Does this sound familiar? It's the new year, and you say to yourself "this is the year I am going to get in shape!" You spend weeks sticking to your diet, eating salads every day for dinner. You make an effort to exercise as much as possible. You make sacrifices like cutting out alcohol and skipping desserts. At the end of it all, you step on the scale and discover that…your weight hasn't budged. Or worse, it's gone up.
How is this possible? Is your body working against you and preventing you from losing weight? How can you know for sure? And importantly, what can you do about it so that you can progress in your weight loss journey?
Is your body preventing you from losing weight?
While weight loss is largely dependent on "calories in versus calories out", there are other factors that could negatively influence this:
Humans have built in mechanisms that try to prevent us from weight loss. This dates back to our ancestor's ability to store fat in order to survive during times of caloric deprivation.
Your hormones can also make it tricky to lose weight. For instance, your stomach produces ghrelin, which triggers feelings of hunger. When you lose weight, your body increases production of this hormone. Conversely, fat cells make a hormone called leptin, which tells you that you're full. If you lose weight, then your fat cells shrink, thus producing less leptin. So, you might not feel as full, and you might end up eating more.
Genetics can also play a role. There are several genes that seem to have a major influence on body weight.
So, you can see that even if you're in a calorie deficit, even if you're going to the gym every day after work, even if you've sacrificed all your favorite foods, there could still be other reasons why you might not be losing weight.
There are a number of tests and panels that can determine why you're having such a hard time losing body fat. Namely, you want to check up on your sex hormones, thyroid functioning and hormones, stress hormones, insulin resistance, inflammation, and general health markers. What does all of this mean, exactly? Well, if you think that a hormonal imbalance might be stopping you from reaching your weight loss goals, these panels could help you pinpoint where the exact obstacle is.
HOW TO FIX THIS PROBLEM
There is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" nutrition (or exercise) plan. The best plan is a doctor-prescribed one made specifically for you (ie: The Fitness Doctor). That being said, here are some general guidelines to help you start the process.
Set short-term goals: They're easier to stick to than long-term goals because they're less overwhelming. Plus, they give you the opportunity to celebrate your progress and "wins"—which is important to keep you motivated and boost your self-esteem! When your goals are too long-term, you're not setting yourself up for success quite as much.
Set realistic goals: Bear in mind that if you're heavier than you'd like to be, the weight gain probably took months—if not years—to happen. This means that expecting overnight results isn't realistic, and you'll probably end up disappointed! Instead, look at your progress from month to month. This will give you enough time to really change your habits and see the impact.
Approach weight loss holistically: It's not just about the calories you consume. Weight loss involves sleeping enough, eating nutrient-dense food, physical activity, and managing your stress levels. If you want to burn fat and lose weight, your approach has to be all-encompassing. As an added bonus, when you think about all aspects of weight loss, you enjoy benefits beyond looking slimmer—like improving your heart health and mobility.
Focus on adding, not subtracting: When people want to lose weight, they typically think, "What foods should I stop eating?" Rather, think about what you need more of. For instance, are you not eating enough protein? Try to incorporate more of that! Oftentimes, when you get more of what you need, you naturally eat less of what you don't need as a byproduct.
Don't obsess over calories: Yes, your total daily calorie consumption matters. However, by this point, you know that calories don't tell the full story. It's okay to monitor your calorie intake, but just bear in mind that it's only one piece of a very intricate puzzle.
Avoid diet fads: Our society loves to entice us with pills, potions, and magic tricks that promise quick results. For example, many "detox" and weight loss teas on the market are actually diuretics and laxatives in disguise. Waist trainers make you sweat, which gives the illusion that you're leaning out. However, with both of these things, you're only eliminating liquids from your body after you've already digested the food and calories that you've eaten. These methods are ineffective—you could hit a weight loss plateau or even gain weight. Furthermore, they can actually be dangerous for your health.
Don't deprive yourself: Skipping meals or adopting "Keto" (which can work under the right conditions) might lead to temporary weight loss (just like extremely low-calorie diets), but these habits are hard to sustain and could actually harm your health.
Incorporate strength training: Cardio offers all sorts of benefits, but so does strength training! Having more muscle mass on your body not only means you'll burn more calories at rest, but it gives you an added layer of protection (and no, ladies, weight training won't make you "bulky.") Just be sure that when it comes to physical activity, you vary your workouts between cardio and some sort of resistance training. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can also be good for weight loss.
Mind your gut bacteria: The type of bacteria you have in your gut—more specifically, bacteroidetes—can influence your weight. Some experts call the gut the second brain. Getting that bacteria under control can be a game-changer.
What about semaglutide, ozempic, wegovy (GLP-1 agonists)?
This certainly seems like an easy way to lose weight! Get an injection, skip the gym, and just like magic the weight comes off... if only it were that simple. You should read my recent article on the subject.
There will undoubtedly be reports of serious side effects in the near future. These medications have not been studied in the general population and we already have reports of problems such as muscle loss and lower bone density as part of their overall weight loss. Furthermore, animal studies have shown that semaglutide injections may increase the risk of thyroid cancer, including medullary thyroid carcinoma. Remember: we have no data on long term side effects.
final points of consideration
Metabolism: Some people may have a slower metabolism, which can make it more challenging to lose weight. However, metabolism is influenced by various factors, including genetics, age, and muscle mass.
Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or hormonal imbalances, can affect weight. If you suspect an underlying medical issue, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider.
Medications: Some medications can contribute to weight gain or make weight loss more challenging. If you are taking any medications, discuss their potential effects on weight with your healthcare provider.
Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during menopause, can influence weight.
Stress and Emotional Factors: Stress and emotional factors can lead to overeating or unhealthy eating habits, impacting weight loss efforts. Developing coping mechanisms or seeking support may be beneficial.
Sleep: Lack of sleep can affect hormones related to hunger and satiety, potentially leading to weight gain. Ensuring proper sleep hygiene may support weight loss efforts.
Ultimately it comes down to two things: patience and consistency. Easier said than done, I know. Remember, weight loss is not linear. If you're weighing yourself daily, then you might wake up one morning lighter, and the next morning heavier. This doesn't mean you're not making progress toward a healthy weight. To lose weight, you need to make peace with fluctuations. They're totally normal.
Remember that losing weight is a complex process, and it's not solely determined by a single factor. It often requires a combination of a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and healthy lifestyle habits. If you're struggling with weight loss, schedule a consultation with The Fitness Doctor, and I can provide personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances.