For much of my life, I struggled with my weight. It all began when I moved to the United States from Australia when I was eleven years old. In Australia, I never thought about my weight but when I hit the US, suddenly I was always thinking about my weight as were all of my friends, even though I was by no means overweight.
That was the beginning of my inner obsession with size that carried on for many years. There was a time I was close to 30 pounds overweight, but the biggest issue I had was a stubborn 15 pounds that wouldn’t come off no matter what I did. And I did it all. I tried every fad diet that came out, I ate so little I was constantly hungry, I even tried eating nothing but grapefruit for a week. But like so many women stuck in the yo-yo dieting game, I found that I might lose weight short term, but once I began to eat a regular diet again, it came right back.
When I hit my 40s things came to a head. My mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and I was experiencing perimenopausal shifts in my hormones, and I put on 20 additional pounds despite not changing a single habit. Though I was dismayed at the time, I believe that weight gain was a gift of sorts because it finally made me dig deeper to find out what was really at the root of it. It was time to put my training in functional medicine to use, push aside outdated thinking about diets, and take a closer look at what factors could be impacting my body’s stubborn resistance to losing weight.
I detailed my discoveries about what worked – for both me and my patients – in my book The Core Balance Diet. Following the concepts I laid out, I dropped the extra weight from menopause, but it wasn’t until I did some deep emotional exploration into my past that I was finally freed from those 15 pounds.
I found what was holding me back – now it’s time for you to do the same. But what was happening for me isn’t necessarily what’s behind your own difficulty with weight. You are a unique individual, and there are many internal imbalances that could be impacting your inability to lose weight. The real key is tuning into your own body, recognizing what might be happening, and taking steps to correct the underlying cause of weight loss resistance.
I’ve Tried Everything, But Nothing Works. Why?
So many women come to me struggling with weight loss. And one of the most frustrating issues they encounter is when they are doing everything “right” but still can’t shed unwanted pounds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same lament that Rachel had just the other day:
“I’m doing everything I should. I don’t eat sugar or carbs, I’m avoiding fat, I’m avoiding dairy products. I’m eating fresh, organic vegetables and lean meats. I don’t snack anymore. I exercise every day. Why can’t I lose this weight?” She felt like she was doing everything she could think of — counting calories, weighing portions — but it simply wasn’t enough.
When I told her it sounded like she had weight loss resistance, and we should find out what was behind it, she scoffed. “My doctor says that’s not a real thing. I must be doing something wrong,” she said.
I disagree wholeheartedly. There are many myths and stories we tell ourselves about weight loss, but weight loss resistance is real, and it’s a very complex issue. The thing is, weight loss resistance for you may not be the same as it is for someone else. Like I said before, there are several underlying factors that could be causing your body to stubbornly hold on to weight. You have to send a message to your body that it’s okay to let go — but first, you need to know what negative messages it’s already receiving.
I think that’s why there are so many naysayers when it comes to the idea of weight loss resistance. People are looking for a quick-fix, or a solution that will work for everyone. And it simply doesn’t exist. That’s why it’s so important to know all of the reasons your body could be clinging to the weight you so desperately want to lose.
6 Imbalances That Cause Weight Loss Resistance
I had an ah-ha moment when the Phen-Fen controversy was in full force, before this dangerous drug was taken off the market. I realized that Phen-Fen worked for weight loss (though with dire consequences to your heart) because of its impact on important brain chemicals. And that made me see that for so many people, weight loss is about something happening inside their bodies. I began to examine specific balances – or imbalances – in the individual core physiology of my patients to learn how to support them naturally. I discovered that there are six major biochemical imbalances behind weight loss resistance. Let’s take a quick look at each of those now.
So many of my patients complain of digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and pain in their gastrointestinal system. Most people in the Western world have some kind of digestive imbalance — but we’ve lived with them for so long, we hardly even notice them anymore. Many of these problems start with undiagnosed food sensitivities which throw your body into “protective mode” and keep your immune system on full alert.
Because your digestive system is responsible for so much, if you have chronic imbalances in your gut microbiome, it’s likely your body will keep some weight in self-defense. I’ve seen so many women improve their health – and reach a desired weight – by addressing digestive concerns.
Hormonal imbalance is common, and very difficult to understand. Your body is full of hormones that are constantly sending messages throughout the body – but if any are undelivered or misinterpreted, a lot can go awry. The symptoms we notice are our bodies way of letting us know that something has gone wrong before the problem becomes too serious to fix.
But how do hormones impact weight loss resistance? It’s directly related to your sex hormones, which are made from cholesterol (fat) and are fat-soluble, meaning they are stored in fat cells. Since hormones are all intricately connected to each other, levels of one have a direct impact on others. When insulin levels are high, your body creates more fat cells to store glucose. And these fat cells store and secrete the fat-soluble hormones. It creates a crazy loop — you gain weight due to an insulin imbalance, and the weight you gained makes the imbalance worse!
Your adrenal glands are responsible for activating your natural defense system in response to stress — real or perceived. When your adrenals receive a “danger” call, they release adrenaline and norepinephrine to spur you into action. To fuel this response, cellular changes take place that trigger the release of cortisol and other hormones, increasing insulin levels to send more glucose to your muscles and brain.
When stress is constant, like it is for too many modern women, this stress response remains active for far too long. This can burn stress the adrenal glands so they simply can’t function properly – and neither can you! When experiencing adrenal dysfunction, some women get so tired they can barely get out of bed – never mind exercise! A prolonged stress response also confuses your hunger signals, which can result in unhealthy “stress eating.” When your body is on constant “high alert,” weight loss resistance is just one way it protects itself.
