5 Reasons It's Hard Losing Weight
By Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT
July 11, 2023
At several of our recent nutritionist meetings, my colleagues and I have been discussing reasons why our clients might have a slow metabolism. We’ve shared research and solutions with each other so we can better support each of our clients.
A client may come to us with an initial goal to lose weight. They have “tried it all” and are struggling to see ANY changes. After speaking with the client about their health history, we often discover there could be something deeper at play contributing to difficult weight loss. Does this sound like you? Are you trying all the things, but feel you are not making progress on your goals? Here are five issues that we often see in clinic:
1. Insulin Resistance
While many people would raise their hand to say they have a slow metabolism, most are unaware that they may also have insulin resistance. Insulin is the master hormone; its main job is to regulate blood sugar. After you eat a meal with carbohydrates the amount of sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream goes up. Cells in your pancreas, recognizing an increase in glucose, release the hormone insulin into your blood. Insulin goes around and tells your cells to take the sugar up from the blood to be burned and used for energy. You can think of insulin being the key to let the fuel into your cells. The process helps our bodies regulate blood sugar levels and prevent high blood sugar.
High blood sugar over a long period of time can have detrimental effects, if untreated. When insulin resistant, your cells stop responding to insulin properly. Cells can become more and more resistant to insulin, causing a rise in both blood sugar and insulin levels. This results in a shift to energy storage instead of energy burning. Some sugar can be stored in our liver and muscles, but when these are full the body starts to convert the excess sugar to fat for storage. Research indicates insulin resistance is a major cause of a slow metabolism. It happens over time when you consume an excess of sugar (carbohydrates) again and again.
Some Indicators of Insulin Resistance:
- Excess belly fat
- Sugar cravings that cause you to want more and more
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver
- Always feeling hungry
- Aches and pains throughout your body, including joint pain
- Bone thinning
If this sounds like you, one place to start is to eat in balance to keep blood sugar and insulin levels as stable as possible throughout the day. Enjoy a balanced meal with protein, fat, and some real food carbohydrates (think vegetables) at regularly scheduled times (every 3-4 hours, during the day).
A great place to start is with your breakfast. Instead of enjoying a high carbohydrate breakfast with cereal or a bagel, transition to a protein-forward breakfast. A favorite breakfast of mine is to mix one cup of plain Greek yogurt with whey protein isolate for a total of around 35-42 grams of protein. Pair it with some fiber rich fruit (this time of year I love raspberries mixed with chopped nectarine) and healthy fat from ¼ cup of chopped nuts/seeds (walnuts, chia seeds, pecans, etc.).
A dairy-free breakfast favorite of mine is three scrambled eggs with 2-3 ounces of ground Nutritional Weight & Wellness turkey breakfast sausage. I like to mix in spinach, mushrooms and chopped bell peppers along with about a ½ cup of leftover roasted potatoes topped with ½ a sliced avocado.
Read on for more information on insulin resistance in the article, Is Insulin Resistance to Blame for Your Slow Metabolism?
2. Lack of Quality Sleep
Lack of sleep makes it harder for our bodies to manage glucose (it reduces glucose tolerance), increases stress hormones and affects appetite regulating hormones. When you lack sleep, you will crave more sugar to give you that boost to stay awake. When you lack sleep your body can also lose more muscle mass (while gaining more fat mass). Muscles burn more calories (even at rest) than body fat, so you want to preserve the muscle you have through good quality sleep.
If you are not sleeping enough, you can experience a slower metabolism over time with the increase in fat mass and reduction in your lean muscle mass. It is recommended that adults get 7 ½ - 9 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers need as much if not more than younger children (on average 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night).
Some Indicators of a Sleep Issue:
- Not feeling rested/restored/replenished in the morning
- Snoring or having diagnosed sleep apnea
- Intense sugar and processed carb cravings during the day, or experiencing times of overeating/bingeing on these foods during the day
- Weight gain/trouble losing weight (for instance 5-15 pounds coming on slowly each year)
- On sleep medications, or depression/anxiety medication
No matter how hard you try to sleep, it can be tricky and there are some things out of your control. To start working on sleep, determine where you’re having the most trouble (is it falling asleep, staying asleep, are you choosing to stay up late and not give yourself enough opportunity to sleep?) and that can guide which next step you take.
Nutritionally, a heavy meal late in the evening can disrupt sleep. Instead, a light snack, 2-3 hours before bed, may help improve sleep. Consider trying a 1/2 cup of fruit with ½ oz (2 tablespoons) of nuts or seeds like cherries with pistachios or pumpkin seeds and see if that helps your sleep quality. Also, consider avoiding caffeine later in the day (think after lunch). Caffeine too late in the day stays in your system and can mess with your sleep schedule. The consumption of alcohol has a detrimental impact on your sleep as well. You may consider trying one of our mocktail recipes or an alternative non-alcoholic beverage instead of the alcohol, next time.
