I have seen many clients who come to me wanting to lose weight yet they eat fairly healthily and exercise. In some cases I see people eating too few calories and exercising too much. Yet they cannot lose weight. This is because weight loss is not just about calories in and out. In many cases weight management is very much affected by the general health of the body. This includes many factors including thyroid health, blood sugar balance, gut health and hormonal imbalance. Below are a few reasons why you may not be losing weight.
Although in very simplistic cases increasing calories causes weight gain and decreasing calories causes weight loss, in reality there are often other complications in the body and low calorie diets do not work long-term for weight loss. The body needs energy to function: for breathing, digesting, for brain function, cell renewal and for all the metabolic reactions that go on all the time. The minimum amount of energy in calories (k/cal) needed to maintain normal body function at rest is called basal metabolic rate (BMR). If too few calories are taken in, the body will conserve all its energy and slow down metabolism, slow down heart rate, decrease body temperature and conserve body fat to protect itself from starvation. Avoid calorie counting and focus on eating real, whole foods.
Emotional, mental and physical stress can affect the body in numerous ways. Stress can increase inflammation leading to other diseases and metabolic dysfunction. Stress raises adrenaline (one of the fight or flight hormones) which diverts blood flow away from the digestive organs. This affects digestion and the body burns glucose instead of fat, which is stored. Long-term stress leads to raised levels of cortisol (another fight or flight hormone) and this can affect gut and immune health and break down muscle. High levels of this hormone can cause weight gain around the middle, a risk for metabolic disease. It is important to find ways to manage stress. Consider introducing some breathing techniques or meditation into daily life.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is a series of systems that carry out functions automatically to keep us functioning in balance. These systems control heart rate, digestion, temperature control, reflexes, coughing and sneezing etc. One of these systems, the sympathetic nervous system, keeps the body working correctly through homeostasis and is responsible for the fight or flight response. This system should be balanced by the parasympathetic system, responsible for rest and repair. Chronic stress causes over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system so the body is stuck in fight or flight mode. This long-term over-activity is a risk factor for weight gain and insulin resistance (which can lead to type 2 diabetes or heart disease). To help reduce this, lifestyle changes are very important. Over exercising can make matters worse. Try to include some yoga or Tai Chi into your exercise routine.
When certain foods are eaten, our blood glucose levels rise. Insulin is released by the pancreas to move this glucose into cells so the body can use it for energy. Some of the energy is used, some is stored in the liver and muscles and any left over is stored as fat. Refined carbohydrates such as foods made from flour and sugar cause sharp spikes in insulin production and this could cause long-term damage such as insulin resistance, where insulin levels remain high. Raised insulin levels can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Stress can also raise insulin levels through raised cortisol hormones. It is important to avoid refined carbohydrates and eat a diet that supports balanced blood sugar levels. This includes plenty of vegetables, some fruit, a small amount of good quality whole grains such as rye, beans, pulses, quality meat, fish and eggs and foods such as avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil. It is advisable to ask your GP for an insulin test if you are finding it difficult to lose weight yet you exercise and eat a healthy diet.