Almost every woman I’ve ever met has, at one time or another, tried to lose weight. It can be such a struggle, no matter how much or how little you have to lose. The most frustrating situation of all, women tell me, is when they are doing everything their health care provider has recommended, but the number on the scale refuses to budge. “Why does it feel like, no matter what I do, I can’t lose weight?” they might ask me. It’s enough to make a woman throw up her hands in despair and give up. After all, if you eat healthy food, pay attention to portion size, and exercise regularly, what more can you do?
You need to know that weight loss just isn’t that simple. Sure, the quality and quantity of food you eat is important. So is regular physical activity. But there could be so much more going on behind the scenes. If left unaddressed, these hidden issues can trigger your body to hang on to that extra weight, no matter what you do. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons behind why you can’t lose weight, and then I’ll share some tips on how you can finally drop pounds!
7 Subtle Reasons Why You Can’t Lose Weight
In functional medicine, we look at the whole body; what’s going on inside that causes the symptoms you see and feel? Often, we have to dig deep to discover the real culprits, in this case – why you can’t lose weight. When it comes to weight loss resistance, there are many factors that can be at the heart of the problem. Some of these 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. Let’s take a look at these 7 underlying issues that might be behind why you can’t lose weight.
1. Sleep Deficit
You may not be surprised to know that sleeping too much 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 going on, there’s no chance for your cortisol levels to even out. Lack of sleep can also play games with your judgement, making a cinnamon bun and huge, sugar-laden latte seem like a great breakfast. A six-year longitudinal study in Canada, published in Sleep journal 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. Seven to nine hours of sleep per night is an ideal range for maintaining weight and health for most adults.
2. Poor Eating Habits
When I talk about 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 fit in when and how much you eat, as well as 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 opposite of you want!
Taking the time to discover how you feel after eating is crucial. I know 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, and make sure you are getting both aerobic exercise and strength training. Interval training has been found to be super effective at burning off oxidative stress – along with calories. You only need to exercise 20 minutes 4-5 times weekly doing interval training to get enormous benefit.
If you never vary your exercise routine, you’re also likely to get bored with it, making it 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 four years now – and running with members of the group on the weekends too!
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 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 low fat works for me. These days, a low fat diet can be taboo, because for so long people were deceived into thinking all fat was bad. I know the 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 contains chemicals that interfere with your hormones, impacting metabolism and preventing you from losing weight. Paying close attention to the products you choose, 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.
7. Stress and Hormonal Imbalance
Hormones contribute to all of your body’s major functions, and when your hormones 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.
Breaking Through the Challenges to Achieve Weight Loss Success
The first step in overcoming why you can’t lose weight is to understand the issues preventing you from succeeding. By identifying the seven overlooked issues above, I’ve given you a great place to start. But now you might be asking what exactly you can do to prevent these hidden triggers. Here are a few quick tips:
- Plan for restful sleep. Put distractions away about 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.
From I Can’t Lose Weight to I CAN Lose Weight
If you feel you can’t lose weight, don’t worry – it’s never too late to get moving in the right direction. 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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