Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (Adv Dip Nut Med, BHSc Nut)
Weight loss isn’t always as simple as calories in vs calories out, and this confusion can leave many of us feeling defeated and frustrated after trying time and time again to reach our goals. What many don’t often realise is that there are so many other players involved when it comes to our weight. The body can often resist weight loss purely form a survival mechanism but with hormones, stress, lifestyle and environmental influences mixed in it can create a whole cocktail of roadblocks stopping you from reaching your goal.
Stress can inhibit weight loss, this is largely due to elevations our stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol disrupts our appetite and leads to increased weight that’s predominantly stored around the abdomen. When stressed we are in a state of sympathetic nervous system dominance, this is also known as our ‘fight or flight response’. When in this state blood sugar levels rise and fall that may trigger cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugars.
What can you do?
Focusing on stress reduction either through lifestyle practices like gentle exercise, meditation and mindfulness, Epsom salt baths and use of essential oils, as well as diet to include more healthy fats, quality proteins, and smart carbs. Not to mention specific nutrients like magnesium and B group vitamins, these are best sourced from a qualified practitioner like me for the appropriate script.
#2 Over-Exercising and/or Under Eating
This is another form of stress, and particularly important for women to note. Too much exercise can place too much of a stress on the body and when combined with calorie restriction, this can trigger a starvation response, signalling to the body that there aren’t enough resources and now is not the time to lose any more! Exercise also increases the elimination of estrogens and simultaneously reduces the production of estrogen – this may be of benefit with women with estrogen levels that are too high, but a deficiency of estrogen can also lead to weight gain – more on this to come!
What can you do?
Take a break, take a long walk and swap out your CrossFit or HIIT sessions to more outdoor walks, pilates or a Barre class to minimise that cortisol production but still, provide the many benefits of movement. Focus on nourishment at meal times, work with a practitioner to put together an appropriate meal plan for you that will give your body the nutrients it needs for pre and post exercise as well as the correct macronutrients needed to support healthy weight loss.
Getting quality sleep and the right quantity of hours of sleep is crucial for healthy weight loss and body composition. Studies have found that those who slept between 3.5-5.5 hours a night consume nearly 385 more calories the next day compared to those who sleep between 7-10 hours. Lack of sleep also increases your risk of chronic disease, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression and many more.
What can you do?
Focus on sleep hygiene as well as including dietary and lifestyle practices that will promote restful, restorative sleep. See these tips to get a good nights sleep here.
We may not be aware of the toxins we are exposed to, but it’s now estimated that food alone is sprayed with toxins in numbers that are 17 times greater than what they were 40 years ago providing us with a chemical cocktail of toxic substances. What’s more is that for many of us before we leave the house we have already exposed ourselves to an alarming amount of different chemicals and pollutants. They are in skin care, makeup, cleaning products, cookware, electronic devices, car fumes, factories, in our food and drinks, through alcohol and even coffee consumption. Toxicity places an additional stress on the body, which as we have discussed, can lead to obstacles with healthy weight loss and many of these substances now being shown to disrupt our hormonal systems, wreaking havoc on our body.
Vitamin D and calcium work together to promote weight loss yet we are living in a culture that is largely deficient in vitamin D, common skin care products contain substances that strip our skin of the compounds needed to convert the rays from the sun into active vitamin D in the body.
What can we do?
Detox! Take a good inventory of your household, your workplace and the environments you spend a lot of your time in. You can either go all out and throw out everything or work through it one item at a time consciously swapping over chemical-laden products for natural alternatives. Using food, olive oil or coconut oil works wonders in terms of moisturiser, you can use essential oils with baking or bicarb soda for cleaning, or fill a spray bottle with water, vinegar, and lemon essential oil as a surface spray and wipe. I use essential oils instead of perfume, I don’t wear deodorant (eating clean and keeping clean fights and funky smells) and I clean my teeth with baking soda toothpaste. There are many different options to support your low-tox lifestyle! Getting adequate sunlight for that vitamin D! Being outdoors for 20 minutes at least with skin exposed in large enough areas to increase absorption - think tops of legs, arms and chest.
For more advice on cosmetics and beauty products, I encourage you to check out Emily Banks from Depths of Beauty she is a wealth of knowledge and an incredible resource.
#5 Poor Gut Function
The way we digest, extract and absorb the nutrients from the foods we eat is pretty important. With any digestive disturbance, it’s important to investigate with a qualified practitioner to get to the root of the cause. The microbiome plays an important role in metabolism, food cravings, and nutrient absorption and this may need to be addressed, pesticides on foods, antibiotic use, chronic stress, fibre deficient diets and use of microwaves can all disrupt our microbiome and lead to dysbiosis. Parasites are also very common and can cause nutrient deficiencies, bloating, fatigue and changes to appetite. There may be specific foods that cause an immune response, triggering a cascade of processes that may result in inflammation, further sustaining weight loss resistance.
What can we do?
For an individualised approach and appropriate prescription I would encourage you to work alongside a practitioner, I see many clients for digestive complaints and all will involve a completely different approach to their treatment. Simple dietary tips to support gut function is to get adequate fibre, lots of colour and antioxidant, drink plenty of water and even trial the inclusion of fermented foods. Please note that when trying ferments for the first time start slow, depending on the state of your microbiome you may respond with some bloating or gas. Fermented foods are histamine-containing foods as well as bone broth which is also important for gut health, to address histamine issues please work with a practitioner for support.
#6 Hormone Imbalances
The thyroid gland is responsible for the metabolic functions within the body. It secreted hormones T3 and T4 which are important when it comes to our weight and body composition. The intricate hormonal dance we have going in on can be disrupted, the thyroid is particularly sensitive to a diet that’s low in iodine, or too high in iodine, toxicity, and stress as well as inflammation and autoimmunity. With this, the thyroid can produce too much or too little T4 and this can impact on your metabolism.
Steroid hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone also need to be in balance. Estrogen deficiency can occur just as easily as estrogen dominance can. This can happen in cases of increased stress as the body’s precursor to these hormones is also needed to create cortisol so the body will make more cortisol to get through the stress at the expense of our sex hormones. Too much exercise as we have discussed will also promote estrogen excretion and reduce the production of it.
Fat cells act as a secondary source of estrogen. So, when estrogen is low, the body will create more fat cells necessary to maintain adequate levels. The body is resourceful like that!
What can you do?
Stress reduction, dietary analysis and nutritional treatments work beautifully to balance hormones. If you suspect a hormone imbalance is going on definitely go and speak with your health care practitioner to conduct the appropriate testing to confirm. Symptoms experienced with thyroid imbalances include:
Multiple bowel movements
Thin, brittle hair
This would indicate an overactive thyroid.
Additionally, there are symptoms such as:
And these would point more towards an underactive thyroid gland.
Your medications may be playing a part – and this is in no way to tell you to stop taking them, but to learn to be mindful of the implications on your weight that they can cause. Common culprits are the oral contraceptive pill, antidepressants, steroids, and angiotensin-receptor blockers.
What can you do?
If your medication can be changed, then work with your prescribing physician to slowly come off them. If it’s the pill you’re on for contraception only then there are other options you can explore, if it's for skin or period complaints it’s worthwhile working with a practitioner to get to the root of the problem – is it a zinc deficiency? Do you have endometriosis or PCOS? Are your natural hormones off balance? These are worthwhile investigations to bring your body back to a state of balance.
#8 Overeating or simply eating the wrong thing
We are all uniquely and wonderfully made, meaning that one diet fits all is not a sound approach to health or weight. For many we simply may not be eating the right amounts, or tricked into consuming ‘superfoods’ that are not so super after all, foods like the trendy acai bowl, many store-bought dips, dressings and condiments, marinades and seasonings in foods, vegetable oils used like grapeseed, sunflower, canola, safflower and ‘natural’ sweeteners like agave.
What can you do?
Keep it simple, choose to eat SLOW:
Studies have shown that diets that are moderate-low in palatability work well in supporting weight loss. Consuming adequate protein to increase thermogenesis through digestion as well as taking ‘diet breaks’ to help lower the body’s set point and also give you a break from it all. These are all areas worthy of another article in and of itself, but we can see from this one alone just how many other factors there are to consider when it comes to weight loss.
I always encourage you to work alongside a practitioner to support you, give sound advice and prescribe necessary nutrients for you. We are all so beautifully unique and this is something to treasure and work with it, rather than work against it by taking the advice from Dr. Google or the latest celebrity endorsement.
Yours in health,