Why it May be Difficult to Lose Weight
Most of my clients have weight loss as one of their top 5 health goals. It’s a great goal, especially with the multitude of studies showing that obesity is associated with poorer mental health, reduced quality of life and is the leading cause of death in the US and worldwide due to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
I think this is one of the most challenging goals given the complexity of losing weight. There really is no magic bullet (or pill) for this, if there was we would have found it by now and more than 1/3 of the US adult population wouldn’t be obese. What we do know is that looking for optimal health through addressing underlying dysfunction will likely achieve the goal of weight loss.
Sustained Weight Loss
I always like to reframe the goal to sustained weight loss. While the “diet-of-the-day” will likely help you lose weight, my experience is that it just comes right back on and sometimes stabilizes at a higher weight only a few months after the initial weight loss. Which is completely frustrating!!!
Sustained weight loss is more complex, takes more time, and focus. The way I approach the question of “how do I take the weight off and keep it off”, is treating weight gain or excessive weight loss exactly like any other symptom, looking for the underlying cause of the imbalance. Weight gain is more about figuring out WHY your body feels like it needs to protect itself by storing fat. Weight gain itself could be due to a variety of different underlying imbalances, spanning multiple systems in the body.
Where do Calories and Exercise Fit it?
The old adage of “eat less and exercise more” simply doesn’t work – if it had we wouldn’t be experiencing the highest obesity epidemic in our recorded history.
Don’t get me wrong, calories and exercise are going to factor in to any weight loss protocol. But more importantly so is giving your body an abundance of vitamins and minerals through eating nutrient dense food, breaking the sugar addiction cycle, healing your gut, and stress management. In my practice, calories are only monitored for very specific therapeutic reasons. In general, we let the body figure out how much fuel it needs to run its day-to-day operations. We do sometimes have to reset what the body thinks it needs after a long period of imbalance.
As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise.
What we do know is that movement is important. Movement gets the lymph system moving, which is important for your immune system and removing toxins. Having a stagnate lymph system when trying to remove toxins and move nutrients around the body simply doesn’t work.
Leptin – the Master Body Weight Hormone
I think over my adult lifetime of trying the new Fad Diet I must have lost and gained over 100 pounds, just by losing 20 pounds and then gaining it back repeatedly. Since I have been eating a real food diet over the past 3 years I have been maintaining my weight without trying (give or take 5 pounds mainly due to increase and decrease in inflammation).
What we all should be striving for is the optimum way to nourish ourselves so that we maintain balance and cut out the endless yo-yo cycle.
Why do we lose weight then gain it all back (and then some)? It’s due to the master hormone that regulates body weight, Leptin. Leptin is a hormone that our fat cells produce to tell the brain that there is enough fat stored and to stop eating. Leptin essentially helps regulate how many calories we eat and burn. When it is working properly it keeps us from starving or overeating.
As you start to lose weight with the typical “diet” of eating less calories, you eventually hit a plateau and ultimately gain the weight back. In this situation, your body has realized that the amount of fat you had stored is gone, your calorie intake is lower and your brain interprets this as starvation. The body gets the message to eat more so that you can get back the fat you just lost. The body wants to make sure there is an appropriate level of fat storage to get through the food scarcity periods. The body now thinks it needs that higher fat storage level. It’s basically been reset to a higher point, which is a sign of dysregulation.
Leptin resistance now sets in. Leptin is being produced by the fat cells but the inflammation inhibits the brain from hearing it, and you continue eating. The fat mass then must increase to produce even more leptin so maybe a little bit of that signal gets through, creating a higher setpoint that your body is used to.
Decreasing the factors that cause leptin resistance and resetting your leptin hormone is the key to breaking through the weight loss plateau.
Investigate the Underlying Cause – Inflammation
Fat cells themselves are contributing to the overall chronic inflammation in the body, but there are other factors that cause inflammation that should be investigated to break the leptin resistance chain.
One of the main promoters of inflammation are highly processed and refined foods. This includes packaged foods high in chemical preservatives, sugar, improperly prepared grains, meats from sick animals, rancid vegetable oils, and trans fats. One study showed free fatty acids from processed vegetable fats caused damage to neurons in the brain right before the onset of obesity, suggesting that fatty acid imbalances are a significant player in weight gain. I believe that one of the reasons leptin signaling got out of control in the first place is due to lack of nutrient density in our modern diet. The body keeps signaling for more food because it is looking for vitamins and minerals that it isn’t getting, in other words, we are generally malnourished. The Huffington Post has put together a list of the some of the worst inflammatory foods.
Other causes of inflammation and leptin resistance that are likely include: gut infections, leaky gut (or intestinal permeability), blood sugar imbalances and other metabolic disorders. Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD has a great article on her blog about how hormone imbalance in women can also contribute to the inability to lose weight.
Detoxification – once the pathways are open
With the amount of toxins in our environment today, our body simply gets overburdened and can’t rid itself of these toxins through the natural processes. A focused detoxification program can help your body metabolize these toxins and get them out of your system. I use the 21-day Purification Program from Standard Process in my practice, but only after some of the dysfunction and underlying imbalances are addressed so that the elimination pathways are open and are ready to start releasing the toxin.
Start looking for other areas of underlying imbalances that are leading to inflammation. This may require some functional diagnostic testing to really start to give you information on where the inflammation is coming from.
It may be helpful at this stage to seek out a functional healthcare professional that can work with you on your evaluation and testing options.
A great place to start is evaluating the inflammatory blood markers from a wellness blood test. This blood test can also give you some indication of other areas of evaluation such as digestion, liver, kidney, hormones and metabolic function. Testing daily cortisol levels can give you an indication of imbalances in the hormone pathways in the body that may be fueling inflammation. Identification of any pathogens that are causing dysfunction in your digestion and looking at how your digestion is functioning can also be a powerful tool. Finally, removing any food sensitivities will be key to reducing inflammation.
Weight gain is a complex symptom. These type of complex symptoms require functional diagnostic tools, which is one of the reasons I offer all of these evaluation tools in my practice. This allows me to help my clients get to the root cause of the weight gain and achieve their weight loss goals.
Michelle Shaughnessy, BS, NTP, RWP, the owner of Primal Nature Nutritional Therapy, is located in Boise, Idaho, where she sees clients in person or through video chat all over the country.
The practice focuses on balancing digestive dysfunction, such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating and helping to reduce symptoms associated with IBS-D, IBS-C, or IBD.
Many of the clients Michelle sees have other symptoms not typically associated with… Read More