5 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight (Even Though You’re Eating Clean!)
So you’re eating clean, planning meals and hitting the gym on the regular. You feel proud of what you’re putting into your body, and your new lifestyle around food. There’s only one problem…
The weight still isn’t falling off as expected. You keep putting in the work, but the results just aren’t coming. In fact, it’s starting to seem like no matter how hard you try… the scale will.not.budge. It’s a frustrating situation to say the least!
Sound familiar? Whether you have a large amount of weight to lose, or are struggling with those last 5 kilos, this story is not uncommon. And while many people experience amazing weight loss transformations on a paleo or real food diet (woohoo!), not everyone may see the same results so easily.
So where to from here? Before you start considering new diet restrictions or drastically cutting calories, we need to look at some weight loss truths that could be undermining your hard work. You could be just a few important tweaks away from seeing the results you’re looking for!
Read on to learn about the underlying factors that could be sabotaging your weight loss.
The truth about losing weight…
When it comes to weight loss, I’m sure you’re familiar with the old model of “calories in, calories out”. This approach tells us that in order to lose weight, all we must do is eat less and exercise more (often in the form of hours on a treadmill). It’s a simple equation, right?!
But hold it right there! The problem with this model is that it grossly over-simplifies the human body and neglects the importance of food quality and our hormones. Not only that, but this approach relies on solid willpower to consciously create and maintain calorie restriction. It’s exhausting, and requires every ounce of your attention to be focussed on weight loss. Eventually our willpower runs dry (as it is a finite resource)… making this method downright ineffective.
Now, that’s not to say that calories don’t matter at all. In fact, some common weight loss mistakes (even in those following a whole foods or paleo diet) can come back to over eating very energy dense foods (like nuts!) or even emotional over-eating habits. Calories are one piece of the puzzle, but there’s so much more to it than that…
In fact, when it comes to successful, long-term weight loss, there’s something that matters more than calories: hormones.
Successful, long-term weight loss relies on a number of hormones, including: insulin, leptin, our thyroid and stress hormones + more. Without regulating these hormones, losing weight can become extremely difficult (and almost impossible!).
There are a number of common underlying conditions and lifestyle habits that can affect our ability to lose weight. If you’re struggling with stubborn weight loss, one of these underlying factors may be at play:
#1 – Chronic Stress
Can’t seem to rid that extra weight? Stress is likely the culprit – especially if you carry your weight around the middle!
More specifically, the issue here is chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. To recap, when we are faced with some form of stress in our lives (think: sitting in traffic, meeting work deadlines, exams) our HPA-axis or “stress-response-system” kicks in and tells our adrenals to release stress hormones. This includes adrenaline, noradrenaline and – you guessed it – cortisol!
This is a normal and natural response that our ancestors relied upon in acute stress situations (like running from a lion!). However, in this modern day, many of us are suffering from chronic stress – and it’s when this system becomes chronically activated that we can run into weight gain.
So how does cortisol affect our weight? Interestingly, cortisol is known to affect our fat distribution, resulting in greater abdominal and visceral fat… just the kind we don’t want! (1, 2) But perhaps what’s even more worrying here is that visceral fat (the kind that sits around our organs) can raise our risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But that’s not all. Cortisol also makes it hard to lose weight by raising blood sugar and insulin levels… over time potentially contributing to insulin resistance. Chronic stress can also depress thyroid function, contributing to hypothyroid symptoms – one of which is weight gain (but we’ll talk more about thyroid health soon).
The good news is that by taking steps to address and manage stress in your life, you can start shifting that stubborn weight! There are a number of effective tools and practices that you can use to reduce stress naturally such as meditation, journalling and thought work.
However, it’s equally (and possibly even more) important to start addressing the not-so-obvious or “hidden stressors” in your life. Think: overexercising, gut inflammation and poor sleep.
Of course, when trying to lose weight it’s easy to fall into a pattern of overexercising… but this may actually be the #1 thing hindering your weight loss! If you suspect that stress and over-exercising are effecting your fat loss, try limiting intense workouts to no more than 3 sessions per week, practicing gentle exercise (like yoga or walking) on your rest days.
#2 – Gut Dysbiosis
We talk about gut health often here… but could an unhealthy gut really be sabotaging your efforts to lose weight? The answer is a resounding YES!
And we’re not just speaking to those who experience digestive symptoms… In fact, you need not experience any digestive symptoms to have an unhealthy gut. Stubborn weight loss or weight gain could be your only symptom!
