One of the most common struggles I hear women talk about in my office is the battle to lose stubborn weight. Women come to me frustrated and dejected. They’ve tried eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising. They’ve tried hardly eating anything at all. But nothing has worked, so they’ve resigned themselves to remaining at a weight that isn’t comfortable for them.
But they don’t land there happily. So many of these women are beating themselves up inside, wondering where they’ve gone wrong. But in so many cases, their inability to lose weight is so much more complicated than the old “calories in, calories out” model we were all led to believe in. Your body is a complicated machine, and if any part of it isn’t functioning properly, all the other parts can break down too.
So many things can impact weight loss resistance – the term used to describe an inability to lose weight no matter what you try. One of the most widespread, and often overlooked, issues behind weight loss resistance is poor digestive health.
How can gut health impact weight loss? The answer to this question is varied and complex. Let’s explore the connection between your gut health and weight loss.
How Does Your Digestive System Function?
Your digestive system begins with the tongue, and includes salivary glands and their enzymes, the esophagus, the stomach and its enzymes, the small and large intestines, the gallbladder, the pancreas, and the liver. This is where it all begins for both overall health and weight — but because it’s so large, there’s a lot of potential for something to go awry.
Your digestive systems works in tandem with your immune system and ability to rid your body of toxins. It’s also where undesirable substances gain entry into your body systems — things like bacteria, allergens, molds, fungi and heavy metals to name just a few. And if you don’t know they’ve broken past your gut’s defensive barriers, you may develop undiagnosed conditions that impact your ability to lose weight.
Digestion of food begins when you first take a bite. Your teeth break down food, mixing it with saliva before it heads to the stomach where it is broken down further. After about four hours, the food that’s been processed becomes chyme, a semiliquid mass that passes into your small intestine. Bile from your liver continues the process, helping to neutralize the acidic contents, as well as increasing water-solubility of some fats, and stimulating enzymatic activity in the small intestine.
The small intestine is a filter, allowing nutrients you need to pass through while blocking those substances that are not needed, or even harmful. But sometimes, this filter isn’t working properly, and unwanted matter breaks through, triggering an immune response.
The next stop in digestion is your liver, which breaks down fat and fat-soluble nutrients, as well as filtering digested food to prepare it for absorption into the bloodstream. The filtered materials are then stored or broken down for elimination. When your liver and small intestine have finished their work, the water, bacteria and fibrous waste is sent to your large intestine for evacuation.
As you can see, there’s a lot of room for problems to develop in the digestive system. Now, let’s take a look at some of the most common – but often ignored – issues.
Gut Health and Weight Loss Connection
Are you starting to see how important your digestive health is? The connection between your gut health and weight loss is strong. Your gut is like the foundation of a building. When the foundation is strong, the building stands tall. But if it begins to crack, the whole building is in trouble. And if foundation issues are ignored for too long, the building might just crumble completely.
That same thing can happen in your gut. If your digestive system isn’t functioning properly, sooner or later every system in your body can be impacted. But gut issues can go on for years – even decades – undetected. Women have grown so used to feeling lousy that they don’t even consider that there’s something they can do about it. But I want you to know that it isn’t normal to feel poorly all the time. Slight nausea or heartburn aren’t things you have to just live with. Neither is the inability to shed stubborn weight. The first step is to really understand what you might be dealing with.
We are increasingly aware of food allergies, and the impact these have on our health. A full blown allergy is difficult to miss, since the reactions are so severe. Sensitivities are tricker to recognize and address, but can trigger low-grade immune reactions that keep you feeling lousy long term. When food sensitivities aren’t addressed, you can’t heal your overall gut health.
Low Gastric Acid
Hydrocholoric acid (HCL) breaks up and emulsifies fat during the digestive process. If your levels of HCL are too low in your stomach, you will be unable to properly break down food. This can cause heartburn and indigestion, contribute to acid reflux, and in extreme cases cause putrefaction of undigested foods in the GI tract.
Stomach acid helps you absorb the key nutrients you need to eliminate and detoxify stored fat tissue. Low levels of HCL can create sluggish metabolism, problems with blood sugar regulation, low energy, sleep issues, and food cravings, all of which can have a detrimental effect on weight loss.
Your gut contains trillions of bacteria. In fact, you have more bacterial cells than human cells in your body! These bacteria are known as the microbiome. Ideally, you have a balance in the types of bacteria your body is harboring. But if you don’t have enough good bacteria to neutralize the bad guys, that’s when problems develop. Research has indicated that the microbiome impacts the balance of blood glucose levels, how we store fat, and the hormones that tell us when we are hungry or full. Since your gut flora is established by the age of two, it’s possible that you have been fighting imbalances since long before you could make your own lifestyle choices.
Chronic inflammation in your gut can lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome. When this is the case, your gut is more permeable, allowing toxins to break through your protective lining and circulate throughout your body. The resulting systemic inflammation can impact your brain, leading to leptin resistance, which prevents your brain from receiving the message the hormone leptin is supposed to relay — that you are full.
I have seen so many women walk through my door with unexplained digestive problems that turned out to be candidiasis, an overgrowth of yeast in the system. When you have too much yeast in your GI tract, nutrients can’t be absorbed as efficiently, placing stress on your immune system and causing you to gain weight. Not only that, but when these yeast microorganisms die, the gas they release causes bloating, foul smelling flatulence, and nausea. Conventional practitioners often resist this idea, but I’ve seen improvement upon diagnosis too many times to discount it.
Did you know that, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) close to 100 million Americans are infected with internal parasites? These invaders live inside our bodies, taking what they need and giving nothing but trouble. Parasites cause inflammation, fill out bodies with toxins, damage muscle, crash your metabolism, and upset that delicate balance of flora in your gut.
Using the Connection Between Gut Health and Weight Loss to Create Change
Now that you understand what could be causing your weight loss resistance, I hope you also realize you don’t have to live with it. When you understand the biochemistry of your body, you have a lot more tools at your disposal. The key to losing weight just might be making sure your gut is happy and healthy. So, how do you do that? Here are some tips for using the connection between gut health and weight loss to create change:
Eat a Diverse Diet
Fruits and vegetables are important, but you can’t get all the nutrients you need from eating the same things over and over again. It might be time to broaden your horizons, and try some new things. Challenge yourself to eat a variety of colors every day, and choose recipes that include ingredients you’ve never used before.
Dig Deep into What’s Really Going On
If the first answer you get doesn’t seem right, or doesn’t make a difference, don’t be afraid to ask for more testing. Identifying the root cause of a problem is essential to real healing.
Look at Food Sensitivities
As I said before, it doesn’t take a full fledged allergy to cause problems in your gut. Processed foods and sugar are likely to cause issues in most people, and should be avoided whenever possible. But other sensitivities are more individual, so a food sensitivity test or elimination diet can be helpful in determining which foods are best for you to avoid. Try eliminating gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and nuts – the most problematic foods for many people – for a couple of weeks, then add them back in one at a time to see how you feel. Alternatively, if eliminating all at once seems overwhelming, try avoiding just one and see if your symptoms improve.
Balance Bacteria in the Gut
Adding prebiotic and probiotic foods to your diet can balance out your gut flora. Prebiotic foods include Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, chicory root, garlic, leeks and onion. Fermented foods are probiotic, and include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso and tempeh. If you can’t eat enough of these – or don’t care for them – you can also try a high quality probiotic supplement.
Avoid Overusing Antibiotics
While it’s important to address any issues that might be at play – insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, dysbiosis, leaky gut, yeast overgrowth, imbalanced intestinal bacteria, and more – it’s also important to remember that antibiotics aren’t usually the best way to go about it. The big problem with antibiotics is that they kill off everything, not just the unwanted bacteria. There are many natural products that won’t throw the delicate balance in your gut even more off course.
Address Emotional Issues as Well
You know that churning, anxious feeling you get in your stomach when stress is running rampant? You have to pay attention to them! Stress causes your central nervous system to kick into high gear, pushing digestion to the back burner to address more urgent issues. If this happens constantly because you aren’t addressing emotional upsets that keep you in “fight or flight” mode, your digestive health can suffer.
Optimal Gut Health and Weight Loss Are Within Your Reach
Maybe you never thought about how your gut health plays a role in weight gain or your ability to lose weight. As you can see now, digestion is a long road with many twists and turns along the way. And each and every detour can adversely impact your overall health – and edge your body towards weight loss resistance. Paying attention to your digestive health can make all the difference! It may seem difficult at first – after all, it’s something you’ve likely never thought much about. But when you set your mind to finding ways to heal your gut, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. You don’t have to accept an uncomfortable weight as your fate — you deserve to look and feel your very best!