Not losing weight is a huge frustration for many people. Weight loss can be a challenging journey, and for some people it can feel like nothing is working even though you’re on track.
The conventional approach to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume, but despite being in a significant calorie deficit, the scale refuses to budge. This frustrating phenomenon is known as weight loss resistance, and it is becoming increasingly common. There are a variety of factors that could contribute to weight loss resistance Below are some common causes of weight loss resistance that could be sabotaging your progress, assuming you’re getting the basics (like a calorie deficit, and lots of physical activity) right.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. It’s job is to let our cells know that sugar is present, so it can be used in the cells as fuel. When the cells “stop listening” or become resistant to insulin, it can lead to a decreased ability to use what we eat as fuel, and an increased ability to store energy as fat tissue. Insulin resistance often results from poor dietary choices & low physical activity levels, but other conditions (such as PCOS and Cushing’s disease) can predispose an individual to insulin resistance. Significant cravings, a surplus of abdominal fat, dark skin folds and skin tags can hint that insulin is at play.
Poor gut health
Research is only beginning to scratch the surface of how important gut health is, and its impact on metabolism. Besides significantly impacting our ability to get nutrients from food and the downstream effects this may have on weight loss progress, particular species of microbes in the gut are associated with metabolic issues and weight management. An imbalance of the microbiota in the gut can also show up as gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea.
The metabolism plays a vital role in weight management. Metabolism is the sum of a ton of different chemical processes happening in our bodies at any given time, that help us turn food into energy. Your metabolic rate can slow down as a result of many things. Some more common causes include hormones (such as the thyroid hormones, which are known to be important metabolic regulators) and a lack of muscle mass (as higher muscle mass increases your calorie burn at rest). Doing a blood test and a body composition analysis are easy ways to screen for these metabolism disruptors.
This one is often overlooked because stress is regarded as a “catch all” and is often blamed for everything. Downstream, unrelenting stress can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, a hormone that is associated with fat retention, especially in the abdominal area. Cortisol causes changes to appetite, cravings, the gut microbiome (see above) and how easily fat can be liberated from fat cells for fuel. Stress management is crucial for weight loss success and might be one of the hardest pieces to put into place, as lifestyle change is often required.
If you’ve been dieting for a very long time and have noticed that you no longer lose weight like you used to, it’s plausible that your metabolic rate has decreased to compensate. The human body is smart, and it’s main goal is to keep you alive. The human body was designed to store fuel for periods of time where food was scarce, so this metabolic adaptation served to protect the body long ago, when there wasn’t such an abundance of food. Now, this mechanism can sabotage your long-term weight loss goals. Taking a break from pursuing weight loss is key to overcome this.
Inflammation occurs when trauma, a certain disease state, chronic consumption of inflammatory foods, and many more sets off a chemical cascade in the body. The end result is a body that is using up important resources to support the immune system in order to quell inflammation, and weight loss gets put on the back burner.
Some medications, including certain antidepressants and corticosteroids, can interfere with weight loss efforts by altering hunger hormones and can directly induce weight gain. It’s important to be aware of the side effects of any medication you’re taking, and weight the costs and benefits.
Sleep is where magic happens when it comes to shifting body composition. Undersleeping often leads to overeating and less physical activity, not only because you don’t feel great, but also because there are hormonal implications (for example, ghrelin and leptin, which regulate our hunger and satiety cues) to sleep deprivation. Sleep is also where muscles recover, leading to improved muscle mass and positive shifts in body composition. Next time you have a poor sleep, make note of the significance of your cravings, your desire to do your workout routine, or even the amount of calories you consume and you’ll notice a trend.
Mental health issues like depression and anxiety often accompany changes in weight. There are a lot of different theories as to why this might happen, but one of the more plausible ones is inappropriate coping. Reaching for a sugary snack, alcohol, or a second serving of dinner in the absence of hunger is often used to help manage feelings we don’t like. Food directly impacts our neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) and can quell these feelings in the short-term, but this tactic won’t help you get any closer to your goal. Building awareness of these habits and finding alternative coping mechanisms are fundamental to overcoming weight struggles.
Weight loss resistance is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. It is imperative to approach it with patience, self-love and a holistic mindset. These issues didn’t happen overnight, and they require time and effort to resolve. By exploring potential root causes, making the appropriate lifestyle changes, and working on your mindset with regards to weight, you can overcome weight loss resistance and find your happiest, healthiest body!