Brain chemistry, as I said earlier, can have a huge influence on weight loss resistance. That’s due to neurotransmitters, which like hormones, carry chemical messages — this time between neurons in the nervous system. Neurotransmitters carry impulses that regulate many functions, including mood, responses to hot or cold, cognitive processes, and, of course, appetite. When the balance is tipped towards agitation, a release of inhibitory neurotransmitters will calm you down. But if those neurotransmitters aren’t available, you tend to seek that comfort elsewhere — a glass of wine, a cigarette, or foods filled with sugar or food. Many of the chemicals in our diets – sugar or MSG, for instance, mimic neurotransmitter activity.
The most common neurotransmitters impacting weight loss resistance, in my experience, are serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamine, and norepinephrine. All of these talk to your hunger hormones through the hypolthalamus. If these neurotransmitters are properly balanced, you’re much more likely to sustain a typical appetite, allowing your body to believe it is safe to let go of the weight.
When your immune system works overtime for too long, the result can be chronic inflammation. And that can take a serious toll on all of your major body systems. The immune system and a well-functioning metabolism are closely connected, so if you are dealing with chronic inflammation that isn’t acknowledged, you can end up with serious metabolic trouble.
Inflammation influences weight loss resistance because fat is naturally inflammatory. Fat cells produce pro-inflammatory compounds called adipocytokines – and too many of these can upset metabolic function. When you have more fat, you have more adipocytokines. Weight gain, particularly around your middle, is the most common system of chronic inflammation.
Your body has an amazing detoxification system which used to be enough to rid people of toxins and keep them healthy. But in our modern world, we are bombarded daily with chemicals in the food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe. Sometimes, your body simply can’t keep up. This puts a huge burden on your system, which deteriorates the lines of communication in your body systems and can leave you feeling sick – and carrying extra weight.
Here’s another interesting tidbit — fat loss can sometimes cause problems with losing weight. When you lose fat, toxins in these cells are released back into your system, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms and send a message to your body to keep the weight. Your liver, when functioning well, rids your body of most bacteria and body toxins. It also metabolizes fat. If your liver is under stress, damaged, or fatty it won’t work as effectively as it should.
Healing Emotional Hurts to Counter Weight Loss Resistance
I’ve detailed the types of imbalances that can contribute to weight loss resistance, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more thing. It’s an area that conventional medicine mainly ignores, but spiritual and emotional healing are important pieces of the weight loss puzzle. It’s so difficult to heal your body if you aren’t paying attention to what’s going on with your mind and spirit.
Figuring out what’s going on physically is a good start, but it’s just the first layer. If you only heal what’s on the surface, you’ll find yourself right back where you started in no time at all. If your body can’t process your emotions and thoughts to filter out the negative side, it stores this input deep inside – and it can come out when you least expect it!
Old hurts can rear their ugly head in your internal conversations, keeping you stuck in a pattern of self-blame and self-loathing, which often sends you running back for more comfort foods. So it’s essential to figure out what’s behind those negative thoughts in order to break the cycle.
7 Tips for Healing Imbalances and Breaking Free from Weight Loss Resistance
The road to finding out what’s going on in your body can be long and winding – and you can’t rush down it. I suggest working with an experienced functional medicine practitioner to really look at the whole picture. Remember, every woman is a unique individual, so you can’t base your own journey on where someone else has gone — you have to blaze your own trail!
Here are a 7 quick tips to get you started:
- Eat as clean as you can. Learn to read labels on food products. Don’t buy things that contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. Eat whole foods, and avoid the processed ones. Choose healthy fats like fish or avocados and avoid anything with trans fats.
- Don’t rely on your typical external comforts. This is hard work, but it’s so important to break the pattern of relying on something outside of yourself for comfort. Cut out – or seriously cut back on – tobacco, alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
- Go natural. Your body will thank you if you reduce the amount of artificial products you’re putting in it. Avoid artificial sweeteners (try natural Stevia instead) and chemical additives like MSG, artificial coloring, nitrates and preservatives.
- Choose medications wisely. It’s a bad idea to stop taking prescription drugs without consulting your practitioner. But if you’re on a wide variety of medications, or you often turn to over the counter medications for relief – it’s time to examine what’s causing the symptoms instead of just masking them with chemicals.
- Enjoy your food. Eat slowly, taking time to chew well. Eating is too often something we rush through on our way to the next activity — but it should be its own event! When you take the time to truly enjoy the flavors, you’ll often find that you don’t need – or even want – as much. An occasional treat is fine – but you should savor every bite!
- Supplement as needed. With some of the above imbalances, you might need extra support for healing. Work with your practitioner to come up with the right combination of healthy eating, exercise and supplemental support for you.
- Disconnect and destress. Stress is behind so many imbalances, and the digital world we live in can create so much internal stress – sometimes without you realizing it. Stop letting the ding of an email notification rule your life – turn off the devices and get out to enjoy something you love. Go dancing, try a zumba class, take a walk in the woods, or meet up with friends for great conversation – without the distractions!
Weight Loss Resistance is Real – But it Doesn’t Have to Rule You!
I get so tired of hearing people talk about willpower. If there’s any myth about weight loss, it’s that if you simply try hard enough and exert self-control, you’ll be able to lose weight. Your body is so much more complicated than that. Break free from that self-defeating notion, and take the time to look at all the possibilities. It won’t be easy, but I promise you it will be worth it!