There is nothing more annoying than packing on extra pounds that, despite all your efforts, won’t budge.
You might even be pumping iron, running miles and attending every yoga and spin class possible but STILL find it difficult to lose the extra weight that has accumulated over the years.
If this is you, you probably feel out of shape, frustrated and lost. What I want you to realize right at this moment is you are not alone!
In my nutrition practice, many of my female clients are active women. They love to spend time outside, running, hiking, biking and swimming. Therefore, it must be easy for them to maintain a healthy body weight, right?
Wrong. Many of the women I work with, as healthy as they try to be, still struggle to maintain a healthy body weight.
So, what gives? Why are women, who do everything in their power to stay healthy, continue to pack on extra pounds?
Despite what we are told, weight loss is not an easy feat. It’s certainly not as simple as eating less calories and exercising more. This false claim causes women to gain MORE weight.
The truth is, weight loss is complicated and there are several reasons why you may not be able to lose weight. Most of these obstacles to weight loss are completely unknown.
The good news? Once you discover the hidden reasons why you can’t lose weight, you can fix the issue and finally start to experience the results you are looking for.
Let’s explore the five most common (yet unknown) reasons why women struggle to lose weight.
1. Lack of Sleep
Today, healthy sleep habits often get pushed aside to make room in our already overwhelming schedules.
In fact, I work with many women who get less than six hours of sleep every night. Though this leaves them feeling fatigued and drained the next day, they tend to push through with the help of caffeine.
Sleep is incredibly important to all aspects of health, especially weight loss!
The amount of sleep you get every night has a huge effect, not only on your food choices the next day, but also on whether your body decides to store fuel (the food you eat) as fat or burn it as energy.
Firstly, sleep affects the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, a key player in the brain’s regulation of appetite and energy levels.
(Ever wonder why people who smoke marijuana get “the munchies”? This is because marijuana activates the eCB system, causing increased hunger and reduced willpower.)
During a study completed by the University of Chicago, 11 individuals were placed on a fixed diet and were either allowed 1) a normal 8.5 hours of sleep or 2) a restricted 4.5 hours of sleep.
In the afternoons, when sleep-deprived, the participants had eCB levels that were higher than when they had a full night’s rest. These higher eCB levels also lasted longer.
Since higher eCB levels cause increased hunger and reduced willpower, when sleep-deprived, the participants often snacked in between meals and made poor food choices; consistently choosing the junk food over the healthy options.1 They were also hungry all day long!
Have you experienced increased hunger after poor sleep? If so, you probably reached for anything to curb your sugar craving, including refined carbs. I know when I don’t sleep well I crave pasta with butter and salt like no other!
Secondly, lack of sleep affects insulin sensitivity.
A recent study found that after four nights of sleep deprivation (4.5 hours per night), participants experienced insulin sensitivity that was consistent with the insulin sensitivity of diabetic and obese people.2
When this happens, your body cannot use insulin properly which causes your blood sugar levels to rise to unhealthy levels as well as causes the sugar in the food you eat to be sent to the liver where it is converted into fat (rather than to your cells to be used for fuel).
To keep weight off, you must prioritize sleep habits. This means getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night and being in bed before 10:30pm.
A significant amount of regeneration and repair occurs between the hours of 10pm and midnight. An hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours of sleep after midnight.
2. Mineral & Vitamin Deficiency
Minerals are the spark plugs of the body. They are needed as co-factors for almost every single enzyme reaction in the body. If you are lacking minerals, you are lacking the tools your body needs to function properly.
Unfortunately, in modern times, it is rare to find a man or woman who has healthy mineral status. Most people simply do not eat enough whole, unprocessed foods required to obtain these levels.
Instead, they eat too much high fructose corn syrup, refined flours, refined vegetable oils, trans fats and overall fake, junky processed foods that have hardly any minerals.
If these processed “foods” make up most your diet, you can bet you are malnourished. In fact, many obese people are not over nourished, they are malnourished.
But what about if you DO eat a whole foods diet…but you still have extra weight?
Even if you eat a healthy, whole foods diet, you can STILL be mineral deficient.
Why? Each decade that passes, our soil becomes more and more deficient in minerals. The nutrient content of the soil has changed significantly in the past 50 years and even more in the past 20 years.
This means that if a fruit or vegetable is said to have 80% of a vitamin or a nutrient, the actual percentage is much less.
Believing that you can get all the vitamins and nutrients you need from food alone is great in theory but this is simply not true.
What does this have to do with weight gain? Everything.
Your body needs appropriate mineral and nutrient status to burn fat.
It needs minerals like chromium, zinc, selenium, and magnesium to regulate blood sugar levels. Unregulated blood sugar levels can lead to increased fat gain.
It also needs B6 and B12 to help convert your food into usable energy. Lacking these vitamins means that your body can’t utilize the food that you eat. So, what happens? This food gets broken down and funneled into fat storage.
Data from the Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggest that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range. Nine percent had outright deficiency, and 16 percent exhibited “near deficiency”.
Most shocking to the researchers was the fact that low B12 levels were as common in younger people as they were in the elderly.3
Additionally, your mineral and vitamin status determines your energy levels.
If you have low energy, you are not going to be very motivated to exercise. You are also going to feel less able to prepare yourself healthy, whole meals and will be more likely to reach for the quick, convenient food that is packed with unhealthy fats, sugars and chemicals.
Moreover, stress greatly increases the burn rate of our minerals and vitamins. Since most women are chronically stressed to some degree, not only do we receive fewer minerals from our food but we also use minerals at a quicker rate.
This leaves most women mineral and vitamin deficient and with extra weight despite eating what they consider to be a healthy diet.
What can you do about it?
For starters, try to eat all your fruits and vegetables lightly cooked (NOT over-cooked). Minerals and vitamins are significantly more available in the slightly cooked form because the cooking process breaks down indigestible fibres and releases much of the food’s nutrition.
You also might consider taking a mineral supplement with the guidance of a nutritionist. I will not recommend minerals without knowing your individual mineral status because every single mineral influences every other mineral in the body.
To assess mineral levels, a Hair Mineral Analysis is an inexpensive test that can give you significant information about not only mineral status but toxic metal burden. You will need the assistance of an experienced practitioner to interpret the results of this test. I encourage you to book a free 30 minute consult with me to determine if this test is appropriate for your health concerns. You can do that here.
I also recommend incorporating food-based minerals into your diet, such as Ocean’s Alive Marine Phytoplankton.
Exercise has been touted as a cure-all for poor dietary choices, overeating and almost every health condition on the planet. This information makes many women think that they need to constantly exercise no matter what, which often leads to over-exercising. Over-exercising involves intense exercise for an hour or more at least once a day, but may be even less for some women).
Many women feel the need to exercise when they are sick, have low energy and even after a poor night’s sleep. This is problematic for several reasons and can have the opposite effect.
If your body is stressed, worn down and burnt out, then it might not take much exercise at all to overwhelm your body.
Excessive exercise depletes minerals. Good mineral status is critical to healthy weight loss.
If you exercise too much you could be losing necessary minerals and vitamins that your body not only needs to lose weight, but to keep you healthy.
Excessive exercise also influences your cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that your body releases when it believes your life is in danger. Cortisol is responsible for breaking down your cells and tissues and transporting everything, including sugar, into the blood so that you can have super human strength to survive a stressful situation. Great, right?
Occasional cortisol production is normal and beneficial to you; however, when cortisol production is chronic, it tells the body that the world is stressful so you better start conserving resources. The body will react by turning you into a fat storing machine rather than a fat burning one.
What’s important to understand is that exercise is a stressor. It can be a good stressor if you lead a calm, relaxed life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most of us.
Many of us wake up earlier than we want, spend all day at a job we hate, run around doing errands after work and then go to the gym and work out hard until we’re overwhelmed by exhaustion and cannot possibly go any longer.
We stress ourselves out all day long and then top it off with intense, stress-producing exercise that truly is that last thing our body wants. This can cause us to constantly produce cortisol, and hence, cause our bodies to store the fat we’re trying to get rid of.
