Why Eating Real Food Might Not Equal Losing Weight

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

By Carla Hernandez, Nutritional Therapist at Wise Roots Nutrition

real foodI have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I was a chubby little girl only to have lost weight in my teen years from becoming a competitive runner and on the verge of being diagnosed with anorexia. I then went on to college to battle with the freshman fifteen, only to find myself binging and purging as well as developing exercise bulimia as a desperate measure to control my weight.

Little did I know going through this, there was more going on inside me than just extra calories. Being a nutrition major at the time was another problem, as I saw my weight issue as me not being disciplined enough or working out hard enough (even though I lived in the gym 6 days a week from 1-2 hours a day). So why am I telling you this? To illustrate the prevalence of the huge misconception that weight loss is only influenced by what we eat.

Like many, I was taught weight loss was a matter of a simple equation of calories in, calories out, never questioning it. This mindset is why the low fat, low calorie mentality exists.

This same mindset is to blame for the constant increase in not just weight, but obesity which is a large risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke, Cancer, Metabolic Syndrome, Sleep Apnea , Osteoarthritis, Reproductive Problems, Gallstones and much more . This paradigm is also creating a generation of malnourished unhealthy young adults who are harming themselves in an effort to keep thin.

I think everyone can agree that diet plays a significant part in the weight loss equation with real food quality of particular importance too. Most of you reading this I’m sure have already adapted a healthy, real food diet. For some people this is really all they need for the weight to come off, but for many it doesn’t budge, or it’s just not enough.

As a Nutritional Therapist, my take on weight loss is looking at more than just the diet someone is consuming, especially if they have been eating a lot of real food .. either a WAPF or Paleo style diet for a significant amount of time. At that point, weight loss is a symptom of something greater happening in the body rather than the main focus.

If you are struggling with weight loss, these are some of the underlying causes that are worth looking into if eating real food alone isn’t helping you with your goal:

Reasons Why Real Food Might Not Equal Weight Loss

  • Digestion– This is huge, and most of the time extremely overlooked as a means to address weight loss. Think about it, if you have any kind of digestive symptoms, be it bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn, and/ or indigestion, you are not breaking down or absorbing your food properly. Weight loss will not happen if the body is malnourished and unhealthy. That’s the least concern of the body, therefore it will focus on repairing and bringing down the inflammation before it even thinks of shrinking fat cells, especially if it doesn’t have the proper energy to do so. Even then, that could be just the tip of the ice berg. Looking into bacterial overgrowth and even parasites can do a number on one’s digestive system.
  • Food Sensitivities– Even certain healthy whole foods can still be an irritant at times. The good news is sensitivities are not allergies and can be reversed, but this requires eliminating certain foods that an individual may be reacting to for a period of time while their body heals. Symptoms of sensitivities can include headaches, fatigue, joint pain, anxiety, mood changes/ disorders, skin conditions, inflammation and more.
  • Yeast (Candida) Overgrowth– Having the proper ratio of healthy intestinal bacteria is vital to your overall health and your success in losing weight. Correcting imbalances can diminish cravings for sugar and sweets, improves digestion and absorption of nutrients, and reduces the amount of toxins the body is exposed to.
  • Stress! This is another biggie that is not typically discussed in terms of weight loss, but is crucial! This is directly linked to maintaining healthy adrenal function which regulates cortisol levels, sex hormones (which is another underlying cause of weight gain), and of course adrenaline and epinephrine- which put you in a state of fight or flight. Stress eats up B vitamins, Magnesium, hinders digestion, and causes imbalances in blood sugar that cause the adrenals to work overtime.
  • Toxin Overload– Today we are more toxic than ever before in history. Our bodies are made to only process a certain amount of toxins at one time. We are now getting overloaded from environmental toxins from the air and our surroundings, the water we drink/ bathe in, the foods we eat, cleaning products, beauty products, clothes, furniture, you name it, its toxic! Bottom line, we must limit our exposure as much as possible, and more importantly, take a pro active approach to support our body’s ability to decongest and rid these toxins properly to get the stress off our detoxification organs (i.e. LIVER!). The body can then focus on ridding toxins from fat cells which is where they accumulate!
  • Dysfunction in the Master Glands– In your brain you have 2 main glands that control everything else your body does to communicate and function, the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary gland. If the master gland signal becomes weak or impaired, the rest of the body begins to malfunction. Making sure adequate amounts of amino acids are being utilized and getting enough essential fatty acids, along with a diet rich in vitamins and minerals is crucial for support. Possible cause of the weakening of these master glands can include a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, digestive problems, stress, and even heavy metal toxicity.

