Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

 

One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.

Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human. 

The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:

Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life.  Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practictioners of calorie-restriction often experience.

Intermittent fasting, proponents say, also may benefit the fight against cancer, diabetes, and autoimmunity. Here is an excellent, up-to-date review of the “benefits” of fasting. It is wholly understandable that fasting is all the rage these days.

Sort of.

Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.

Many women report to me (read more about that in this awesome book) that intermittent fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and irregular periods, among many other symptoms hormone imbalance, such as cystic acne.

Intermittent fasting women

I have also personally experienced metabolic distress as a result of fasting, which is evidenced by my interest in hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons have the ability to incite energetic wakefulness, and to prevent a person from falling asleep, in reaction to the body detecting a “starved” state. Hypocretin neurons are one way in which intermittent fasting may dysregulate a woman’s normal hormonal function.

After my own bad experience with IF, I decided to investigate intermittent fasting. I looked into both a) the fasting literature that paleo fasting advocates refer to, and b) the literature that exists out in the metabolic and reproductive research archives.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Paleosphere

What I found is that the research articles cited by Mark’s Daily Apple (and others),  focus on health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, insulin sensitivity, and immune function.

However. I was struck by what seemed like an egregious sex-based oversight in that MDA post I linked to above.  MDA cites this article as a “great overview” of the health benefits of intermittent fasting. This startled me because the article MDA cited was for me one of the strongest proponents of sex-specific differences in response to fasting.

Sex differences were relevant in two striking areas:

1) women in studies covered by the review did not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and

2) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance. 

These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF. The men’s metabolisms on the other hand improved with IF across the board.  Recall that the review was reported by MDA as “a great overview of benefits [of IF].”

Secondly, in another fasting post at MDA, of which there are many, the health benefits of fasting are listed and reviewed, but the sex-specific aspects of the hormonal response go unmentioned, and reproduction/fertility/menstrual health isn’t mentioned at all.

This is not to say that Mark is not attentive to who should and who should not be fasting.  He knows very well and cautions people against the dangers of fasting while stressed. Still, the mere fact of being more sensitive to fasting simply by being a woman is, I would assert, pretty important for a woman who is contemplating or already practicing IF.

This goes nearly unmentioned in the blogosphere.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Literature

Beyond reporting biases in the blogosphere, there remains an even greater problem of a significant testing bias in the fasting literature. Searching “men” + “intermittent fasting” in a Harvard article database yields 71 peer-reviewed articles. Searching “intermittent fasting women” yields 13, none of which are a) solely about women b) controlled studies or c) about more than body weight or cardiovascular benefits.

The animal studies are more equitable, but also a bit less applicable to human studies.

 It is well-known in both the research and the nutritional communities that caloric restriction is horrible for female reproductive health. This is not news. There is an infertility condition – called hypothalamic amenorrhea – that millions of women suffer from due to being overly restrictive. But what of fasting?

Intermittent Fasting Women: Should we Fast?

The few studies that exist point towards no.

It is not definitive, since the literature is so sparse, and it necessarily differs for women who are overweight versus normal weight (and who have different genetic makeups), but when it comes to hormones, women of reproductive age may do well to err on the side of caution with fasting.

What follows first is a brief review of what can be gleaned in sex-specific responses to fasting in animal studies. Afterwards I talk about what has been concluded by the few relevant human studies.

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Mice & Rats

First up is a study that demonstrates the hippocampal  changes of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting for both male and female rats.  In this study, they do alternate day fasting, which entails free eating on one day and a fast day on the next.

The study found that brain states while fasting were different for male and female rats.  For male rats the change in hippocampus size, hippocampal gene expression, and ambulatory behavior was the same no matter what kind of restricted diet they were on – but for female rats, the degree of change in brain chemistry and in behavior was directly proportional to degree of calorie intake, demonstrating the unique sensitivity of female rats to the starvation response.

” The organization of the females’ response to the energy restricted diets is suggestive of some underlying mechanism that may allow for an organized, pre-programmed, response to enhance survival in times of food scarcity. Comparatively, the males’ genetic response was less specific, suggesting that the males respond to a general stressor but they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between a high energy and low energy stressor.”

Moreover, “IF down-regulated many gene pathways in males including those involved in protein degradation and apoptosis, but up-regulated many gene pathways in females including those involved in cellular energy metabolism (glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, pentose phosphate pathway, electron transport and PGC1-α), cell cycle regulation and protein deacetylation.”  In this study, both male and female rats gained small amounts of weight on IF diets.

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For female rats, even in the most innocuous form of restriction–intermittent fasting–significant physiological changes take place.  Male rats do not experience as dramatic hippocampal and general brain chemistry change as female rats do, and their behaviors, specifically their cognition and their dirunal and nocturnal activity, do not change.  

Female rats, on the other hand, “masculinize.”  They stop ovulating and menstruating.  They become hyper-alert, have better memories, and are more energetic during the periods in which they are supposed to be sleep.  Theoretically, according to these researchers, this is an adaptive response to starvation.  The more the female rats need calories– or at least the more their bodies detect a “starvation” state– the more they develop traits that will help them find food.  They get smart, they get energetic, they get active, and they stop sleeping.

In a follow-up study conducted by the same researchers who explored the masculinzation of female rats, the researchers analyzed the gonadal transcription of male and female rats subjected to IF regimes.

This study found that male reproductivity up-regulates in response to metabolic stress. Female reproductivity down-regulates.  

Completely opposite to the female rats becoming infertile while fasting, male rats become more fertile. In the researchers’ own words: “our data show that at the level of gonadal gene responses, the male rats on the IF regime adapt to their environment in a manner that is expected to increase the probability of eventual fertilization of females that the males predict are likely to be sub-fertile due to their perception of a food deficient environment.”

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In the final relevant IF rat study I could find, researchers subjected rats to the same diets– to 20 and 40 percent Calorie-Restricted (CR) diets, as well as to alternate-day fasting diets, and monitored them over the long term for hormonal responses.  The results were striking.  Below is the abstract in full because it’s so powerful:

Females and males typically play different roles in survival of the species and would be expected to respond differently to food scarcity or excess. To elucidate the physiological basis of sex differences in responses to energy intake, we maintained groups of male and female rats for 6 months on diets with usual, reduced [20% and 40% caloric restriction (CR), and intermittent fasting (IF)], or elevated (high-fat/high-glucose) energy levels and measured multiple physiological variables related to reproduction, energy metabolism, and behavior.

In response to 40% CR, females became emaciated, ceased cycling, underwent endocrine masculinization, exhibited a heightened stress response, increased their spontaneous activity, improved their learning and memory, and maintained elevated levels of circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor. In contrast, males on 40% CR maintained a higher body weight than the 40% CR females and did not change their activity levels as significantly as the 40% CR females. Additionally, there was no significant change in the cognitive ability of the males on the 40% CR diet.

Males and females exhibited similar responses of circulating lipids (cholesterols/triglycerides) and energy-regulating hormones (insulin, leptin, adiponectin, ghrelin) to energy restriction, with the changes being quantitatively greater in males. The high-fat/high-glucose diet had no significant effects on most variables measured but adversely affected the reproductive cycle in females. Heightened cognition and motor activity, combined with reproductive shutdown, in females may maximize the probability of their survival during periods of energy scarcity and may be an evolutionary basis for the vulnerability of women to anorexia nervosa.

They also found this:

The weight of the adrenal gland was similar in rats on all diets; however, when normalized to body weight CR and IF diets caused a relative increase in adrenal size, the magnitude of which was greater in females, compared with males. 

And this:

The testicular weight was unaffected by any of the diets. In contrast, both CR diets and the IF diet caused a decrease in the size of the ovaries.

And this, bearing in mind that “daytime” for nocturnal rats is “nighttime” for humans:

The daytime activity of females was doubled in response to IF, whereas the IF diet did not affect the activity level of males. Nighttime activity levels of males and females were unaffected by dietary energy restriction.

And this:

 Uterine activity was monitored daily with vaginal smear tests; cyclicity was scored as regular, irregular, or absent. The mild energy-restriction diets (20% CR and IF) significantly increased the proportion of animals displaying irregular cycling patterns, whereas the 40% CR animals displayed an almost complete loss of estrous cyclicity.

And this:

 In males, corticosterone levels were elevated only in response to the 40% CR diet, whereas in females corticosterone levels were significantly elevated in response to all three energy-restriction diets, suggesting a relative hyperactivation in females of the adrenal stress response to reduced energy availability.

For lipids, all the rats did well: “Collectively, these data suggest that atherogenic profiles of both males and females are improved by dietary energy restriction.”  Interestingly, too, as they pointed out in the abstract, human females also perform cognitively much “better” (memory and alertness) on CR and IF diets than on normal feeding schedules.

There are of course some caveats to this study: A) They are rats.  B) They are somewhat “metabolically morbid” rats, which may make them more susceptible to disease.  C) The rats were allowed to eat ad libitum on the IF days, but they simply did not meet their caloric requirements this way.  So while it is a somewhat natural form of IF, it is still calorically reduced, such that that must be taken into account when gasping in horror at the hormonal responses of IF-ing female rats.

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The Few Human Studies

I mentioned above that through the same review that MDA used as a “great overview” of IF benefits for all sexes, I found harmful metabolic effects for women subjected to alternate-day fasting regimes.

This is the study:

Heilbronn et al found that with IF, insulin sensitivity improved in men (21 participants) but not in women (20 participants): after three weeks of alternate day fasting, insulin response to a test meal was reduced in men. Women experienced no significant change. “It is interesting that this effect on insulin sensitivity occurred only in male subjects,” they report.

With respect to other health markers female health actually declined, specifically with respect to glucose tolerance:

“Another diabetes risk factor that has shown a sex-specific effect is glucose tolerance. After 3 weeks of ADF, women but not men had an increase in the area under the glucose curve. This unfavorable effect on glucose tolerance in women, accompanied by an apparent lack of an effect on insulin sensitivity, suggests that short-term ADF may be more beneficial in men than in women in reducing type 2 diabetes risk. ”  The opening line of their discussion reads: “Alternate day fasting may adversely affect glucose tolerance in nonobese women but not in nonobese men.”

In a follow up study,  Heibron et. al studied the effects of alternate-day fasting on cardiovascular risk.  When human subjects fasted on alternate days for another three week period, circulating concentrations of HDL cholesterol increased, whereas triacylglycerol concentrations decreased.  This is a good thing.  However, the shifts in lipid concentrations were shown to be sex specific: ie, only the women had an increase in HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and only the men had a decrease in triacylglycerol concentrations.

The most recent review of IF agrees with my conclusion: sex-specific differences in metabolism exist and need to be studied further.

This study of alternate day fasting included 12 women and 4 men.   In eight weeks, body weight decreased by about 10 pounds, and body fat percentage decreased from 45 to 42.  Blood pressure decreased, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and traicylglycerol decreased.  These people were significantly obese, which limits the results of this study to an obese population.  However, “perimenopausal women were excluded from the study, and postmenopausal women (absence of menses for >2 y) were required to maintain their current hormone replacement therapy regimen for the duration of the study.”  (Their words, my emphasis)

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The one, big study of intermittent fasting conducted on men and women looked at differences between isocaloric feeding schedules: 3 meals/day feeding versus 1 meal/day.

The study focused on body weight composition, blood pressure, and body temperature in subjects.  Subjects were fed isocalorically either one meal each day or three meals each day.  All subjects were between 40 and 50 years old (excluding women of reproductive age), and between BMIs of 18 and 25.  They ate, so far as I can tell, a healthy diet with 35 percent fat, PUFA < MUFA < SFA.   Only 15 of the original 69 completed the study (which goes to show just how fun everyone thought fasting was).  As for the results,

“Systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lowered by ≈6% during the period when subjects were consuming 3 meals/d than when they were consuming 1 meal/d.  No significant differences in heart rate and body temperature were observed between the 2 diet regimens.    Hunger was enormously larger in the one meal/day than in the three meals/day group.  “The 1 meal/d diet was significantly higher for hunger (P = 0.003), desire to eat (P = 0.004), and prospective consumption (P = 0.006) than was the 3 meals/d diet. Feelings of fullness were significantly (P = 0.001) lower in the 1 meal/d than in the 3 meals/diet.”   Body weight dropped only four pounds after several months.  Cortisol dropped, but  Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol were 11.7%, 16.8%, and 8.4% higher, respectively, in subjects consuming 1 meal/d than in those consuming 3 meals/d.

In sum: patients on the one meal/day regiment were unhappy, hungry, lost a little bit of weight, increased cholesterol.  This was a small sample, included somewhat menopausal women, and all people of normal body weight.

Intermittent Fasting Women: In Conclusion

All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on.

There are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.

There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.  

Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.

This post has focused on sex-specific responses to fasting, specifically intermittent fasting women. Another important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.

The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.

Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success?  Perhaps.  Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight?   What if she is a light sleeper?  What if her periods begin to dysregulate?  Or stop?  What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether?  These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.

We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds.  All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.

intermittent fasting women

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IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature, here.

 

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And that’s a wrap! What do you think?

The Real Truth Behind Autophagy Inducing Fasts

The Real Truth Behind Autophagy Inducing Fasts

Fasting can have vast effects on women’s health. If you are unfamiliar with this effects and the stress it can put on your body, check out this post here to get you started.  It is clear that fasting is huge in the health and wellness industry right now. Fasting has been around for thousands of years, however, mainly known for its large role in religious ceremonies and journeys. People would swear of the powers that fasting could bring, from refined wordly clarity, visions, and even mystical powers to those brave enough to pursue it. But what really gives? Can fasting be beneficial in this day and age? And what the heck does this have to do with Autophagy, you ask?

Autophagy is basically a scientific process of recycling dead cells, or “self-cleaning” that occurs when the body is under stress, either from fasting, exercising, or ketosis.

Lets Debrief on Intermittent Fasting:

One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.

Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human. 

The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:

Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life.  Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practitioners of calorie-restriction often experience.

Intermittent fasting, proponents say, also may benefit the fight against cancer, diabetes, and autoimmunity. Here is an excellent, up-to-date review of the “benefits” of fasting. It is wholly understandable that fasting is all the rage these days.

Sort of.

Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.

In Comes Autophagy:

The word derives from the Greek auto (self) and phagein (to eat). (literally “self-eating”) 

It has been proven that the body runs its biological processes similar to a recycling plant. Old cells that are degraded or just no longer needed in the body can be “eaten” by the body to help streamline and allow our bodies to exist more efficiently. One of the ways the body can enter this self-cleaning mode is by fasting. Most of our cells are already pre-programmed to do this in a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis basically means cells are programmed to die after a certain amount of time to benefit the body.

Autophagy has been studied in relation to its effects at killing cancerous cells in the body. There is not a tremendous amount of data on how this process works and how we can harness it to our benefit. The studies are in effect, however.

Ketosis and high intensity interval training can also engage autophagy in addition to fasting. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting while in ketosis, which is typically the main appeal of ketosis versus intermittent fasting.

Negative Side Effects:

  1. We just don’t know exactly what we are dealing with and how it will effect our biochemistry long term.
  2. Growth is occurring. By recycling, autophagy is also allowing new growth to occur in the body. This means bacterial cells or cells like Lyme can be produced or encouraged to grow. 
  3. This is the same to note when thinking about cancer cells. If not harnessed properly, the same growth could occur with cancer cells, instead of just death. This is why autophagy is looked at often as preventative tool, not a treatment.
  4. Every persons biological makeup has their own unique traits. Again – we do not have the information to make a quantitative and educated guess on whether this is successful and beneficial in the short and long term.
  5. Autophagy is a stress induced response, so in order to activate it you have to produce more stress in the body. This is a common parallel that we see with over-exercising especially with programs like CrossFit. People maintain success to a certain point on these programs but is the overall detrimental effects of putting our body through more stress worth the rewards? Does the stressed state of our body even let us benefit from these rewards or are the effects inhibited?
  6. a) Women in studies often do not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and
    b) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance. These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF, the primary and preferred catalyst for autophagy.

Positive Side Effects:

In some studies Autophagy has been shown to produce the following results:

  1. Reduced inflammation levels in the body
  2. Prevention or delay of neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinsons and Alzheimers)
  3. Increased life span

Verdict:

All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on. Its up to you to determine whether the benefits of autophagy are really worth the stress that can occur with fasting.

As for fasting, there are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.

There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.  

Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.

An important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.

The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.

Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success?  Perhaps.  Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight?   What if she is a light sleeper?  What if her periods begin to dysregulate?  Or stop?  What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether?  These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.

We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds.  All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.

intermittent fasting women

——–

IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature, here.

 

 

 

7 Tips For the Most Sustainable Weight Loss Plan Ever

7 Tips For the Most Sustainable Weight Loss Plan Ever

Now that is mid January, the New Years Resolution hype is starting to lose momentum. If you took some of my advice to heart, then maybe you scooted through Resolution season without seeing anyone’s posts about succumbing to the pressure to lose weight or keep meaningless resolutions. If that is the case, I congratulate you! 

But, if you are sticking to resolutions with a healthy mindset, I also congratulate you. It can be healthy to have a resolution to lose weight if your mindset is in the correct space and you are looking to lose weight for the right reasons. And, if that is the case, then I want to share my insight on what I consider the most sustainable weight loss plan ever.

You can read every one of my weight loss accelerating tips in the program I finally packaged together for you, Weight Loss Unlocked, here. In the meantime, here are the basics to get you started, and what I think the most sustainable paleo weight loss plan is.

So what do you need to know to lose weight, and keep the weight off long term?

1) Listen to Hunger Cues: 

Overeating is a problem that can prevent weight loss. You don’t want to snack too much, to eat beyond fullness, or to exceed your daily energy requirements on a regular basis. (I know that that’s easier than done for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. For more on the psychology of how to do this, my best resources are this post and this program.)

Most people don’t know this, but under eating can be just as much as, if not more of, a problem.

Why?

Because even while under eating reduces calorie intake and therefore cause weight loss in the short-term, it causes health and hormone problems in the long-term.This is especially important for women. The female body has many mechanisms specifically designed to store body fat if it thinks it is being starved: this protects a woman (and her baby) from dying if she is pregnant.

If you under eat on a regular basis, your body may think that it is being starved, and it will slow down thyroid function, and therefore fat burning.

In order to experience optimal weight loss in the long run, you absolutely must prevent this kind of damage from happening.

The key to doing so is just being sure to eat when you feel hungry. Don’t starve yourself. And don’t make yourself wait on purpose. Don’t give yourself a set number (say, 1500) of calories to eat in a day. And don’t even give yourself a set amount of food. Energy needs vary day by day. If you feel like you need to eat more, do it.

Once people begin ignoring their leptin signals, they get easier and easier to ignore.   This is because constantly elevated leptin levels cause leptin receptors to become insensitive to the leptin floating around in the bloodstream.  As the body realizes that it’s normal leptin signaling isn’t getting the job done, it incites more eating, more weight gain, and higher leptin levels in hopes that an increased leptin signal will get through. For this reason, obesity is correlated with high leptin levels, even though many obese people complain of constant hunger.

Leptin resistance is a problem for everybody.  Both men and women.  Without fixing leptin sensitivity problems, it’s very difficult to lose weight. It’s even more difficult to enact any kind of dietary restriction. But women, who have higher levels of leptin than men (having higher body fat percentages) and who have HPA axes more attuned to energy conservation, are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in leptin levels.

AKA pay attention to your hunger signs! If you are feeling hungry, eat, and if you’re not feeling hungry then do not eat. This is the best way to keep your leptin signals regular.

2) Incorporate Low Impact Movement :

Our bodies like to move. Low impact movement has been shown to improve mood, health, and sleep quality – to name a few. Typically, low impact exercise is my favorite type of exercise because it includes one type I really really enjoy, walking outside. So when people say “low impact” I don’t immediately cringe like I do when people say “cardio”. Low impact can be walking around your neighborhood or going for a gentle bike ride. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout, it is mainly the things we do that perpetuate movement on our day to day. As long as we keep low impact in our schedules our body will respond appropriately.

The key to weight loss is not to exercise harder, but to exercise smarter. 

Running, cycling, using the elliptical, and other cardio exercises are not the panacea most people make them out to be. They do not burn as many calories as the people who sell them would like us to believe. Nor do they build muscle all that well. They also elevate stress hormone levels if done on a regular basis.

All three of these factors make them inferior for weight loss.

Instead of doing cardio, I like to recommend doing a mix of three things: weight lifting, short, intense sprint work-outs, and slow, “happy” movement.

For me, this looks like lifting weights once or twice a week, doing a couple sprint workouts a week, and going dancing at night.

The basic ideas are this:

  • Muscles require more energy to maintain, so if you build muscle, your body will burn more calories over the course of any given day, regardless of whether you work out.
  • Strength training helps improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health
  • High intensity sprint workouts (like pedaling as fast as you can for 6 periods of 45 seconds) improve insulin sensitivity and hormonal health
  • Strength and sprint workouts promote something called “metabolic flexibility” which helps you burn both carbohydrates and fat efficiently
  • Exercising too much, like many cardio exercisers do, is stressful to the body. With short weight lifting and sprint workouts you minimize the amount of stress hormone in your bloodstream.

