Is losing weight a top-of-mind health goal for you?
You are not alone.
Your hope to lose weight has kept the weight loss and weight management market—companies like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Herbalife, Golds’ Gym, etc.—raking in BIG bucks—at a projected $263 billion in revenue by 2025 (1).
But here’s the rub. In my private functional health coaching practice, I have worked with clients who have participated in programs, like Weight Watchers, multiple times, each time losing some weight, but then regaining the weight they lost—and then some. As a CBT coach, I have also worked with clients who had bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery), then, regained any weight lost. I have also worked with clients who wanted to get weight loss surgery, but were told they needed to lose weight first before they would be eligible.
Why is it so hard to lose weight—and to keep weight off long-term?
It starts with our beliefs around weight and weight loss.
Historically, being overweight or obese has been perceived as a character flaw, from having poor self-control, to being downright lazy or gluttonous. Yet, in 2023, nearly 75% of American adults are overweight or obese (2). We can’t all “lack willpower”! Our collective weight gain can be attributed to a convergence of biological, metabolic, environmental, lifestyle, cultural and economic factors.
Achieving sustainable weight loss is often a layered process. Yet, for decades, public health officials, celebrity doctors and mainstream media have indoctrinated us with simplistic messages, like:
- “Eat less. Exercise more.”
- “Just exercise more.”
- “Watch portion sizes”, a.k.a. “Just eat less.”
- “Calories in = Calories out.”
- “Eat low fat.”
- “Try X diet / shake / product / pill, and you’ll lose weight fast!”
- “It’s your fault: you lack willpower OR you’re not trying hard enough.”
Our beliefs seep into our thoughts, which affect our emotions and influence the everyday choices that we make (or don’t make), and, ultimately, affect the outcome that we experience.
For example, let’s say your doctor tells you that you must lose weight before having heart surgery. You believe that exercising more will help you lose that weight. You start walking every day and manage to walk 5 days in a row. Work suddenly gets busy, and your daily walks go out the window. You feel defeated and depressed. Thoughts like, “I’ll never lose weight no matter how much I try” creep in. Your mood tanks. Cravings for high-sugar, high-carb foods are intense. You choose to eat pizza and ice cream because, in the moment, you feel better. And…we’re back to Square One.
Beliefs are a powerful part of the programming that runs our subconscious.
If you are struggling to lose weight; if you keep losing, then regaining weight; or, if you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of losing weight, consider challenging the beliefs you have about weight and weight loss.
Belief #1: I’m “healthy”, but I just can’t seem to lose weight—no matter what I do!
Hmmmm…are you really “healthy”? Today, “good health” is commonly perceived—and marketed—as an absence of disease (e.g., testing ‘negative’ for C*VID).
True health, however, reflects a state of mind-body balance and functional vitality.
What are key indicators of good health and vitality?
- Being at an optimal weight (a healthy weight for your age, size and frame)
- A strong immune system (the ability to fend off and/or recover from bacterial or viral infections quickly)
- Having consistent, stable energy throughout the day (without caffeine or sugar)
- Experiencing restful and restorative sleep (without sedatives or alcohol)
- Having healthy bowel movements every day (without caffeine or laxatives)
- Clear skin
- Healthy hair (no excessive shedding or hair loss)
- Regular menses without debilitating pain or excessive bleeding (for women)
- Good cognitive function (able to focus and think clearly)
- Excellent oral health (no bleeding gums, gum disease or cavities)
- A healthy heart
- Being metabolically flexible (your body’s ability to switch between different fuel sources—e.g., fuel from food or fuel already stored in the body—helps support energy production, stablize blood sugar, minimize cravings and improves fat burning (3)).
- Able to engage in daily movement / exercise without pain or aches
- Balanced mood (indicating stable emotional and mental health)
Weight gain = Inflammation
What causes inflammation? Blood sugar imbalances. Nutrient deficiencies. Hormone imbalances. Too little or poor-quality sleep. Food intolerances. Medications. Undereating. Overeating. Poor quality food. Eating inflammatory foods. Hidden infections. Poor gut health. Environmental toxins. Toxic relationships. Unresolved trauma. And more.
