So many of the women I talk to are frustrated with their weight, especially when they are already working out and eating well. Maybe you’re someone who is having trouble losing weight, despite feeling like you’re doing everything right. This post was inspired by a recent episode from the Ancestral RD Podcast, which you can listen to here.
Before I dive into the underlying health issues that can cause weight loss resistance, I’m going to first talk about the obvious caloric deficit attempts that work for weight loss initially. First, make sure you figure out your actual energy needs. Don’t go by a one-size-fits all 1500 or 1700 calorie diet plan. Many women also tend to not eat enough calories at all for their energy needs which can cause a drop in metabolic rate, hormone health, and athletic performance over time. On the other hand, I’ve worked with women eating a lot more calories than they actually need without realizing it. You can use this calculator to estimate your energy needs based on your age, weight, height, and activity level.
One combination that can really sabotage weight loss efforts is too much exercise which requires a lot of calories to fuel your body. If you actually are doing a lot of exercise and eating a lot of calories, for example 6-7 days a week of intense exercise, consider scaling back on the amount of exercise you’re doing. I know it sounds counterintuitive to reduce exercise for weight loss, but what can happen with too much exercise is you’re stressing out your body an unnecessary amount. Even though you’re fueling your energy needs, you’re causing a lot of inflammation in the body and your HPA axis, which is your stress control center. If you’re stressed at work, stressed out emotionally, and stressing your body physically with exercise, this can raise your cortisol levels, cause chronic inflammation, and cause your body to store fat. Too much cortisol in the blood also leads to fat storage especially in the mid section. The takeaway: more exercise isn’t better when it comes to weight loss. Try to focus on consistency with exercise rather than volume and let go of the notion that more is better. Keep it simple with a walk daily and intense exercise 2-3x a week. Get in tune with your body and notice when training is starting to cause chronic elevations of cortisol. Low pressure, belly fat, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, craving salt are just a few day to day signs to pay attention to and indicators that your cortisol levels are out of balance.
Maybe this is all old news to you. If you’ve tried a range of caloric intakes, exercising less, exercising more, and feel totally frustrated, these are some underlying health issues that might be playing a role in your weight loss struggle.
- HPA axis dysregulation, also known as adrenal fatigue. If you are exercising a lot, have a stressful life, and in overdrive mode all the time, this is something to consider. We live in a society that perpetuates pushing ourselves to work harder, perform better, and get more done. Stressors like lack of sleep, work, social life, and environmental toxins also play a role in how you feel. Life events like moving, marriage, divorce, or death of a loved one are also recognized as stress by the body. All of these factors put pressure on the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys and are responsible for managing stress. If these hardworking glands are never given a break from the day to day grind, they can and no longer communicate with the hypothalamus, it can lead to imbalances throughout the body. Keep in mind that even if it doesn’t feel stressful to you, it can be stressful to our body. One red flag that this could be an issue is if you’ve been yo yo dieting or are a historical dieter. Maybe you’ve lost weight before, gained it back, or are constantly restricting calories. The takeaway here is that if you have a stressful life, a lot of exercise, yo yo dieting, and having trouble losing weight, then consider HPA axis dysregulation and start taking steps to recover your adrenals, manage, and interpret stress better
- Thyroid dysfunction. If you have trouble losing weight, seemingly no matter what you do, the first thing you can look to is your thyroid. If you can rule this out, or decide if hypothyroidism is an issue, there are a lot of supplement, lifestyle, and dietary changes that can really help. One thing I hear all the time is “I’ve had my thyroid checked and it’s fine” but what I recommend is getting a full thyroid panel and looking to the functional lab ranges rather than just what is “normal”. This includes not only TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3 and T4, and thyroid antibodies. If you’ve had your TSH measure before by your doctor, the normal lab value goes up to 4.5 or 5, but anything over 2 could be considered subclinical hypothyroidism. Your TSH levels aren’t super high and your doctor will tell you you’re fine, but you still don’t feel good, then seek out a second opinion from someone who keeps up with the research and is familiar with the functional ranges. Another thing to consider is that TSH can be in the optimal range, but free T3 can be low and reverse T3 can be high. Fatigue, hard time losing weight, low body temperature, get a full thyroid panel to see if it is part of the problem.
- Your gut health. Many seemingly unrelated health problems are now being linked to underlying gut problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Aside from the fact that the bacteria in your gut makes up the majority of your immune system, the gut bacteria, specifically in your large intestine, plays a huge role in how you store and burn fat. Imbalanced bacteria causes a lot of inflammation, which can lead to leaky gut. This means that problematic things are slipping through the gut cells and into the bloodstream which leads to body wide inflammation, which is associated with conditions like obesity and insulin. So, if you’ve ruled out low thyroid and HPA axis dysfunction, it’s necessary to look into your gut health and get tested for imbalances. Now, you might be thinking “I don’t have bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or IBS, so this doesn’t matter.” But, you actually don’t have to have digestive issues to have gut problems. Underlying gut problems can come with little to no gut symptoms and show up somewhere else in the body. This makes gut health so easy to overlook. This means that even with regular bowel movements, no bloating, no cramping, etc. you can still have an imbalance of bacteria. One way to determine if this is an issue for you is by getting tested. A SIBO test will look at bacteria in your small intestine, while tool intestine to look into your large intestine and make sure you don’t have any pathogens or parasites. This article provides more information on gut tests and where to get them. Impaired gut health can really hold people back from weight loss despite all efforts. Your gut health plays a role in every other aspect of your health as well, beyond just weight loss, so it’s important to get it checked out. If you suspect that healing your gut could be the key to weight loss, I recommend diving into this article from Chris Kresser.
- Mold exposure. This is another stressor on the body and cause of inflammation. Your body isn’t going to regulate factors like weight, fat accumulation, fat storage, and fat breakdown as well when your it is inflamed. You don’t have to feel or see it and it can still be there, so it is really a silent culprit and easy to miss. Symptoms or signs include fatigue, brain fog, sensitivity to lights, skin issues, headaches, light sensitivities. Obviously these symptoms can go along with a lot of other conditions as well, but they are some to consider. If you’ve addressed all the other things, it’s worth digging deeper on this topic.
So, a quick recap. First make sure you’re doing the right amount of exercise on both ends of the spectrum and eating the right amount of calories (of course, from nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory, low toxin foods). Then, check your thyroid, HPA axis and adrenals, gut health, and lastly mold exposure.
For more information, tips, and inspiration, be sure to join my private Facebook Community. If you’re tired of trying everything and think you’re dealing with one of these issues and tired of trying everything, you can schedule a free 20 minute assessment and we can break it all down to figure out what might help you.