Our gut houses nearly 2kg of microbes that form our gut microbiome. That’s about 10x more bacteria than all of the cells of the human body! The diversity and composition of our microbiome has far reaching effects on every area of our health and wellbeing (from skin, to weight, to energy). When this delicate inner ecosystem becomes out of balance – referred to as a “dysbiosis” – we can experience a number of health issues.
The biggest hint that our gut health influences our weight is the difference between the microbiome of obese people and those who are lean. In particular, two dominant strains known as Bacteroidetes and Fermicutes are found in different ratios, with obese people housing fewer Bacteroidetes compared to to lean people – suggesting that the Fermicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio can have an influence on our weight (3).
So how does our gut flora affect weight? Studies have found a number of possible ways including:
- Influencing how much energy or calories are ‘harvested’ from food as it passes through our digestion
- Directing how energy is stored and expended
- Altering our appetite via the hormone leptin (we’ll talk more on leptin soon!)
This is why restoring balance to the microbiome is SO important. Supporting a healthy gut starts with eliminating processed and refined foods, then rebuilding it with gut healing foods and supplements.
Related: Gut Healing Chicken Soup (GF, DF)
#3 – Leaky Gut + Inflammation
Following on from gut dysbiosis, a “leaky gut” may also be affecting your weight loss. In simple terms, a leaky gut (or “increased intestinal permeability”) occurs when the spaces between tight junctions lining our gut start to widen and become “leaky”. As a result, bacteria toxins (known as endotoxin or LPS) and other foreign particles can slip through and initiate a low-grade inflammatory response.
Interestingly, one study found that a leaky gut is associated with increased visceral fat. This may be because as bacterial endoxin “leaks” in, local inflammation occurs in the visceral adipose tissue (4). What’s more, systemic inflammation can also cause leakiness of the brain, potentially leading to inflammation of a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus (5). Over time, inflammation of the hypothalamus could lead to leptin resistance (6).
So let’s break that down. Leptin regulates our appetite and metabolism – essentially sending us the signal saying “Stop eating! We’re full!”. When leptin isn’t working properly, we don’t receive the message and tend to overeat. Over time our metabolism can become impaired, leading to weight gain.
To regulate our leptin and reverse leaky gut, it’s important that we reduce inflammation from the diet (if you haven’t already). This includes inflammatory oils, refined carbohydrates, wheat (as gluten causes leaky gut directly) and other processed foods. Correcting gut dysbiosis, managing stress and sleep should also be a top priority!
Related: 5 Reasons to Live Gluten Free
#4 – Thyroid Imbalance
If you’re struggling to lose weight, you might want to check the health of your thyroid. One of the major roles of the thyroid is to secrete hormones that regulate our metabolism by effecting metabolic pathways that control energy expenditure and balance.
An underactive thyroid (aka hypothyroidism) is when there is a lack of active thyroid hormone. As a result, our resting energy expenditure is reduced – meaning we burn less energy at rest than we would do normally (7).
If you’re concerned you may be suffering from hypothyroidism, other common signs and symptoms to look for include fatigue, cold hands/ feet and dry skin. There are a number of underlying causes of hypothyroidism including Hashimotos, specific nutrient deficiencies and chronic stress.
#5 – Poor Sleep
Sleep is probably one of the most underrated (yet most important!) factors when it comes to health and weight loss. In fact, many studies have shown that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer obesity (8).
So why is sleep so dang important?! Our circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle influences the release of a number of hormones. This includes cortisol and insulin, as well as our appetite regulating hormones, leptin and grehlin.
In particular, a lack of sleep can lead to lower leptin levels (our fullness signal) and higher grehlin levels (which tells us we’re hungry) (9). And its not just about chronic sleep depravation. Even one night of poor sleep could be enough to throw out your hunger hormones (10). The result: you’re naturally more hungry, and more likely to over-eat throughout the day!
Related: How to Sleep Better (5 Natural Tips)
And as if you needed another reason to get your 8 hours of sleep – poor sleep also causes elevated cortisol, decreased insulin sensitivity, and low-grade inflammation in the body (11, 12, 13, 14). This low-grade inflammation can also contribute to leptin resistance (15, 16).
Start improving your sleep today by getting at least 7 – 8 hours per night. Some great ways to start improving your sleep include creating a restorative evening routine, as well as reducing blue light and overstimulation around bed time!
Do you struggle with stubborn weight loss? Share your experience below!