Losing weight can be an uphill battle. It can feel like you never make progress or you may find that the weight loss diets you’re following are causing weight gain, rather than weight loss.
What can cause trouble with weight loss?
There are a number of issues that contribute to weight loss resistance, such as hormonal imbalances, genetics and personal eating habits. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and you’re still having difficulty losing weight, there are likely underlying factors like the ones listed below at play.
The body reacts to stress by increasing blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure. When this happens over a long period of time the higher glucose levels and levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause insulin resistance. Insulin allows cells access to sugar in the bloodstream for energy or storage. When there is too much sugar in the blood it starts storing fat cells instead of using them for energy.
Imbalances in thyroid hormone, estrogen, and progesterone can cause problems with weight loss. The body’s fat storage hormone is triggered more when thyroid levels are low. Luteinizing hormones reduce the male hormone testosterone which causes a cessation of muscle building and promotes fat storage to replace lost muscle mass. Estrogen is important for women as it slows down food passage from the stomach to the digestion system so you feel fuller longer after eating less. Progesterone balances estrogen’s action on fat metabolism by increasing fat breakdown to help with glucose metabolism.
When women go through menopause they have a decrease in their sex hormones including estrogen and progesterone. This often leads to weight gain because these hormones control our ability to use sugar efficiently while also promoting healthy bone density. Without these hormones, our bodies are more likely to store fat around the middle of the body which is considered the most dangerous place for extra weight gain and causes more belly fat.
Low Thyroid Function
The thyroid is a gland that helps to regulate the body’s metabolism and weight and can greatly affect fat loss. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland under-produces thyroxine which (an important hormone for metabolism) causes it to slow down to conserve energy. Weight gain, fatigue, constipation and depression are common symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Now who hasn’t turned to comfort food during times of stress? Our bodies produce too much cortisol when we’re stressed which can lead to issues such as insulin resistance and lowered sex drive in women. When we turn to food as an escape from our problems it creates a vicious cycle where we crave sugar after eating high sugar foods… making us feel tired, moody or sluggish instead of relaxed or calm.
Lack of Sleep
In today’s world, we are all terrible at getting enough sleep. Our work and social lives often lead to obtaining only a few hours each night sometimes less than required for our bodies to function properly.
Poor Diet Choices
Most of us opt for quick fixes such as shakes, bars, and “diet” pre-packaged meals when on self-imposed diets instead of eating healthy foods and making healthy choices. This is why so many people I speak with who have had some success with these methods in the past see them come crashing down after their New Year’s resolution wears off… they’re simply not eating real foods anymore and while it may keep the weight off temporarily, any diet that consists of unnatural food products will ultimately be unsatisfying and unsustainable over time leading you back into old habits.
Hormones that Affect Weight Loss
- Leptin – Leptin is “the” fat-storing hormone. It controls weight loss, appetite, and metabolism. Fat cells produce leptin, which means the more fat you have the higher your leptin levels are. When leptin levels increase it tells our body to decrease our food intake, increase energy expenditure (calories out), and basically signals to us when we’re full so that we do not eat more and continue gaining weight.
- Ghrelin – Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. Ghrelin secretion increases before we eat and decreases after we eat. When levels of ghrelin decrease our desire for food decreases as well, making us feel full and satisfied at a normal meal size.
- Cortisol – Cortisol is released in times of emotional or physical stress and has a profound effect on appetite – it stimulates cravings since cortisol signals the body to store fat, especially around the abdominal area.
- Insulin – Insulin regulates our blood sugar levels, and is released in response to high-carbohydrate meals. Insulin decreases the amount of fat the body uses as fuel during exercise, but it also increases their storage (it signals cells to store more fats).
- Estrogen – Estrogen stimulates adipose tissue or fat stores in the body to increase – women who are taking oral contraceptives which contain estrogen, for example, will usually have an increased appetite.
- Thyroid hormones – Thyroid hormones increase basal metabolism in the body and can change hormone levels in our blood that may affect hunger levels.
How Decreasing Stress Levels Helps With Weight Loss
Stress relief and weight control often go hand-in-hand. High levels of stress can cause us to crave food, specifically high fat and sugary foods.
Insomnia Increases Appetite
Insomnia is associated with increased appetite, which means lack of sleep makes you hungrier and more likely to eat fatty and sugary foods that increase your body fat percentage.
When You Feel Depressed, You're More Likely To Overeat
Mood also affects the hypothalamus in our brain – symptoms of depression include having a drop in energy levels; feeling fatigued, exhausted or excessively sleepy during the day; not getting pleasure from work or activities you used to get pleasure out of; feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt or irritability; and even thoughts of suicide.
How to Lose Weight When You Are Experiencing Weight Loss Resistance
A common occurrence that I encounter when speaking with clients about their weight loss experience is how they are making very little progress despite eating relatively healthy foods. They report eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains but have not seen any results.
This can be extremely discouraging for them so don’t give up! If you’ve had issues with reaching a healthy weight, you may need to consult a professional trained in this area. It’s important to determine whether or not food allergies, hormone imbalances, or chronic health issues are affecting your gut health and exacerbating weight loss resistance.
Weight loss resistance is a complex condition that requires the guidance of a medical professional. Diet and exercise alone may not cut it – you will need to find out why your body is not responding the way it should and why your body fat is being stored more than it should.
Functional Nutrition and Functional Medicine are all about finding the right way for each of us as individuals to eat for reaching our health goals — using our food and medicine to maximize the potential for health and reverse dysfunction or disease. This personalized approach will take into account your personal dietary choices and health history to tailor your diet and lifestyle practices for your body’s optimal health and to find underlying causes for your health issues! We all want to be healthy – functional nutrition offers the concepts, strategies, and tools to make that happen!