Weight loss can be a lifelong struggle for millions of people. Crash and fad diets, or trying the next weight loss magic product can go on for years with little or no success. The inability to lose weight and keep it off can be deflating and discouraging with no end in sight.
Conventional wisdom and society say that weight loss is just a matter of "calories in, calories out," that if you just restrict the food you eat, you will lose weight. The reality is that, for many people, sustainable weight loss is just not that simple.
Weight loss resistance is multifaceted and complex, with no simple "quick fix" solution. In Functional Medicine, it's my goal to investigate the underlying reasons of why people suffer from chronic issues like weight-loss resistance. Your body is interconnected by an intelligent web of communication lines, so weight loss, like any other process, is affected by a variety of factors across your entire system.
Here are seven potential problems to take into consideration so you can overcome weight-loss resistance once and for all.
1. Leptin Resistance
Your fat cells aren't just some unsightly nuisances that jiggle and make clothes not fit; they're actually an intelligent part of your endocrine (hormonal) system. Fat cells produce a hormone called leptin. One of leptin's jobs is to tell your brain to use the body's fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when leptin is not recognized by the body, specifically the hypothalamic cells of your brain. Your body then thinks it's in starvation mode, which makes the body want to store more fat.
2. Insulin Resistance
Just like leptin resistance, insulin resistance is not a hormonal deficiency but a hormonal resistance pattern. Most people know insulin resistance when it comes to type II diabetes, but insulin resistance is seen in millions of people who have not progressed to the full blown diabetic disease. This pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome is marked by this resistance to insulin. This means your body is producing insulin but your body is not using it properly. The problem here is insulin is a fat storing hormone, which makes weight loss an uphill battle for many.
3. Adrenal Dysfunctions
Your adrenal glands are another key player in your endocrine system. One of the adrenal glands' many jobs is to produce cortisol, your body's stress hormone. When you body is producing excess cortisol, this can cause your body to hold on to weight. I track my patient's cortisol levels throughout the day to see if high cortisol levels or an altered cortisol rhythm is a factor in their case.
4. Thyroid Problems
A well-functioning thyroid is essential for many different reasons; one of them is the ability to lose weight. Typically, when someone is having difficulty losing weight, he'll ask to have his thyroid checked. If the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is "normal," the person will generally be told there's nothing wrong with him and he just needs to eat less food. Looking at just TSH is a drastically incomplete view of the thyroid and weight loss resistance. I have written extensively about uncovering undiagnosed thyroid problems, and to learn more about underlying thyroid issues you can go here.
5. Estrogen/Progesterone Imbalances
The balance between progesterone and estrogen is essential for optimal health in women. Estrogen imbalances are a factor I see in many patients struggling with weight-loss resistance. Tracking female hormone levels for a month via salivary testing can give insight into this complex factor in health and weight loss.
6. Gut Problems
You can't fully understand weight loss until you understand your gastrointestinal system. This amazing system of your body comprises about 80 percent of your immune system and is home to trillions of bacteria, collectively referred to at the microbiota. Our bodies are actually more bacteria than human, and at the gene level bacteria outnumber our human genes anywhere from 150-300 to 1! An exciting and growing field of research is looking at the microbiome and its relationship to how we feel, think and, yes, how we manage our weight.
Environmental toxins or the products we use in our house and in our bodies can have a significant effect on our ability to lose weight. Running labs to look at toxins, such as heavy metals, is another piece of the puzzle to understanding weight loss resistance.
There's usually not a quick and easy answer for sustainable weight loss. Comprehensive diagnostics and a customized integrative health program can address these underlying and interconnected factors.