideas there, some guidance on that. And we’re going to talk a little bit about movement and exercise and how to make that be more effective in this goal. And then finally, we’re going to talk about herbs, right? So, if you already feel like you know the other stuff. If you’ve heard it a million times, and you’ve already got that kind of thing nailed down pretty good, then feel free to skip ahead towards the discussion of herbs that’ll come in the latter part.

Why Losing Weight is so Difficult

Katja (11:59):
So first about why losing weight can be so difficult. So maybe you’ve been to the doctor. Maybe they say that you need to lose weight, or maybe you just feel that in your body. You feel some extra pain in your knees when you walk, or pain in your legs. And that, in and of itself, is fine. But then maybe you’re working out, maybe you’re trying to exercise more, maybe you’re eating better and you feel like it isn’t working. The number on the scale isn’t changing, but also it feels like your body isn’t changing either. And it’s not always the number on the scale, right? Sometimes as you lose fat, like burn fat, but build muscle, you don’t see that on the scale because you’re making a conversion. But you do see it in your body. But sometimes you don’t see anything changing anywhere. And then that’s really, really frustrating. So for me, when that happens, it’s always good to just come back to, okay, why is this happening and what can I do about it?

Ryn (13:01):
So the first thing is that losing weight in a healthy way is going to take some time. It could take a year. So don’t be thinking, Oh, a long time, right? That’s like a week or two. No, like we’re talking about some time. It’s going to be awhile.

Katja (13:14):
Especially because there are so many magazines out there that are like, you can lose 19 pounds in a week. No. First off, I don’t think anybody really can. And secondly, if you could, that wouldn’t be healthy.

Ryn (13:26):
It wouldn’t be sustainable on your body.

Katja (13:28):
It would be stressful on your body.

Ryn (13:28):
Yeah. It would be, maybe you squeeze out a bunch of water, but it’s going to come right back in the next week or something. Anyway, so the thing is that there’s a part of our bodies that’s always thinking about famine or starvation. That part of us says I better hang on to some fat, just in case I can’t get some food for a while, so that I don’t starve. The body wants to have a little bit of a buffer. So every time that you hit a certain weight, even though maybe some part of your body, like maybe your knees, your ankles is saying, all right, you know, life would be better if I didn’t have to carry all this around. Other parts of your body or your brain are saying, Oh, good, good. We’re not going to starve. Now we have what we need. So it’s partly a survival mechanism.

Katja (14:12):
And there’s this tension in between you saying, this is maybe more than what I need and it’s starting to not be healthy, and that part of your body that’s trying to save up for a rainy day. Because through most of human history and actually even still in many places, starvation was a real threat, basically all of the time. Because getting calories, getting enough calories in the day was actually difficult. So our bodies have this system in place to help us survive. And part of that system is that it is actually much easier to gain weight than it is to lose weight, because your body is kind of protecting it. Once you gain some weight, your body says, okay, I have this. I’m saving it for later. And not only that, but actually I kind of want to grow this. I want to keep my stash because I know that trouble is coming. It used to be that we would have these cycles of abundance and then not a lot of food available. So, it wasn’t unhealthy to save some fat. In fact, it was important, just like squirrels or little furry creatures outside who are storing up fat for the winter. Human bodies worked the same way, actually. So, when we think about, well, why would my body want to have fat? That’s part of the story is that we’re programmed genetically to be in these cycles of, there’s a lot of food now, but there’s not going to be much food later. So I better save up.

Ryn (15:50):
And even aside from that, in an ancestral environment, food was hard to get. You had to spend a lot of physical energy to get it. And then even once you had it, you still had to spend a lot of energy to turn it into something that you really wanted to eat. So there just weren’t as many calories available in that food environment. And in order to get them, you had to exercise and to move around a lot more. So in that kind of environment, it makes sense that our bodies are going to hold on to every bit of stored energy fat that they can.

Katja (16:21):
But the thing is that today the food that we can get doesn’t usually require us to do very much physical work. And the food that’s easiest for most people to get is also the food that makes us gain weight the fastest. So that’s the opposite of what the body expects throughout all of human history. Now it’s easy to get the food that will gain weight, but it used to be that it was hard to get that food. So it’s just not what our body expects, and we can hold onto more weight than we really need to.

Hormones & Sleep

Ryn (16:58):
Yeah. So another thing that’s part of this factor is that losing weight is about a lot more than just eating less and exercising more. There are lots of factors that can make it difficult to lose weight. First of all, if your thyroid isn’t working well, then that will make it harder to lose weight. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, or if you’re not already taking thyroid medication, your thyroid can still be just a little bit on the slow side, a little bit sluggish. And this is actually really common in the United States. Seaweed is actually really helpful there. And we’re going to be talking a little bit more about seaweed when we come to the herbs portion of this episode.

Katja (17:36):
Yes. Also hormones play just a huge role in weight management. So there are lots and lots of hormones, but there’s two that I want to call out here. The first one is leptin. Leptin is a hormone that tells your body if you’re full or if you’re not full, like if you’re still hungry. And when it’s out of balance, you will actually still feel hungry even if you’re full. Which is very frustrating because you’re sitting here thinking, well, I should have eaten enough. Why am I still hungry? But you’re really still hungry. You really still feel the feeling of hunger.

Ryn (18:14):
Yeah. You you can’t argue with hormones.

Katja (18:16):
Yeah. Because the hormone is telling you, you better still feel hunger. So a way to work on this problem is to try to eat your biggest meal of the day early in the day. Like have a big breakfast, and then sort of a medium lunch, and then a small dinner. That sets this hormone in a way that it’s going to be used up throughout the day in a way more like what the body expects so that you don’t fall out of balance with it. Or another way is to try having only three meals, but not having snacks in between. Snacking is another way that this hormone gets out of balance.

Ryn (18:57):
Yes. So another hormone to think about here is insulin. And insulin is familiar to people with diabetes or relatives who have diabetes, that kind of thing. But insulin is required in order to help take sugar that you’ve absorbed from your food and gotten into the blood, to take it from there and put it into the cells where it can actually serve a purpose. So the more sugar that you eat, the more you need that job to happen, and so the more insulin you’re going to produce. When you eat something really sugary, you get a big spike, a big increase in insulin to manage all of that sugar. But then a crash can happen. And that can crash you even down below where you started from. And that makes you crave even more sugar. So eating sugar can make you crave more sugar. So you can see where you get into a vicious cycle there, right? And in the meantime, those big spikes and crashes in your blood sugar level are really uncomfortable. So if you ever find yourself being hangry, then this is part of the reason why. That cycle makes it a lot harder for the body to lose weight in addition. So there are lots of different ways to get insulin into a more normal range. And of course, a big one there is to just eat less sugar whenever possible and however possible. But there are herbs that help a lot here. Cinnamon and Tulsi are two herbs that we’re going to highlight when we come down to the herbs portion.

Katja (20:18):
Yeah. Believe it or not. Sleep plays a big role in weight loss. If your sleep schedule is disrupted, or if you’re not sleeping at least eight hours a night, then it actually will be much harder for you to lose weight. Because when you’re sleeping, your liver is doing a lot of detox work, and that’s when your hormone levels reset for the whole day. And since hormones play such an important role in weight loss, if you don’t have that opportunity to get them fully reset, like all the way down to… just like your kitchen, right? All the dishes are done, everything’s put away so that in the morning you come in and everything’s clean and you’re ready to start. It’s the same in your body. You’ve got to get all those hormones dealt with, washed up, cleaned, put away, so that the next day you can start over from scratch. That’s going to help you lose weight. But if you’re not getting enough sleep, then you don’t have the time to do that. That process in the body takes about eight, eight and a half hours to complete. So the shorter that you sleep, the less of that work that is getting done, which sort of means like you’re waking up in the morning and there’s still dishes all over the kitchen.

Ryn (21:38):
Yeah. There’s a related thing here around what happens just before you go to sleep. So if you eat food close to bedtime, right before you get in bed, it’s a lot harder for your body to clear out those hormones, to reset them for the next day. Because there’s just still that digestive and processing work. If you eat right before bed, well your body has to absorb that, digest it, take those sugars, put them into the blood, get insulin involved, get all those things into the cells where they belong. And then now we can transition over to the kind of cleaning out mode and into fat burning mode, which actually should be going on while you’re sleeping. We don’t think about burning fat while we sleep, but actually that’s where a lot of it will take place. But if we eat right before bed, that’s not going to happen. So it’s much easier on your body if you can eat your last meal two or three hours before you get in bed. And that’s not always possible with work schedules and other kinds of commitments people have. But when it’s possible, this is a really, really good thing to do. If you do have to eat right before bed, you want to try and make it a small meal, and you want it to be as focused on protein, vegetables, good, healthy fats, but less on carbs and starches. And that way, you will require less insulin in order to process that meal.

Katja (23:02):
Now you might already be thinking about how these things are playing out in your own life. As we were talking about them, you might be thinking, Oh, I always eat right before bed because I get home from work so late or whatever. Sometimes we can’t control all of these factors, but if we understand them, then at least if we can’t control them, we can compensate for them. And at least if you are aware of them, you might say, well, there’s one that I can control. Okay, well, let’s at least work on that one. That’s going to be better than not doing any of them. So part of this is knowing what to work on. And part of this is also being able to look at your situation with some compassion. And realize that it isn’t just because, if you spent two hours at the gym and you still aren’t losing weight, it’s not because you’re not working hard enough. It might be because you’re not able to get enough sleep or because of some of these other factors.

Accessing Healthier Foods

Ryn (24:00):
Yeah. So like we’ve been saying, we just want to focus here on getting healthy, getting a healthy weight for your own body. But again, there’s more to health than weight, for sure. So part of making sure our bodies are healthy at whatever size they are, is making sure that we’re getting enough of the foods that really power us. And that we’re not just eating the products that cause inflammation or cause damage inside of the human body. Even though sometimes these things taste really good. And even though often they’re the cheapest and most available forms of food. It’s worth a little tangent here to say that in this country, we make unhealthy foods cheap. We make them available. And this is not just a matter of personal decisions, this is a matter of public policy, agricultural policy, subsidies to the growers of the kind of staple crops of wheat and corn and soy and all of that kind of thing. So it’s not a secret that the things we make out of those, aren’t really healthy for us, right? Making donuts and chips and candy and soda with all of that high fructose corn syrup, right. We know these things cause diabetes, that they lead to heart disease, that they cause all kinds of inflammation in the body. And that can lead to a whole dictionary of other health disorders. But they’re cheap and they’re available. And the foods that do keep us healthy, like vegetables and low sugar fruits and meat that was raised in a healthy and respectful way, and healthy fats that came from that animal or came from other kinds of plants maybe that have healthy fats in them, those foods, they can be expensive. And they’re not available to everybody. So this is a choice that our society made. Like I said, we subsidized the production of ingredients that go into junk foods. We subsidize that with our tax dollars and we don’t make that kind of investment in foods that actually provide what we really need to keep people healthy. So this is something that we can work to change. We know you can start anywhere. You can start by calling your representatives and your senators and getting informed about agricultural policy and advocating for change there. And that matters. But you can also start on a more local level.

Katja (26:09):
Yeah. For example, here in Massachusetts, you can use snap dollars at a farmer’s markets, two for one, which means that you have way more buying power if you can get to a farmer’s market. And other states do this too: Oregon, Utah, Washington states, a lot of other states. So you can Google “snap match” and your state name to see if this is available where you are. And if your state doesn’t have this, then that’s one place you can start to help make healthy food more available. And then of course, volunteering for your local farmers market, or advocating for more local farmer’s markets or farmer’s markets in your part of where you live. Maybe they’re available in some parts of your town or city, but not in other parts. So advocating for them in places that are more convenient can also be really good. Even organizing within your community or your group of friends or in your family, so that one person who is available can go to the farmer’s market for everybody. Because they’re not always at convenient times with your work schedule. But if we find one person who is able to go, and they have like a list for everybody, then that’s another way that we can work to make more healthy food available in our communities. You don’t always have to do everything for yourself. You don’t always have to do everything alone. We can work together to pool our resources so that we can do this better. Also, while we’re on the topic of farmer’s markets, a lot of times, right before the end of the market, they don’t want to take, produce home with them. And so right before the end of the market, you can often make a deal and get a better price on whatever they have leftover. And that might mean that you have to be a little more flexible about what you’re choosing. Maybe beets aren’t your favorite, but that’s what they have available. Okay. But that is a time when you can get a better price as well.

