By: Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
A common complaint that I see in the clinic is frustration with weight loss, especially when it it is slow to start, or a plateau is reached. The good news is that there are many areas to trouble-shoot to get your metabolism up and running again.
Here is my top 10 list of things to examine if you have hit a weight loss plateau:
1. Are your stress hormones too high?
High levels of stress can certainly stall weight loss and cause weight gain around the central abdomen. If you have had a prolonged period of high stress and are carrying too much abdominal weight, this is the first place to look. High cortisol levels can also affect your blood sugar and insulin levels, creating an extra issue to deal with. Weight loss requires a balance of adequate rest, recovery and down-time, which can also be supported with nutritional supplements such as relora, lactium, phosphorylated serine, rhodiola, holy basil and others.
2. Are you getting enough sleep?
Your body needs a minimum of 6.5 hours of sleep per night, but ideally more than 7. When you sleep 6 or less hours, your body is in a state of insulin resistance, regardless of what you are eating and your exercise routine. Sleep is essential for weight loss – aim for a minimum of seven hours per night.
3. Do you have insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is a state where your body is producing too much insulin in response to high-carbohydrate foods. This comes about from eating too many carbs for too long. Symptoms of insulin resistance are: intense cravings for carbohydrates and sugar, rapid weight gain, feeling bloated and tired after eating, gaining weight around the central abdomen and mood swings through the day. Insulin resistance is a blood sugar imbalance that can progress to diabetes if untreated, so it is important to reverse it early. To reverse insulin resistance, a significantly lower carbohydrate diet is necessary, along with regular cardio exercise.
4. Are your hormones in balance?
When your hormones are out of balance, with estrogen dominance, PCOS or menopause to name a few, weight gain is likely. In the case of estrogen dominance, weight gain is mostly around the hips, thighs and upper arms. Estrogen dominance is a very common state due to high exposure to xenoestrogens in the environment, low progesterone levels, and poor digestion as examples. With PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), there is irregular menstruation and high androgen levels which may appear as acne, head-hair thinning and extra hair growth on the face or body. One of the underlying imbalances with PCOS is insulin resistance, which must be addressed for weight loss. During menopause, with a drop in estrogen, the body often gains weight on the lower abdomen especially. This is best corrected by supporting the body’s endogenous hormone production with adrenal support. Hormone imbalance is treated through an accurate diagnosis (blood or saliva testing) in order to most accurately treat it. These are just a few ways that hormone imbalance can affect your weight.
5. Do you have a sluggish thyroid?
Most women who have difficulty losing weight are familiar with the role of the thyroid in their metabolism, but may not know which tests to request. A thorough thyroid panel (blood test) is recommended to check for clear hypothyroidism, subclinical hypothyroidism, and also elevated thyroid antibodies which indicate that there is already thyroid stress. Testing only the TSH does not provide enough information to diagnose a thyroid condition. Symptoms of a sluggish thyroid include: fatigue, difficulty losing weight, constipation, dry skin and dry hair, depression, longer and heavier menstrual cycles, and feeling cold easily.
6. Are you exercising too much or too little?
Too little exercise is very easy to identify, especially if your life is quite sedentary with a desk job. Weight loss rarely happens without the inclusion of regular exercise. On the other extreme, many women are over-exercising and this can stall weight loss by putting the body into a constant state of stress. A very intense workout raises cortisol levels, and if this happens in combination of a stressful work-life or home-life, it will certainly stall weight loss. Pay attention to how your body is responding to exercise, and if you have been working out harder with boot camp, spin class and cross-fit without sufficient downtime, you may be stalling your progress. There is a reason that the ‘fat burning’ zone on all of the exercise equipment is at a slower, more steady pace!
7. Do you have food intolerances?
Food intolerance is a very common cause of weight loss difficulties, as food intolerances increase overall body inflammation. When there is more inflammation, there is more stress and you will often find bloating, puffiness and water retention. Popular ‘diet-foods’ like egg whites, plain yogurt and even almonds are very common food intolerances. Other signs of food intolerance can be: digestive disturbance (bloating, gassiness, constipation), skin troubles (acne, eczema, psoriasis), seasonal or environmental allergies, chronic congestion, dark circles under the eyes, and fatigue after eating, among others. If you suspect that food intolerances may be affecting you, the most accurate test is a blood test for IgG antibodies (delayed hypersensitivities) to a panel of foods.
8. Are you eating out too much?
If you are someone who eats out for most of their meals, even healthy choices at a restaurant are likely to have much more fat and sodium compared to what you would cook at home. On top of this, the oils in dressings, marinades and sauces are unlikely to be good quality olive oil, but rather canola, sunflower or other vegetable oils, which increase overall body inflammation. Aim to cook more of your meals at home with whole food ingredients, with an occasional meal out as a treat.
9. Is you gut flora out of balance?
There have been many studies in the past five years linking alterations in digestive flora with weight gain. The simplest example is having too much yeast in the intestinal tract, which is very common after many rounds of antibiotics (even in the distant past), birth control pill use, and a high-sugar diet. Too much yeast in the body creates unreasonable cravings for sugar and carbohydrates since yeast need sugar to survive. Signs of too much yeast include: bloating and gassiness, irritable bowel syndrome, a thick white coating on the tongue, possibly prone to vaginal yeast infections, and strong cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. The good news is that it is quite simple to rebalance the digestive flora with a diet that doesn’t feed yeast, anti-fungal supplements, and high-quality probiotics. I can’t tell you how many of my patients have been helped with this approach!
10. Do you have a Vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with weight gain, as it plays a role in many metabolic processes in the body. Make sure that you are taking vitamin D in the winter months, and if you are not getting out in the sunshine for at least 20 minutes per day in the summer months, you may need vitamin D supplements year-round. The most accurate way to diagnose vitamin D deficiency and also to determine your optimal supplement dose is to test your levels first with a simple blood test.
As most of you are aware, weight loss is not simply about calories in and calories out. Your hormones, stress levels, gut health and the foods you eat all play a role. I hope that the list above has provided you with a roadmap to trouble-shoot your plateau.