If you have ever tried to lose weight, you would know how frustrating it is to eat right and exercise and still, that number on the scale just won’t budge. Or maybe you had some initial success at first, only to hit a plateau a few weeks or months into your weight loss journey. Part of the challenge I have seen for many clients is an unrealistic expectation as to how quickly they should lose weight. Maybe we followed someone else’s weight loss story on social media and assume we would have the same results. This may cause some people to take more drastic measures such as extreme low calorie diets or excessive exercise, which is not only unsustainable in the long term but also harmful for the body.
If you are stuck in a weight loss rut, here are some of the often-overlooked reasons why you may not be losing weight:
• Unmanaged Stress
We live in chaotic and challenging times and as a result many people are living with chronic stress. The constant flow of stress hormones within our bodies not only increases our risk of disease and leads to burnout, but also causes us to gain weight. In addition, many people turn to unhealthy food as a comfort during stressful times. If you are feeling stressed, explore non-food ways to release the tension such as yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, prayer or exercise.
• Inadequate Sleep
Our body rejuvenates and refreshes itself during sleep. When we cheat our body of the sleep it needs, then we don’t feel our best, physically, mentally or emotionally. In addition, inadequate sleep affects the levels of cortisol in the body, the hormone that controls your appetite. When you are tired and run down your body will crave simple carbohydrates and high sugar foods for a quick energy boost. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
• Hormone Imbalances or Other Medical Conditions
Weight loss is much more complicated equation than calories in vs. calories out. Hormonal imbalances related to menopause or a thyroid condition may make weight loss difficult and in addition, certain medications including steroids and antidepressants may add to your weight gain. In these cases it is important to work with a medical professional to deal with the source of the problem, rather than trying other more extreme weight loss measures.
• Not Eating the Right Foods
There are so many “diets” to choose from, it is hard to know what are the “right foods” to eat to lose weight. A key point to check is that you are eating primarily “real food”, food as close to possible to its whole form, and avoiding processed and packaged foods. Your diet should emphasize vegetables so that your body gets the nutrients it needs to function effectively. Consider the proportions of your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), the source of these nutrients and the when you eat these foods. There are so many diet protocols because no one program works best for everybody. Ultimately you need to figure out what your body needs, so maybe make a small change to your existing regimen or try something completely new.
• Excess Sugars
Sugar makes food taste good and it is addictive, so many food companies add sugar to everything from bread to tomato sauce and other foods marketed as low-fat to entice dieters, replace the fat with additional sugar. If you stay away from processed foods you can avoid this trap altogether. But if not, be sure you are reading your labels for the sugar content and the ingredients list. Even if you are eating a whole food diet, it is still possible to have too much sugar in your diet from eating excessive amounts of high glycemic fruit and natural sweeteners such as stevia, honey, maple syrup or dates. If you focus on eating a larger portion of vegetables, you can naturally squeeze out the high-sugar foods.
• Hidden Toxins
One of our body’s most automatic functions is the detoxification process. Everyday your body is neutralizing and eliminating harmful toxins that we consume though our food and water, the air we breathe and the products we put on our skin. If our body is unable to eliminate all of the toxins, it may store some toxins in fat cells so that they do not do harm to other important cells such as the cells of the major organs. To ensure that you don’t overload your body’s detoxification systems, it is best to reduce your toxin exposure by avoiding processed foods, food and drink stored in cans or plastic, properly cleaning produce, drinking filtered water and reviewing your personal care products.
• Time to Switch Up Your Exercise Routine
Whether it’s spinning or lifting weights, if a specific workout regimen worked for you in the past, it is tempting to stick with it in the long-term. The truth is that our body adapts to our workouts and you need to challenge it in order to progress. So vary the types of exercises you do or at least change one part of your program once a month. Consider whether you are doing enough strengthening exercises to complement any cardio workouts and make sure that you are making time for rest as overtraining can slow your metabolism.
• Emotional Weight
A key component absent from many traditional diet plans is emotional balance. In many, particularly Eastern, cultures it is believed that we are all made up of the mind, body and spirit and we achieve total health when all three aspects are in balance. If you are unhappy in your job, have dysfunctional relationships, you don’t have time to have fun or your life feels out of balance this could impact your overall health and also your weight loss. Seeking help from a professional may help you to release some of these stored emotions.
As you work towards getting yourself healthier, instead of using the scale as the only measure of success, focus also on non-scale victories. Has your energy level improved? Is your skin clearer? Are you no longer craving your comfort foods? Remember weight loss is not linear and be sure to give yourself time to see the results. If you are not sure what direction to go next, seek the guidance from a health coach, nutritionist or medical professional.
Kaylan Bartholomew is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Yoga and Mindfulness Instructor. Through her company, Spirited Natural, she works with individuals and corporations to help her clients stay consistent with a healthy lifestyle, lose weight sustainably, boost their energy and feel balanced.