Common Sense Health


Women’s Weight Issues… they go deeper than the numbers on the scale


By: Maureen McDonnell, RN


After reading the wonderful articles in last month’s issue of WNC Woman on body image (which highlighted the distorted views of beauty perpetuated by the media and how those images negatively impact our self-perception), I found myself awkwardly and unsuccessfully trying to squeeze into a tight-fitting dress in preparation for an upcoming wedding.    What a contrast… one side of my brain completely understands and rebukes the destructive nature of advertisers who seek to undermine our self worth by pushing us to look a certain way.   On the other hand, I was mad with my post-menopausal body for no longer being able to fit into a size 6 dress!  This juxtaposition forced me to ask:  is there a middle of the road attitude in which I embrace my body’s unique form, yet remain conscious of my health by eating a nutritious diet that allows me to obtain and maintain a weight that feels right to me? 
There is no doubt that weight is a complex issue and there are no simple answers.  Years ago, when I first started a nutritional counseling company, I would tell my clients that losing weight could be accomplished by applying two simple strategies: listening to your body and eating organic whole foods.  Although I still believe that advice to be valid, I now know my recommendations were a bit naive and that there are many additional variables to consider including insulin levels, estrogen dominance or progesterone deficiency, levels of the hormones: cortisol, leptin and  ghrelin, hypothyroidism, insomnia, poor food combining, gut health and food allergies.  These factors, as well as many other physical conditions can also play a role in a woman’s inability to obtain and maintain a healthy weight.  
Additionally, beyond all the physiological conditions, Sunny Kruger, the director of Alliance for Weight Loss here in Asheville (ad page 21), encourages her weight loss clients to identify their source of hunger by examining  areas of their lives in which they may not be satisfied.   After speaking with Sunny at length, I came to realize the hunger she is referring to has less to do with the body and food, and more to do with the unmet needs of the individual’s mind and or spirit.
So, in  addition to providing  guidelines for healthy eating, Sunny assists women in taking a deeper journey into their hunger by investigating what aspects of their life (work, family, relationships, etc.) might be toxic, thereby preventing them from achieving ultimate health and an optimal weight.  Sunny finds when women undergo this type of self-exploration, they often create balance in their lives, their relationship with food shifts and weight loss happens naturally.   
“Losing the weight is the easy part,” says Sunny.  “Information on healthy eating abounds in books and on the internet.”   Getting to the core of the hunger, however, and seeing what areas of a women’s life are unfulfilled or unsatisfied is where the real solutions for sustained weight loss lie.   When a woman uncovers and heals these aspects of her life Sunny finds, “there is no better authority on what to eat and how to maintain a healthy body, than the woman herself.” 
The Price of the Obesity Epidemic
In addition to recognizing the tremendous value of going deeper into our hunger issues and the importance of feeling good about ourselves at any size or shape, we as a nation need to be aware of the fact that major weight gain threatens our health and well being.   There are over 20 diseases and chronic conditions directly related to being overweight and the CDC reported in a study from 2009 that the direct and indirect cost of obesity is around 147 billion dollars annually.  
Here are some new and startling statistics from the recently released obesity report issued by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

  • Adult onset obesity rose in 16 US states over the past year.  Not one state decreased
  • Twelve US states now have obesity rates over 30%
  • Just 4 years ago, only one state had an obesity rate over 30%
  • Obesity rates exceed 25% in more than two thirds of US states.Mississippi had the highest rate of obesity (34.4%)
  • Colorado was the only state with a rate below 20% and next year will probably be above
  • Adult diabetes rates increased in 11 states and in Washington, DC in the past year; in 8 states, more than 10% of adults now have type-2 diabetes.
  • High School dropouts have the highest rates of obesity.

How did this happen:  
Instead of focusing too much time and energy on examining how we as a nation got to this place where overall, 75% of Americans adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight, suffice it say that our sedentary lifestyles, combined with inadequate public health and agricultural policies, food companies focused on profit instead of people’s health and an ill-equipped and ill-informed health care system all contributed to the current state.   The good news is:  individually we can find our way out of the obesity epidemic and back to optimal health.
Like Sunny Kruger, Dr. Richard Schaffer, MD offers sound and practical solutions to those battling excessive weight at his centers (MD Wellness & Weight Management) located in South Asheville and Greensboro, NC (ad page 11).  Having had his own life-long struggle with weight, and after many years of feeling unfulfilled as a physician working in mainstream hospital settings and practices, he decided to focus on his passion for helping patients achieve healthier lifestyles and optimal weight.   As opposed to using drugs, counting calories or even offering the wildly popular HCG,   Dr. Schaffer meets with his clients for an extensive hour-long first visit to get to know the whole individual. He also takes his clients grocery shopping so they can obtain first hand practical knowledge on reading labels and other ways to work the shopping experience to their health advantage.  And how about a medical doctor who comes to your home and guides you through the process of cleaning out the junk in your cupboards and shows you how to prepare healthy meals?   
Dr. Schaffer does not consider himself to be “in the weight loss business.”  Instead, he assists his clients in building awareness around food, making healthier lifestyle choices, feeling empowered and obtaining sustainable behavioral changes to assist them in achieving and sustaining a healthy weight.  Of course you’ll have to meet him yourself to see if you agree, but after encountering this friendly, down-to-earth and knowledgeable physician, I couldn’t help but thinking:  WNC now has our very own version of Dr. Oz!    
In summary I’m not going to wear that tight-fitting size 6 dress to the wedding next week after all and I’m not beating myself up about it.  I’m practicing positive self-talk and finding new ways to love and appreciate my body at the age and shape it’s in.   On the other hand, in my attempt to find that middle-of-the-road approach (not obsessing, but also not forgetting the value of optimal health), I am following the guidelines I’ve listed below by watching my intake of foods that spike the release of insulin, drinking more water, increasing fiber, taking time to exercise regularly and practicing the art of self-love and acceptance.


10 Common Sense Tips for Achieving a Healthy Weight:

  • Stabilize blood sugar levels by eliminating foods that spike an extreme blood sugar/insulin reaction.   Basically this means consuming organic sources of protein, vegetables, nuts, seeds and a limited number of whole grains and whole fruits.   It also means avoiding sugar-laden or white, highly processed foods (bread, bagels, cookies, pastries, soda, breakfast cereals, white rice, fruit juices etc)   Refined carbs quickly break down to sugar, increase insulin levels and can lead to insulin resistance. Many health experts agree that insulin resistance is the main underlying cause of many chronic diseases including type-2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
  • Drink plenty of pure filtered water (6-8 glasses) in between meals, not with meals
  • Consume healthy sources of good fats including organic virgin olive oil (not the best oil to use when cooking though) and organic coconut oil (can be used for baking, cooking and frying)  Avoid trans fats (found in many foods, margarine, some vegetable oils).   Fats are good sources of energy especially when going on a lower carb diet.   Other sources of healthy fat: organic raw nuts, organic butter from grass fed cows, grass fed beef, nut oils and avocados.  Another great fat is found in Omega-3-rich fish oil.  Good fats do not trigger insulin (the hormone that tells the body to store fat).  Insulin is triggered by sugar-laden foods, fruit juices, wine, processed and whole grains and other carbs.
  • Consume adequate sources and amounts of fiber (at least 25gms per day).   Fiber acts like a “toothbrush” to help cleanse the colon of toxins.  It also helps you feel full so you tend to eat less.   Fiber is found in the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and freshly ground flax seeds
  • Keep fructose to below 25gms per day (if very overweight, reduce that to 10-15gms per day). According to Dr. Mercola, MD, Fructose is the  number one source of calories in the US, and this ingredient, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), hides in so many processed foods and beverages, it can be near impossible to avoid unless you alter your shopping and cooking habits. By avoiding processed foods in general, and focusing instead on whole, preferably locally-grown organic foods, you can plow your way through one of the greatest dietary obstacles there is today.
  • According to researchers: Dr. Robert Lustig and Dr. Richard Johnson:
  • “Fructose is  metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat;
  • it tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism, as it turns off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance;
  • rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome;
  • over time leads to insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type-2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers.”
  • Identify sources of hunger that may have to do with areas of your life that are not satisfied or fulfilled (thank you, Sunny Kruger).
  • Pay attention to the quality of your foods, avoiding processed food and going with organic unprocessed versions when possible.
  • Incorporate some form of cardio exercise into your overall health and wellness, weight loss program.
  • This one kills me to say it, but wine also raises blood sugar levels, which can lead to insulin resistance and the cascade of health problems that stem from that.
  • Practice the 80/20 rule described in the book The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates:  when you are 80% full, stop eating!



Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 34 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)  She provides private health consultations at her office in Weaverville, NC and can be reached via email for an appointment ( or call 609-240-1315.  Maureen and her husband H Hanson have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC.


Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker