Personalized Nutrition and Obesity

Obesity is a multifactorial disease caused by a combination of biological, genetic, social, environmental, and behavioural determinants. In public health and research, the framework for understanding and addressing these relationships is called the social determinants of health. Interventions typically target areas such as personal health practices, coping skills, education, working conditions, and physical environments, among others.

These health determinants are often underappreciated, despite significant associations with healthy eating behaviour and obesity. Even though many healthcare workers and affected individuals are aware of these contributing factors, they are often unsure how to address them.

However, when we understand our health through this framework – we can start to create personalized interventions. We can begin to create lasting, positive change. For reasons such as these, personalized nutrition in obesity management goes beyond just food recommendations.

From the dietitian side, it requires counseling, education, active listening, compassion, sustainable goal setting, and accountability support.  It involves a holistic approach to understanding all factors that influence weight and health within the life of the individual.

A good question to ask yourself at the start of a health or weight loss journey is – what are all the contributing factors to my diet and health? Which factors are within your control, and which factors are not?

You Might Be Surprised

Working as a team at Preventous, we honour the fact that there are factors beyond our control that can contribute to weight concerns. For example, genetics, family history, age, medical conditions, medications, etc. Even some nutrition factors may not be modifiable, such as food allergy or intolerance. While one could argue that diet and exercise are modifiable, depending on medical conditions – they may not be. Again, each person is unique in defining what is controllable and what is not.

Nutrition research has uncovered aspects of our biology that may not be as out of control as you think. It is nutrients from food that make up the hormones that regulate our metabolism, mood, and appetite. For example, minerals like selenium and iodine support your thyroid, the organ responsible for regulating many aspects of your metabolism.

Satiety and hunger hormones can be influenced by specific food types and timing. For example, it takes roughly 30-40 minutes for satiety hormone regulation to occur. Partnered snacks of foods high in protein and soluble fibre slow down digestion and can give long-term feelings of fullness.

Your gut microbiome regulates much of your body’s serotonin production, impacting mental health. Feeding your gut microbes adequate fibre from varied sources can help. So add an array of complex carbohydrates such as those found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

When we consider the dynamics of nutrition in human (and even microbial) biology, we see that both macro and micronutrients are needed to support optimal health in weight management.

It’s certainly not only about calories in, calories out.

Lifestyle Modification

From a food perspective – this could be the foods we eat, fluids we drink, or our food environments. We, dietitians, have plenty of ideas. We also have supportive technologies here at Preventous, such as our body composition analyzer and meal planning software.

Non-food modifiable factors influencing our nutrition include daily activity and exercise, sleep hygiene, and mental health practices. These factors impact not just what we eat but when we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and why we eat.

For example, Michelle May MD uses this framework in her “Am I Hungry” eating cycle to help individuals reflect on these relationships and design healthy strategies. Mindful eating and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are also effective evidence-based strategies in weight management.

But if we expand our definitions to include mental health states, motivation and confidence can also be modifiable. So, starting with an appointment to build motivation and setting a small achievable goal together can help you build confidence. After all, perspective can make a big difference in outcomes.

Non-Weight Indicators of Health

Perhaps my most important tip – define non-weight indicators of success. Make it unique to you.

We can sometimes be our own worst enemies when it comes to our success indicators. For many, it’s only a number on the scale. A number on a scale does not necessarily indicate health status. It does not indicate body composition or how you feel, nor should it be the measure of quality of life.

So, while numbers can be useful, they can also be deceiving and sometimes even de-motivating. This is why we need non-weight indicators to help keep us motivated and remind us why we chose to make healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Examples of non-weight progress indicators could be:

The more of these “soft indicators” you can articulate to yourself, the more likely you will use this as positive feedback and make your habits sustainable.

Also, when things are going well, it’s common to forget these indicators, making reflection even more important during the good times.

Work With Us!

Personalized nutrition in obesity management requires exploring the modifiable and non-modifiable lifestyle factors contributing to health and weight. Frequent follow-ups with an expert has strong evidence towards successful outcomes.

Nutrition education and counseling are ways that we dietitians at Preventous support and empower our clients. Get started by booking an appointment!

Dan Neuman
Registered Dietitian MSc

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