Can Herbs Aid Weight Loss?

Some herbs can boost metabolism, burn fat and help you feel full.

| January/February 2007

Forget the Fountain of Youth. While many red-blooded Americans would like to look forever young, the majority would rather fit into a pair of size 6 jeans. Half of the population is overweight and another 27 percent is obese. “Globesity” has become an epidemic worldwide—even among children.

As it turns out, body weight does influence longevity. Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who slogged around swampy Florida seeking the fabled Fountain, would have been fascinated by recent research from the New England Journal of Medicine showing that being even moderately overweight shortens life expectancy. Excess body fat also raises the risk of a host of maladies, including heart disease, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression and some cancers.

Most of us know the risks. So why do our girths keep expanding? Experts blame several factors: the abundance of high-calorie (and not necessarily nutritious) food; super-sized portions; too much time sitting in front of computers and television screens; too little time moving our bodies; and suburban sprawl, which fosters a reliance on automobiles.

It all comes down to energy balance: the ratio of calories consumed versus calories burned. The solution? Eat less and exercise more—a simple plan many find difficult to impossible to follow. The keys to success lie in identifying your personal tar pits and making those small-but-powerful lifestyle changes you can stick with.

Look Deeper

To lose weight and keep it off, Brigitte Mars, a Boulder, Colorado-based herbalist and author of several books, including Rawsome! (Basic Health Publications, 2004), says you must first examine and resolve the reasons you overeat. She asks her clients such questions as, “What was going on in your life when your weight became excessive?” or, “Are you trying to armor or protect yourself from something?” She might also ask, “Are you using your weight as a way to bow out of social events and avoid intimate relationships?”

But reasons for overeating also can be more mundane, says Carrie Schroeder McConnell, R.D., who teaches nutrition at Metropolitan State College of Denver and has worked in an obesity clinic at the Children’s Hospital in Denver. “We eat because someone else paid for it, because it tastes good, because we’re encouraged by loved ones to eat, because we don’t want to be rude, because we worry that if we don’t eat that ice cream, someone else will,” she says.

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