If you've ever struggled with weight gain or obesity, you know that shedding that excess weight oftentimes involves more than a simplistic “eat less, exercise more” approach. There's more to body composition than diet and exercise. That being said, if we nail those two elements most of the time, we'll definitely be on a better path to achieve a healthy weight.
Rarely is there one sole reason why we gain weight in the first place. Likewise, we need to take a broader look at how to effectively shed excess weight and body fat. Often, there are countless lifestyle and environmental factors at play that will determine how our genes express themselves. This is the science of Epigenetics.
In the years we've been working with patients on healthy, sustainable weight loss programs, several common and predictable factors come into play when someone either is not losing their excess weight, or they've reached a plateau.
1. Too much toxicity.
This can be from food, stress, drugs/medication, the environment, movement patterns – a number of sources. Chronic toxicity makes us fat. The toxins are harboured in fat cells as a protective mechanism. Until you address toxicity, you will not achieve your optimal body composition or level of health.
Chronic toxicity and chronic inflammation cause congestion in our cells. We can not get toxins out of the cells effectively, and we can not get proper nutrients in. Also, the function of the hormone receptors on the cell membranes gets skewed. We can end up with insulin resistance and leptin resistance, both of which interfere with our body's ability to metabolize effectively.
Dumping in drugs and supplements thinking this will “fix” things is not the right way to go. Correct the cause. Address the reasons for the toxicity and inflammation in the first place, and be sure to work with the right professionals to help you address this.
2. You think you're eating “healthy”, but you're actually not.
The marketing from the food industry can get to us! Time and time again I hear people choosing products because they said “healthy” or “natural” or “low calorie” or “low fat” or “low carb” on the package. If your diet is primarily from boxes, bags, cans, jars, and another packaging, it's not as healthy as you may think. Eat real food.
3. Too much stress.
Stress is a form of toxicity. Stress is normal. We are supposed to be able to adapt to stress – it's why we have the “fight or flight” response. It's perfect for short-term, acute stress. Unfortunately, our culture seems to suffer from chronic stress! Some sources are blatantly obvious, like financial stress, career stress, relationship stress, and so on.
Others may hide benefit the surface a bit, like sleep deprivation, medication, stress from our toxic diets, excessive “screen time”, sedentary living, too much time in an “urban” setting, traffic, excessive sitting, injury and poor posture, and on and on.
The brain does not care what the source of stress is. It dumps out stress hormones (like cortisol and insulin) all the same. These promote fat storage and muscle breakdown and increase the risk factors for every chronic illness known. Get control of your stress – eliminate the sources of chronic stress that you're able to. Find healthy outlets for the rest of it, like exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, and most definitely get outside and get with nature!
Whether you're taking prescribed drugs or you're self-medicating with over-the-counter concoctions, you need to keep the cumulative effect of these drugs in mind. Drugs alter physiology – they can certainly add to the toxic load, but they may also have the direct effect of adding to our body weight, too. Some are obvious, like steroids that make you want to devour everything in sight, while others can be more insidious. Chronic drug use takes a toll. Buyer beware.
5. It's a “carb” thing.
I do not like to say “low carb” or “no carb” is best, because vegetables are “carbs”, too. But, I think most folks get what I mean with “carbs”. I'm talking the starchy carbs and foods/drinks that convert to sugar very quickly. Avoid excess bread, pasta, crackers, baked goods, cereal, and anything with flour as an ingredient! Avoid processed foods since these can be loaded with hidden sugar. Take it easy on your consumption of fruit – more is not better. The same is true of legumes. Once you've found your groove with less carb intake, cravings tend to subside and insulin gets back in check.
Even if you're eating certainly fewer sugary, starchy carbs, you still may need to consider how many calories you're taking in or have a few more stubborn pounds to go. Remember how much more ‘easily' the pounds came off when you first started … and were really overweight? The same strategies do not always work as you're approaching your optimal body composition. They often can, especially if you're really keeping it clean. But for others, you've got to up your game! Eating without regard to caloric content may not work for those last few pounds. Just because you're loading on grass-fed beef and free-range eggs do not mean you should do so recklessly! Now, do not go switching to low-calorie and diet garbage, either. Keep it real. Just reign it in.
7. Not eating enough.
We see this all the time. A chronic deficiency of calories, that falls short of the body's expenditure of calories, will wreak havoc on your body's metabolism. Certainly, decreasing calories will help you shed pounds … be we can not just keep decreasing calories with no end in sight. The innate intelligence of the body will read this reduced caloric input as a reason to decrease its energy production, decrease its metabolism, and hang onto any excess fat in case the next meal is not coming soon or is short on calories again. You tend to store fat rather than burn it. It's why chronic diet can backfire.
Instead of chronically under-fueling your body by excessively limiting calories, you can try cycling your caloric intake, where you eat more one day and less the next. I'm not suggesting you “super-size” it at the drive-through on those “eat more” days! Keep it clean. Sometimes, throwing in some higher calorie days is enough to jump-start your metabolism.
8. Consuming too much dairy.
While the quality and source of dairy can be an issue, since conventional dairy is flat-out toxic and disgusting, for others, it's simply the inherent properties of dairy that can be more of an issue. Dairy tends to be inflammatory in nature, as well as a trigger for increasing blood sugar more readily than other foods. If you're stuck with your fat loss efforts, at the very least, upgrade to cultured dairy or raw and unpasteurized dairy, or just cut it out altogether.
9 a. Eating “bad” fats.
If you're consuming trans fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, polyunsaturated vegetable oils and the like, it's going to be tough to shed YOUR excess fat. You need fat, no doubt about it. You do NOT need toxic fat – that, your body does not know what to do with. Here, the excess fat storage and growing fat cells as your body harbour the toxicity. Clean it up with real fats like grass-fed butter, pure coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil, to name a few.
9 b. Eating out in restaurants too often.
You just can not control the quality of your food or the methods in which it was prepared, even if you're trying to “be good” by ordering just meat and veggies. The fats and cooking oils are a big problem here, as well as over-consumption with portion sizes that are too big.
10. Cheating and not being honest about it.
If you've too often adopted the mentality of “a little bit here … a little bit there” or “all good things in moderation”, you might be in trouble. If you're still taking in too many tasty toxins, you're just sabotaging your efforts. Every choice does add up. Every calorie does, too. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! I'm all about enjoying life and keeping it real. We just do not get to complain about those last few pounds on the flip side then!
11. Too much reactive or mindless eating.
More often, make eating an intentional process. For so many, we eat when we're stressed, or tired, or depressed, or angry, or lonely, or bored, or watching TV, or angry, or when somebody places food anywhere near us! For starters, be more aware of your eating habits. Then, be responsible for your body. Sit down to eat a meal. Enjoy the company of others. Chew your food properly. Breathe.
12. Consuming too many “pleasure foods.”
You heard that nuts, dark chocolate, and raw local honey are “nutritionally acceptable”, so you eat them without abandon! Look out. These foods are high in calorie content, even though they do have nutritional merit. If you're not losing weight, cool it with your intake of these foods.
13. Over-looking the “non-core” foods.
We tend to think about the big players in a meal, like the meat, veggies, grains and so on, but tend to forget about the cumulative effects of beverages, snack foods, condiments, and all the extras.
In the case of beverages, consider the toxic and blood sugar effects of alcohol, pop, coffee, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice and juice drinks. These are not beneficial to your weight loss efforts. Water is. (Being dehydrated is another reason your weight loss may stall, by the way.)
Dips, dressings, sauces, condiments, and spreads tend to be loaded with sugar derivatives, toxic fats, and artificial ingredients. The same is true of most of what we call “snack foods” – chips, crackers, pretzels, etc.
To say these all add up would be an incredible understatement! Consider not only the additional calories but more importantly, the increased toxic load.
14. Take out the trash!
Clean out your pantry, fridge, freezer, cupboards – anywhere you keep your food stash. Get rid of the junk that will not help you on this journey. This should happen at the beginning of any intentional weight loss (or health gain) effort. Out of sight – out of mind – out of your belly! Do not bring garbage into your house. It will sabotage your efforts.
15. Your self-talk is lying to you.
Why are you trying to lose weight? What pain are you trying to avoid? What pleasure are you seeking? Know your reasons inside and out. Your daily self-talk needs to reflect these new and improved beliefs.
The more you say accurate and empowering things to yourself, the easier it will become to consistently take the “right” actions and make the “right” choices because these better ‘choices will be aligned with your beliefs about why you're doing this. If your self-talk tells you that one little dough will not hurt, it's lying to you! You've forgotten your reasons and your beliefs. Be accurate with yourself.
16. Your eating schedule is all over the place.
A number of studies indicate that having a fairly predictable eating schedule can positively affect our metabolism and fat loss efforts overall. Waiting too long between fueling sessions and eating far too late in the evening (especially if you're eating starchy carbs and sugar) can be seriously detrimental to your weight loss efforts.
17. Gut permeability and food sensitivity.
You may have an issue with damage to your intestinal lining due to various lifestyle factors. This allows penetration of this critical barrier and a consequent inflammatory immune reaction as food molecules that should never pass through are now allowed to do so. We can be inaccurately labelled as having a “food sensitivity” when really, it's a gut issue resulting in a chronic immune response. In addition to seriously affecting your long-term health, this can cause annoying little things like abdominal bloat. Until you repair the gut, sensitivity-type symptoms will continue to plague you.
18. Not enough movement and activity.
Motion is life. We need to move! We know that lean muscle is our fat burning furnace, and that we develop muscle through resistance training. However, do not overlook the incredible benefits of lower intensity, steady motion (around 55-75% of your maximum heart rate), too. While high-intensity interval exercise has serious fat burning merit, this steady-state has its own benefit as well. This should form the foundation of your movement for life.
The 3 keys to effective exercise are diverse, (occasional) intensity, and consistency. However, there is such a thing as too much exercise. What makes exercise so effective in the first place is that it's a “stressor”. It challenges our bodies and demands an upgrade as a result. However, too much and exercise becomes a “chronic stressor”. Remember what chronic stress causes? Chronic release of stress hormones, and chronic excess fat, chronic hormonal imbalance, and chronic loss of health. Balance is key.
Chronic cardio: You can go too far with your steady-state, low-intensity activity. When you stay above 75% of your maximum heart rate for extended periods of time, you're burning glycogen. Your body, in turn, craves more sugar to replenish what you're burning through. You can predict where that may lead you! Occasionally, you will gain weight, lose muscle, release more cortisol, and sabotage all your efforts. I see this in the long-term marathoners and ultra-marathoners I've worked with. Again, think ‘balance'.
* If you start losing muscle, you will not lose excess fat as effectively.
20. Muscle mass.
When you're incorporating resistance training in your exercise routine, you should not only be dropping weight from shedding fat, but you should also be adding lean muscle mass and improving your bone density. This is a very good thing. Do not get too hung up on what your bathroom scale says because it might not explain this effect to you all that clearly! If you're a numbers person and simply must have objective data, get a body fat percentage test done, or just simply measure your waist every week or so.
21. No sprinting
Many people assume they're good-to-go as long as they're getting lots of cardio and some resistance training. If you're still trying to lose weight and fat, please do not overlook sprinting. Nothing will help you get leaner faster than sprinting.
If you've never done them, or you're very overweight or out of shape, ease into them. Once you've gained your feet, add a short sprinting routine to your schedule once a week to jump start your weight loss efforts. Google it to get ideas of how to do an efficient routine that includes bursts of intensity followed by short recovery periods. Do not worry if your sprints are not breaking any speed records – just work at your maximum effort.
22. You're not getting enough sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation is a source of chronic toxicity. There are a few problems with this scenario. We know that toxicity causes the excessive production of stress hormones, like cortisol, that causes us to store fat. Another is that, when we're not sleeping well, we miss out on a freebie fat burning hormone – growth hormone – that is supposed to be released as we're in a state of deep sleep. Finally, if you have to drag your weary buttocks out of bed in the morning without the proper sleep and restoration, you're probably wearing your grumpy pyjama pants and are not in the best condition to make fabulous and healthy lifestyle choices right from the get-go.
23. Patience & Consistency
Slow and steady wins this race. When you do right enough, long enough, the end results become more predictable. This is a lifestyle, not a short-cut or fad diet. It's the things you do consistently that will shape your results. Some people are going to drop weight almost instantly when they drop the carbs, sugar, grains, bad fats, toxic dairy, gluten and so forth. Others will take a few weeks for their bodies to kick it into gear. Either way, you've just got to feel confident that you're doing the right things for your body, regardless of how quickly it's showing you the results you'd like. This is about gaining health … not just losing weight. They have to go hand-in-hand in order for your success to be sustainable.
24. You're obsessing.
When weight loss, or nutrition, or supplements, or calorie counts, or exercise becomes your sole focus, we're in trouble. Becoming extreme is not the goal here. This is about living a healthy, happy life, remember? Of course diet and exercise are critically important. However, there's more to life than psycho-analyzing every morsel of food in sight or trying every “miracle” supplement out there. The stress of becoming extreme and obsessive will sabotage your efforts. Eat real food, move your body regularly (sometimes with intensity), enjoy people, and enjoy the process.
25. You're already there.
Did you ever think that you're already at your body's healthy weight and composition? Maybe that's why you're not dropping any more pounds. So what if you do not look like the cover model on a fitness magazine – you might have reached optimum health and function for YOU.
Our ideal goal here should be to achieve a state of optimal cell function, or homeostasis, where everything's working well together in a state of balance. When that's happening, our metabolism is doing its job properly, we feel good, we look good, we're functioning “good”, and we're healthy for the long run.
I've got news for you. Often, we tend to reach that state of optimal cell function with a body fat percentage a bit higher than what you're seeing in magazines and in fitness competitors. I'm absolutely not knocking them, but it's important to point out that the major have done some extreme training and dieting in order to achieve that look for a certain event or time period. It's awesome to see, it's just not necessarily a sustainable way of life, nor does it need to promote optimal cell function for the long run.
If your body is leaner, more energetic, more capable, more balanced, and you've reduced your risk factors for all chronic illness, then it would behove you to enjoy it and enjoy your new, healthy life!