Ryn (28:20):
Yeah. And we actually have a little info sheet, like a PDF about low cost, high quality food. So, I’ll share that and I’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Katja (28:32):
All right. So we want to get the foods that power healthy bodies and build health and resilience, foods that fight inflammation, and foods that fight things like diabetes and heart disease. So what are these foods?

Ryn (28:47):
Vegetables. No, we’re not vegetarians, but we do like vegetables. So with veggies, you want to choose the brightest colors that you can. And this is a surprisingly effective way to maximize your vegetable potency, because those colors themselves, the pigment chemicals that make up the color in the plant, those, themselves, fight inflammation. And that’s going to help us to lose weight and to get healthy. So think about colorful foods. Beets, really nice greens, whether it’s like kale or collards.

Katja (29:23):
Spinach, whatever you like.

Ryn (29:23):
Green beans, broccoli carrots, like deep orange carrots, or even those purple carrots you can find some times, right. Whatever you like best is fine. But try to choose something green, something red, something orange, because each color is made up of different types of inflammation-fighting plant constituents. So, one thing to keep in mind here is that frozen veggies are absolutely fine and are often a lot less expensive. Plus you can just kind of shake out what you’re going to eat right now and not worry that you’re going to waste anything.

Katja (30:03):
Right. It’s not going to go bad before you have a chance to eat it because it’s in the freezer.

Ryn (30:08):
And even if you are buying fresh vegetables, maybe at a farmer’s market or something, and you’re worried that this is too much to eat before it goes bad. Then you can have a day where you basically cook everything and then freeze stuff and just keep it in there frozen. And that way you can dole it out portion by portion.

Katja (30:27):
And that’s actually a great way to do it because you can take advantage of maybe a really good deal at the end of the market.

Ryn (30:33):
Or when sales happen.

Katja (30:33):
Yeah, exactly. And then if you just boil everything up for a few minutes and cool it off. And then put it in Ziploc bags, toss them in the freezer, it will be ready for when you want it.

Ryn (30:48):
All right. We’re also going to look at other members of the plant kingdom. We’re going to look at some of the lower sugar fruits. And some of these members might actually surprise you because blueberries, berries, really in general, are quite low sugar, even though they’re sweet and delicious and have that little sour note going on in there. So those are amazing. Those are really, really good for you. Apples and pears are also really great. All these things, they have a lot of direct inflammation fighting powers of their own, but they also have some fiber, and they even help to keep your, your gut flora, your healthy probiotic bacteria. They have to feed them and to keep them healthy. And then that keeps you healthy. And in fact, thinking about bacteria health, like gut flora health is actually quite important when it comes to weight management, because your gut flora do part of your digestion for you. So again, it’s fine to get frozen berries, frozen blueberries or whatever it may be. Other fruits are great, but some of them have a lot of sugar. I’m thinking of like mango or pineapple or something like that. So, focus on those lower sugar fruits and berries.

Katja (31:59):
And then protein is really important as well. If you’re not getting enough protein in your day, then that actually can make it harder to lose weight. So when we’re saying protein, we’re thinking about fish and chicken and beef and goat and lamb, turkey, whatever you like. But animal protein is specifically what we’re talking about here. You want to try to get the best quality that you can and try to get protein every day. Also, more protein in your diet means that you won’t feel hungry as quickly, because it breaks down more slowly than sugars do. Sugar is not just like sugar and candy, but also sugar in bread or pasta, stuff like that. But it’s better to avoid protein powders, like in a shake or something, because those actually can cause inflammation. The process that they use to break a protein down into a white powder, it damages the cells, the molecules, and it can cause inflammation in the body. So it’s better to, in general, whenever we’re eating, it’s better to stick to things that look as much like they did when they were naturally alive. Like an apple looks like an apple. It looks like an apple on a tree. It looks like an apple in your hand. It looks like an apple. So we want to try to be as whole about things as possible.

Avoiding Sugar & Processed Food

Ryn (33:31):
So those are some foods that we want to get more of and we’re trying to get, you know, at least one every day or every meal. But then there are some foods that we want to avoid. These are the foods that are going to cause inflammation or cause spikes in insulin or otherwise kind of disrupt those hormonal patterns that can then lead to the weight gain. So there are two big categories here. One is going to be sugars and refined carbs, and then the other is going to be processed food and fast food and restaurant food. So with sugars and carbs, that’s going to be candy and soda and chips and cookies, but it’s also going to include bread and muffins and things like that.

Katja (34:09):

Ryn (34:11):
Pasta, yep. So, think about things that are made from flour and that will cover a really big range of what we’re concerned about here. That, and then stuff with a lot of high fructose corn syrup in it. So that’s going to cover the sodas and candies and stuff like that. If you think about that, like flour and then stuff with high fructose corn syrup in it, or lots of added sugars, that’s going to be what we’re talking about. So if you can avoid these as much as possible, you’re going to just automatically be reducing both your level of systemic inflammation and also the amount of insulin that your body is producing in a day. And then that will reduce your risk of diabetes, your risk of heart disease. Honestly it will reduce your risk of cancer. Like a whole range of things are tamped down that way. Plus it will also be reducing the kinds of material, the sugars, the simple carbs. Those are what your body is most easily going to transform into fat most rapidly. And so if we have less of that in the diet, then we actually make it a little challenging for the body to make everything into fat and store it over there.

Katja (35:17):
So when we’re thinking about processed food and fast food or restaurant food, these foods are usually made with ingredients that are going to cause more inflammation than they do fight it. And part of that is because they have a lot of sugar in them. They also tend to be higher in sodium. They have, other foods like certain oils that can cause inflammation. So there’s a lot of different factors in processed foods, fast foods, and even restaurant foods that are sort of working against your efforts to lose weight. The problem here is that these are also really convenient, especially if you work all day and you’re too tired to cook your own food. So if that’s the case, then try to choose the simplest option on the menu. Try to just get some meat and some vegetables.It used to be that McDonald’s had salads, and there was a phase there where you could even get like a burger in a bowl. And they don’t have that on the menu anymore, but Burger King still has salads. And so, if some days, if that’s what the option is, then maybe just try to get the burger and the salad, and just skip the bun, skip the salad dressing, or just take only a little bit of it. The idea here is to try to get as close to just meat and vegetables as you can, because that’s going to avoid a lot of the ingredients that restaurants or fast food chains are putting in that will sort of cause you to gain more weight. Another option here is that if you know that fast food is going to be a part of your day, then try to also eat an apple. Or try when you get home to make some frozen vegetables, just heat up some frozen vegetables and eat them. So that at least even if you did have a Big Mac, at least you also had vegetables to go with it. It’s not like if today you went to McDonald’s because that was just the reality of your day, it’s not like you can’t do anything to fix that. Well, you can at least add vegetables when you get home or you can at least eat an apple. And then you have done something good. So don’t sort of fall into that trap where it’s like, Oh, well this is one of the things I wasn’t supposed to do. So I guess my whole day is ruined now. It’s not. Vegetables can save a lot of things.


Ryn (37:55):
Yeah, for sure. All right. So movement is also key here and that’s not exactly identical to exercise. Right. So getting more movement into your day can be more successful than going to the gym, because when you go to the gym, you’re just working out in that one time period, half an hour, an hour, whatever it is. But it’s actually more effective if you’re moving your body regularly, all day long, multiple, many, many times throughout the day. So maybe you try counting your steps. A lot of phones now will do that for you if you’re carrying it in your pocket. Or you could just say something like, all right, I’m going to make sure I go out and take a five minute walk. Every 30 minutes or every hour I’m going to go and walk around for a little while or stretch a little bit, climb up and down the stairs in my office, building, whatever it might be. To get some movement like that consistently, anything that gets you breathing a little harder than you were when you’re just sitting there, that’s going to count, right? So it doesn’t have to be super intense. You don’t have to sweat 20 times in your day. It’s good to sweat a few times in your week, at least, to like really get things moving and get your heart pump pounding and everything like that. But for the kind of day to day stuff, it’s just about keeping that blood circulating, getting those different muscles active and engaged, at least a little bit on a regular basis. That really does help with altering, again, that internal sea of hormones and sugars and other things that are going on in the bloodstream. Trying to help that to be normalized is best attained by short bouts of low intensity movement, many, many times throughout the day, rather than kind of like putting it all into one little chunk over here at the end or beginning or in the middle or wherever you do your exercises.

Katja (39:49):
Also lifting heavy things helps a lot. And we talked about this in the segment on diabetes. But the more that you pick up heavy things, the more that you are enabling your muscle to suck sugar right out of your bloodstream with no insulin required. So this is going to help with the hormonal challenges in losing weight. But it doesn’t have to be weights at the gym and there’s no particular amount of weight, just whatever feels a little bit heavy to you. So that might be your child that you just pick your kid up a couple of times, or it might be a can of soup, or it might be a big bag of laundry. Whatever is the right weight for you to start with, so that it feels a little bit heavy. You can feel in your muscle that you did something, but not so heavy that you’re going to hurt yourself. So whatever that is, just pick something up multiple times a day. In the morning, pick it up five times or 10 times. And in the afternoon, maybe you can even do it every time you eat, whatever is convenient for you. But if you just a few times throughout the day, pick up something heavy, that is actually changing the way that your hormones work so that it makes it easier for you to lose weight.

Herbs to Curb Cravings: Cinnamon & Tulsi

Ryn (41:10):
All right, let’s talk about some herbs. So, we’re going to talk about two big categories of herbs to help you out with this first are going to be herbs that help on a hormonal level. And, a big part of our interest there is in curbing cravings. So the first one here is going to be cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of our favorite herbs to help out with weight management, and also insulin resistance and some of the other issues that can underlie this problem. And cinnamon is great here because it helps in a lot of different ways. So first of all, cinnamon can help to control your sugar cravings. Cinnamon itself is already pretty sweet. So if you’re craving something sweet, then you could have a little bit of cinnamon, stir some cinnamon into your tea or something you’re drinking, and get a little bit of that experience. That would do some work, but there’s a little bit more to it actually. Sometimes sugar cravings actually come from those spikes and crashes in your insulin and in your blood sugar that we were describing earlier, and cinnamon can help you out there. Cinnamon helps your body to regulate its blood sugar more efficiently, so that it’s not peaking up really high and crashing down real low. It’s staying in a more controlled range. And so that way you don’t, you don’t experience those big spikes and crashes so much. In fact, it’s actually so good at this, that if you’re already taking medication for diabetes and you want to start working with cinnamon every day, then you’re going to need to make sure that you test your blood sugar levels many times per day, because you might need to make an adjustment to your medication.

Katja (42:45):
Right. So, if you’re taking Metformin or a tablet, maybe just testing in the morning will be sufficient. But if you’re taking injected insulin, then make sure that you test regularly because cinnamon’s really good at improving your ability to regulate blood sugar. But it also has really strong anti inflammatory actions. And again, because inflammation can make weight loss so much more difficult, cinnamon is helping you to lose weight by reducing inflammation, but also it’s just helping you to be healthier because that inflammation is causing all kinds of problems in the body. That’s what gets you down that track towards heart disease. That’s what gets you down the track towards diabetes. So whether your goal is to lose actual weight or just to have a healthier body, cinnamon is going to help. Plus it tastes good.

Ryn (43:41):
Yeah. Right. It also helps you to digest your food and to relieve some tension that may be present in the digestive tract itself. And so those are some really nice side benefits that come along with the work that cinnamon can do for you. In terms of dose, we’re looking at about one to two teaspoons of cinnamon powder per day. And you can, like I said, you could just have a little cup of tea and just stir the cinnamon powder right into there, drink it all down. That’s totally fine. If the little bit of grittiness there doesn’t bother you, you could even just have a small cup of water and put a little cinnamon powder into their and slug it right back. That’s fine. I suppose you could just eat the powder, but it might make you sneeze, and then people on the internet will make videos of you. And it will be the cinnamon challenge. And, you know, anyway, you can take it like that. We don’t really love capsules. I mean, a teaspoon isn’t too much. It’d probably be what, three or four?

Katja (44:41):
I think two capsules twice a day. You know what, though? With cinnamon, I don’t even worry about the powder. I just take cinnamon chips, or if you have cinnamon sticks, break them up with a hammer. I just take a spoonful or two spoonfuls of those, put them in a quart size jar. Put in some water. You can make a hot infusion and then you’ll get more of the spicy flavor, or you can do it with room temperature water, and leave it for several hours. And then you’ll get more of the sweet flavor. And that actually is wonderful. I really like to make it with room temperature water, and leave it sit overnight, and then drink that throughout the day. It’s sweet. It’s delicious. I feel in my body that it helps me not feel as hungry. And it’s just lovely throughout the day. So I’m not a fan of gritty things and I am a fan of tea. So that is most convenient for me. But any way that you get it into you is totally fine.

Ryn (45:50):
All right, well then let’s talk about tulsi. So this is also called holy basil. And tulsi is super effective at reducing cravings, particularly sugar cravings. And it does have that ability to help regulate blood sugar more efficiently. So from tulsi, you’re getting a lot of the same kind of benefits that you get from cinnamon, but tulsi also has a mental health component to it. Tulsi helps to improve the way your body handles stress, and it helps with regulation of a hormone that’s involved in the stress response called cortisol. And that’s really important, because when your cortisol levels get too high, it makes it much harder to lose weight. Because cortisol, when it’s elevated, is going to cause more sugar to come out into the bloodstream and throw off your insulin levels and get you into this whole cycle again. So, tulsi can help out in that regard, by reducing the stress response, reducing the amount of cortisol in the system, helping to normalize blood sugar really in more than one way this herb is acting.

Katja (46:51):
Yeah. You know, also with that stress part, if you’re anything like me, then stress makes you want to eat more. Now that doesn’t happen for all people, but it definitely happens for lots of people. And so working with tulsi, an herb that can help manage your stress levels better in the body. Like stress might still be coming at you, but your body is better able to handle it. Then that is going to help you reduce stress eating, right? If you’re managing the stress that’s coming at you more effectively, then you’re less inclined to turn to food to try to manage those feelings of stress. So I feel really grateful that tulsi can do this.

Ryn (47:38):
For dose with tulsi, we’re looking for about a quart of tea every day. And we usually make that with three to four tablespoons, heaping tablespoons of the herb if you have it loose. If you’re getting tulsi from teabags and you’re making a quart at a time, I would want to have at least 4 tea bags in there.

Herbs to Improve Nutrition: Seaweed, Nettle, Dandelion & Parsley

Katja (47:56):
Yeah. Now the other group of herbs that we want to talk about here are herbs that help improve nutrition, even if you didn’t get around to having vegetables today. Even if the food that you had available to you today was not the best quality. These are herbs that can help to sort of plug up those gaps, fill in those gaps. And because of that, they’re able to help your body grow healthier. They’re able to help you fight inflammation. And sort of that baseline level of materials that you’re getting from these herbs is going to help your body have what it needs to do to be able to not just maintain a healthy weight, but do a lot more of the work that you have to do every day, effectively and efficiently, simply because you have the materials that you need to do it.

Ryn (48:55):
Yeah. So seaweeds is actually in both of these categories. Seaweed does have an influence on some of those hormonal patterns that that can lead to weight gain, particularly those having to do with the thyroid hormones. So it’s in that category, but it’s also a nutritive herb, really mineral rich. So let’s say, seaweed we can be really helpful if you have a slow thyroid, sluggish thyroid function, hypothyroidism. The thyroid, I keep gesturing here if you see on the video, like towards the neck, because this is where it is. It’s kind of shaped like a butterfly. It’s like right here, you know? But it’s kind of like your internal thermostat. It helps control the baseline rate of your metabolism, which includes the rate at which your body is burning fat just as you exist in the world and go through your day. So if your thyroid isn’t healthy, then it’s a lot harder for you to lose weight. It’s like somebody turned the thermostat down a little bit. Your inner fire isn’t really stoked up enough to mobilize the fat stores and to burn them up as energy. And you’re also going to be feeling tired at the same time. So, in any case, seaweed is going to provide some minerals that your thyroid requires to be healthy, most famously the mineral iodine, but it has lots of other minerals and lots of other vitamins as well. So it’s just really fantastic all around. You can buy your seaweed already chopped up into flakes. And that’s pretty handy because then all you have to do is take a big handful of it, toss it into whatever food you’re making. It could be a pot of soup. It could be a fry pan with some veggies and meat in there. Tons of options for getting seaweed in as food. And if you’ve got some takeout food, you could probably still sprinkle some seaweed on there. That would be totally fine.

