What you will learn in this article:
- The 10 causes of weight loss resistance
- What causes belly fat
- Why women after 50 have a hard time losing the pounds
- What does fat around your hips versus your belly mean
- Resources that will help you move forward
When I was in private practice, every other call came from a woman who wanted to lose weight, and quickly, too. I would then ask what they had done and the answers varied from being prescribed hunger-suppressing medications, “medical-grade” shakes to following highly calorie-restricted diets and fasts. Then they would admit that this has been going on for years.
The problem was that these solutions never worked for them. If you know me, you know that I’m a straight-shooter and I will tell you as it is. I would then tell the client that we need to figure out an individualized food protocol, rebalance their hormones, and maybe do a gentle detox. “How long is that going to take?” she would ask, somewhat irritated. Not to over-promise, I would tell them that it might take a month to see a couple pounds come off to a year to see the final target weight.
After a short silence, I wouldn’t hear back from most of them.
So, about this article – If you are looking for a quick and short article on a few supplements, potions or breathing exercises that will make you lose 20 pounds in 5 days, then this article might not be for you.
I’ve spent a long time researching and writing this article for women who understand that they need to go more upstream to find where the weight problem stems from.
My parents once owned a summer house by a river. As kids, we used to float down the river on inflated crocodiles – it was the best part of the summer. One day we got skin rashes and it was clear that the river became polluted. My dad mobilized a team and went upstream to investigate the factory that was dumping the waste. The same principle applies to your weight loss – you need to go upstream to find out what is causing your weight loss resistance.
If your weight has been an issue for a long time, it’s very likely that you have tried various diets, bought many books, perhaps attended the Weight Watchers programs, bought many promising shakes (which I strongly feel are nothing more than a sham), counted calories, fasted and starved yourself. Perhaps you worked out 5-6 days a week and lost 2 pounds while your friend lost 12. Or maybe you worked with a promising practitioner who had a one-for-all program that supposedly worked for all his other patients but you.
Perhaps things worked for a while and then they stopped. Either because you could no longer sustain it by counting calories, or you loathed feeling deprived and micromanaging your food. I once rented a room from a woman who had suffered from many food addictions and she would weigh every single ounce of food before it arrived at her mouth. When I saw her a few months later, she was back to binge eating. Micromanaging and developing an obsessive and unhealthy relationship with food is completely unsustainable in the long term.
It’s well known in the weight loss industry that 70% of people who go on diets, gain that weight back and 30% end up with more than when they started.
I suspect this is not your first rodeo and you know that for some women (many women), giving up gluten for a couple weeks solves most of their weight and health issues. For others, it takes much more – like peeling the proverbial onion and uncovering one thing after another. Perhaps that’s you.
If you don’t dig into the root causes of your weight gain, the extra pounds won’t budge.
This is why most diets don’t work for 100% of people – because each person has a different reason why they hold on to these stubborn pounds. If you don’t address the root cause of the weight gain, you will be going in circles and be forever frustrated and disappointed.
One reframe I want to offer you is this: That extra weight you carry is a sign that your body is in a state of imbalance. Once you bring it into balance, the weight will melt away automatically. Think about it: Do you know a healthy, balanced person who has weight issues? Very unlikely.
Having worked with women for a decade now, I’ve come up with these 10 main causes of weight loss resistance and a bunch of resources to point you to, so you can find the relief you so deserve and desperately want.
I wrote the article in a way that you can read down the list and get an inkling of your potential issues. Once you know, I’ve listed what action steps you may take to see results.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your immune system’s response to stress or injury in or to the body. The most common form of inflammation you know very well is when your hand swells up if you bruise or injure it.
Inflammation is the first step in the healing process. When cells are damaged, they send out chemical messengers to protect the area causing the swelling, heat and pain. Heat is a sign of the cytokines doing their repair work.
Inflammation as part of healing is a good thing. It’s when it develops into chronic inflammation that there’s a problem. The type of inflammation that causes weight gain is chronic, systemic (meaning: involves your whole body) and on a cellular level.
How do you know if you are inflamed?
Some women are so in-tune with their body that they just feel it – in the form of swelling, heat or discomfort in their body.
If you are not sure, the common symptoms can be:
- Weight gain
- Chronic pain
- Accelerated aging
- Hormonal problems, especially insulin resistance
- Autoimmunity, including Hashimoto’s
- Chronic pain conditions
- Digestive problems: IBS, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, etc
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Blood test: CRP-hs (C-Reactive Protein highly sensitive) higher than 3.00 mg/L (although ideally, it should be no more than 1 mg/L)
- Elevated blood sugar levels (HA1C, fasting glucose or insulin)
- Many more
Functional medicine practitioners today are of the opinion that inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases and weight gain.
Causes of inflammation
If I was to narrow it down to two main factors, it would be: Stress and food (where alcohol is included).
Stress raises key inflammatory messengers in our bodies, called inflammatory cytokines. There is a direct correlation between the perceived stress in our lives and the levels of these inflammatory molecules. Interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha are a couple of those inflammatory markers. Interleukin-6 particularly raises your levels of C-reactive protein, a marker commonly tested to check your inflammation level (see more on that below).
Inflammation partly explains why women who are perpetually stressed are having a really hard time losing weight.
Diet is another main contributor, as it can be the main healer of inflammation. Food allergies (which is an instant reaction to a food), food intolerance (a delayed reaction) or poor food choices can fuel inflammation.
These foods can be:
- Sugar – both added and naturally occurring, especially if consumed in large amounts
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed foods of all kinds
- Fried foods
- Wheat and gluten
- Dairy (especially processed)
- Too much meat, especially meat raised in cages
- Refined, high omega 6 oils
- Trans fats
- Excessive alcohol
- Foods specifically problematic to you (food allergies, histamine intolerance, lectin sensitivity, thiol sensitivity, salicylate intolerance, oxalate intolerance… etc)
How to test for it
The best indicator of systemic inflammation is the High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein also known as HS-CRP. If you work with an integrative physician or practitioner, she should be able to order it for you. If not, you can easily order it yourself here.
What you can do about it
Your action plan will depend if your inflammation is stress or food driven. If it’s due to stress, see some of my thoughts in point 8 below.
If it’s food, then you’ll need to work on what you eat. And trust me, I know how hard it is to change your diet but once you change your diet for the better, it will be the single, most rewarding step you will ever make.
The most effective way to instantly reduce inflammation is to commit to a full Elimination Diet. It’s not really a “diet” but rather a protocol to help you eliminate the most common food offenders that cause inflammation. Many women report feeling better in days.
Resources that may help
I invite you to check out the Estrogen Reset program (the first 5 days are a preview and are FREE) – which includes truly simple and delectable recipes and meal plans that are a hit with the Hormones Balance community.
You can also check out my cookbook, Cooking for Hormone Balance, which is based on the Elimination Diet.
When I was in private practice, whenever I met a woman who could not lose weight no matter what she did, I quickly learned that her hormones were the main culprit.
a. Low thyroid
The thyroid hormones are like a gas pedal – they make you sharp, energetic and allow you to convert fat into energy.
“Reduce food and exercise more” – This is one of the most offensive comments women with low thyroid function often hear from ignorant physicians.
If you experience symptoms such as: Sudden weight gain that won’t budge (when you have not changed your diet or movement routine), hair loss, eyebrow loss, brittle and weak hair or nails, feel cold, feel exhausted and foggy in the brain, experience episodes of anxiety or depression, miscarriages, then it is likely that your thyroid is underproducing thyroid hormones.
Resources that may help
The topic of low thyroid is pretty complex and you would also need to understand Hashimoto’s disease. I also have Hashimoto’s disease (under control, for the most part) and I recommend to dive deeper into this by getting my book Cooking for Hormone Balance – the book contains low thyroid and Hashimoto’s protocol and diet recommendations.
b. Estrogen dominance
If you struggle with fat and cellulite on your hips and thighs, it’s likely that this weight gain is caused by a very common hormonal imbalance called Estrogen Dominance. Other symptoms of estrogen dominance include PMS, heavy or absent periods, mid cycle spotting, fibroids, endometriosis, breast lumps, fibrocystic breasts, thyroid nodules, mood swings (especially just before your period), infertility and miscarriages.
Resources that may help
I invite you to check out the Estrogen Reset program (the first 5 preview days are FREE). I developed this program especially for women with estrogen dominance.
c. High blood sugar levels
If you developed belly fat that just won’t go away (no matter how many sit-ups you do), it’s most likely due to imbalances in your blood sugar levels. This is very common in women after 50. The hypothesis is that as we age, we become more insensitive to insulin and therefore don’t clear sugar in the bloodstream as effective as we used to in our twenties.
Stubborn belly fat is a sign of high sugar levels.
You may have a problem with blood sugar levels if you experience mood swings, shakes, anxiety or shakiness when hungry (like in the case of hypoglycemia) and frequent urination, feeling tired after a meal, blurry vision and fatigue (case of hyperglycemia).