Read on for more tips on how to get quality sleep in the article The Relationship Between Sleep, Hormones, and Weight Gain.
3. Digestive Issues
We’ve seen countless clients who struggle with digestive issues. Perhaps you can relate to many of these uncomfortable symptoms. While some digestive issues can result in unintended weight loss, others can result in weight gain.
For instance, some clients struggling with acid reflux will eat constantly to help relieve symptoms. This can result in them eating more than their body needs and they gain weight. Clients may also take proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid. These sometimes lead to an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria which may lead to weight gain.
Some Indicators of Poor Digestion:
- Abdominal pain
- Bone thinning
- Trouble swallowing
- Brain fog
Read: Signs of Poor Digestion
Digestion is such an individual issue, and it can be complicated. For some clients, eating more in balance with a source of protein at each meal along with fiber rich carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains) to feed the beneficial gut bacteria and staying hydrated can make a world of difference. An individualized consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist can be very beneficial to help clients find a plan that works for them and their digestive system.
Read on for a three-step approach to better intestinal health in the article Nutrition For Healing Gut Issues.
4. Lack of Water
About 60% of your body is water. Being well hydrated helps reduce risk of developing kidney stones, urinary tract infections and it reduces constipation. A lack of water makes it harder for our kidneys to function properly, which then interrupts the liver’s job of metabolizing fat. So, if you’re not hydrated, your liver pitches in to help the kidneys and can no longer metabolize fat, which leaves fat stored as excess weight.
Are you drinking enough water? Fluid needs vary from person to person, but general recommendations for adequate intake levels for water are about 11.5 cups of water per day for women and about 15.5 cups per day for men. A quick and easy way to check if you are drinking enough water is to look at the color of your urine. If you are well hydrated, the urine color will be pale yellow. If urine is dark yellow, consider drinking more water. Here are some other signs you might need more hydration:
Some Indicators of Dehydration:
- Dry mouth/dry eyes
- Less urine output
- Yellow urine (not pale/clear)
- Dry skin and wrinkles
- Tired/sleepy/lack of energy
A good place to start in determining how much water your body needs is to divide your body weight by two. This is a good general guideline for how much you might need each day, but also consider how much you sweat throughout the day, especially during summer months. Are you getting enough? Start paying attention to how much you drink per day and look at the color of your urine. Personally, I find it helpful to front load my water. Start your day with 2-3 cups of water (ideally before coffee).
Read on for more on signs you might need to hydrate in the article 6 Ways Your Body May Be Telling You To Drink More Water.
5. Hormone Issues
An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone in the body can cause fat storage and slow metabolism. Estrogen dominance is too much estrogen compared to your progesterone, and it’s often the cause of weight gain (especially around the hips and thighs). This commonly happens to women, and even men, of all ages. Estrogen stores fat and fat cells make estrogen, so this easily becomes a vicious cycle.
Some Indicators of Estrogen Dominance:
- Weight gain in your hips, thighs, and arms
- Acne on your chin and jawline
- Hormonal migraines/headaches
- PMS, irregular or heavy menstrual cycles
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Long history of birth control use
- Premature puberty
- Hot flashes/night sweats, insomnia
Just like digestion, hormones are complicated! Each person has their own individual storyline when it comes to their hormone health. A general rule of thumb for estrogen dominance is to incorporate more cruciferous veggies into your diet (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) and make sure you’re having a daily regular bowel movement to help detox extra estrogen.
Read on for a more in depth look at estrogen dominance in the article Signs of Estrogen Dominance: What That Means & How to Fix It.
Where to Start?
Do any of the above indicators jump out to you? Or perhaps many in various categories sound familiar? We can help! There is MUCH we can do with nutrition to support and even solve these five issues, which, in addition to relieve the individual issues, will also help to heal your metabolism!
Here are a couple ways we can support your healing:
One-on-One Nutrition Consultations with myself or one of the other registered and licensed dietitians and nutritionists on staff is a great option for doing a deep dive into your symptoms, your health history, your lifestyle, and your unique likes and dislikes. We work with you to come up with a game plan and help walk you step by step back to better health and vitality.
Our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss Program offers you group support over many weeks because we know that change doesn’t happen overnight. First you take our 12-week Foundations program designed to address the above issues and many, many more. 96% of participants experience positive health improvements – and you can too. Then for accountability and consistency, we have our Ongoing Support & Education groups, which meet for 8 weeks at a time to share tips, ideas, education, and conversation.
Sustainable Weight Loss Is Possible
Whether you are experiencing insulin resistance, sleep struggles, digestive issues, dehydration, hormone challenges, or something else entirely and you are not making progress, remember that you are not alone. It’s not a matter of lack of willpower or a character flaw. From looking at the research and helping clients in clinic, we know it’s a sign from your biochemistry of something else going on health-wise and we have solutions for you, so you can feel your best. Try a couple of these top tips on for size and reach out when you want more individualized next steps. You can do this!
For more information on weight loss or metabolism, check out these resources: