You might be wondering why a neurologist wrote a weight loss book. It’s a valid question—one that Kulreet Chaudhary, M.D., might have asked some years ago, back in medical school, before she had completely changed her approach to healthcare, which eventually led her to pen this new book, The Prime: Prepare and Repair Your Body for Spontaneous Weight Loss, released earlier this month. Like many of us, Chaudhary had to learn through personal trial and error how tweaking her diet and lifestyle could vastly improve her overall health. Slimming down was never her intention, as she openly admits, but healthy weight loss became a beautiful byproduct of her plan and, ultimately, the driving force behind this book.
It all started about a decade ago when Chaudhary’s migraine headaches had worsened around the time she took on her own medical practice in San Diego. She quickly learned that taking prescription medication to solve one problem led to many others, including weight gain, terrible neck pain, exhaustion, and grogginess. While looking for an alternative solution to her ailments, she turned to Ayurvedic medicine—a 3,000-year-old healthcare system that originated from Chaudhary’s native India—and began combining its ancient practices with her knowledge of Western medicine to stop bandaging her symptoms (as well as those of her patients) and fix them through changes to her diet and lifestyle. In the process, she discovered that when the body is in a toxic inflammatory state, it tends to hold onto excess weight.
“What we are finding is that it’s not just the number of calories that you eat that result in weight gain and disease, such as diabetes. It’s the number of toxic calories that you eat from highly processed foods with unnatural ingredients, like artificial sugars. These foods trigger food addictions and reactions in the body that make weight gain and disease more likely,” Chaudhary says. “In other words, artificial foods are ‘talking’ to your body in a way that causes a disruption in the normal messages sent to your endocrine organs that tell the body to add more fat. Part of the ‘toxic inflammatory state’ that I describe [in my book] involves this hormonal disruption.”
Gut health is another central aspect of Chaudhary’s program. “When undigested particles leave the gut prematurely due to gut permeability (leaky gut) and enter the blood stream, the immune system reacts by sending antibodies to these particles that can also cross react with our own organs,” she says. “A disruption in the gut flora favoring more of the ‘bad’ bacteria further aggravates the problem.” All of these connections inspired Chaudhary to devise a unique program to reduce inflammation and toxin load in patients while simultaneously treating their neurological problems. As a result of adopting this plan, patients saw an unexpected side effect of spontaneous, and sometimes dramatic, weight loss.
So is The Prime a diet or a detox? Chaudhary says it’s neither. The plan is not just about eliminating this or cleansing that. It’s about correcting the biochemical processes impeding your body from maintaining a healthy, disease-free equilibrium. Here are six takeaways from the program that may help you curb cravings, amp up your energy, and rejuvenate your body through healthy weight loss.
1. Realize weight loss takes more than willpower.
When most people talk about weight loss, they tend to make it about having the willpower to avoid bad foods. When this willpower fails—as it almost always does—you may feel defeated for not having the mental strength to achieve your goals. “It’s awful when you have that hopelessness,” Chaudhary told us in a recent interview. She recommends looking at it from another angle.
“[Making it a] willpower issue is not appreciating the sophistication of the biochemistry,” she says. “Being overweight is a biochemical issue, not a personality flaw…There’s only one way to fight biochemistry: with biochemistry,” she writes. In other words, it’s about biology and not your ability—or lack thereof—to pass up office birthday cake. Once you understand this, you can start to reallocate energy spent on being self-critical to making positive changes that lead to real results.
2. To transform your body, start by training your brain.
Stop dieting backwards. What Chaudhary means by this is that it’s important for you to understand that you are fighting an uphill battle against neuroadaptation. “Neuroadaption is the brain’s amazing ability to adapt to whatever you do to your body. Eat a lot of sugar? Your brain adapts, finding a new equilibrium that makes allowances for sugar. Drink a lot of coffee? Your brain adapts,” she writes. “We are at war with the brain—we want one thing (to feel good) and the brain wants something completely different (to create a stable environment so it can function).”
So how do you overcome this? Start by slowly easing your brain out of this adaptive state that you’ve inadvertently created for yourself. One way to do this is to block neuroadaptation with an Ayurvedic herb called ashwagandha (400 to 500 milligrams per day), which Chaudhary calls one of the most powerful tools for calming the brain, and ultimately, your cravings.
A 2011 report published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines echoes Chaudhary’s praises, confirming that ashwagandha is an effective regenerative tonic that offers anti-stress, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help combat diseases like Parkinson, dementia, memory loss, stress-induced diseases, and more. In another 2012 study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, researchers found that volunteers taking the plant medicine in capsule form for a month saw a decrease in fat percentage and increase in lean body weight although there were no significant changes in their total body weight and BMI.
3. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods.
First thing in the morning, perhaps while brewing your coffee or stirring your oatmeal, combine a half teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in four to five cups of water. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes, then strain the seeds, pour into a thermos and sip hot throughout the day. This pleasant-tasting recipe for Prime Tea, as Chaudhary refers to it, is just one of her several simple additions to your daily diet (others include homemade recipes for Prime Juices, Prime Broth, Prime Curry Powder, and more). The goal is to improve digestion and reduce inflammation with these blends.
4. Change your relationship to sugar.
Americans are eating more sugar now than ever. “The average person eats 152.4 pounds of sugar and other sweeteners, ” reports Chaudhary from USDA stats that compare eating habits from today to 30 years ago. The problem with this is that studies have linked this boost in sugar consumption with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. The answer isn’t to eliminate sugar altogether, but rather to change your relationship to it.
To reign in your sweet tooth, Chaudhary recommends the herbs ashwagandha as well as brahmi, a popular herb in India that is sold in capsule form in the U.S. Chaudhary refers to brahmi as a “brain tonic” because of its beneficial effects on cognitive function and specifically how it regulates overloaded and exhausted pleasure circuits. “When you put those two [supplements] together, they’re really fighting the underlying neurochemical process of addiction,” she says. Their goal is to try to change the conversation between your brain and your gut, which gets confused by bad gut bacteria that begs for your food addictions that release the neurotransmitters needed for its own survival. “Once you wipe a lot of the bad bacteria and the yeast in your gut—because your addictions are driven in part just by the chemicals they release—it feels miraculous,” she writes.
Related: Change Your Mind, Change Your Body?
Chaudhary has been practicing meditation since she was a kid thanks to her progressive parents. She includes this practice in her plan to help people deal with difficult emotions, including mood swings and feelings that may surface during this process.
“We actually carry cellular debris from emotional trauma. What I found is, on this plan, all of this emotional trauma and emotional memories were coming up. That’s when patients were most tempted to sabotage the process by eating foods that were toxic, basically to block the whole process from occurring,” Chaudhary explains. This is where meditation could help you cope with the discomfort.
“Meditation is a way of detoxing the brain, detoxing those emotions, and preventing people from self-sabotaging, in addition to a slew of neurological benefits,” she says. “When something hurts, we look for ways of relief, but the mechanisms that we know of relief, unfortunately, oftentimes involve food addictions or other addictions. Meditation is a way out.”
6. Take your time—you’re in it for the long haul.
Chaudhary is the first to admit that she moved through the four phases of her plan at a very slow pace. “When I got headache-free, I had only done a small fraction of this. It took a couple of years to really embrace everything. I would not have been able to do this plan quickly. I did it over time, and when I got to the end of it, I was exactly where I wanted to be,” she says. Basically, there’s no rush. This is not a quick fix, but a long-term goal to get your body back to working in “prime” condition.