As you can see there is far more to consider than just real food quality, calories and exercise for addressing weight loss. These issues are just some of the multiple imbalances that could be present. The good news is that most of these concerns overlap.

I was finally able to stabilize my weight without obsessing about what I ate, and killing myself at the gym after I understood the imbalance and deficiencies that were present. Addressing the bigger picture by focusing on getting your body healthy and developing a supportive lifestyle is the most successful route for long term weight maintenance.

I address these issues and more in great depth in a 12-week, online weight loss program called Get At The Roots.  Check it out if you are interested in finding out more!

About the Author

Carla is a Nutritional Therapist who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She is the founder of Wise Roots Nutrition, which is an integrative approach that focuses on a customized plan to support the root cause of a person’s health challenge.

Carla educates and empowers you to make responsible and healthful food choices that restore balance and proper function to your body. She believes in finding the root cause of a condition, rather than just treating the symptoms. Carla specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.

Sign up to get Carla’s weekly nutrition tips, ideas, and the latest health information on her site, wiserootsnutrition.com or connect with her on Facebook.

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Comments (53)

  1. Pingback: Eating Real Food? Why This Might Not Equal Losing the Weight | Advice for Life Naturopathic Clinic. Call us today: 416-357-9561

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    • I would add to the list of factors psychological issues to make things even more complicated. Dr. Mercola has some articles on this.

      I recently spoke with one of the most active members in my local WAPF community in Pasadena, California, and this prison told me she put on 20+ pounds doing WAPF diet. She believes it is the modern hybrid grains after reading Wheat Belly.

  4. I think there are other factors that are in consideration. One, people who eat healthier, cleaner food may really like it and eat more because of that. Two, healthier in some minds means “diet” and thus it must be lower in calories etc. — right? Nope. Three, eating healthier food is most likely to happen in a home. The food is probably part of a relaxed atmosphere and maybe the food is served family style, with open access. We have learned to have “buffet style” in the kitchen, preparing a limited amount. I also take a portion of what I prepare and put it in the freezer for a quick meal.

  5. I’m so glad you’re writing about this. And relieved. I was always naturally thin but had a lot of health struggles. When I first went grain-free I dropped 20 lbs but still struggled with heart problems. Then I added more healthy fat into my diet. (And occasional grains. But the fat was the biggest change.) Good fats, the thing that seemingly everyone in the real food persuasion guarantees will slim you down. 1 year and 30lbs later I am not happy about the weight at all but counting my blessings: I am no longer hyperthyroid, my digestion has improved, I’ve been off the beta-blocker for 8 months, my chronic pain has lessened and my struggles with depression are fewer and farther between. I’m happy and almost pain-free. I have the energy to workout 15 minutes a day. I do hope that given time, I will get to a place of healing where I lose the extra weight but until then I feel like it was a pretty decent trade-off. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one because I wondered if there was something wrong with me since I wasn’t conforming to the size 4 images that seem to go along with every healing story! (We really do idolize the skinny!)

    • Jamie, I am so happy to hear that your health is improving! That is really something. Sometimes you have to take care of the important stuff and then work on the physical 😉

  6. How about SLEEP? The body can’t re regulate hormones properly if there are sleep disturbances or other sleep issues. Anecdotally, many of my friends who have weight loss issues despite real food are not sleeping enough or well. Just another thing to look into.

