Can’t lose weight? There is more to it than just calories

There is far more to food than calories, and calories are not tiny creatures living in your wardrobe. They are actually units used to measure energy we get from food. What you eat fuels every single reaction and cell in your body, so the more varied and diverse the diet, the more chances you have of providing your body with all the required nutrients. If you focus on calories, you only focus on how much you eat in terms of calories, but you need to consider WHAT you eat and even WHEN you eat too.

There are many fad diets and weight loss plans out there but they’re not something I would recommend. They may allow you to lose some weight in a short period of time, but in the long-term, they can be damaging to your health. Eating nourishing real foods is a far better option, even if it means the weight loss comes at a slower rate.

If you struggle to lose those few extra pounds even though you’ve followed all the weight loss advice given to you, then there might be something else preventing you shedding weight.

Below are some common misconceptions about weight loss and what to look into when the weight loss doesn’t happen despite your best efforts.

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Food and weight loss misconceptions

  • “Calorie restriction will help me lose weight” – not necessarily
    • Fasting and calorie restriction can be beneficial in certain situations but long-term calorie restricted diets often have the opposite effect on weight loss and can often leave you feeling burnt out and exhausted. By not providing enough calories, your body sees it as starvation (a highly stressful situation for the body) and goes into a preservation mode. This means your body will lower its metabolic rate in order to conserve calories, and so will store the food you eat as fat.
  • “Eating fat makes me fat” – not all the time
    • Based on research, low-carbohydrate (low sugar) increase metabolism better than low-fat diets (1). Fat has been demonised for decades but actually we need fat, and to be precise, we need good fats (think Omega 3 and 6, olive oil, avocados) in our diet to flourish, and yes, even to lose weight (2). Fats are part of every cell in our body, therefore, they are necessary for proper brain function, hormone production, to absorb certain nutrients and to combat inflammation.
  • ”Reducing carbs will help me lose weight” – it depends
    • If you have a sedentary lifestyle or can only do a small amount of exercise due to pain or health conditions, lowering your carbohydrate intake may help you lose weight faster. But if you are fairly active, or have tried a lower carbohydrate diet without success, having a moderate carbohydrate diet can stimulate fat loss.

Glucose (aka sugar) is converted into fat for storage by the body, so eating too much sugar makes you put on weight.

Tip 1

Eat plenty of protein and fibre. Having good quality protein and fibre in your diet will keep you full for longer, resulting in less consumed calories.

Tip 2

Eat simple foods. If you buy fresh produce and prepare your own meals (which will nourish you and will keep you full for longer) you won’t have to count calories. People tend to count calories if they buy processed packaged foods that have labels with a calories breakdown on them.

Tip 3

Spice up your life. Keep in mind that simple foods don’t have to be bland, there is a world of spices out there you can experiment with. Many of which are good for your body.

Exercise and weight loss misconceptions

  • “Cardio is the best form of exercise for weight loss”

Any exercise, including walking and yoga, improves insulin resistance so doing any form of exercise you enjoy is important. However, for weight loss, it’s worth considering weight resistance together with your cardio exercises (3). It allows you to increase your muscle mass, which in turn means you can burn more calories. It also means your muscles utilise glucose better, without relying on insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone so by having sugar you increase your insulin levels. And if you have more sugar than your body can process, this extra sugar is stored as fat, especially around your organs (so-called visceral fat).

  • “Gym workout after work is enough” – not necessarily

It’s been shown that a sedentary lifestyle is harmful – it can stall weight loss (4) and reduce the benefits of your exercise programme (5). It’s important to do so-called “non-exercise” physical activity throughout the day to avoid sitting too much. This can include walking/cycling to work, standing up in meetings, taking stairs instead of the lift, working at a standing desk and taking standing/walking breaks every hour.

When diet and exercise isn’t enough

Losing weight isn’t just about diet and exercise. If you have sorted out your diet and are exercising but with no obvious results, there are other things that may be preventing you from losing weight.

  • Chronic stress leads to high levels of the stress hormones (cortisol & adrenaline). Chronically high levels of adrenaline and cortisol can lead to poor sleep or insomnia, anxiety, headaches, feeling of tired but wired, sugar cravings and weight gain. We are more likely to eat more after a stressful event, and if the foods we pick are full of sugar (which they are likely to be), the extra sugar that our body won’t use will be converted into a fat and stored as a fatty tissue, usually around the belly (6).
  • Sleep deprivation makes us hungrier and makes us choose sugary foods over more nutritious ones (7).
  • An underactive thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) and this, in turn, slows down your metabolism and will hinder your weight loss plans (8).
  • Oestrogen dominance and insulin resistance can prevent you from losing weight.
    • Too much oestrogen, or too little progesterone, causes difficulty losing weight (9).
    • Insulin resistance happens when the cells in your body don’t respond to insulin very well. Insulin allows glucose to enter your cells to be used for energy. If you consume more sugar than the insulin in your body can process, the excess will move around your body rather than being absorbed by the cells. This damages your blood vessels, and eventually, it’ll be stored as fat (10). Think of insulin as a fat storage hormone – if insulin is high, you won’t be able to lose weight.
  • Compromised gut health – gut dysbiosis (a harmful composition of gut bacteria aka microbiome) and increased permeability (aka ‘leaky gut’) are strongly associated with obesity (11).
  • Leptin resistance – cell resistance to leptin (leptin decreases hunger and appetite) can contribute to obesity as your brain doesn’t listen to leptin and may even think you’re starving and makes you hungrier so you eat more (12).
  • Anaemia – obesity is significantly associated with iron deficiency (13). Low iron means there is a decreased ability of red blood cells to deliver oxygen to cells. Broadly speaking, oxygen and glucose are needed so that our cells can produce energy (or burn the calories if you wish). If oxygen transport to cells is compromised, you’ll not produce enough energy to fuel your body’s processes, which then directly impacts your ability to lose weight.
  • Vitamin D deficiency can be another piece of the puzzle. Correcting vitamin D deficiency will increase insulin sensitivity – this means your cells will be more eager to allow glucose into the cells, instead of it being stored as belly fat (14).
  • Heavy metals and environmental chemicals are able to interfere in the endocrine (hormonal) regulation of energy metabolism and fatty tissue structure. Mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic, along with compounds found in pesticides, herbicides, industrial and household products, plastics, detergents, flame retardants and ingredients in personal care products can cause weight gain by disrupting hormonal balance in the body. These type of chemicals are often called endocrine disruptors. Arsenic and cadmium is especially associated with weight gain in postmenopausal women. (15)(16)

Next steps

Healthy and sustainable weight loss takes time and dedication, especially if there are underlying health problems. I can help you review your diet, lifestyle and investigate any possible underlying causes that can be preventing you from achieving your health and weight goals. There is an option of looking into lab testing so that we can find the root cause of the problem quicker and be more precise with interventions. But that’s something we can discuss on the call or during a consultation.

If you’re interested in long-lasting results, without ‘lose weight fast’ gimmicks which can leave you fatter and sicker, please book a free 30-min inquiry call and let’s have a chat.

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