Katja (50:48):
If it was Indian takeout food, like some kind of curry, you would hardly even notice if you sprinkled seaweed on that. Maybe a hamburger might be a little harder. You could still do it.

Ryn (50:57):
You could open it up and put a little bit in there. Yeah, absolutely. If you’re new to eating seaweed, you might think, Oh, that would taste really weird. But if you buy it already chopped up small, so that it’s just like, like confetti, um, then actually you really don’t even notice it. It just sort of tastes a little bit salty. But if you don’t put too much, you don’t notice it. And so if you just have a little bit often, like twice a day or so you have a little bit, then you really won’t notice the flavor. You can usually find seaweed already chopped up like this at an Asian market. Or if you are looking online, there’s a website at atlanticholdfast.com that sells it already chopped up like that for really good prices. And that really is the easiest way to get it in there. I mean, you could even throw it into rice and beans. You can put it in really anything.

Ryn (51:57):
Yeah. It’s a good idea to put it into rice or beans actually, because it will boost up the nutrient content there. And in fact with beans, if you are in the habit of buying dried beans and then soaking them before you eat them, throwing in some seaweed into there during that soaking process will actually help to make the beans a lot more digestible and prevent some gas as well. So that’s pretty great. Okay. So then other nutritive herbs we’re thinking about here. Well, if you’ve been following this series then nettle and dandelion leaf and parsley may already be good friends of yours, because we’ve been talking about them a lot in this series about accessible herbalism. And all three of them can help out with weight management in addition to their other powers.

Katja (52:45):
Yeah. First, they provide lots of vitamins and minerals, so they’re giving your body what you need to be strong and healthy. But also, they reduce inflammation and that removes one roadblock to losing weight. They’re all diuretics, so if you’re retaining a lot of water, they can help get things flowing again. And if you’re a person who’s tending towards diabetes, we talked about these in the diabetes segment as well. Especially parsley can really help you to manage your blood sugar more effectively. And so if you want to work with parsley and you’re taking diabetes medication, then do make sure to test your blood levels. Because if your blood glucose levels are coming down, then you may need to change your medication dose. So make sure to check with your doctor if that happens.

Ryn (53:42):
Yeah, these herbs, you can eat them. You can just chop them right up and eat them. And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to look at the kind of fresh chopped leaves and trying to eat like a quarter cup to half a cup per day. That’ll be a good sufficient dose there. You can also make tea. And again, we’re looking at it like a quart of tea per day or more, made strong. Three or four tablespoons of the herbs into there. Dried herbs is what we’re thinking of in that case.

Katja (54:08):
Yeah. You can do it with fresh herbs if you want to. But if I have fresh, I usually just eat them.

Getting Our Bodies Healthy

Ryn (54:12):
Yeah. I mean, if I’ve got fresh dandelion greens, that’s going to be salad today. That’s what’s up. Alright. Good friends. So just to wrap up here, we focus first on getting healthy. Reducing inflammation, moving around more physically, shifting to foods that are more supportive to the body that are healthier for the body. If we do those things first, then it’s going to be a lot easier to get the body to a healthy weight. Some of it will happen in the course of those diet and lifestyle changes as your body adapts to them and kind of establishes a new normal. But even if that phase isn’t big and obvious, it does make the next steps that you’re going to take a lot easier.

Katja (54:56):
And again, you don’t have to be skinny to be healthy. So focusing on building a healthy body, instead of thinking about fitting your body into somebody else’s idea of what is beautiful, is healthier for your body and healthier for your mind too. So if we’re really focused on getting our bodies healthy, getting ourselves a little stronger than we were before, getting some more vegetables into our lives, getting some tea into us every single day, that’s going to make us healthier. And it is going to help us get to a healthy weight for whatever shape and size our own bodies are. So, that’s our strategy.

Ryn (55:43):
All right. Now we did mention sleep as part of this process. And I can’t emphasize it enough. It’s really, really critical. So next week we’re going to talk a bit more about herbs and some other strategies to help you to sleep better and to deal with things like insomnia, or waking up in the middle of the night, all of those kinds of sleep troubles.

Katja (56:03):
Yes. So, until then take care of each other, take care of yourselves, and drink some tea.

Ryn (56:10):
And we’ll see you next time.

Katja (56:11):
Bye. Bye.


Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.