Or, if you ran blood sugar levels and your fasting glucose is above 90 mg/dL (even though labs/doctors say 99 mg/dL is acceptable, it’s not), H1Ac is greater than 5.4 (even though labs/doctors say 5.6 is acceptable), or your insulin is greater than 15 IU/mL (even though labs/doctors say 24.9 IU/mL is acceptable).
Diabetes isn’t genetically inherited (yes, you can have a predisposition but you can control it with your diet) and you can rebalance your blood sugar levels in a matter of two weeks.
Resources that may help
My cookbook, Cooking for Hormone Balance is full of recipes that are laid out in a way that you would be able to balance your sugar levels without thinking too much about it. I won’t be asking you to purchase any shakes or protein powders – you will only work with real food. A quick tip: Your breakfast is going to be the most important meal (and that does not mean eating or drinking fake food like shakes or anything weird like meal replacements).
3. Toxicity (Including heavy metals)
Every year I go to the Swiss Mountain Clinic for a 2-week liver detox. The residing doctor told me that 80% of people coming from the US have elevated heavy metals, especially mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium. These heavy metals interfere with the body’s cellular messaging and feedback mechanism. Think of it like shoving a stick into the spokes; interfering with your body’s metabolism and elimination. Apart from developing weight loss resistance, heavy metals can also manifest in the form of brain fog, any form of neurological problems, headaches and candida yeast overgrowth.
Resources that may help
A fairly easy and inexpensive way to test your heavy metals is via hair analysis. Wendy Meyers offers this service (you don’t need to see a doctor, it’s an at-home test). You can order the test here.
4. Gut Issues
If you experience chronic digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, flatulence (gas), loose stools, diarrhea, tummy ache or acid reflux – this is your body’s way of telling you that your digestion is struggling. To be frank, I’ve never met a healthy person who had ongoing digestive issues. Most integrative and functional practitioners start a patient on a gut-restoration protocol as the first step. This is because you need a healthy gut to become healthy overall, balance your hormones, and lose weight.
It’s a larger discussion, but in short, ongoing digestive issues cause inflammation (which we discussed above), inhibit nutrient absorption (making your body go into starvation mode, hence holding on to fat as a survival mechanism), and elimination issues that contribute to your toxicity levels.
a. Chronic gut issues
Chronic gut issues can happen when the food you are regularly eating isn’t agreeing with you. They can also happen when there are issues present such as parasites, bacterial overgrowth (such as h.pylori), viral infections, or yeast infections.
b. Microbiome issues
The Microbiome project has shown us that there are not only more bacteria than cells in our body but also that these microbes are the real boss. We now know that they can impact our brain function (including mood, depression, anxiety) but also the immune system and our weight. One famous experiment comes to mind here: In a 2014 study from Washington University in St. Louis, researchers populated fat mice with the gut bacteria of skinny mice. The fat mice lost weight after they were given the healthy and diverse microbiome.
Resources that may help
If you are ready to change your diet, please start with the Elimination Diet and start the Food-Mood-Poop journal. You can learn how to do them in my cookbook Cooking for Hormone Balance. You will also learn how to restore your gut microbiome with prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods.
If you prefer online resources, interactions and audio/video classes, try the Estrogen Reset program. You will learn about the Elimination Diet and get super easy recipes and meal plans.
For testing, I highly recommend to work with a functional practitioner who can order a GI Map . This is by far my favorite and most revealing gut testing lab that will show if you have ongoing infections and your levels of pathogenic bacteria and yeast.
5. Food and Sugar Addiction
In the 1960s, when the tobacco industry came under attack, they laid off scientists who used to work on creating “product loyalty” or rather addiction to one particular cigarette brand over another. These scientists went on to work for the food industry and Kraft was the first to hire them. Soon, the rest of the food giants followed.
There is sophisticated and manipulative science behind many of the processed products — using fat, salt, sugar and additives to get us hooked. Worse still, many of these foods suppress appetite causing overeating and uncontrollable weight gain. Think about what Pringle’s slogan is: ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop.” Yet you won’t have that problem with a bag of almonds, right?
Resources that might help
If you are dealing with food addiction, I recommend reading Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. The good news is: Once you switch to a real, organic, nutrient-dense diet, your taste buds will recalibrate and you will eventually kick this addiction.
If you are dealing with emotional food addiction, please see point 8 below (on Emotional issues).
