There’s no question that diet and lifestyle are both important when it comes to losing weight, but is one more important than the other?
The answer might surprise you.
As it turns out, you might not have to slave away in the gym to slim down.
Believe it or not, it’s actually what you eat that’s most important.
When you eat too many carbs and sugar, fat storage skyrockets, hormones swing out of control, and inflammation soars.
Before long, the pounds stack up.
On the flip side, the right foods fuel healthy gut bacteria and promote weight loss. (1)
That should be music to your ears if you’re one of the millions of American who despise the gym.
But not so fast, you aren’t off the hook yet…
Lifestyle changes and exercise habits are also important.
First though, we’re going to dive deep into the real secret to weight loss: the microbiome.
Here’s how to make diet and lifestyle changes that will last a lifetime:
What Is The Microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of trillions of organisms that live inside your intestines.
They mostly include bacteria and fungi.
Bacteria, however, seem to play a bigger role in weight loss.
As it turns out, animals with diverse, well-balanced gut bacteria have lower rates of obesity.
Gut Bacteria, Weight Loss, and Your Health
There’s an epic weight loss battle raging inside your belly.
Fighting for weight loss are the Bacteroidetes: gut bacteria that promote weight loss.
Fighting for weight gain are the Firmicutes: gut bacteria that promote fat storage.
These two types of bacteria make up roughly 90% of the entire microbiome. (2)
Other bacteria play a role too, but we’ll get to that later….
For now, remember that high levels of Firmicutes are connected to…
- Obesity (3)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart failure
- Cardiovascular disease (4)
High Firmicute levels may also trigger low-grade inflammation: a major factor in overall wellness.
However, research also links exceptionally low Firmicute levels to depression and gut inflammation.
In other words, you can’t just eliminate Firmicutes and call it good.
Instead, the real key to weight loss is a balanced microbiome…
Is Bacterial Diversity the Key to Weight Loss?
There’s a strong link between a diverse microbiome and better health, and the studies keep stacking up.
For example, when obese mice were injected with the gut bacteria of thin mice, they lost weight.
At the same time, when lean mice were injected with the gut bacteria of obese mice, they gained weight. (5)
So what’s so special about those skinny mice?
They had more diverse, well-balanced gut bacteria.
Obese mice, on the other hand, had out-of-balance, Firmicute-heavy gut bacteria.
The more we learn, the more obvious it becomes that bacterial diversity is one of the cornerstones of good health.
How Gut Bacteria Affects Fat Absorption
Bacteria may increase fat uptake and calorie absorption.
In studies conducted on identical twins, those with a high Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio absorbed more calories and gained weight faster. (6)
On a similar note, a bacteria called Clostridia may reduce fat absorption.
Here’s what the researchers at the University of Utah found:
As healthy mice got older, they lost their Clostridia and eventually became obese.
However, when they were given Clostridia, they quickly slimmed down.
According to June Round, Ph.D., the study’s senior co-author, “Now that we’ve found the bacteria responsible for this slimming effect, we have the potential to really understand…whether they have therapeutic value.” (7)
Round thinks that Clostridia may work by regulating the uptake of fatty acids.
In other words, it prevents the body from absorbing fat.
Now that you know how the microbiome affects weight, let’s take a look at how to lose weight with healthy lifestyle changes:
10 Weight Loss Lifestyle Changes + How They Impact the Microbiome
The impact of lifestyle changes on gut bacteria has been largely ignored.
However, by exercising, reducing stress, and adopting healthy habits, you can make giant strides towards slimming down.
Follow these 10 key lifestyle changes to lose weight for good:
1. Quit Smoking
Smoking can have a significant impact on the microbiome.
According to a recent study, even healthy individuals can be affected, but Crohn’s Disease patients are most at risk. (8)
Astonishingly, smoking may even increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
The problem is that smoking elevates Bacteroidetes to unhealthy levels.
Although most people need more Bacteroidetes and fewer Firmicutes, the goal is to achieve balance, not to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction.
That’s why weight loss starts with healthy lifestyle changes like quitting smoking.
2. Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the main lifestyle factors that affect weight loss.
For example, research shows that chronic stress may reduce beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus. (9)
To make matters worse, stress may also contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
How does stress affect gut health?
The digestive system, hormones, and brain are all linked by the gut-brain axis.
Because of this connection, changes in gut bacteria directly influences brain activity and stress.
Likewise, chronic stress can alter the microbiome and increase gut inflammation.
3. Move to the Countryside
You may not realize it, but living in a city may be stressing you out.
For a lot of people, simply moving to the countryside can be part of the solution to better health.
But chronic stress isn’t the only reason to leave the city—research also shows that air pollution can affect gut bacteria and trigger inflammation. (10)
Mindfulness training is becoming a more common part of weight loss routines.
It certainly reduces stress hormones, and studies also show that it may promote weight loss. (11)
5. Avoid Stressful Exercise
Studies show that athletes develop greater microbial diversity in response to exercise. (12)
With that said, most people don’t realize that excessive cardio can increase stress, fatigue, and joint pain.
To make matters worse, it can also contribute to fatigue and overeating.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to traditional cardio that speed fat loss…
A better alternative to cardio is high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
In a nutshell, it involves training for shorter periods at a harder pace.
HIIT has a lot of health benefits, including…
Burning belly fat
Losing general weight
Improving cardiovascular health (13)
The best part is that you can do an entire workout in 15-20 minutes.
However, it should keep you in fat-burning mode for hours.
