Updated: Feb. 4th, 2024

“I have tried everything but I still can’t get rid of this stubborn weight! I’ve been doing what my doctor recommends for months, but I haven’t lost a single pound! What more can I do? Maybe I’m just doomed to be this weight forever.” Pam’s frustrated tirade was so familiar to me. So many of the women I’ve met have tried to lose weight at some point in their lives, and it’s rarely easy. But for some women, it’s nearly impossible!

Whether you have ten pounds or 100 pounds to lose, weight loss can be a struggle. And it’s so frustrating when you’re doing exactly what your health care provider has recommended, but the number on the scale refuses to budge. It’s enough to make a woman throw up her hands in despair and give up – just like Pam was about to do. After all, if you eat healthy food, pay attention to portion size, and exercise regularly, what else is there to do?

But weight loss isn’t that simple and straightforward, despite what you may have been told. Of course the quality and quantity of food you eat is important. So is regular physical activity. But there’s a lot that goes on in your body behind the scenes too. If left unaddressed, these hidden issues can trigger your body to hang on to that extra weight, no matter what you do.

Let’s take a look at seven hidden triggers that might be blocking your weight loss goals, and then I’ll share some things you can do to make those numbers on the scale finally drop!

7 Subtle Reasons Why You Can’t Lose Weight

In functional medicine, we look at the whole body. We want to know what’s going on inside that causes the symptoms you see and feel. And we often have to dig deep to discover the real culprits. When it comes to weight loss resistance, there are so many different factors at play. Some of the following may sound familiar. That’s because many of these issues have other impacts to your overall health too, so learning how to avoid them can not only promote weight loss, but also improve mood and uncomfortable physical symptoms. Here are seven underlying issues that might be behind your inability to shed unwanted weight.

1. Sleep deficit

You may already know that sleep issues can contribute to weight loss resistance. After all, if you are in bed for 16 hours a day, you probably aren’t moving much. But did you know that getting too little sleep is also a huge factor in being unable to shed extra pounds? When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol cycles are turned upside down. This can lead you to feel more hunger, and tell your body to hold on to fat. And, of course, it can become an ongoing battle: stress leads to sleeplessness and lack of sleep increases stress. With that endless loop happening, there’s no chance for your cortisol levels to even out. Lack of sleep can also play games with your judgment, making a cinnamon bun and a huge, sugar-laden latte seem like a great breakfast.

A six-year longitudinal study in Canada, published in Sleep in 2008, showed an association between sleep duration and weight gain — both short and long duration sleepers were more likely to experience a 5kg weight gain over six years than those who slept an average duration. Since then, research results have been mixed (especially when talking about long duration), but a systematic review in 2020 showed a significant association between short sleep duration and obesity in adults. Seven to nine hours of sleep per night is an ideal range for maintaining weight and health for most adults.

2. Poor eating habits

I’m not just talking about staying away from processed foods and “junk” foods. I think we all know that eating too many potato chips or cookies won’t help us achieve our weight goals. Being mindful of healthy choices is one piece of the puzzle, but you also have to consider when and how much you eat, as know exactly which healthy choices can prompt – or inhibit – weight loss. Protein is a vital ingredient in the weight loss recipe – but you have to know how much is enough. Like anything else, too much protein is stored as fat — exactly the opposite of what you want!

Taking the time to discover how you feel after eating is crucial. I have learned that I don’t seem to have a “full” gauge. If something tastes good, I’ll just keep eating it. And even if I’m making healthy choices, if I’m eating far more calories than I expend, I won’t lose weight. So for me, portion control is really important. I’ve found balance by eating whatever I feel like eating one day each week, and being really mindful of how much I consume the rest of the time.

3. Falling into an exercise rut

The more you do something, the easier it gets. So it makes sense that if you never change up your exercise routine, your body will adapt, therefore burning less fat. It’s best to try new things every now and again to keep your body working hard. A balance of both aerobic exercise and strength training is also important. Interval training has been found to be super effective at burning off oxidative stress – along with calories. You only need to do interval training 20 minutes, 4-5 times weekly, to get enormous benefits.

If you never vary your exercise routine, it’s also likely to become boring at some point, and when you’re bored it’s much easier to justify skipping a day – or week, or month. Try to find several activities you love and rotate them throughout your week. One woman I know joined an exercise group that has built in variety; each day of the week offers a different type of exercise. She tells me it’s the first exercise class she’s ever stuck with; she’s been attending 3-5 times per week for almost ten years now – and running with members of the group on the weekends too!

4. Genetics

Many women think that if their family has a long history of being overweight they are doomed to follow suit. But it’s simply not true. Genetics certainly plays a part in your health – including how easy or difficult it is for you to lose weight. But the lifestyle you lead plays a bigger role; you do have some input into how your genetic predispositions play out. It’s important to have the right information so you know what you’re up against.

Knowing what your genes are programmed for also allows you to find the right diet for you. I know, from my own genetic viewpoint, that a low fat diet works best for me. These days, a low fat diet can be taboo, because for so long people were deceived into thinking all fat was bad. There’s a big difference between good fats and those that should always be avoided, but for me personally, eating too much fat of any kind makes me feel lousy. Your genetics may point to a different ideal diet – perhaps a Keto, Paleo or Mediterranean eating pattern is what your body needs.

5. Environmental toxins

It’s an unfortunate reality that the world we live in exposes us to numerous toxins every single day. Food, beverages, beauty products, even the air you breathe all contain chemicals that interfere with your hormones, impacting metabolism and preventing you from losing weight. Paying close attention to the products you choose (from makeup to cleaning products), where you spend time, and what you put into your body can make a big difference.

6. Gut trouble

When your digestive system is overtaken by the wrong kind of bacteria, or an excess of yeast, weight loss can be difficult, at best. If you have too much bad bacteria, your body may pull more calories out of the food you eat, and store them as fat. Too much yeast in your system can cause cravings for carbohydrates and specifically sugar, which convert quickly to extra pounds. A 2020 review showed significant differences in the gut microbiota of individuals with obesity and those who are lean, which reinforces the idea that the right balance of bacteria is important.

7. Stress and hormonal imbalance

Hormones contribute to all of your body’s major functions, and when they are out of balance, your body will try to protect itself in any way it can. Chronic stress elevates cortisol levels, and when cortisol levels are too high for too long, your body will store fat as a protective measure.

But cortisol isn’t the only hormone that can prevent weight loss. Thyroid hormone imbalances can impact your metabolic rate, and throw sex hormones out of balance as well. And leptin and insulin are major players in regulating blood sugar levels and appetite; elevated levels will fool you into thinking you’re still hungry along with causing your body to store fat. I have many articles on the connection between stress and weight in my health library.

Breaking through the challenges to achieve weight loss success

Once you’ve taken the first step – understanding your weight loss challenges – you can make progress. In identifying these seven often overlooked issues, I’ve given you a lot to think about – but you may not know exactly what you can do to prevent these hidden triggers. Here are a few quick tips:

Plan for restful sleep

Put distractions away at least an hour before you want to be sleeping, especially electronics. Find something restful to help you let your worries go – a hot bath, mindful meditation, or reading a book – whatever allows you to clear your mind. Consider using a natural sleep aid if you find yourself unable to get to sleep regularly.

Take control when it comes to food

Your eating habits are within your own control. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what worked for your best friend will work for you. Knowing when you tend to make poor choices can help you break the cycle, and knowing what type of diet works for your body can make a big difference.

Choose organic foods whenever possible to eliminate toxins. Fill your plate with color, choose foods high in antioxidants, and avoid sugar and processed foods. Investigate potential sensitivities, particularly to gluten, dairy, and sugar.

Intermittent fasting works really well for some people – and has documented benefits for weight loss. Sometimes, just knowing you aren’t “allowed” to eat during certain times can make a huge difference — especially if you tend to snack on unhealthy options at night.

Give interval training a try

Interval training is a lot like the natural exercise our ancestors got from working in the fields; they’d work hard, rest a little, then resume work all day long. But you don’t have to train all day — just 20 minutes per day of interval work (high intensity bursts for 30 to 60 seconds, then 1 to 2 minutes of lower intensity activity) can give you the boost you need.

Be informed

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is have the right information! Knowing how your genetics, digestive system, or hormones can impact your weight loss goals is the key to making the best choices possible. So don’t stick your head in the sand — talk to your health care practitioner, and ask if testing might be beneficial.

Your weight loss goals are within your reach

No matter how long your weight loss has been stalled, it’s not too late to get it moving in the right direction. Pam looked at some of these factors and realized she hadn’t been eating, sleeping or exercising in the most effective ways. Once she shifted those factors, the numbers on the scale finally began to move downward. It may take some detective work on your part to find the hidden triggers to weight loss resistance, but a little persistence will go a long way. Don’t give up on yourself and your health. You deserve to look – and more importantly feel – your very best!

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