Weight gain is a symptom that your body is out-of-balance physically, emotionally, psychologically and/or spiritually. And, until that imbalance(s) is addressed, any weight you lose is likely to come back.
The good news? Comprehensive lab work can reveal an underlying health condition (e.g., anemia, diabetes), hormone imbalance (e.g., thyroid, adrenal, too much or too little sex hormones, etc.) and/or inflammation that may prevent you from losing weight—or, in some cases, may even be causing weight gain. You can SAVE on this discounted Resolution Lab Panel here.
Even with insurance, many people have high deductibles and end up paying out-of-pocket for labwork (that is not comprehensive) anyway. Direct lab testing is an excellent option because you do NOT need a script from a doctor, and lab test results are emailed directly to you. You can then take the lab test results to your doctor or healthcare practitioner of your choice, including myself, for assessment. Direct-to-consumer labwork is not covered by insurance. However, you choose and only pay for the labs you want (no surprise charges if you are on a budget!). As I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I regularly order my own labs to stay on top of my health—and save 50-80% in the process. For example, when I went for my annual physical 2 years ago—even with insurance—I would have had to pay $300 out-of-pocket for a Vitamin D test vs. just $50 via direct order labwork. I also appreciate the option of choosing reasonably priced labwork that is typically NOT covered by insurance (e.g., advanced cholesterol profile, complete thyroid panel, etc.). Interested? Click here to use my affiliate link to order your own labs.
Reframe: I’m going to schedule comprehensive bloodwork and check if any underlying health conditions or deficiencies might be preventing me from losing weight.
Belief #2: I’m getting older…so, it’s “natural” to put on some weight.
LOL…in my practice, I have had men and women in their mid-20s use this rationale to explain weight gain! In reality, men and women typically reach their physical peak between their late 20s to early 30s; so, no, it’s not “natural” to gain weight in this age range.
At certain stages in life—e.g., post-pregnancy or at midlife, when men go through andropause (male menopause) and women transition to perimenopause, then menopause—weight gain ispossible because of unstable, fluctuating, or low levels of hormones, which can affect stress hormones and fat storage. Not because you are “older” per se. This transition can be managed non-pharmaceutically with food choices, lifestyle, more rest, relaxation and distress tolerance strategies.
Regardless of age, medications can be a culprit in weight gain (4). These can include: synthetic hormones (e.g., birth control pills or conventional HRT); some antidepressants (e.g., Zoloft, Paxil); corticosteroids (e.g., Prednisone); antipsychotic meds; as well as some migraine, epilepsy, diabetes and blood pressure medications. If prescription drugs are a necessity, you will be less prone to gain weight (if listed as a side effect) when you make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
Reframe (applicable at any age!): I have gained weight; I need to pay closer attention to—and be willing to adjust—my food choices; lifestyle habits; mindset and/or any medications that I am taking.
Belief #3. I have been faithfully eating less calories (or points), but I am not losing weight!
Calories are units of energy that a food or drink provides. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 1,600-2,400 calories daily (for women) and 2,000-3,200 calories daily (for men), depending on age, weight, sex and physical activity (5).
However, not all calories are created equal!
Consider what happens when your “breakfast” consists of a Dunkin Donuts Blueberry Muffin (460 calories, 41 grams of added sugar) and a large coffee with French Vanilla Swirl (220 calories, 42 grams of added sugar) versus a home-cooked 3-egg omelet with spinach and mushrooms (apx. 337 calories; 0 grams added sugar) and a cup of unsweetened green tea (0 calories). Your choice will impact your hormones differently. For example, the first combination of caffeine, sugar and refined carbs (flour) will exponentially increase hunger and cravings and negatively affect mood (greater anxiety and irritability). That excess sugar—in the form of processed / refined carbs—is then stored as fat around the belly. Even if you are restricting calories. On the other hand, the second choice—a whole foods-based meal containing protein, fiber (a.k.a. green vegetables) and healthy fat—will promote satiety and stabilize blood sugar. You feel full longer, have less cravings, more natural energy, and a more balanced mood. You will eat less naturally.
Reframe: Instead of obsessively counting calories, I pay attention to the quality of calories I choose to eat or drink.