So exercise smart. Lift heavy weights twice a week, do two sprint workouts a week, and walk or do yoga and dance or any other fun activity as often as possible.

(I talk a lot more about the specifics of fitness in my hardcover book [which you can get here on Amazon], and also in my weight loss program here.)

3) Consistency is Key :

I know how challenging it can be to remain consistent. Sometimes a buddy can help you stay accountable. I’m a big fan of noting my progress in writing, usually by making charts or calendars, so I can visually see the fruits of my labor. This can be great if I am being too hard on myself or if it feels like I’m not working as much as I should be; it’s a great reminder of the effort I’m putting in.

4) Do Exercise You Enjoy :

You know how they say if you love your job you won’t work a day in your life? Well the same goes for exercise. If you find a type of movement you enjoy doing regularly, you will stick to it. For me this is biking, kayaking, dancing, climbing and group sports. These don’t feel like exercises or workouts to me, it’s a socialization opportunity and I typically get to see more of my environment when I do these. 

Outdoor sports are one of my favorite easy ways to get in exercise because I also love being in nature so incredibly much. Are there any particular hobbies that you enjoy that you could wrap into an exercise? For instance, if you love flora and fauna, maybe a walk through some botanical gardens could be enjoyable. Or, maybe you feel like you don’t get to see and spend time with your family very often. A good way to squeeze in time together could be an after dinner bike ride.

It is okay to feel like you don’t like any types of exercise. I stand firm in my belief that there is an activity out there waiting for you that you will truly enjoy, you just need to find it.

5) You Must Reduce Inflammation 

No matter how hard you try to lose weight, you might not be able to if you suffer from an underlying health condition.

Thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are super common problems for people trying to lose weight, especially women.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut are all gut health problems. They might not seem like they are important for weight loss, but they are some of the most important. Without a healthy gut, you cannot absorb nutrients well, or have a healthy hormonal response to food.

Autoimmune diseases are also very important to tackle. The best guide for overcoming them, in my opinion, is Sarah Ballantyne’s, here on Amazon.

Figure out your underlying issues by taking stock of your body. What symptoms do you experience? When? For how long?  How long have you had them? Take your answers to google and to the doctor. Get some tests done. Paleo is fantastic for healing, but a more targeted approach can help heal you all the faster.

Then, the faster you heal your underlying problems, the faster you can lose weight.

6) Making the Focus Not Entirely About Losing Weight

An important idea to consider but may go without saying:

The more that you think about who you are as a person, as opposed to the way that you look, the more in control you will be of the whole process.

When you are secure in your values, in your personality, in your relationships and your career and your life, then you are more satisfied with everything. You don’t need to lose weight as badly as you might if you didn’t love yourself, if you thought the way that you looked meant everything. All you really need is yourself.

Weight loss is very, very hard when you want it so bad. This is true for a lot of important things in life, like romance, for example. In both of these cases, the harder you run for it, and the more crucial it seems for your happiness, the more and more it slips out of your fingers.

The alternative is to stop chasing weight loss. Stop obsessing over it. Stop letting it rule you. Instead, if you can increase your comfort with yourself – with who you are – you can make weight loss a side project. It will be an addendum to who you are, but not the whole thing.

Then you can do so light-heartedly, and more easily, without risk of stress or nervous breakdowns or obsessive sabotaging behaviors.

7) Weight Loss Unlocked

Ready for more than just blog posts? After decades of yo-yo dieting, I finally freed myself from being a slave to my weight loss battle.

So, I developed my own personal program for maintaining a healthy weight without fretting at all. I am happy, free, in a fit, healthy body, and eat the foods I want to eat.

I do this using a combination of unique paleo diet insights, scientific studies on female metabolism, and self-loving strategies. Learn all about how I and the thousands of women who have taken my advice do it in the program, here.

In Sum

The key to lifelong weight loss is learning how to heed your internal cues.  Learning your body, understanding its needs, and feeding it nutrient dense food.  There doesn’t need to be a special superfood protocol.  There just needs to be balance.  

Remembering these insights along with all of the 7 steps combined is the best way to maintain sustainable weight loss. It can seem overwhelming at first but after lacing each step together it will start to feel more natural, and I promise your body will follow suit.

Best of luck on your weight loss journey!

Why Keto May Not Be For You

Why Keto May Not Be For You

Here we are, with another popular diet generating a huge amount of buzz, promising things like sustained weight loss, increased energy, decreased inflammation, and more. When a fad diet surfaces I always err on the side of caution, especially when it seems like a magic pill that can take all of your worries away. In my experience, and over all of the years of research I have conducted, a balanced diet with real foods and ingredients always triumphs over a fad diet for long term sustainable weight loss and decreased inflammation. Now I know that keto may benefit some, just like paleo benefits some people. I encourage you to fully do your research before jumping into a diet like ketosis. Ketosis may have serious consequences on your metabolism, weight, and mood. Frankly, keto may not be good for you.

What is Ketosis?

I am going to steer clear of giving you a long, technical definition of ketosis. I do however think it’s worth learning the biochemistry if you plan to experiment. In that case, I highly recommend Dr Peter Attia’s posts or Dr Chris Masterjohn’s.

In short, ketosis is a state the body enters when there is an excess of molecules called acetyl groups over oxaloacetate. This happens when there is a shortage of glucose supplied to the metabolic processes that create energy, like when you eat a very low carbohydrate diet. Yet interestingly enough the body will also produce ketones when medium-chain fatty acids enter the metabolic processes.

So then, when there is this excess of acetyl groups relative to oxaloacetate, the body produces something called ketone bodies. Ketone bodies come from fatty acids that the body has liberated from fat tissue, which can be used as an alternative fuel to carbohydrates. This is important because the body (and specifically the brain and heart) literally need carbohydrates or ketone bodies in order to function. When carbs are gone, basically, ketone bodies step in to do their work.

People typically achieve ketosis by fasting or by eating diets very low in carbohydrate (high fat, moderate protein). This calls for at least fewer than 50, and maybe more like 20, grams of carbohydrate a day. This depends on your age, body type, activity level and the like.

You can verify how deeply your body has gone into ketosis by peeing on a stick, which reveals the level of ketone bodies being circulated in and used by your body.

Who Keto May Be Good For:

Those with Epilepsy disorder.

Those that struggle with seizures have been studied and proven to benefit from the keto diet. This is the only disorder that has been studied and proven to help with symptoms. No other conclusive research has been conducted on keto’s effects for any other condition (studies are happening, they are just in infancy). So tread lightly with all of the articles that tell you WHY keto is good for you, because a lot of this research has not been studied clinically.

When Keto May Not Be Good For You:

  • If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes: Keto can trigger a very dangerous condition in those that have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The body essentially starts to hoard ketones which can cause an acid overload, damaging the kidneys, liver and even brain. This condition can be fatal. 
  • You are looking to not regain weight back: The keto diet is generally known as not being easy to stick to long-term. It is in the same category as other fad diets; people will often use to loose a few pounds, and then quickly see the weight come back after stopping the diet. It is also known that most of the weight loss attributed to keto is from removal of access water, another common reason the weight resurfaces rapidly after stopping the diet.
  • You are not willing to eat lean meats and fats: There is a lot of red meat, butter, and foods generally high in saturated fat and that are common for those to eat on the keto diet. That is part of the allure right? What other “diet” allows you to eat cheese, eggs and bacon all the time? (Note to self, you can not be on a diet and eat this way 🙂 ). A lot of people forget to add in lean meat and healthy fat, resulting in adverse health affects.
  • You are trying to reproduce: Women of reproductive age who are attempting to conceive or are pregnant should probably not undergo low-carb ketosis, as carbohydrates play an important role in A) pregnancy, and B) assuring the hypothalamus that the body has been properly fed. In fact, insulin is actually an important satiation hormone. For women who want to conceive, it may be best to err on the side of caution and make sure you get bountiful carbs.
  • If you have a sensitive reproductive system:  If you have a history of low hormone levels, hypothalamic amenorrhea, dieting, or irregular menstrual cycles, the hormone changes involved in low carb ketosis as well as the uptick in stress hormone levels may hinder your reproductive hormone production.
  • If you have thyroid Issues: People (mostly women) with sensitive thyroid systems may also be in jeopardy from low carb ketosis. Ketosis is well known to down regulate thyroid production. T3 (the form of thyroid hormone that is actually active in cells) decreases, and reverse T3, a molecule that blocks the activity of T3, increases. Ketosis advocates may bend over backwards trying to make this phenomenon seem hunky dory, but I would advise anyone with thyroid issues to step carefully around ketosis. If you have clinical hypothyroidism I would consider consulting a doctor first.
  • If you are stressed out:  People with adrenal issues or a lot of stress are not great candidates for this diet. Adrenal glands may become more active with low carb ketosis, which can exacerbate  feelings of being wired, stress, and all the attending symptoms that come along with it.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping: Low carb ketosis may up-regulate the production of stress hormones, which can have a negative impact on sleep.
  • If you’re an athlete:  If you are trying to gain muscle mass or improve performance as an athlete, keto is not a great option. The bodies preferred fuel source is glucose or glycogen, not fat. So when we force the body to run on fat, whether adipose or dietary, we are inhibiting athletic performance because it is a slower and more energy consuming process to burn fat.
  • If you’re trying to maintain and moderate inflammation: Some of our cells lack mitochondria, meaning they are dependent on glucose from carbohydrates to survive. When in ketosis, we are basically starving these cells that can be found in our blood, retina, corneas, testis and renal medulla. These are not just aesthetic cells, we need our blood and eyes for instance, to be fully functioning.
  • You are not willing to commit to gradual transitions: When you transition off of keto, it has to be a gradual transition or you can damage your metabolism and most likely gain back any weight you have lost. It is not the best idea to jump right back in to processed refined carbohydrates, it is better to slowly introduce carbohydrates. You can start by adding a few carbohydrates to one meal a day, and slowly work up towards incorporating them into your diet.
  • If you struggle with restrictive eating: If you have a history of punishing yourself for falling off the wagon, feeling guilty about food, engaging in cycles of over- and under- eating, or confining yourself to strict dietary rules, I would not recommend ketosis. In order for someone to truly achieve wellness, then psychological health must be prioritized, perhaps above whatever ketosis-based goals you may have (and of course this varies by the individual. If you have brain cancer then please feel free to try ketosis regardless of how much you love your body).
  • If you seek any of these things:
    • Self love
    • Body acceptance
    • Overcoming an obsession with food
    • Overcoming cravings
    • Eating intuitively
    • Eating guilt-free
    • Keto is NOT diet freedom.

Then I would never recommend a set of diet rules – and again, especially one where you can’t eat for days or one where you have to pee on a stick —  to help you.

Side Effects of Keto

I completely understand wanting to try a particular type of eating to see if it may have any benefits for your metabolism, energy levels, and overall well-being. I know that some of you are, or have, tried keto. One unfortunate side effect of keto, as with any diet where you are trying to manipulate your bodies biochemistry, is that there are going to be ways our body lets us know that change is occurring.

  • Keto Flu: There are no solid facts to what is causing keto flu, but it is speculated that keto flu is caused by changing the metabolism and experiencing sugar withdrawal. There are also speculations that the body is purging toxins from fat storage during the transition into a fat burning state. While purging the toxins the body may experience the following:
    • Fatigue
    • Cravings for carbs and sugar
    • Dehydration
    • Loss of appetite
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
    • Heartburn or other symptoms of indigestion
    • Low motivation to exercise and poor recovery from workouts
    • Brain fog
    • Dizziness
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Moodiness or irritability

This is a huge less for little promised returns. Ask yourself, is it truly worth it to hop on a new diet bandwagon, and experience this obnoxiously long list of side effects?

Still Not Sure?

Robb Wolff provides this super handy quiz  that you can take to determine whether keto is a great option for you. I definitely recommend consulting with your primary care physician before making any transitions, even if the handy dandy quiz says keto may be for you. Check it out here: Quiz

I know my thoughts on the keto diet are controversial, but I am coming from a place of love and education, and hoping the best for you. I would never want you to embark on a diet journey that has negative long-term consequences for immediate returns. It does scare me that the long-term research is not available for the keto diet, meaning we really don’t know how it effects our metabolism and biochemistry, ultimately. I have heard that Arctic nations have actually developed a gene that blocks ketosis. Arctic indigenous people have a much different climate, diet and lifestyle than us, yes, but doesn’t it seem a little strange that a culture would develop a gene to block ketois, a state that so many people are trying to live in?

 

Reasons Why You Aren’t Losing Weight

Reasons Why You Aren’t Losing Weight

So I believe there are two generally allocated camps of people out there. Those that want to lose weight because they believe they should weigh and look a certain way, and those that need to lose weight for health related reasons.

The first camp is often fueled by society’s ideal body type, and the standards women have placed on their heads regarding what their bodies should look like. We have all heard stories of women that just want to lose that LAST FIVE POUNDS. I used to be one of them. But I would like to ask you, how important is that last five pounds really? Will it truly bring you happiness? Probably not. Will it make a difference in how your clothes fit? Most likely no. So why do we put ourselves through hell to lose five pounds which is already just an arbitrary number?

Healthy Weight Loss

Those in the second camp are looking for weight loss based on a health based need. This may have been a conversation you have had with your doctor or based on your physiological bodies language to you such as underlying illnesses, you may have been able to determine this was a proper course. To you, I absolutely recommend my program, Weight Loss Unlocked. In this program I detail the following:

  • Healthy Weight Loss Goals
  • The Metabolic System Basics
  • How to Accelerate Weight Loss
  • Developing Your Own Personalized Plan
  • Quantity and Quality of Exercise Needed
  • And so much more.

Get Weight Loss Unlocked here

If you have been dieting and are consistently not experiencing weight loss, the following items could be contributing.

1) You are not healing underlying issues

 

No matter how hard you try to lose weight, you might not be able to if you suffer from an underlying health condition.

Thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are super common problems for people trying to lose weight, especially women.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut are all gut health problems. They might not seem like they are important for weight loss, but they are some of the most important. Without a healthy gut, you cannot absorb nutrients well, or have a healthy hormonal response to food.

Autoimmune diseases are also very important to tackle. The best guide for overcoming them, in my opinion, is Sarah Ballantyne’s, here on Amazon.

Figure out your underlying issues by taking stock of your body. What symptoms do you experience? When? For how long?  How long have you had them? Take your answers to google and to the doctor. Get some tests done. Paleo is fantastic for healing, but a more targeted approach can help heal you all the faster.

Then, the faster you heal your underlying problems, the faster you can lose weight.

2) You are Under Eating

People are not wrong when they say that you need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight.

This is one of the reasons paleo can be so great for weight loss: it spontaneously helps you eat less, by being more simple and satisfying than processed foods.

But there is such a thing as over-doing it.

If you undereat, and especially if you do so for an extended period of time, your thyroid gland will slow down. The body starts to burn body fat more slowly because it detects an energy decrease. 

Depending on how restrictive you are, your body might even stop burning fat altogether, or will gain it. This is especially common for women. The female body is so much more sensitive to body fat levels (which you can read more about at my post here) than the male body is.

This is a weight loss plateau. The solution? Eat when you’re hungry! If you need more specific advice than that, do not eat below 1800 calories a day, and if physically active, then at least 21 or 2200.

3) You’re stressed out:

Stress, for a third, is also incredibly important. Many studies show that stress, like fitness level, is more important than body fat percentage in promoting health and longevity. For example, some studies show that implementing Healthy At Every Size practices, which means ignoring weight regulation in favor of intuitive eating and living, significantly decreases mortality in overweight adults, and promotes better lab results, health behaviors, and self-esteem than weight loss treatment. For those who are stressed out about losing weight this can be a never ending cycle, try not weighing yourself and paying more attention to how your body feels. You can read more about how the parasympathetic and sympathetic states of the body are influenced by stress and can influence your weight loss.

4) You’re not getting enough sleep:

In 1960, a survey of over 1 million people found a modal sleep duration of 8-9 hours. In 2002, polls conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicated that the average duration of sleep for Americans had fallen to 6.9-7 hours.  Recent data indicate that a higher percentage of adult Americans report sleeping 6 hours or less. In 2005, in the US, more than 30% of adult men and women between the ages of 30 and 64 years reported sleeping on average less than 6 hours each night. This decrease in sleep duration has occurred over the same time as the increase in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes. These studies have shown correlations with hormone leptin, sleep, and weight loss.

Leptin has a distinct diurnal and circadian rhythm.  It has minimum values during daytime and a nocturnal rise with maximum values during early to mid sleep.  The amplitude of the circadian variation averages approximately thirty per cent. Leptin levels rise during the night to suppress appetite while sleeping.   

Moreover, with sleep deprivation, the reduction of leptin at night spells bad news for the rest of the day: it sets the individual up not just with lower leptin levels in general but also decreased glucose tolerance and an increased craving for carbohydrates. So not only are our bodies hungry, but they are craving foods that are less nutrient rich.

Putting away electronic devices or wearing blue blocking glasses before bed can help melatonin production which will help you fall asleep easier as well. You can learn more positive sleep hygiene tips here.

5) This is the weight you’re meant to be:

Just because your body might not burn through fat as efficiently as someone else’s doesn’t mean they are more healthy than you.

If there isn’t an underlying health condition associated with fat storage, it may be a simple matter of genetics, the quality of nutrition and a body type you had as a child growing up, or of having a history of dieting (which so many of us do), which leads to slower fat burning mechanisms in the long run.

It is also incredibly important to bear in mind that fat cells don’t go away once created. They can shrink, but they never go away. This makes it much easier for people who have been overweight in the past to keep weight or to regain it once they’ve lost it. This has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with the biochemistry of fat storage.

But by and large, you may just be at a satisfactory weight especially if you do not have an existing or underlying health conditions. I know it is scary to approach the thought that you just may not be destined to be a size zero, but that is OKAY. Body types vary, and that is what society doesn’t show us. It also doesn’t show us the extremes that it may take to maintain that size of body.

All I ask, is that you consider this on your weight loss journey: How important is this weight loss to the grander scheme of life and my purpose in life? Will losing weight allow you to achieve your goals and make shit happen? Is this something I am doing for my health or to live up to somebody else’s expectations of who I should be?

 

Top 6 Reasons to Wear a Bikini

Top 6 Reasons to Wear a Bikini

For those that are going working through restrictive eating patterns or negative body image, this post may be triggering.

Okay, so:

I have definitely put off wearing a bikini, or a bathing suit for that matter, for YEARS, like probably half my life easily. Regardless of my weight or size, I always saw something different and unacceptable in the mirror.How many times have I looked back at photos of myself being extremely thin but also extremely unhealthy and unhappy at the same time, knowing my thoughts went something along the lines of:

“If I lose five more pounds I will be happier”

“Why can’t I work harder to maintain a fitter thinner shape?”

“I will never be strong or thin enough”

“I would give up blankity blank blank if only I could be my goal weight”

I look back on a lot of these mindsets and cannot help but face the overwhelming sadness and pain I was going through, and how I am incredibly happy and relieved to be at a place where I can respect and love my mind and body together.

And that includes wearing what I want, when I want it, especially if it makes me feel sexier and more confident in my own skin. This is because everyday is a new day to continue to implement this healthier mindset, or not. And in order to continue on this path of grace and self love, I have to work at it.

In this instance, working at it means wearing my bikini. If you have been in a similar pattern as me, please read through a few of these reasons (amongst many) why you should give society’s idea of a women a big ole adios and put on that bikini.

1) Because if you want to wear the bikini, you should wear the bikini:

Seriously let’s cut the crap. Why are we still caring what others think of what we are wearing?

2) Because its hot!  

We already have to wear bras, why are we subjecting ourselves to more torture by wearing more clothes than necessary when it’s hot out!

3) Because the styles available are endless:

Check out Swimsuits For All for styles that look great on everybody.

4) Because you can embrace and love yourself in a bikini regardless of your weight:

This is possible, but it really starts with taking care of your mind body connection. With a more confident and accepting mind, you can learn to love your physical appearance too.

5) Because you may just love it :

 What if…. just what if…. you put on that bikini and you feel damn good! Think of all the years you have been holding back, and just try it out. You may really love it.

6) Because you need Vitamin D:

We all need Vitamin D . If you’re going to be outside why not multitask and wear that bikini and get the Vitamin D you need at the same time! Just don’t forget the sunscreen, it doesn’t prevent the body from absorbing Vitamin D, just preventing sunburn!

Did I convince you? Would it help to know I wore a bathing suit while writing this for you? I am serious about eating my own dog food, loves!

If you are struggling with repairing your body image or are interested in losing weight in a HEALTHY sustainable manner, you can check out my program Weight Loss Unlocked here.

http://paleoweightlossforwomen.com/

I also have a plethora of resources for increasing your body image. Check them out below.

My fave self love and self help books : https://paleoforwomen.com/resources/#selflovebooks

5 Things You Must Know About Self Love

My Favorite Self Love Resources

5 Habits Preventing You From Cultivating Self Love

Overcoming Self Sabotage

Self Love and Weight Loss: Enemies or Bedfellows?

 

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