When it comes to exercise and nutrition, so many of us (I absolutely include myself in this at times!) utter the oh-so-common phrase (or something to the extent of): “I know what I should be doing, I’m just not doing it.” Or as we sheepishly hand over a diet journal find ourselves saying “this was a weird day!” As always, no judgements here! But lets be honest with ourselves….was this really such a weird day? And if we still aren’t doing it (whatever you might think “it” is), do we actually know? Because I think that if we genuinely had a clear and deep understanding of not only what may be making us overweight, but also that those very same things may very likely be leading to energy dips and spikes, fatigue, insomnia, skin problems, depression, dysregulated blood sugar, and the list could go on and on, we might just find it easier to make different choices. So, on that note, lets look at a list of things that might be leading to weight gain or prohibiting weight loss, not to mention a host of other problems:
This may be the most obvious and/or known factor that most people think of. Sugar directly impacts our insulin levels, which is a fat-storage hormone whose job is to regulate blood sugar (this is the dysfunctional hormone with diabetics). When we eat too much sugar (more glucose than the body can use as energy, which we actually don’t need much of since fat is the bodies’ preferred fuel source), the excess is then converted to fatty acids by the liver and stored as fat cells. Sugar does not just mean white, table sugar, but also includes any processed flour like pastries, pasta, bread, and most store bought cookies/cakes/sweets….these all have the same effect on the body. Yes, fruit is sugar too, however it is encased in fiber so slower burning and paired with lots of vitamins and minerals. Remember, when items say no or low-fat, it is usually made up for in the form of sugar, which is a much bigger contributor to weight loss than good fats.
Lack of Good Fats
I’ve talked about this before, and hopefully you’re thrilled as always to know that you need to be eating fat! Real, delicious, good quality fats like coconut, olive and flax oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, raw nuts/seeds, avocados, and animal fats from grass fed and organic meat, poultry, and wild caught fish. Our cells (particularly brain cells) need fat to survive, thrive, and communicate effectively. When we deprive ourselves of these fatty acids, we are left with cravings, over-eating, and weight gain. In their fabulous book Eat Fat Lose Fat, Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig point out, “How effective have the recommended low-fat diets…been, given 97 million Americans (thats’ 64%) are overweight, according to a published in the October 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association.”
This is another big one that I’ve touched on many times, but can play a big role in weight loss resistance and/or weight gain. First and foremost, if you look at most gluten-containing foods, you are looking pretty much exclusively at processed and refined foods that typically come paired with refined sugar. Gluten is a very pro-inflammatory food, which besides being a factor in obesity is a precursor to many (if not all) disease, ranging from arthritis to cancer to autoimmune disorders. Many people fall somewhere on the spectrum of gluten sensitivity (whether it be minor to a severe allergy like celiacs), and whether this sensitivity is undiagnosed or not, our weight loss efforts and overall health are guaranteed to be bettered by going gluten-free. There is no nutrient value to gluten.
Sleep and Stress
Yes, its true…and scary because it feels like it these two can be by far the least under our control. Whether it be a job that has you working long hours, a family to take care of, or a myriad of other life stressors that happen (especially when we live in big urban areas), there’s no disagreement that these are tough. But its important to focus on what we can change, instead of dwelling on what we can’t. Lack of sleep and stress directly impact our cortisol levels, which is a major stress hormone released by our adrenal glands. With too much or too little cortisol, our bodies really are unable to lose weight, and we tend to gain weight around our midsection (giving us that lovely ‘spare tire’ look). Aside from weight management, out-of-balance cortisol levels can lead to a host of serious problems and impacts our blood sugar levels, resulting in the sugar and carb cravings mentioned above. Strive for 7-9 hours a night, and research sleep hygiene for more detailed suggestions. If you’re able to take naps throughout the day, this is a very restorative practice, as well.
As animals, we store toxins in our fat cells (which is why it is so crucial to consume organic and grass fed animal products). Our bodies are really intelligent, and if our fat cells are full of toxins, the body tries to resist burning them. Brilliant, right? Absolutely, but not so brilliant if we want to lose weight. Living in a major urban center, we are exposed to chemicals and toxins every day from water, air, food, and homecare and cosmetic products. Even if we can’t be perfect, it’s essential to try and minimize our exposure as much as possible, as they can cause serious hormonal disturbances ranging as far as infertility. Avoid plastic water bottles, buy organic body care products like shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc, and as we’ve talked about before, organic food.
Refined and Processed foods
Most of the reasons that refined and processed foods interfere with weight loss/lead to weight gain overlap with factors already discussed. I like referring to Michael Pollan’s observation that if our great, great grandparents wouldn’t recognize something as food, OR if we can’t pronounce the ingredient list, it’s probably not the best choice. Packaged and processed foods are heavily refined, mostly for the sake of shelf-life (which equates to more money made by the producer). These foods contain chemicals that our bodies do not recognize, and are typically comprised largely of sugars, chemicals, and (sometimes) MSG. Yuck.
Another major factor in weight loss are repeated exposure to foods that we may be sensitive to. Many of us have lived with certain symptoms for so long (digestive, mental, emotional) that we now consider them the norm/don’t recognize them. Eating foods to which we are sensitive leads to inflammation, and inflammation is a contributor to weight gain. Discovering food sensitivities can be tricky, and working with a nutrition professional can help. Common allergens include casein (found in dairy), gluten, and soy.
The last factor I want to mention is dehydration, which can trick us into feeling hungry when really we are just thirsty. Sometimes, something as simple as drinking a glass of water when we feel a sugar craving coming on can make the craving subside. Being fully hydrated is also essential for the function of pretty much every cell in our body. Strive to drink approximately half of your body weight in ounces (example, if you weigh 150 lbs, go for 75 oz of clean, filtered water per day). Buy a stainless steel water bottle and keep it with you all day. Also important for flushing the system of toxins (and remember, toxins can equal resistance to fat loss).