I have so many women come to me almost out of hope. They think they’ll never meet their weight loss goals, and it’s not a lack of trying that got them there! They tell me that they’ve been doing everything “right” – and I believe them!
It’s all too easy for people who have never faced this struggle to dismiss the idea of weight loss resistance. Conventional health care practitioners aren’t always very helpful. They may recommend antidepressants or other prescriptions, surgery, or just tell you to accept your weight for what it is. As a woman, I know how hard that can be on our self-esteem and confidence. And I also know how important maintaining a healthy weight is to your overall health. So there are plenty of reasons to dig deeper and find out what’s really going on.
You’ve probably heard someone mention weight loss resistance before. This is a very real problem that many women face. No matter what they do – how much they exercise, how little they eat, how much sleep they get – nothing makes a difference. The scale doesn’t budge, clothes don’t fit well, and stubborn pounds stick around. But here’s something important to understand: weight loss resistance doesn’t come from the same source for every woman. It’s a complex issue that can originate from a wide range of physiological responses in your body.
Here’s something else that’s important for women struggling with weight loss to know: you CAN fight weight loss resistance! First, you have to understand what it is and where it comes from.
What is Weight Loss Resistance?
Weight loss resistance is a term that showed up several years ago to describe what’s going on for people who, despite earnest efforts and strict adherence to specific guidelines, can’t lose fat. My friend JJ Virgin, a long time nutrition and fitness expert and author of The Virgin Diet, coined the term many years ago, and people are using it more and more these days, despite the skepticism of the conventional medicine world. Virgin defined weight loss resistance as “”failure to lose fat (not weight) even if you’re following a healthy diet and exercise program.”
That’s an important distinction to make. So many women focus too much on the number on the scale, and fail to recognize that fat loss is what makes them look and feel their best! It’s possible for that number to remain stagnant even while you are burning fat and gaining muscle. Or the number could be dropping quickly, but it’s muscle you are losing — and that is definitely not the goal!
What Causes Weight Loss Resistance?
There are so many things that can send your body the message that it needs to hold on to that stored fat. That’s why it’s so hard to fight weight loss resistance. One of the biggest, most challenging issues for struggling weight loss comes as a result of hormonal imbalance. And I’m not just talking about sex hormones, though those certainly can play a large role, especially for perimenopausal or menopausal women. If your ratio of progesterone to estrogen is off (you will have an imbalance with more estrogen to progesterone) and then may become “estrogen dominant,” which can create weight loss resistance.
Other hormonal imbalances, including high leptin and insulin resistance, also impact weight loss. If your leptin levels are too high your brain won’t receive the signal that it’s time to stop eating. If you are insulin resistant, your cells can’t use all of the glucose your body produces, and your liver converts this excess glucose into fat.
And then there’s cortisol. Chronic stress keeps this stress hormone high. And stress can come from so many directions. It can be physical, psychological, or physiological, caused by situations big and small. You probably know that when a major trauma happens – you lose your job, go through a divorce, have an accident, or lose someone you love – your stress levels will be high. But did you know that even too much caffeine can spike your cortisol levels and put your body on high alert?
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to everything that’s happening, the small things as well as those big events and issues. Functional medicine is all about getting to the root causes, and that’s what I’m talking about here. You’ll hear a lot about adrenal dysfunction and thyroid dysfunction and their impact on weight loss — but those conditions are the dramatic end result of a lot of smaller problems that went unrecognized for far too long.
Yes, little things can add up to big issues — but there’s some good news here. If you pay attention to the smaller concerns early, you might be able to reverse weight loss resistance a lot sooner. And you’ll avoid some of those more serious health concerns too!
The first step is recognizing that a problem might be building. To do so, you have to pay attention to more than your weight. There are a lot of other symptoms that can clue you in to the fact that weight loss resistance may be looming.
How Do I Recognize Weight Loss Resistance?
What most women notice when they have weight loss resistance is the stubborn belly fat that simply won’t go away. But there are other difficulties that are part of weight loss resistance, including gas, bloating and other digestive problems, particularly after eating; infrequent bowel movements; increased stress or anxiety; low energy; food cravings, especially carbs, and trouble building and/or maintaining muscle strength.
Paying attention to these other cues can give you insight into some simple ways to fight weight loss resistance. Just a few easy changes to your daily routine can help you lose weight and feel great!
9 Easy Ways to Fight Weight Loss Resistance That Work!
Some of these suggestions center around topics you’ve heard about a lot, like diet, but offer a fresh perspective. Others may seem totally unconnected to weight loss, but trust me when I say they work. I’ve helped so many women reach their weight goals by focusing on the following areas. Let’s take a look.
1. Ease Up On the Exercise
Are you surprised to hear a health care professional telling you to exercise less? There’s so much more information about what exercise does for weight loss now, and the truth is you simply don’t have to spend hours working out to get the results you’re looking for. In fact, High intensity intermittent exercise has been found to be more effective for weight loss – and it only takes 20 minutes a day!
2. Choose Exercise You Love
While we’re on the subject of exercise, let’s take a look at what happens when you are doing something you hate. I’ve heard so many women tell me they dread going to the gym, but force themselves to do it anyway. But when you are doing something you don’t enjoy, your stress levels rise — and remember what I said about stress and cortisol? For exercise to be effective, it has to be something you enjoy. There are so many great options out there that there’s simply no reason to keep at something that makes you miserable.
Related article: Surprising Sources of Stress
3. Find Favorite Meals and Put Them in a Regular Rotation
Changing your eating habits can be difficult, and if you think you have to constantly try new recipes with foods you aren’t sure about, it’s easy to just give up. My advice is to pick three healthy meals you love for both breakfast and lunch, and create a rotation schedule. When you do this, you won’t be eating the same thing every day, but you’ll also know that whatever meal is up, it’s one you enjoy. You can do this for dinner time as well, but often that’s when people have a little more time to experiment and discover new favorite recipes.
4. Plan Ahead for Hunger
It’s so easy to grab whatever is nearby if you haven’t put any thought into what you’ll be eating. That’s one reason I find having a predetermined food plan so effective. The previous tip can help with this one a lot — if you know which three meals you are putting in the rotation, you can then make a big batch ahead of time and store it in individual portions in your refrigerator or freezer. Then, when you find yourself hungry, your meal is ready and waiting.
5. Get Rid of Processed Foods
If you need one thing to start with, let it be this. Fresh, whole foods are always the best option. Sure, processed foods can be convenient, but do you have any idea what’s in them? When you read the label, do you know what all of the ingredients are? Chances are, you don’t. And you could be filling your body with chemical toxins that make fat nearly impossible to shed. So many people fall back on these processed foods because they’re familiar — even when they don’t taste very good! If you can’t ditch processed foods altogether, start small by replacing one processed choice a day with a fresh, whole option.
6. Treat Digestive Issues
Your digestive system is so important to your overall health, and imbalances in your gut can make weight loss tough. That’s because what’s going on in your gut can have a profound impact on many of those hormones I was talking about earlier. Research is showing the impact of gastrointestinal peptides on appetite and exploring the use of gut hormones as treatment for obesity. Symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and nausea can be an indication that your gut hormones need attention.
7. Add a High Quality Probiotic to Your Daily Routine
So what throws your gut hormones out of balance in the first place? Often, it’s an imbalance in the bacteria in your belly. Trillions of bacteria make up your gut microbiome, and if the harmful kind outnumber the beneficial bacteria, you can experience all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms. Consuming probiotic foods and beverages like yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha helps, but often you can’t get enough through diet alone. That’s where a high quality probiotic supplement can help, replacing billions of those good bacteria with each dose.
8. Balance Stress
Because cortisol is such a big player in hormonal dysfunction, it’s really important to get a handle on how much stress you are asking your body to deal with. While it’s best to eliminate stress whenever possible, you can’t always do so. The death of a loved one, for instance, will cause stress that you can’t just put aside. What you can do, however, is change the way you react to stress. One tool I’ve been recommending recently is emWave technology. This advanced heart-rate rhythm monitor can help you tune into your heart’s rhythm and emotional state, and teach you to shift to a more balanced state.
9. Incorporate Joy
This final tip I have to fight weight loss resistance may not seem to have anything to do with weight, but I have discovered that experiencing joy can boost health in so many ways — including prompting weight loss. Stress can physiologically block out joy, but it goes both ways — seeking out joy can actually counter the stress response. In a blog post on psychologytoday.com, Lauren Mellin, PhD, author of The 3-Day Solution Plan says that a study she did on vibrancy and pleasure showed that more than 90% of participants who were collecting “joy points” instead of counting calories reduced the urge to overeat – and lost an average of 3 pounds in 3 days without dieting. So find something that inspires you and helps you connect with the deepest part of yourself, bringing you true joy.
Fight weight loss resistance to look and feel your best!
Losing weight takes commitment, but when you are putting in the work and nothing happens it’s easy to get frustrated and think about giving up. But all that will do is keep you feeling dissatisfied with your life, creating more stress and making weight loss even more difficult. Don’t get stuck in that cycle — take control and explore what might be going on to cause your body to hold on to fat. With a few simple changes you may soon find your way to being the healthiest, most joyful, and slimmest you yet!