Belief #4: “I just need to watch portion sizes” (a.k.a. “Just eat less.”)
The misguided belief that we can eat whatever we want or love, including chips, pizza, pasta, tacos, etc.—in “moderation” (as in smaller portion sizes)—has long been promoted by commercial weight loss programs Depending on the program, “moderation” may be defined by calories, points or carbs consumed.
Unfortunately, “moderation” doesn’t work if you have food intolerances or food sensitivities. Estimated to affect at least 20 percent of the population in industrialized countries, food intolerances make it hard to lose weight—no matter how “small” a portion you eat (6). Common food intolerances include wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, nightshades and yeast.
A food sensitivity is not a food allergy. A food allergy is an IgE-mediated response that causes an immediate and acute histamine reaction after ingesting a food (e.g., peanuts). Food sensitivities trigger an IgG-mediated response; they are not life-threatening; and they often involve the gut, skin and/or respiratory system. Food sensitivity symptoms can include bloating, rashes, headaches, fatigue, runny nose, post-nasal drip, achy joints and more, and can take up to 72 hours after consuming a food to present.
When you have hidden food sensitivities, your immune system is constantly reacting to the foods you eat, creating a state of chronic inflammation. Inflamed cells and tissues retain more fluid, creating water retention that contributes to unwanted weight gain.
So…if you are sensitive to gluten, yet you eat toast at breakfast, pizza at lunch and pasta at dinner, you are creating a chronic state of inflammation in your body that actually contributes to weight gain.
Reframe: I will remove gluten and dairy for 3 weeks and/or do a whole foods-based cleanse, like the DIY 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, to identify any food sensitivities and reduce inflammation.
Belief #5: I need to go to the gym more OR increase the duration, frequency, or intensity of my exercise.
When clients tell me that they want to lose weight, they often cite “exercising more” as the #1 way they will reach their goal. I get it. For decades, I clung to this misguided belief, which had me doing some crazy things back in the day, like heading to the gym at 11:30PM to run a few miles on the treadmill! Or, going for a run outside when it was a frigid 15 degrees or a sweltering 97-degrees. I love good food, and since I was not willing to “eat less”, I chose to “exercise more”.
Time and time again, we’ve been told that we need to “exercise more” to lose weight. Yet, “exercising more” is not a practical option for many of my clients who have acquired disabilities, movement restrictions due to injury, limited physical mobility or chronic pain.
And, while exercise has myriad health benefits, exercise alone will not help you lose weight.
Relying only on exercise to lose weight can result in the following:
You feel entitled to eat unhealthy foods. The “halo effect” of having exercised (e.g., I was “good”!) can make you feel entitled to eat—or overeat—a favorite high sugar food, like pizza, cheesecake, soda, etc.
You burn way less calories than you think. In reality, it is difficult to create a calorie deficit through exercise alone. Eat one New York-style slice of pizza, and you are consuming 400 to 500 calories, roughly 58 g carbs, 20 grams of unhealthy fat and loads of sodium. You would have to spend a lot of time and energy exercising to ”burn off” those calories (and/or carbs). Keep in mind: the average person burns apx. 100 calories for every mile of walking or running.
Exercise is usually the first thing to go when my clients get busy or have to travel…”no time”!
“Exercising more” creates a hormonal chain reaction (7). Increasing the frequency, intensity, or duration of exercise also increases hunger and cravings. This can cause you to overeat or to crave fatty, high-sugar, carb-starchy or salty foods that sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Too much exercise (for your body) or overtraining can lead to hormone imbalances (for example, high cortisol, low thyroid)—causing you to gain weight.
Instead of “going to the gym more”, think about ways you can incorporate consistent movement every day. Making thoughtful food choices—eating less sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods and more nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory whole foods—will, over time, help maintain weight when you eat less and exercise less.
Reframe: How can I consistently engage in safe (and enjoyable) movement every day?
Belief #6: Eating frequent, smaller meals helps you lose weight.
The idea behind this oft-dispensed weight loss advice is that eating frequent meals will help boost metabolism, reduce hunger (thereby preventing you from overeating) and balance blood sugar.