How do you know if exercise is doing more harm to your body than good?
It’s simple. If you feel drained and depleted at the end of a workout, you are probably doing too much. Exercise should energize you and increase your vitality, not drain it. Also, if you’re exercising constantly and unable to lose weight or gain muscle, you need to slow down and exercise less.
Make sure to take rest days in between intense workouts. Shorten the duration of your work outs. Refrain from intense exercise on days when you are sick, tired or had less than seven hours of sleep the night before. Also, prioritize restorative exercise like yoga, pilates, stretching and walking.
4. Too Much Sugar & Not Enough Healthy Fats
Over the past 20 years, we’ve been told that fat makes us, well, fat. The theory that too much fat in the diet leads to more fat on the body seems simple. You eat fat, you gain fat. Interestingly, this information is not rooted in proven research and couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, this completely bogus misinformation has significantly contributed to the current obesity epidemic. How? Because “low-fat” and “fat-free” foods are packed with sugar and lack healthy fats – the perfect nutritional storm.
Why is fat so important? First, your body needs healthy fat to make hormones.
However, over the years, foods have been modified to keep up with the trend and contain significantly less fat. When you remove the natural fat from a food, you take away the flavor. As a result, food manufactures had to add something back in to improve taste.
Unfortunately, sugar is almost always the option they choose. Therefore, most processed foods in the grocery store contain significantly less fat but also significantly more addictive sugar. Therein lies the problem.
Too much sugar in the diet leads to blood sugar imbalances.
Most women are familiar with the blood sugar roller coaster (you might be riding it as we speak).
You’re stressed, hungry and exhausted, so you reach for a quick fix in the form of a sugary treat (sugar is just as addictive as cocaine). This gives you a burst of energy; however, since sugar is highly refined and requires almost no digestion, it is quickly burned.
The result? You crash, meaning you feel irritable and “hangry”. So, you reach for whatever food (usually more sugar or carbs) is within in your reach.
This constant fluctuation of blood sugar levels negatively impacts insulin. This causes fat production and poor sleep. Not so fabulous after all, eh?
Now, you’re sleeping poorly and as a result, you experience fluctuating blood sugar levels throughout the day (which then leads to fluctuating blood sugar levels while you sleep).
Low blood sugar causes a spike in cortisol which is stimulating, so it will often wake you up when it happens during sleep and cause you to be tired again the next day. And as such, the evil cycle of poor sleep, an influx of sugar cravings, poor food choices, and weight gain continues.
Sugar also negatively affects your mineral and vitamin status.
It turns out, a high intake of sugar can contribute to nutrient deficiencies in ways other than by displacing more nutritious foods.
There are several mechanisms by which sugar can deplete (or reduce the absorption) of certain vitamins and minerals. As a result, eating too much sugar can induce deficiencies, even when our overall micronutrient intake appears to be adequate.4
Though you may take steps to reduce your sugar consumption (skipping the Oreos, ice cream, etc.), sugar is hidden in many of the “healthy” foods you eat such as bread, yogurt and granola bars. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate a whole foods diet as much as possible.
In addition, many women replace refined sugar with more natural sugars like honey, maple syrup and fruit. This is a step in the right direction but natural sugar can also make you fat if you eat too much of it.
Agave syrup is a popular sugar alternative but it’s probably the worst culprit at all. While it does not contain high amounts of glucose sugar, it is exceptionally high in fructose sugar which it hugely implicated in weight gain.
A good solution is to track the foods that you eat for a week with an app like Fooducate or Fitness Pal. This might give you some insight into the amount of sugar you are consuming on a regular basis.
Ideally, your sugar consumption should be less than 100 grams a day or less than 10% of your total calories for the day.
5. Hormone Imbalance
Hormones are the chemical messengers of the cells. They are responsible for the telling the cells, tissues and organs what to do. If there is a hormone imbalance, your entire body can go out of whack quickly.
In fact, hormone imbalance is one of the most common reasons that health conscious women struggle to lose weight.
There are certain hormone imbalances that will prevent you from losing weight regardless of what else you do to stay healthy.
Cortisol, thyroid, insulin, estrogen, and testosterone are all hormones that have huge control over our weight. Let’s talk about each.
Cortisol, the stress hormone we discussed above, is associated with stubborn belly fat, sugar cravings and poor sleep. In addition to over-exercising and stressing too much, cortisol production can increase when we don’t eat enough food or we push ourselves too hard.
If have been struggling with a “muffin top” that won’t budge despite all those core workouts you have been doing, cortisol might be part of your issue.
Estrogen is another hormone that is often implicated in stubborn weight gain. In my clinical practice, this is the most common hormone imbalance that I see in women over 30.
Not only does elevated estrogen lead to weight gain, especially around the hips and breasts, but it can also lead to those nasty PMS symptoms that you experience in the week prior to your period. If, during that week, you feel crazy and totally out of control, your body might be producing excess estrogen.
Thyroid hormone is the regulator of our metabolism. One of the most crucial pieces to healthy weight loss involves having healthy thyroid hormone production.
There are receptors for thyroid hormone in every single cell in your body; it’s that important! Therefore, if your thyroid hormone is under-producing, weight gain is going to be a constant struggle, along with fatigue and brain fog.
Interestingly, mineral deficiencies are a primary cause of poor thyroid hormone production (it’s all connected!)
While many of us associate testosterone with being a male-specific hormone, it is also extremely important for women.
The reason why men build muscle and lose weight quicker than women (those bastards!), is due to increased amounts of testosterone. Testosterone is present in significantly smaller amounts in women but is needed for the same reasons; to burn fat and build muscle.
Unfortunately, many things reduce free testosterone like birth control pills, lack of sleep and poor exercise habits.
Insulin is a hormone that’s responsible for managing our blood sugar levels. When we eat sugar or foods with sugar, our glucose levels rise. To control these levels, the pancreas releases insulin.
Too much insulin is a great way to pack on pounds quickly. Since insulin production is directly controlled by the foods we eat, the great news is that you can learn how to keep you insulin in check.
Determining if you have a hormone imbalance is a critical step to losing weight.
This can be tricky though, since typical blood tests most conventional doctors run are poor measures of hormone status. This is because hormones in the blood are in transit, which means they are bound to carrier proteins and are not available or usable to the cells.
As a result, many women who are suffering from hormonal imbalances are misdiagnosed and told they’re fine, when in fact, they are not.
A better indicator of hormonal imbalance is your symptoms. In my practice, I can tell if my clients have a hormonal imbalance (and what kind) just by discussing their symptoms.
To find out whether your hormones are the main culprit in your inability to lose weight, grab my Hormonal Imbalance Self-Test Cheat Sheet.
With this guide, you’ll answer the same questions I ask my clients to determine whether they have an imbalance. By completing it, you’ll know IF you have a hormonal imbalance and which specific hormones are causing an issue for you.
Once you know which hormones are the culprit, 50% of the battle is already won. You’ll be able to create an action plan to balance haywire hormones and lose the weight for good. But even more so, you’ll begin to feel like your youthful, confident, energetic self again
Here’s what you need to remember…
Many women are struggling to lose weight and are beating themselves up for it. Since the media tells them that weight loss is a simple mathematical equation (eat less, exercise more), women feel like failures and might try harder to lose weight using tools that make them gain MORE weight, not less.
- Following the eat less, exercise more model leads to mineral and vitamin depletion.
- Prioritizing exercise over sleep leads to additional weight gain.
- Eating low-fat diet foods increases sugar consumption and slows weight loss.
- Finally, hormone imbalances, which affect 85% of women, are massive weight loss blockers.
If you have hormone issues, weight will be a constant struggle. Make sure you grab my Hormonal Imbalance Self-Test Cheat Sheet to determine if you have a hormone imbalance that is sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
If you are interested in FINALLY getting to the root cause of your mysterious weight gain, please book a FREE 30 minute call with me. I take a systematic approach to weight loss which involves the use of several informative lab tests that will identify your unique weight loss blocking factors. You can book that appointment here.