|Dr. Tamika C. Henry, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Medical Weight Loss Expert
Does this sound familiar? You spend all your time researching what to eat, meal prepping the perfectly proportioned meals, counting calories until your head spins and trying to get in as much dreaded cardio as you can cram into your busy day, yet still the scale refuses to budge?
Before you throw in the towel, I want to give you something to consider. Weight loss resistance or unexplained weight gain may be caused by an underlying issue in your body, or other factors that have nothing to do with how hard you are trying. As a functional medicine doctor, I see it all the time with my patients. Find and address the underlying issue, and you may solve the weight loss problem as well.
When it comes to weight loss, my objective is to help my patients find and treat the root cause of their weight issues, once and for all. I use healthy, evidence-based methods that work for long term results.
In this article, I will share with you the top issues that can make it difficult to lose weight and give you some easy tips and guidelines to follow when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle that supports weight loss.
No, It’s Not All Your Fault – Top Weight Loss Inhibitors You May Not Be Aware Of
Hormones, Medical Conditions & Weight Loss
Your ability to lose or maintain healthy weight may largely be controlled by hormones. Often overlooked, certain hormone imbalances and medical conditions can significantly affect your body’s ability to lose weight. These may include:
- Hormones imbalances, especially thyroid, cortisol (stress hormones), and sex hormones
- Diabetes or blood sugar issues
- Chronic Internal inflammation
- Adrenal glands issues
- Gut issues
The good news is that many of these issues can be overcome. Blood work can be very helpful in finding abnormalities and possible issues that may affect your weight. While the type of tests depends on the person’s unique health challenges and medical history, I usually like to start by looking at inflammatory markers, a comprehensive thyroid panel, basic metabolic panel, insulin, hormones, C-peptide, uric acid, iron, and cholesterol, along with a complete blood count looking for signs of infection. If a test comes back irregular, we dig deeper.
Stress Can Cause Weight Gain & Other Health Issues
Prolonged negative stress is well known to affect not only your mental state but your weight loss efforts as well. Stress is so powerful it can affect your overall health and even causes physical illness. Stress comes at us from all angles, work, home, family, finances, and many other places. Left unmanaged, stress can affect your physical and mental health, including your weight. You should strive to identify and reduce stress whenever possible for optimal health.
Sleepless Nights & Weight Loss Woes
People often discredit sleep. The fact that you can still function despite not sleeping enough doesn’t mean your body is performing well. Sleep allows the body to recover, heal and recharge. Overtime, lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can lead to many medical issues and may also affect your weight. When possible, get to sleep earlier and make your sleep as restful as possible. If you tend to stay up late, try to set a bedtime alarm.
Inflammation & Weight Gain
If you scratch the back of your hand, you may notice pain, redness, and swelling. This normal response helps the body to protect and heal itself. What you may not know, is that inflammation can also occur internally. Internal inflammation can be caused by certain medical conditions and also largely by the food we eat. Overtime, chronic internal inflammation can cause symptoms such as joint pain, headaches, bloating or other digestive issues. You can experience low energy, fatigue, and it can also cause weight gain or make it hard for you to lose weight.
Let me give you a quick example of how even a “healthy food” can cause inflammation and weight loss problems. You have a friend that lost a ton of weight and she ate almonds as a protein-packed, good-fat snack. Sounds great because you love almonds, so you do the same. Unfortunately, your body has a sensitivity to almonds that you don’t even know about causing you to bloat and making it difficult to shed even a pound. Because almonds are inflammatory to you, this snack isn’t going to work for you like it did for your friend.
A blood test for inflammation and food sensitivities testing can reveal if this is indeed a problem and can help personalize your diet. When the cause of the inflammation is addressed, and we get the inflammation down, the extra body weight may come off as a positive side effect.
Toxin Overload & Weight Loss
Accumulative toxins buildup can also cause weight loss resistance. We are all exposed to toxins from our environment every day but if you experience difficulties in losing weight and think you were exposed to heavy metals or other toxins (work with heavy metals or chemicals, often fly, etc.), then I would recommend having this tested and see how you can reduce these toxins in your body.
What’s The Best Way To Lose Weight?
Finding the right diet for you can be challenging and often makes people confused and frustrated, especially after not seeing the results they hoped for. Paleo diet, keto diet, dash diet, mediterranean diet, gluten-free diet, keto diet, maple lemon master cleanse…the list goes on and on.
Some of these diet protocols are shown in studies to be very beneficial (while others, not so much). With so many options, however, how do you know which diet is the best for you?
Before you go on yet another popular fad diet, here is something to consider. We are all unique beings and no two of us are exactly the same. Some people do very well on a plan where they eat 3 or more meals a day. Intermittent fasting (limit your eating to a shorter time frame) on the other hand, may work better for people with type II diabetes, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune, and thyroid issues. Dieting is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Simply put, the diet that worked so amazingly for your friends may not work for you, through no fault of your own. In my clinic, I work together with a functional nutritionist to customize the best diet approach for each patient of mine. Our plans are based on his or her test results, personal food sensitivities, medical history, lifestyle, health goals, food preferences, and other factors.
Unsure how to get started? See the elimination diet guidelines below for help.
Start With The Basics: The Elimination Diet
When we want to remove inflammatory foods from a person’s diet or watch for food sensitivities, we do so by using a method called “the elimination diet.”
The idea is simple. For a few weeks, you stop eating certain foods known to cause inflammation or sensitivities and see how your body responds. If you feel a difference, chances are you may be sensitive to some of the foods you eliminated. When you reintroduce these foods, you start with one food at a time. You wait for a week or two and see how you feel. If you notice digestive issues such as bloating, or if your weight loss stopped, then perhaps this food is not the best for you.
If you’re paying attention, your body will tell you if the foods you eat are the right ones for you or not. The elimination diet simplifies the foods you eat and makes it easier for you to identify the foods that don’t work for you. It might sound bland to you but it’s a temporary way of eating that can help you uncover clues that unlock the mystery of why you struggle to lose weight even when you’re doing everything right.
The top inflammatory foods you want to avoid include dairy, soy, grains, gluten, bread, corn, and nightshades (like tomatoes, peppers). Plant-based oils that are high in omega 6 should also be avoided during the elimination phase.
If you find it hard to eliminate all these foods at once, just start with dairy. According to the U.S. national library of medicine, approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy 1, making dairy a great place to start.
Healthy Weight Loss Diet Tips
- Make sure you are eating enough calories. Too much restrictions can actually stall your weight loss efforts.
- Consider the portion sizes and focus on eating enough veggies and protein. If you would mark the plate into 4, two corners should have veggies, one corner with protein such as lean meat or fish, and the other corner with healthy fats.
- Stick with the healthy foods you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to eat foods you do not like even if they are considered healthy.
- Meal preparation shouldn’t be a big task. If you are not someone who likes to cook, make things simple and prep your food in advance. This can also help you cut down on resorting to grabbing fast food lunches and dinners when you don’t feel like cooking.
- The majority of what you eat should come from whole foods. You can keep protein bars (dairy free, low carb) for emergencies. Do not make bars, however, staples.
- Not all fat is evil! Eat healthy fats. Good sources include avocados, olive oil, and wild fish (3 times a week).
- Read the label. A lot of pre-made meals and foods contain added sugars and extra calories.
- Drink enough water so that you stay hydrated. Not sure if you’re drinking enough? Your urine color should be clear.
- Cut out some processed carbs by replacing your regular pasta with spaghetti squash or black bean spaghetti.
- Instead of giving up rice, use cauliflower rice instead of regular.
- Substitute dairy with plant-based milks, or vegan cheese such as Kitehill or Treeline cheese.
- Can’t live without mayo? Replace mayonnaise with vegan alternatives such as Veganye.
Smoothies Versus Juicing – A Doctor Weighs In
Breakfast smoothies with low sugar content can provide a healthy quick fuel source, helping you to start your day right. I like to add plant-based protein powders such as pea protein. If you don’t like pea protein, another great option is collagen protein. A good example is Primal Kitchen Collagen Fuel.
I prefer these over dairy-based protein powders that can increase inflammation in the body. Do not use added sugars if you are looking to drop pounds.
I get a lot of questions about juicing and weight loss. The biggest challenge I see with juicing and weight loss is how long juices will be able to satiate you. In addition, juices have almost no protein in them. The average person, depending on the weight, will need 15-30 grams of protein per meal. In my practice, we focus on whole food meals. Most people like to chew, eat and enjoy their food. We have teeth for a reason.
Short term Juicing may be a better fit if you are doing a bowel rest or want to give your digestive system a break. If you choose to go that route, pay close attention to how you break the juice fast, and slowly reintroduce foods when the juice fast is over.
How Much Exercise Do You Need To Do In Order To Lose Weight?
Do you really have to go beast-mode at the gym every day to get down to a healthy weight? When it comes to weight loss, food is the biggest bang for your buck. Have you ever heard the saying, “abs are made in the kitchen?” Well, it’s true! With that said, adding exercise to your diet can improve your weight loss results. The best workout for weight loss is the exercise you enjoy doing the most that matches your current fitness level. If you hate to run, bike instead. Fitness should be fun and rewarding, not another source of stress.
We live in a society where a sedentary lifestyle is common place. If you have not been active for a while, you can start with simple activities that you enjoy and can easily do. Dance, run around the house with the kids, walk outside to the top of the hill, do yoga, tai chi, swim, prayer planks; overtime these activities add up and can improve your weight loss and overall health.
Too much exercise, on the other hand, may not always be a good idea. You should pay attention to your own body and health conditions when selecting your workouts. A person with adrenal fatigue, for example, may not benefit from doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Weight Loss Supplements: Start Low, Go Slow
There is no “magic pill” to weight loss. Nothing you find in the pharmacy is going to do the work for you, I’m afraid. I do, however, find that there are times where certain supplements can help with weight loss. The key is to use supplements in addition to your custom weight loss plan.
If you decide to take weight loss supplements, you want to start low, and once you achieve your weight loss goal, gradually reduce the number of times you take the supplements. See how you feel and continue reducing until you no longer take them.
Supplements that may help with a healthy weight loss include:
- L-carnitine: plays a key role in the production of energy from fatty acids in the mitochondria. Mitochondria is the source of energy of cells.
- Certain probiotics strains were shown in studies to help burning fat.
In addition to these, the top supplements I think most people should be on include:
- Vitamin D.
- Omega 3 (EPA, DHA). If you use fish oil omega 3, make sure you are not sensitive to fish.
Mindset & Weight Loss
Healthy Weight Loss May Take Time
The age of internet use has ruined us for anything that takes a fair amount of patience. We live in a microwave society where everybody wants results right now. Losing weight fast may spark your motivation, but the question is, can you maintain it long term?
Many studies found that when people lose weight rapidly, it comes back with a vengeance. In fact, they often end up gaining more than they initially lost. For this reason, you want to take a steady, consistent approach that considers your lifestyle, so it is sustainable. In my practice, I have found that losing 1-2 pounds a week on average (after the initial weight loss) works the best for most people.
Compare Is Despair
Social media can crash a diet faster than a chocolate chip cookie. When it comes to weight, comparing yourself to others can be counterproductive since everyone is different. We are not all supposed to be a size 2 or have the same weight. Instead of comparing yourself to others, look for ways you can improve. Set realistic goals both on the scale and off the scale that pertain to your health.
Affirmation for weight loss
The most successful people in the world use some form of meditation and affirmation to start or end their day. Take the time every morning to acknowledge that you are beautiful the way you are. Express gratitude for what you were able to accomplish, and for having the mind and body capable of achieving your goals. Visualize you losing weight. Ask yourself what I should do today, that my future self will thank me.
Circle The Wagons – Gathering Your Support Network
The people around you can play a key role in the success of your weight loss. Especially since weight is so personal, often with a strong mental, psychological component to it. You need to surround yourself with positive people who can’t wait to celebrate your victories. On the other hand, watch out from those who may discourage you. I have seen several instances where people set a goal to lose weight, start to lose weight, and get more attention. They find themselves eating to gain weight since they don’t like the attention they receive.
Calories In, Calories Out & Weight Loss
One common misconception about weight loss, is that if you eat less, you will lose more weight. The idea behind this popular “calories in calories out” approach is simple: if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
Is it a valid tool for a healthy weight loss you can easily maintain long term? If weight loss was that straightforward, all you had to do to lose weight, is to count your calories.
While the number of calories you eat will affect your weight, it is important to understand that not all calories are created equal. You can eat 100 calories of cookies, or you can eat 100 calories worth of vegetables. They are both 100 calories, but your body is going to use them in different ways, which can affect your weight loss progress. The vegetables are going to be better received and utilized by the body, and take more energy to digest, while the cookies can cause blood sugar spikes, make you more hungry, lead to internal inflammation, disrupt your hormones, along with other issues. So you see, what you eat is very important. If you’re going to track something, I would much rather see you make a food journal with a list of all the foods you ate in a day rather than a running tally of calories consumed.
I hope you find this total-wellness approach to a healthy weight loss helpful. I wish you the very best success in your journey to a better health.
- Why It’s So Hard To Lose Weight? The Functional Medicine Approach - August 9, 2019