To lose weight, all you need to do is eat less and work out more. The diet works but the dieter lacked self-control. Why can’t I lose weight when I am eating so healthy?
I am sure you would probably agree with me that we hear statements like these all too often….arguments supporting this idea that weight is fully in our control based on the foods we consume and the foods we do not consume. I am here to bust the myth that your weight is determined by the simple notion of calories in, calories out. I am here to tell you that your weight is far more complex. I will prove to you that you have less control over your weight than you think so that you STOP dieting, calorie counting, and overexercising. I will show you that there are multiple factors that determine one’s weight, inability to lose weight, and tendency to gain weight. I am going to give you the simple truth supported with real facts and evidence, as well as a bit of my own personal experience.
So here they are, the 8 factors that influence weight that are not food and exercise! Yeah, I said it!
(When reading, simply click the blue hyperlinks and you will be led to the evidence based articles and studies that I refer to throughout the article.)
8 Factors that Influence Body Weight
The study: “Sex hormones strongly influence body fat distribution and adipocyte differentiation.”
Explanation: Your sex hormones strongly influence the production of fat cells and where fat likes to hang out on the body. Many of us are out of balance when it comes to hormones and this alone can prevent weight loss or cause us to experience weight gain.
The study: “Estrogen actions in hypothalamic nuclei differentially control food intake, energy expenditure, and white adipose tissue distribution. Estrogen actions are involved in insulin sensitivity as well as prevention of lipid accumulation and inflammation.”
Explanation: The hormone estrogen is a key hormone when it comes to deciding how much energy is expended. It is not simply how much you exercise or what your metabolism is doing. Weight gain and inability to lose weight can occur with an imbalance of the hormone estrogen and with what is called estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance occurs in individuals with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), but can also occur in individuals experiencing high levels of stress due to the release of cortisol, poor sleep habits, poor diet, toxins, nutrient deficiencies, and more, which can all affect estrogen!
Estrogen also plays a role in dictating how your body reacts to the consumption of carbohydrates and how your body reacts to insulin. How your body reacts to insulin will determine how you metabolize glucose. This in turn, will have a large effect on weight. For example, women with PCOS and estrogen dominance have a hard time metabolizing carbohydrates because they are insulin resistant. For this reason, they will gain weight a lot easier and quicker with the consumption of carbohydrates as compared to a woman without PCOS.
My experience: My weight fluctuates according to both where I am at in my menstrual cycle and how my cycle is affected that month. With this, I can tell you how much weight I will gain at each part of my cycle and when I will gain weight based on all of the factors that can affect my cycle including stress, sleep, illness, and gut health. In addition, when I am experiencing an irregular cycle and my hormones are out of whack for one reason or another, I can expect that my weight will fluctuate accordingly.
2. Your Gut/Digestion
The study: “In several studies, the gastrointestinal microbiota of overweight and obese subjects has been found to differ from that of lean subjects…it appears clear that microbes contribute to weight gain and related health issues, such as the metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.”
Explanation: Did you know that the microbes in you gut can influence our weight by providing us with energy through the breakdown of nondigestable carbohydrates. This affects the cellular energy status of the liver and muscle cells and therefore, also causes the accumulation of fat on your body. In today’s world, maintaining good gut health is not always easy without consciously supporting good gut health by taking probiotics, eating foods full of prebiotics, avoiding toxins in non-organic foods, and more.
My experience: My experience in this area is vast and because I have a lot to share on this topic, I will be creating a separate post about gut health. However, I would still like to share a quick story of a recent gut health experience. About two weeks ago, I contracted an infection. Prior to the infection I was having healthy digestion and was regular (if you know what I mean…pooping every day!) The infection would not clear up on its own so I needed to resort to an antibiotic. One week later, today, after the antibiotics have killed off all of the good bacteria, my gut health is awful and I am far from being regular…and hence, I gained weight. Antibiotics can kill the good bacteria in our gut, causing an imbalance and leaving us susceptible to the bad bacteria that causes weight gain. So now, I am trying to get that gut heath back by taking my probiotics every day!
3. Food intolerances
The expert: “Damage to the gut can lead to a leaky gut, allowing food particles to be exposed to the gut’s immune system. This then triggers a system-wide immune response, leading to inflammation all over the body and producing obesity by increasing insulin resistance.”
Explanation: Have you heard of food intolerances? If not, check out this clip (at time 4:42 in part 2 of my integrative medicine story). Many people suffer from food intolerances and don’t even know it and therefore people continue to consume the foods they are intolerant to. When they do this, the damage of food intolerances is repeated over and over with each bite, eventually leading to inflammation which then seeps throughout the body, causing weight gain and other harmful side effects.
The expert: “As the body responds to high levels of stress, it “steals” progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, often leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Maintaining poor sleep habits cause a reduction in the hormone melatonin, which helps protect against estrogen dominance.”
Explanation: As mentioned earlier, estrogen dominance cause weight gain. Therefore, if stress causes estrogen dominance which causes weight gain, we can say that stress causes weight gain.
Overall, I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a study to tell me that my stress level affects my body, my weight, and how I am feeling overall. We all have probably experienced how stress can affect our bodies whether it is hair loss, insomnia, depression, poor digestion, and so much more….so it is pretty easy to believe the fact that stress can also affect your weight.
Emotions sit at the top of the list of what affects weight, because everything we do is driven by how we feel. Stress and our emotions trickle into so many other aspects of our lives with our mental health directly affecting our physical health. As I mentioned earlier, more stress = more cortisol= more belly fat.
My experience: Whether I am stressed from school, stressed because I am having problems in my relationships, or stressed with my todo list and lack of time, I ALWAYS feel it sooner or later. I feel it not only emotionally, but physically as well, possibly becoming ill, feeling tired, or experiencing headaches. Physically, stress also affects how tight my clothes fit. Now, on the other hand, during the weeks when I feel balanced, remember to take care of myself, and make time for fun, my clothes feel loser and I feel light on my feet. I don’t weigh myself but I know that the number on the scale would change as well. Nothing about my diet changes during these times of stress and balance, but my mental and emotional health changes and I will tell you…it makes all the difference.
The Study: “It is now well-established that overweight and obesity have a significant genetic component, with estimates of the contribution of genetic variation to observed variation in obesity-related phenotypes (such as BMI, fat mass, and leptin levels) ranging from 30 to 70 percent.”
Explanation: I mean….that pretty much says it all. Your weight is partly predetermined at conception wether you like it or not.
The study: Toxic environment, toxic body products, mold, toxins on non-organic foods, and so much more can affect our bodies in one way another.
Explanation: All of the cleaning products, self care products, and other household products in our environment are absorbed by our skin and can affect chemicals in our bodies. We’re also subject to electromagnetic frequencies in our modern age and these can affect our metabolic processes as well. The affects of our environment doesn’t stop there….our environment also includes our work place and where we live, and more importantly if we are happy in these places (but this all goes back to stress).
My experience: Shawn Mynar, a nutritionist and health coach for woman, has an incredible story about how mold exposure caused her to be diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) and to gain 35-40 lbs in a matter of months. Read her story here!
The expert: “In one study, overweight/obese dieters were asked to follow a fixed calorie diet and assigned to get either 5 and a half or eight and a half hours of sleep a night (in a sleep lab). Those with sleep deprivation lost substantially less weight.”
Explanation: Sleep is also a powerful factor influencing weight gain or loss. Lack of sleep may disrupt the functioning of ghrelin and leptin—chemicals that control appetite. In addition, lack of sleep causes stress on our body, and like we covered, stress is a major player in your weight!
8. Neurotransmitter Imbalances
There are four major neurohormones we need to understand when it comes to the control of our weight. These are dopamine, Acetylcholine, GABA, and Serotonin. Together these four brain chemicals interact to influence personality traits, energy, and fat burning. When they are out of balance, they effect your weight.
My experience: Dopamine is perhaps the most important neurohormone related to your ability to burn fat. My body has a dopamine deficiency. When I discovered this and fixed the problem, I dropped weight, as simple as that. You can check out my story here.
There you have it. This is your permission to stop manipulating your weight and to understand that you DO NOT have as much control over your weight as you think. All of these components work together and just like health, weight is very much holistic.….it isn’t simply determined by one thing. So many people stress about weight even when they feel like they are not in control and can’t figure out why. So many people focus on counting every last calorie, analyze there already super healthy diet, exercise more frequently than needed, try to manipulate their bodies to look like the supermodel they see in the magazine, and stress over those pounds that are out of their control. Therefore my advice to you is that you need to let go of this control that you do not have. You need to nourish your body and move for enjoyment. You need to listen to your body and consider all facets of health from sleep, to relationships, to eating lots of fruits and veggies. Then, you need to let your body do the rest.
In conclusion….don’t spend 95% of your life trying to weight 5% less.
A great leader in the health at every size movement and resource to check out if you are interested in this topic is Linda bacon. Check her out!
Photo credit in banner (cartoon): photo credit