I don’t know about you, but I want to rock a bikini when I’m 80!
I’m not assuming that I’ll have a “perfect” body then—which, in reality, doesn’t exist as “perfect” is entirely subjective—just a body in which I feel happy as I move forward in my life.
For many of us, the desire to lose weight, whether it’s 5 or 50 pounds, transcends just wanting to look good naked. Being in a right-sized body (for you) often goes hand-in-hand with wanting to feel well physically, emotionally and mentally—less aches and pains, more energy, focus, strength, vitality and confidence.
If you’ve been doing all the “right” things—eating “healthy”, watching portion sizes, doing harder, longer or more frequent workouts—yet, you’re still not losing weight, these may be the reasons why.
1. You have nutrient deficiencies that stall fat loss.
When clients schedule an initial consultation with me, I review their bloodwork (from a recent physical). If weight loss is a goal, your bloodwork can reveal nutrient deficiencies that prevent you from achieving the weight loss results you want.
Common nutrient deficiencies that can stall fat loss include: Iron / ferritin (iron storage protein; low ferritin can indicate iron deficiency anemia). Vitamin B12. Folate. Zinc. Vitamin D3. Magnesium.
Iron, folate and vitamin B12 are essential nutrients in the production of healthy red blood cells, which transport oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body. Iron deficiency anemia is associated with increased body weight and BMI.1 Your cells need oxygen to function optimally: less oxygen translates to less fat burning! I like to see ferritin levels in an optimal range of at least 70 units and B-12 to be in the high-middle to upper ranges.
Zinc, magnesium and Vitamin D3 are also important for fat loss and metabolism. Why? Because these nutrients affect insulin sensitivity.2, 3, 4 When your body is insulin sensitive, you are able to lose weight more efficiently.
Unfortunately, because of chronic stress, medications, high-sugar diets, poor gut health and hormone imbalances, many people today are woefully deficient in these vitamins and minerals.
2. You are relying ONLY on exercise to lose weight…and you haven’t changed your diet.
In my practice, a common frustration that I hear is: “I’m working out 3 or 4 (or 5) times a week, but I’m not seeing any results for all the exercise I do!”
The hard truth? Body transformation is 80% diet and 20% movement. Don’t get me wrong: our bodies are designed to move. Exercise has myriad health benefits, but exercise alone will not help you lose weight.
A few things happen when you rely only on exercise to lose weight.
Exercise can cast a “halo effect” on less healthy choices. For example, if you’ve exercised vigorously for an hour, you may feel that your calorie-burning efforts entitle you to eat (or overeat) a favorite processed food—pizza, cheesecake, soda, etc.
You burn way less calories than you think. In reality, it is difficult for most people to create a calorie deficit through exercise alone. Eat one New York-style slice of pizza, and you are consuming over 400 calories, roughly 20 grams of unhealthy fat and loads of sodium. Or, maybe you have a Shake Shack Double Shackburger (855 calories) and an order of fries (420 calories) at lunch. In either case, you would have to spend a lot of time and energy exercising to ”burn off” those calories. Unless you’re a professional / elite athlete, 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 they have to travel…”no time”!
Exercising more creates a hormonal chain reaction.5 When you increase the frequency or duration of exercise—like running, biking, power walking—hunger and cravings also increase. This can cause you to overeat or to crave fatty, high-sugar, carb-starchy or salty foods and sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Too much exercise (for your body) or overtraining can lead to hormone imbalances (e.g., affecting cortisol levels or thyroid)—causing you to gain weight.
3. Your hormones are not in balance.
We tend to think of hormones as they relate to a woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or male erectile dysfunction. But hormones are vital to our existence. They act as chemical messengers in our body that control bodily functions, such as hunger, energy, cravings, sleep and mood. For example, ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates hunger and promotes fat storage, while leptin is a hormone that signals satiety (feeling full). When these signals get crossed, you can gain weight.6 Certain hormones tell the body to burn fat or store fat.7
In my practice, thyroid dysfunction is a common hormone imbalance. I, myself, have hypothyroidism, an underactive (low) thyroid, and I understand firsthand how the thyroid can affect your metabolism. Prior to my diagnosis, I worked out 2 to 3 hours almost daily (under the misguided notion that more exercise = weight loss) and could not fathom why I was still gaining weight! Once I addressed my thyroid dysfunction through diet and lifestyle changes, targeted supplementation and natural thyroid hormone, my overall health improved dramatically. These days, I walk as much as possible; when I do go to the gym (typically, 3x a week), my thyroid-friendly workouts have me out the door within 30 minutes.
Your thyroid is the main metabolism gland. Every cell in your body has receptors for thyroid hormone; as a result, the thyroid also controls how sensitive your body is to other hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin and cortisol. If your thyroid is off—either underactive or overactive—other hormones and bodily functions are affected. With an underperforming (low) thyroid, you may have low energy, fatigue, depression, anxiety, mood swings, feeling cold all the time, and a sluggish metabolism.
If your thyroid is not working properly, you will have a hard time losing weight. You will also likely have digestive issues (such as constipation) and poor elimination; the inability to poop—at least once daily—also contributes to extra weight.
Hormone imbalances occur after giving birth; at perimenopause (the period of hormonal fluctuations prior to menopause that can start from age 35); menopause (no period for one year); and andropause (male menopause, which begins around age 40). That said, poor diet and lifestyle choices—at any age—can lead to hormonal imbalances that cause weight gain. These imbalances can include insulin resistance, where the body is producing too much insulin (a fat-storing hormone); adrenal dysfunction (under duress, the adrenals release cortisol, a stress hormone; excess cortisol stores fat); and, sex hormone imbalances (e.g., too much or too little estrogen, progesterone or testosterone), like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or fibroids.
4. You use calorie counting as your only approach to losing weight.
We have been programmed to believe that we can lose weight simply by cutting calories—either by eating less calories and/or by “burning off” extra calories by exercising more. This approach treats the body like it is a calculator: calories in = calories out.
Cutting calories usually does result in short-term weight loss. But, at some point, the weight loss will stop. Why? Because your body is highly adaptive; it operates more like a thermostat. Your body perceives a low-calorie diet as “stress!!”; and, in response to perceived “starvation”, it adapts to a lower calorie intake. As a result, your metabolism slows down in order to hold onto every calorie it gets—and those calories are more likely to be stored as fat!
Calorie restriction (that is too low for your body and/or includes mostly processed foods) also throws your hormones out of balance: you’ll know this because you’ll feel tired or low energy, feel hungry and have cravings for fatty, sugary, salty and/or high-calorie foods.
And, let’s face it: all calories are not created equal. What happens when your “breakfast” consists of a Dunkin’ Donuts “Reduced Fat” Blueberry Muffin (410 calories, 40 grams of sugar) and a small iced coffee sweetened with brown sugar syrup (110 calories), versus a 3-egg vegetable omelet (apx. 368 calories) and one cup unsweetened green tea (0 calories)? Your choice will affect your hormones differently. For example, the Dunkin’ Donuts combination of caffeine, sugar and fat will increase hunger and cravings, whereas a vegetable omelet, containing protein, fiber and healthy fat, promotes satiety and stable blood sugar.
In my practice, I focus on an eating plan that helps balance hormones—not calorie counting. Weight loss is often a happy side effect of balanced hormones (not the other way around).
5. You have undiagnosed food sensitivities.
If there is one thing that irritates me to no end, it’s the misguided notion that we can all eat whatever we want or love—as long as it’s in “moderation”. Case in point: commercials for the revamped Weight Watchers “Freestyle” program that proclaim: “You can have anything you want! (As in chips, pizza, tacos, etc.).
Sorry…I vehemently disagree.
In my Healthy Body Reset program, I have clients follow an eating plan that eliminates common allergenic foods for 30 days. Food sensitivities are rampant, and if you have them, you can struggle with losing weight—even if you’re eating “healthy”. A food sensitivity is not the same as a food allergy, like a peanut allergy, which triggers an immediate immune system response, such as swelling of the tongue and throat, after an exposure.
A sensitivity is usually a delayed reaction (up to 3 days) to a food, drink or food compound that is poorly tolerated by the body. It can manifest, among other symptoms, as bloating, gas, heartburn, joint pain, fatigue, mood swings, acne, migraines, rashes and/or weight gain. Sometimes, your body responds to a food sensitivity by retaining water. Food sensitivities can also affect hormones that affect your digestion or metabolism, preventing weight loss.8, 9
I, myself, have multiple food sensitivities. In addition to gluten, grains, dairy and soy, I have a severe intolerance to “healthy” foods, like beets, apples, sesame and turnips! Every client with whom I’ve worked has had at least one food sensitivity (usually more).
We often develop sensitivities to foods that we eat regularly or every day. When you constantly eat foods to which you are sensitive, this puts your immune system in overdrive, creating a chronic state of inflammation. Some common food sensitivities include eggs, corn, gluten, dairy and soy.
If you’re unsure whether food sensitivities are an issue for you, consider my do-it-yourself 7-Day Body Reset Detox program, a whole foods-based detox (so, yes, you will be eating!) that eliminates common allergenic offenders for 7 days, then reintroduces one at a time.
6. You have gut issues.
Your gut microbiome is home to trillions of microbes, consisting of some 1,000 species of bacteria, both good and bad.10 Approximately 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. When your gut flora is in balance, it supports healthy digestion, protects you from infection and regulates metabolism.
If the ratio of bacteria in your microbiome is out of balance, where bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, this can, over time, lead to chronic diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity.11, 12
What creates unhealthy gut flora? Prescription drugs (e.g., antibiotics and other medications). Birth control pills. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin and ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motril). A diet high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar. Infections. Stress. A diet high in inflammatory foods, like wheat and highly refined vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn) that cause intestinal permeability. Overconsuming alcohol.13
Studies have shown that the microbes living in your gut can determine, to some extent, how easy it is for you to lose weight and how well your metabolism functions. For example, when too many bad bugs reside in your gut, your body can make too much insulin (leading to insulin resistance).14
How do you know if you have gut issues? If you have flatulence (gas), IBS, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, mood swings, joint pain, migraines, any kind of skin condition (eczema, rosacea, psoriasis), to name just a few symptoms, you have gut issues!
Can you heal your gut with a probiotic? Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. In my practice, improving gut health and hormone balance are priorities. A probiotic is most beneficial when you support your overall health with an anti-inflammatory, hormone-balancing diet and healthy lifestyle habits. Once these are in place, you’ll experience the maximum benefits of taking a probiotic.
7. You skimp on sleep.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t lose weight as quickly as you want—or maybe not at all.
Studies have linked poor sleep with a higher BMI (body mass index) and weight gain.15 In one experimental study, participants—16 healthy adults (ages 22 to 26) —were allowed to sleep 5 hours for 5 consecutive nights. The result? They gained, on average, approximately 2 pounds.16
This study reflects my own experience with sleep loss and weight gain. If I sleep 6 hours (instead of 8), I am, literally, two pounds heavier when I step on the scale in the morning! Though sleep needs can vary from person to person, most studies have linked changes in weight to people who sleep less than 7 hours nightly.17
Oversleeping (10-plus hours every day) can be a symptom of poor health (e.g., heart disease) and depression. The reality, however, is that most people need 8 to 9 hours of sleep for optimal health, including weight management. If you have a hormone imbalance, like PCOS, or, an autoimmune condition, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your sleep needs are greater—8 to 9 hours. Being hypothyroid, I know that I need at least 8 hours of sleep.
Sleep has a lot to do with how our bodies gain and lose weight. Yes…we’re back to hormones! Insufficient sleep raises cortisol, the stress hormone, making you vulnerable to gaining belly fat. Getting enough sleep also helps you produce human growth hormone (HGH), which helps you lose fat and gain muscle. Blow off sleep…and you deprive your body of a hormone that helps you get the results you want.
Lack of sleep triggers a hormonal domino effect that often leads to overeating. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body makes more ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and less leptin (the satiety hormone), which leaves you feeling hungry and ravenous. Sleep deprivation raises cortisol levels, which can also increase appetite—and prevent you from losing fat because you make less HGH (human growth hormone).
Researchers found that sleep loss affected eating patterns. Cravings, especially for carbohydrates, intensified. Study participants also ate smaller breakfasts and larger nighttime meals, eating more carbohydrate, protein and fiber calories—by as much as 42%. Snacking after dinner, particularly on carbohydrates, also increased, setting the stage for overeating calories and weight gain.18
Obviously, if you don’t sleep enough, you will feel more exhausted and less likely to exercise. And so the cycle continues.
Though the weight loss industry may claim various workouts, diets or supplements vanquish unwanted weight, many factors (often interconnected) influence your ability to lose weight—and keep it off.
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2 Biological Trace Element Research. 2002 May; 86(2): 107-22
3 Journal of the Endocrine Society. Vol. 2, Issue 7, 1 July 2018, Pages 687-709.
4 PLoS One. 2013; 8(3): e58278.
5 Gastroenterology. 2017 May; (152)7; 1718-1727.e3.
6, 7 Lose Weight Here. Jade Teta, ND. Rodale, 2015
8 Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2014 March; 10(3): 164-174.
9 Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology. Vol. 60 Curitiba 2017.
10 Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. Vol. 28, 2017, Issue 1
11 International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015 Apr 16(4): 7493-7519
12 Nature Communications. 8, Article number: 1783 (2017)
13 American Journal of Physiology. 2012 May 1; 302(9); G966-G978.
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15 Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 14(4): 402-412, Jul 2011.
16, 18 PNAS. 2013 Apr 2; 110(14): 5695-5700
17 Sleep. 2008 May 1; 31(5); 619-626