  7. This is a great article.

    I just had to laugh though. It shows how times have changed. When I started college 30 years ago it was only the freshman ten!

  8. This is interesting information. When I switched from a standard American diet to a Weston Price diet, I gained 20 pounds within about two months. I then drastically decreased my carbs yet still haven’t lost the weight even though it’s been several months. I eat a lot of healthy fats and no grains. I exercise and have even started doing CrossFit. I’m very confused by the whole situation and am beginning to get desperate to find a way to lose the weight.

    If these underlying issues could, in fact, be the cause for the weight gain, how do I find out which ones I have and what to do about it? What kind of doctor do I see to be tested? My primary care doctor is a typical doctor who just writes prescriptions. I’m pretty sure I’d blow his mind if I went in telling how I eat saturated fat all day and can’t lose weight so I want him to check me for yeast overgrowth and parasites!

    • Trudy, its your body and you are paying the bills. So ask for the yeast overgrowth test and parasite test. I also belief inbalances in the Gut are a cuase of a lot of problems we have these days

    • Just as stated in the article, there are many more reasons that could be why you can’t lose the weight. Instead of looking at your doctor have you considered looking for a nutritionist or nutritional therapist who can help you figure this out and order tests for you?

    • I was going to post something almost identical to this post! I, too, have experienced weight gain since switching to real food/WAPF, but I FEEL better, so wouldn’t want to go back to my old ways. However, I’ve always enjoyed being fit, I exercise very regularly (P90X), and I too am feeling somewhat desperate lately. I also wanted to pose the question that Trudy did – if it could be one of the underlying issues listed, how on earth do you find out which one? Where does one start? Experimenting with changes that address each of the issues is time consuming….and what if you only find out that what you’ve changed wasn’t the issue? Hiring a nutritionist is not something that my family can afford, so I’m on my own to figure it out. The more I learn, the more confused I become and more I doubt EVERY little thing that I put into my mouth.

  9. Amen and Amen!

    I’ve been gaining weight consistently for the past few years. All despite gradually phasing out the toxic “SAD” diet and lifestyle. And all while incorporating more and more traditional nutrient dense foods. I read to eat lots of healthy fats to boost hormone production, and that in time weight loss will occur naturally. But after several years of ever growing weight gain, I keep getting concerned!

    When we’re told to eat large amounts of healthy fat when we didn’t grow up on such a high fat diet, there are already gonna be digestive issues to work through for many of us. For me, my nutritional therapist believes my weight gain can be tied to an under active gallbladder. After all, it’s never had to process this much fat before! It doesn’t know how!

    In short, for ME personally, stress, impaired digestion (including the sluggish gallbladder, overly worked liver, and big time flora imbalances) are actually at the root of my weight gain.

    And my nutritional coach’s advice? Wake up the gallbladder with apple cider vinegar with every meal, do daily near infrared saunas to pull out toxins (build at home for cheap!), and do daily coffee enemas to stimulate the gallbladder and detox the liver).

    Hope this can help others too!!! <3

    • Couldn’t agree more Mindy! This is really the mix message we are receiving. Yes, fat is great, but the majority of us have a congested liver, under active gallbladder and our body just is not able to process as much fat as we are told to consume on a WAPF diet. I experienced sever constipation when I first switched and it took me years to figure out that personally my body just cannot deal with this, and feels much better without the high recommendations. Every body is so unique and we must respect that!

  10. When I switched to all *made from scratch* where I now get fresh produce, farm fresh meat, make my own bread, etc…… I gained 15 pounds!!! Needless to say, Im not happy about it, but I wont change my diet because I know the other foods are really bad for me. So, month 9 nowm I am still trying to loose that weight :C

    • I know what you mean! The same thing happen to me as well, which is why I started to experiment some more and designed a protocol to address this. I was where you were about a year ago and it was very frustrating. You don’t have to stop eating a whole foods diet but do have to mindful that it can be energy dense and could be contributing to weight gain from this perspective or another underlying cause.