6. Poor Sleep
If you experience chronically poor sleep (it’s hard for you to fall and stay asleep), this might have a direct impact on your weight. This can happen through a number of mechanisms: Increased inflammation and blood sugar dysregulation, which can lead to excessive eating, diabetes and slower metabolism. The Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago conducted such a study and concluded that: “Chronic partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways, including an adverse effect on parameters of glucose regulation, including insulin resistance, a dysregulation of the neuroendocrine control of appetite leading to excessive food intake and decreased energy expenditure.”
Resources that may help
I’ve written a long and detailed article here about restoring your sleep by removing the key root causes (and not simply relying on melatonin and sedative herbs). Once you get your sleep back, you will probably drop a few pounds pretty effortlessly.
Many medications including the leading antidepressants Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro can make weight gain more likely. The best thing is to either work with a progressive physician to get off these medications or work with him/her to change them. From experience, when you change your diet, you can also consult with your physician about getting off any medications.
8. Emotional Issues
When going through a professional life coaching program, I met a woman who had decade-long weight issues. During the program, she realized that the sexual abuse she had suffered as a young girl made her hold on to her weight, making her feel unattractive and as a result, invisible to potential perpertrators.
Past abuse, trauma that can cause unresolved emotional charge leading to low self-esteem, binging episodes, self-loathing, and more. It can also have a profound impact on your ability to let go of the pounds. If this is your story, don’t sweep it under the rug. Your trauma might be playing a much bigger and deeper role than your conscious mind is able to realize and admit. If you’re dealing with unresolved trauma, I highly recommend you seek therapy. I’m not a fan of talk therapy and would rather recommend more effective modalities such as EMDR, EFT, neurofeedback or somatic experiencing. Research your options and see what resonates with you.
This is a very large topic and I have a few resources for you if you feel that genetics play a big role in your weight gain. In my experience, genetic testing can provide certain clues, such as: eating large amounts of certain types of fats will make you fat very fast, and may explain why keto isn’t the right diet for you. When I look at my own genetic markers, I have a propensity for autoimmunity (and yes, I have Hashimoto’s and so does my mother) and diabetes (yes, I can get hypoglycemic very quickly and my dad has diabetes). I’m also a very poor detoxifier (which explains why I struggle living in polluted places and get really sick) and a poor estrogen metabolizer (this explains why I get symptoms of estrogen dominance in no time and a number of my aunts on both sides of the family passed away from estrogenic cancers).
The area of epigenetics focuses on the impact on the DNA alteration that results from making diet, sleep, meditation and detoxification changes. So yes, you may have certain genes that predispose you to getting heavier more quickly than a person who does not have them. However, you can override them in the same way that I’ve taken steps to not be estrogenic, diabetic, autoimmune and with high toxicity issues.
Resources that may help
10. Misinformation and Misleading Marketing
When I first moved to the United States, I was shocked how manipulative food marketing is and how people trust what the front of the label claims. This is not to blame or shame anyone; after all, we need to trust someone to function in this world!
Let me give you a few examples of how easy it is to fall into the food giants’ traps and perhaps that’s you, too.
Take Odwalla, the “healthy” juice company (owned by Coca Cola) – their juices will set you back between 27 to 52 grams of sugar — which means 7 to 14 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. Ouch. My sugar intake recommendation is no more than 20 grams, or 5 teaspoons.
Interestingly, The American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have each been criticized by public health advocates for forming partnerships with Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Hershey’s.
This is a good article that calls out many other product labeling BS.
Solution? Avoid packaged foods as much as possible, and instead, rely either on truly clean companies or buy whole foods only.
The bottom line and where to start
I realize this is a long article that can send you in many different directions. The last thing I want for you is for you to feel overwhelmed and not take any action at all.
If you struggle with your weight, I strongly recommend to start with the full Elimination Diet. Remember: It’s not a “diet” but a way to figure out what foods inflame you and sabotage your efforts. I can’t tell you how common that is.
This is why women in the Hormones Balance community get on the Elimination Diet and are able to start dropping the pounds in days — as the inflammation goes down. If you are interested in going more upstream, I suggest you start by committing to changing your diet. Ladies in the Hormones Balance community have life-changing results by changing their diet — starting by reducing their inflammation and rebuilding their digestive health with the Elimination Diet. You can either start by getting my book Cooking for Hormone Balance or by joining the Estrogen Reset online program (the first 5 preview days are FREE). Both cover the Elimination Diet, offer simple recipes and meal plans.
As I said at the beginning: A healthy, balanced person doesn’t have weight issues.