If HIIT sounds too intimidating, remember that you’re always free to go at your own pace.
“Intensity” can mean different things to different people. The key is to push yourself for 15 minutes or longer in order to gain positive health benefits.
7. Regular Abdominal Workouts (for Newbies)
Unlike other muscle groups, you can exercise your abs every day if you want to.
With that said, all it takes is 2-4 eight-minute ab workouts a week to start defining your midsection.
As icing on the cake, regular ab workouts also reduce lower back pain. (14)
Although most personal trainers agree that diet is the #1 factor in weight loss, core exercises can without a doubt speed up your progress.
8. Workout On An Empty Stomach
Working out on an empty stomach may not be for everyone, but it’s a simple lifestyle change that can make a big difference.
Studies show that it can improve insulin sensitivity and boost fat-burning during exercise. (15)
Quality sleep is at the core of better health and weight loss.
When you get a good night’s sleep, all the other lifestyle changes become easier.
In addition to reducing stress hormones, proper sleep controls appetite, reduces sugar cravings, and improves energy.
If you struggle with emotional eating, then sleep should be one of your top priorities.
Weight Loss Diet + 5 Steps to Healthy Gut Bacteria
The problem with the modern Western diet is that it’s too high in carbs and sugar: Firmicutes’ favorite food.
Bacteroidetes, on the other hand, feed on high-fiber foods and dense veggies.
This means that every time you eat carbs and sugar, you’re feeding Firmicutes and starving Bacteroidetes.
At the same time, Clostridia and other weight loss bacteria are left hungry too.
Luckily, that’s an easy fix.
All you have to do is cut back on the bad foods and load up on the good ones.
Follow these seven tips to balance the microbiome and lose weight:
1. Ditch the Carbs and Sugar
The first and most important step is to cut way, way back on carbs and sugar.
If you’re like most Americans, your diet is too carb-heavy.
Sugar will have to go too, and that includes natural sugars from fruit.
Believe it or not, orange juice is one of the sugariest drinks around and it can wreak havoc on your microbiome.
Sugar also fuels Candida, which can lead to yeast infections and other health problems. (17)
Most berries are okay though, so feel free to snack on raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.
With that said, carbs aren’t entirely evil either.
For example, after a hard workout, you might need a few carbs to replenish your testosterone.
Just make sure to stick to low-inflammatory carbs like sweet potatoes.
These are more nutrient-dense than regular potatoes and have fewer downsides.
2. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
When you eat too many carbs and sugar, you aren’t just fueling bad bacteria, you’re also causing inflammation.
Carbs like bread and pasta contain gluten and can damage the gut lining. (18)
The gut lining is only a single cell thick, and it relies on healthy bacteria to keep it reinforced.
Without a healthy layer of balanced bacteria, inflammatory toxins can enter the bloodstream.
Soda is one of the most inflammatory things you can consume, and diet soda is even worse.
At the same time, make sure to avoid fried foods.
Foods that contain lectins are on the chopping block as well.
Lectins can cause leaky gut, and are found in…
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Brown rice
Dairy is another inflammatory food that should be avoided at all costs.
3. Prebiotic Foods and Supplements
Today’s Western diet is lacking in the foods that feed healthy bacteria and support weight loss.
These weight loss-friendly, high-fiber foods are called prebiotics.
They also guard against…
- Heart disease
- Kidney stones
Here are the top prebiotic foods and supplements for weight loss and overall health:
- Asparagus supports healthy gut bacteria, reduces inflammation, and protects against cancer. It’s also delicious on the grill with some grass-fed steak. (20)
- Garlic has a long history of medicinal benefits. For starters, it protects against infection, supports immunity, strengthens the digestive system, and guards against cancer and heart disease. (21)
- Dandelion greens are an excellent source of prebiotic fiber and are easy to toss into a salad.
- Onions are a nutrient-dense prebiotic that’s great with pot roasts and stir-fries. Just don’t eat them raw because they can be hard on the gut.
- Prebiotic supplements pass deep into the intestinal tract just like high-fiber foods. Make sure they contain inulin, galactooligosaccharides, and fructooligosaccharides. Studies show that these are the most important compounds for weight loss and gut health.
Feeding weight loss-friendly bacteria is an essential part of any weight loss plan.
4. Probiotic Foods and Supplements
Probiotic foods support weight loss, heal digestive problems, reduce inflammation, and support mental health. (22)
Some of the best probiotic foods are…
- Coconut kefir
- Apple cider vinegar
- Brine-cured olives
- Gherkin pickles
In general, most fermented veggies have at least some probiotic content.
Probiotic supplements can also boost good bacteria.
However, there are a lot of low-quality, ineffective probiotic supplements out there.
When you’re shopping around, make sure to only buy probiotics that are endorsed by medical professionals.
Taking Action and Losing Weight
When it’s all said and done, you want to make diet and lifestyle changes today that last for life.
Pick one at a time (one a month is a good pace), and let the results stack up over time.
Start by ditching the carbs and sugar, getting better sleep, and experimenting with intermittent fasting.
These three diet and lifestyle changes have domino effects on food cravings, fat burning, and more.
As soon as you feel you’re ready, start making more significant changes to the foods you eat.
In the end, nutrition is the most important part of balancing the microbiome and promoting weight loss.
If you have any more questions about lifestyle changes and weight loss, our providers at Complete Care Health Centers are happy to help.
Feel free to contact us today for more advice about sustainable nutrition and long-term health.