    • Hi Kelly,
      Sounds like you have a lot of gut healing to do, but at least you know for certain the cause which is a great start! Now to get on a plan! Let me know if you need help with that or would just like to talk some more :)

  11. Megan Elizabeth Pickrel via Facebook February 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I’ve been longing to write to you about this but couldn’t find just the right words to convey my questions. Thanks for posting. Looking forward to reading RIGHT NOW!.

  12. Sara James via Facebook February 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Jen Morse, I have candida overgrowth confirmed by a CDSA. I’m taking herbal drops, very potent probiotics, and doing the GAPS intro diet. I believe there is a lot of validity to gut health and weight- whether it be gain or loss or maintenance.

  13. Maria Phillips via Facebook February 22, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Oh, my apologies…read too quickly as I was sitting down for dinner, coupled by fatigue and lack of attention to detail. And chronic pain…

  14. Jen Gwyer Morse via Facebook February 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    This is me! I cannot and have not dropped below 170 (and I’m 5’4″, 35 yo.). If/when I gain any weight, I lose it quickly; but it always stops at the 170 mark. I can work my butt off (if only!!), but it won’t change a thing. I eat a very clean diet; I know my stuff. But, after reading your article, I’m thinking, because of my Candida issues, that that might be the beginning of losing. Once I get the good/bad bacteria balanced, maybe, just maybe it might be the beginning of something. See, I’ve been off sugar for about a year now. And I’m still getting flare-ups with Candida. I can’t seem to get it to back off, to be at a healthy level (I was on a ton of AB’s as a child – I blame that for my Candida imbalance!). So, I’ve begun consuming more probiotics (Kombucha, Kvass). I’ve started on bone broth, and have a green smoothie every day (usually for breakfast, and if I have a second, then it’s for supper. I try to keep my supper meal very light!! And not late.). Right now, I’m focusing on healing the gut. But I am SOO very tired of carrying this extra weight. I’m tired of it being a struggle! I’m tired of it being all that I think about. I’m tired of this being a daily part of my thinking. I want to take a break of always second guessing what I’m about to put into my mouth. I want to be able to slip into something beautiful without trying to hide the fat; to be able to buy something gorgeous without first having to think if it will fit my fat arms/butt. I want to be able to work out and see the benefits. Hopefully, there is a light at the end of this tunnel of struggling!!

    • I was totally where you are.. (I think 30yo, stuck at 180lbs…5’4″ right after having a 2nd baby) have candida issues. I tried Bee’s diet for 4 months. and quickly lost 30lbs. It was pretty amazing. My gut healed quite a bit. but not completely. Now I’m on my 3rd pregnancy since and I need to start working on my gut again. Her foundation is Weston Price. But she is a little extreme. I wish I was brave enough to go on her diet again. She is low carb and super high fat. I was healthier in that 4 months than I ever have been in my life. http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com

    • Jen I believe we have spoken on Facebook. I’m excited to continue this conversation over email.
      Don’t give up hope there is always something that can be done :)

  15. Sara James via Facebook February 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    This is why I’m an advocate of GAPS! Can’t wait to start Monday after I stockpile beef and chicken stock in the freezer! Just got the last toxic chemicals out as soap nuts are in the mail! It’s such a great feeling to be proactive in caring for yourself and family!

    • I agree Sarah James, thank God for GAPs. Hubby lost a lot of weight when we went WAPF diet but then hit a plateau. We just started GAPS last month, so we’ll see what happens with him after his gut heals.

  16. well said. Many people put too much emphasis on the fat lose verse getting healthy. We believe that people that are fit are automatically healthy and that it is impossible to be healthy if you have fat on your body.
    Like Sean Croxton said, you don’t lose weight to get healthy, you get healthy to lose weight.


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