The Weight loss trap. Really?
** Note: make sure you read to the bottom for my most exciting announcement and opportunity yet! Yes, there are free things for you**
The discussion of weight and weight loss has evolved dramatically over the past 10-15 years. In some ways this has been for the better, but in other ways for the worse. I am incredibly grateful that the discussion has moved beyond just the calories in, calories out model (because we all know at this point that that is crap!). This notion though, that calories are not the key point of the equation has spurred a $66.3 BILLION dollar diet industry. Whether this is diet pills, the gym, or other contraptions that promise to shake your last 10lbs off the general understanding is that people are being taken for a very expensive ride. At the same time though, more North American’s are in the over weight and obese category than ever. So what digs?
This is the question that everyone is asking. This is the question that I myself asked for years.
Many of you at this point know my story, for the entirety of my life I had tried diet after diet. I was active, I ate well, yet no one would believe that because I was obese. Indeed, my poor mother dragged me from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was going on with me. She was desperately trying to help me understand why nothing I did worked and why year after year I gained more and more weight and felt less at home in my body. I know that I am not alone in this as so many of you have reached out to tell me that they are struggling with weight loss. This phenomenon, that I have titled weight loss resistance, is a huge concern to me! This was part of the reason I became a Naturopathic Doctor. In the days when no one could help me shed the extra 80lbs of body fat I had, I had to do my own research, I had to blaze my own trail and now I am compelled to share that!
I am not just writing this article to reintroduce my story, and to break the news about an upcoming project that I am releasing, but also in response to an article that recently came out.
After reading a recent Time article entitled “The Weight loss trap” I quite literally jumped off of my office chair, frustrated, angry and delighted. (I also lit up my husband’s phone with a thousand messages). I am so over misinformation in the weight loss space, but even more, it kills me that people are made to feel out of control and hopeless in their own bodies. Why delighted? Well, I was not quite ready to announce my upcoming book but I just could not give up this opportunity to share with you all of the reasons why Time has great points, but doesn’t tell the whole story. You can finally overcome weight loss resistance!
Okay so let’s dive in!
The Time article is based on the reality that most people who lose weight, such as those on the Biggest Loser, end up gaining most of that back, if not more. They discuss that weight loss is highly personalized, that what works for one person will not work for another and also that it is not likely that your genetics or your personality type play into your success all that much. They also discuss that despite the fact that researchers know this, no one really knows why.. that is where we differ in opinion!
Let’s go through quote by quote and dissect it, shall we?
“Individual responses to different diets–from low fat and vegan to low carb and paleo–vary enormously. “Some people on a diet program lose 60 lb. and keep it off for two years, and other people follow the same program religiously, and they gain 5 lb.,” says Frank Sacks, a leading weight-loss researcher and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If we can figure out why, the potential to help people will be huge.”
I agree! Isn’t it amazing that, that research already exists?! The reason behind why one diet works for one person and not another is because food is not just a form of calories but it is a message. Different compositions of carbohydrates, fats, protein, additives etc are going to have a different hormonal response. That hormonal response is different in different groups of people. One of the hormones that has been critical to my journey is a hormone known as insulin.
Insulin is a fat storage hormone, it works to shuttle the sugar from your blood stream into your fat cells to store for later. Insulin has a number of other reproductive functions and has effects on skin health, cravings and the like. Insulin levels naturally increase after eating a meal that contains carbohydrates, dairy or protein. If you are insulin resistant then you can have an elevated level of insulin when you are fasting, or you can experience too much insulin release in response to those foods. This can trap your body in fat storage mode and inhibit fat loss.
This explains why my attempts at a low fat, high protein, high carb diet left me gaining weight all while eating 1000 calories per day! Those 1000 calories were simply fueling my brain and then getting shuttled into my fat cells. If you are not insulin resistant, then this diet may be just the thing you need to shed some short term pounds (although I never recommend a 1000 calorie diet!- more on that later), but to me it caused metabolic chaos.
In addition to that, when you eat, how often you eat, and the health of your stress response and your digestive system are also going to determine how your body hormonally responds to, and processes a food.
And while weight loss will never be easy for anyone, the evidence is mounting that it’s possible for anyone to reach a healthy weight–people just need to find their best way there.
Even the low-fat craze that kicked off in the late 1970s–which was based on the intuitively appealing but incorrect notion that eating fat will make you fat–depended on the calorie-counting model of weight loss. (Since fatty foods are more calorie-dense than, say, plants, logic suggests that if you eat less of them, you will consume fewer calories overall, and then you’ll lose weight.)
Nope! Just as Time agreed, other research has shown that the low fat craze directly coincides with the increasing obesity epidemic. As you may have noticed above, fat is not on the list of insulin stimulating foods.. but sugar is! And sugar is just the thing that is added to low fat foods to make them taste better. So not only do you get a heightened insulin response to these low fat, low calorie foods leaving you in fat storing mode, but you are get an altered satiety response. That is right, fat is critical for the regulation of gut hormones and also the hormones that make you feel full after a meal and keep you feeling full between meals.
Have you ever eaten a salad with low fat dressing, hold the nuts with a swap for lean protein? Did you leave feeling hungry, unsatisfied and searching for something else to fill you up? When this happens and you end up snacking throughout the day you never have the opportunity to burn fat as fuel because your metabolic hormones are increased and you never enter the fasting stage. No Bueno!
As demoralizing as his initial findings were, they weren’t altogether surprising: more than 80% of people with obesity who lose weight gain it back. That’s because when you lose weight, your resting metabolism (how much energy your body uses when at rest) slows down–possibly an evolutionary holdover from the days when food scarcity was common.
This is true for two reasons. Not only are many fad diets low fat, but they are also low calorie. Your body is not stupid! It can see that you are not taking in enough energy to support your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories that your body requires to run your heart, brain, liver, digestive system, lungs etc. This critical number is very responsive to the environment because back in the good old days food wasn’t widely available. If you weren’t able to find food for a few days then your whole system slowed down to require less calories and protect you from dying.
Although many processes are involved in this, your thyroid is one of them. The thyroid is a small gland at the front of the neck that releases hormones that control your metabolic rate and the functions of nearly every cell in the body. Going low calorie is a great way to make you feel cold, tired, constipated and frumpy because your brain uses your thyroid to slow everything down!
The second hormone that becomes involved when you begin to lose weight is a hormone known as leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is released from the fat cells to signal to the brain about how much fat we have in storage. To our body this is kind of like the indicator on a car telling us how much fuel we have in the tank. Leptin is also a messenger that is involved with controlling your metabolic rate AND your appetite.
As you lose weight your leptin levels drop, signalling to your body that it should probably start to slow things down. In this case you can feel hungry all of the time, but also sluggish and weight loss stops. Some people even see weight gain which can either send you into frustration nation… or alternatively lead you to cut more calories and drive your metabolic rate and gut hormone signalling down even further! Yikes!
(As a side note, one tricky thing we are coming to find with leptin is that many obese people have very high circulating levels of leptin but some how their body still doesn’t listen to the signal. They are leptin resistant. This means that your metabolism slows and your hunger gets jacked up… even though you have plenty of fat stores on your body! Talk about frustrating… but solvable!)
They show that it’s indeed biology, not simply a lack of willpower, that makes it so hard to lose weight. The findings also make it seem as if the body itself will sabotage any effort to keep weight off in the long term.
Who else wishes their doctor/trainer/coach etc had read this before accusing them of late night binging and not trying hard enough! **Eye roll**
With respect to those successful dieters studied “They learned that many successful dieters were self-described morning people. (Other research supports the anecdote: for some reason, night owls tend to weigh more than larks.)”
Again, the answer to why has already been discovered! We have a 24hr clock in our body, known as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm controls what hormones are released and when, it controls our wake sleep rhythm and when working properly signals what physiological processes happen during the day and at night. When you think about it, it is a pretty simple concept that we should be eating during the day and not eating during our biological night. People who are ‘night owls’ often eat during their biological night and it has been shown that the insulin and glucose response to a meal eaten at night is that of a DIABETIC! I was shocked when I first discovered this! This means that even a ‘healthy’ thin person is predisposed to weight gain and gets stuck in fat storage mode if they eat all night long. This is aggravated in people who are predisposed to insulin resistance and metabolic hormone chaos!
Another frontier scientists are exploring is how the microbiome–the trillions of bacteria that live inside and on the surface of the human body–may be influencing how the body metabolizes certain foods.
Being undiagnosed celiac for decades definitely played into my weight loss struggles. This is counter to what current medical literature says but I see it all of the time. Food allergies, food sensitivities and the like can have a huge impact on weight loss resistance! They do this through inflammatory processes in the body but also through altering gut hormones and the types of bacteria that live in the gut. Study after study has shown that the blood sugar and insulin response to a food is incredibly individual BUT it can be predicted by the type of bacteria that are living in your gut. Yes, in the future we will be sequencing everyone’s gut bugs and using them to alter the course of every disease. I am sure of it!
This article goes on to talk about the affect of environmental toxins, mindset and the importance of having a health related goal as opposed to a weight related goal. All of these factors have been shown to be involved in weight loss success. All of which I agree must be considered.
“Unless you’ve had a lot of weight to lose, you don’t understand what it’s like,” she says. “It’s overwhelming, and people look at you like it’s your fault.”
Out of this whole article this quote from a participant was the thing that drove my emotions. For anyone who struggles with weight loss resistance this will stab you in the heart. It is so incredibly true. There is nothing quite like feeling like your body is failing you and that even starving yourself, restricting every delicious food and exercising to the max is not enough.
That is why I am writing my upcoming, yet to be fully named book.
Losing weight, to this day, is not easy, but I have used the principles in this book to completely transform my body and my relationship with food and my health. You can too!
Understanding what it is about a given diet that works for a given person remains the holy grail of weight-loss science. But experts are getting closer.
If anyone knows any of these ‘experts’ feel free to let them know I am ready to talk at any time! J
The real secret is that it is not one thing, it is all of the things that need to be considered if you are not losing weight the way you want to.
I have broken this book into the following evidence based, patient proven factors. One thing may be more involved than another for you, but the quizzes throughout the book can help you to decide that.
Keys to overcoming weight loss resistance 101
- Working with your circadian rhythm and your biological clock
- Getting enough, well timed sleep
- Overcoming the stress response
- Optimizing gut hormones and the microbiome
- Reducing Insulin and leptin resistance
- Developing the right mindset and setting the scene for success
- Diet customization and finding the plan that is right for you
- Taking supported action with 30 days of step by step success principles
(FYI, this book is targeted at women’s health, sorry dudes! Let me know if you need more support with this as well!)
My goal is write the book that I wish that I had decades ago. My goal is to help you to achieve your goals, feel at home in your body and not have to struggle, fight and tooth and nail your way through it. My goal is to change the world, the view of weight loss and medical community… One. Book. At. A. Time.
Want to help me?
I would love your questions, comments and support as we go. I would also love you to share this article with someone who needs it.
Soon I will be asking for support in naming my book, choosing a cover and spreading the message! If you want to contribute, then make sure to follow me on Facebook or sign up below.
Those on my mailing list will be getting first dibs at free books, extra goodies and surprises along the way.
Sharing with love, excitement and a little bit of a vulnerability hangover!