Weight loss is a complex conversation and one that is had at great length this time of year. The common view on weight loss is from a reductionistic lens and it is centered on the calories in/out hypothesis which says to eat less and move more. The common narrative relies on willpower to make dietary and exercise choices that result in weight loss. While the importance of nutrition and appropriate movement in the context of weight management cannot be overlooked, the topic has a lot more nuance.
Diets, counting calories, counting macros or restricting certain food groups are not the answer to sustainable weight loss, and in fact, these modalities often prevent long-term weight loss from being obtainable.
When looking to regulate weight, there is a lot more that can be done than adopting the calories in/out method. Here are the top 3 overlooked reasons that prevent safe, healthy and long-term weight loss that don’t have to do with calories or movement.
- You’re Stressed Out
The chemical and biological cascades that happen during periods of stress can halt weight loss and prompt the body to hold onto excess and unnecessary fat.
This largely results from the presence of the main stress hormone, cortisol, as it has a big impact on metabolism.
Cortisol, when present in the long-term, increases blood sugar by breaking down the sugar that is stored in the liver. Insulin is the hormone responsible for balancing blood sugar. It does this by taking it out of the blood and into the cells.
This is important as insulin is known as an anabolic hormone. This means that it helps tissues to grow- including fat cells. Insulin inhibits fat from being used as fuel and tells the body to instead store it.
Is it impossible to lose weight when stressed? Definitely not, but it does make it a lot more difficult as insulin is higher than normal.
Nutritionist Tip: use an adaptogen such as reishi or rhodiola for support during times of stress. You may be surprised by the impacts this has on overall body composition!
- Your Gut Microbiome Is Imbalanced
The gut regulates a large percent of human physiology and ideally, we want to have more friendly bacteria than pathogenic/harmful bacteria. In the context of weight management, dysbiosis, the technical name for an imbalanced gut microbiome contributes to increased weight.
The bacteria in the gut determine how many calories we absorb- and research shows that a healthy gut microbiome is able to regulate the number of calories absorbed based, more or less, on needs. It is important to note that the difference is subtle, yet worth mentioning as it has proven to be clinically significant in the study of calories and metabolism.
The bacteria in the gut also influences our food choices. When there is an unideal ratio between the good and bad bacteria, and dysbiosis is present, chemicals get sent to the brain that cause us to have cravings for sugar and fatty foods. The very foods that are linked to weight gain and obesity. This is because sugar is often the preferred food choice for the pathogenic bacteria and they communicate their survival needs through chemical signals.
Nutritionist Tip: Start to regulate the gut through using a digestive enzyme. Digestive enzymes break down food and reduce the likelihood of food fermenting in the digestive tract. Most people have a decreased capacity to adequately produce the necessary digestive enzymes, and adding them in is the first step to promoting a healthy gut flora!
- You’re Not Getting A Good Quality Sleep
Sleep is an essential component to sustainable weight management. Characteristics of a good sleep are: sleeping for 7-9 hours, waking up feeling rested and not waking up during the night.
When quality of sleep is compromised, it becomes difficult to lose weight and gaining weight is often seen due to sleep's influence over hormones.
Research shows that with poor quality or not enough sleep two hormones, leptin and ghrelin become dysfunctional. Leptin is the hormone of satiety- it tells the body when to stop eating. Ghrelin on the other hand, is the hunger hormone, it tells us to keep eating. These hormones work in conjunction with each other. When sleep is compromised leptin is down-regulated and ghrelin becomes up-regulated- causing us to eat more.
Poor sleep has been shown to increase the number of calories consumed in the following day by up to 26%.
Sleep impacts how much and what types of food we eat to a much larger extent than influencing leptin and ghrelin- and poor sleep patterns lead to metabolic dysfunction which leads to increased weight.
Nutritionist Tip: utilize melatonin to set the trajectory for deep, restful sleeps. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that promotes healthy weight by encouraging fat to be used as energy. You could also try a calming herbal tincture- which promotes sleep and reduces stress.
It is discouraging going from diet to diet. To lose weight, only to gain it back plus some. This weight fluctuation can be hard on our physical body and on our mental landscape. When it comes to obtaining our healthiest weight, more than willpower is required and as we can see- only taking into considerations the number of calories coming in vs being burned discounts the physiological foundations that determine 1) the need for calories and 2) the reason we consume the types of food we do. Oftentimes cravings and weight gain are information, they are a sign that something needs to shift for us to live long, healthy lives! As we head into the new year- be weary of programs that promise to help you lose weight with special diets, products or gadgets!
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin