I 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 have probably 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 iceberg. 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 food 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 number 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, it’s toxic! Bottom line, we must limit our exposure as much as possible, and more importantly, take a proactive 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 causes 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.
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Sometimes metabolism is that much slow that our body can’t burn the calories which we intake. This leads calories to be getting stored in our body.
Couldn’t agree with you more Anna…our bodies are very complex but respond amazingly when you provide the correct building blocks 😉
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.
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.
Jamie Wright Bagley
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 😉
What about metabolism? I’ve heard that people with good metabolisms don’t get fat even if they eat a lot. Is that true?
Can be, but many times a fast metabolism doesn’t last forever, especially with a bad diet in place. And again, thin doesn’t equal health.
Eating a lot is a bad diet?
I seccond the emphasis on sleep!