Research, however, proves otherwise.
Hunger, energy and cravings are powerful hormonal cues. Eating frequent meals can distort natural hunger cues and actually cause you to overeat. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers assessed the eating frequency of 18,696 US adults (aged 20 and older). The results? Participants who ate more frequently, whether meals and/or snacks, were more likely to be obese and have central obesity, a.k.a. abdominal obesity (8). In another study, published in Obesity, researchers divided participants into two groups. Both groups consumed the same number of calories. However, one group ate 3 meals a day, while the other group ate 6 smaller meals divided throughout the day. The results?
Participants who ate smaller, more frequent meals (in this case, 6 meals / day) experienced increased appetite, increased desire to eat more, felt less full between meals, did not burn more fat or have improved blood sugar (9).
Eating more frequently also spikes blood sugar more frequently, especially if you are continually eating, grazing or snacking on high-carbohydrate, high sugar meals or snacks (10). Overall, eating less meals with higher protein content helps balance blood sugar. Keep in mind, too, when you are constantly eating throughout the day, your body is always burning sugar; it never gets to the point where it burns fat.
Reframe: I listen to my natural hunger cues and will be mindful of eating more protein-rich meals.
Belief #7. I need willpower—iron-clad self-discipline—to lose weight.
Research has shown that willpower is like a battery. It can be drained, and it can be recharged. Imagine starting a busy work day with an iPhone at 17% battery power. You can only use it for a short time before the phone loses all of its juice. Similarly, human willpower consists of three batteries with its own reserves: mental, emotional, and physical (11). All three must be in balance and fully charged to ensure optimal willpower.
The reality, however, is that most people have busy, stressful lives and are already running on a low battery. “Dieting”— following a conventional “eat less, exercise more” model—only further drains your physical battery (e.g., you may be eating too much of the wrong calories/too little of the right calories); your mental battery (e.g., constantly thinking about “bad” vs. “good” foods); and your emotional battery (e.g., you feel stressed and anxious about sticking to your diet and deprived of pleasure).
As a result, relying only on willpower rarely results in sustainable weight loss.
The key, instead, is to incorporate mindfulness and planning strategies for healthy weight management. Studies suggest that mindfulness interventions can contribute to significant weight loss (12). The first step is awareness. When it comes to losing weight, you must first become aware of your eating habits, biofeedback cues (e.g., hunger, energy, cravings), lifestyle habits, stressors, triggers, and thoughts/emotions around food. By incorporating mindfulness strategies, you can then plan to make changes that support your overall health, which translates into weight loss.
For example, I recently worked with Nadia (not her real name) a client in her early 20s who suffered from C-PTSD, chronic anxiety and low energy. The food log that I had her keep revealed erratic eating patterns, excessive caffeine and high sugar foods, refined carbohydrates and late-night snacking. Once Nadia became mindful of eating more whole food meals at regular times, cut out caffeine, and reduced her sugar intake, her anxiety level dropped significantly. She then had more energy to go the gym consistently (3x / week) and lost a few pounds in the process. Without “dieting”.
Reframe: Mindfulness and planning strategies can help me make choices that support healthy weight loss.
Belief #8: Eating organic produce, pasture-raised meats and wild-caught fish doesn’t matter.
Feeding your body organic food can support healthy weight loss. Organic foods contain more nutrients, antioxidants, beneficial compounds and improved fatty acid profiles (in dairy and meat) than conventionally grown or raised produce or livestock.
In a study of over 62,000 participants, researchers analyzed how frequently participants consumed organic foods and the effect on weight. What researchers found:
Eating more organic foods was associated with a lower increase in BMI (Body Mass Index) and a lower risk of obesity (13).
Higher organic food consumption is also associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that raises your risk of heart disease (14). Another advantage? Organic foods do NOT contain (or very minimally) pesticide residues, heavy metals (e.g., cadmium), synthetic fertilizers and antibiotic-resistant bacteria (15).
Pesticides matter. As obesogens, chemicals that disrupt hormones and promote weight gain, pesticides have been linked to decreased sperm count, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, ovarian disorders, thyroid problems, decreased fertility in women, low birthweight, obesity and diabetes. The good news? Today, affordably priced, fresh and frozen organic produce and meats can be found everywhere, from Whole Foods and Amazon, to Target and Wal-Mart.
Reframe: I will choose to eat organic whole foods as much as possible.
Belief #9: I have bad genes. Everyone in my family is overweight or obese. It is inevitable that I am (or will be) overweight / obese.
The good news: Genes are not your destiny!
As Dr. Bruce Lipton, a former professor of medicine at Stanford University, world-renowned stem cell biologist and author of The Biology of Belief, has observed:
“A person’s health isn’t generally a reflection of genes, but how their environment is influencing them. Genes are the direct cause of less than 1 percent of diseases: 99 percent is how we respond to the world.”
Epigenetics, a field of science that studies how genes are expressed, has positively shown that our environment (e.g. including exposure to toxins and toxic relationships), food choices, lifestyle habits, thoughts and beliefs can literally “turn off” bad genes and “turn on” good genes. This means that even if you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer or an autoimmune condition, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis, your food choices, lifestyle and mindset can dramatically increase the odds that you will not have that health problem.
Our beliefs can affect health outcomes. Let’s say you receive a cancer diagnosis. You are told that you have 6 months to live. If you believe that doctors are always right, you will believe that death is inevitable. You would lose hope. You would feel depressed, fearful and anxious, emotions that tank your immune system—and your health. Your belief in your doctor and his/her prognosis becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, you may believe that your cancer diagnosis is a wake-up call. You become pro-active in researching your options and exploring alternative therapies to conventional treatments. You change your diet. You meditate. You eliminate toxic relationships. You live every day with purpose, appreciation and gratitude. Your beliefs spur you into taking action that might very well put your cancer in remission.
Our thoughts—negative or positive—are powerful. They trigger emotions that, literally, change the chemistry of our cells, thereby affecting our physical health. Studies have shown that psychological distress (symptoms of depression and anxiety) are associated with increased risk of death from cancer and poorer cancer survival (16).
Reframe: I can create a positive environment—through my food choices, lifestyle habits, thoughts and beliefs—that supports positive health outcomes.
Belief #10: Healthy eating is boring.
For many people, “healthy eating” is synonymous with “restriction” and “boring” as in “No sugar = No fun!”. Healthy eating frequently conjures up images of bland, tasteless food that is expensive, time-consuming to make, and, ultimately, unsatisfying.
Unfortunately, we now live in a culture where we expect food to “entertain” us. Our expectation is that food should provide us with an “experience” of being novel and fun, as well as being cheap, tasty and, of course, convenient (17).
In addition, the prevalence of hyper-palatable foods—typically processed foods with appealing combinations of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and salt (think cheese, potato chips, ice cream and crackers)—has skewed American tastebuds. A study, published in Obesity, found that most foods listed in the US Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies meet the criteria for hyper-palatability, including foods labeled “low”, “reduced” or “no” sugar, fat, sodium and /or sugar.
Eating a variety of hyper-palatable foods is associated with excess calorie intake and weight gain long-term (18). The more variety in flavor, the more we eat and the more we crave, making it hard to stop eating after “just one” bite or serving. Ultra-processed foods are designed to “hook” you into eating more.
On the other hand…have you ever come home to the wonderful aroma of a cinnamon roast chicken in the oven? Or a beef bourguignon of grass-fed beef and organic vegetables in a red wine sauce simmering on the stove? Enjoyed seared five-spice seared duck breast at home? Savored spiced turkey-apple ragu over zoodles or steamed broccoli with minced gingerroot and a drizzle of sesame oil?
Home-cooked whole foods, flavored with fresh and dried herbs, spices, citrus and other seasonings, provide a flavorful, satisfying and nourishing experience. Hardly “boring”! Eating more meals prepared at home is also associated with:
–A higher probability that your BMI (Body Mass Index) will be in the “normal” range (19).
–A greater likelihood that your body fat percentage will be in the “normal” range (20).
–Less weight gain (21).
–Lower risk of obesity (22).
Reframe: I can prepare easy, simple meals that are flavorful and satisfying—even on a budget.