You're doing everything right. And then... nothing. Despite your ardent dedication, you have been at the same weight for weeks and maybe even months. Doubt and frustration occur, and also you begin to feel as if nothing is working. If you are like most individuals, you plan to work harder. You cut calories (or fat, or carbs) further, intensify your time on the elliptical trainer, and go to your vitamin store to buy the latest supplement that supposedly helped Kim Kardashian drop weight. At a certain point, you couldeven chalk it down to age or decreased metabolic process and accept that you'll never reach your objective weight. Perhaps the problem isn't you. Maybe what you are doing (or not doing) is causing you to be weight loss resistant.
What Defines Weight Loss Resistance?
Nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, author of the upcoming The Virgin Diet, coined the definition of "weight loss resistance" many years ago to describe people who, despite their best efforts, weren't losing weight. Virgin defines weight reduction resistance as "failure to shedfat (not weight) even though you are following a healthy diet and exercise program." This can even happen to people who are eating "all the vegetables in the world" and who sadly are especially frustrated. Shedding fat and not weight may be worthemphasizing, because even though the scales are stalling or even going up, you may be burning fat and gaining muscle. Likewise, you may belosing four pounds a week, but most of it comes from muscle. Unless you possess a scale that measures both lean muscle mass and fat, you won't know. The most apparent condition with weight loss resistance, of course, is stubborn fat that clings around your middle and won't go away regardless of how vigilantly you diet and exercise. other difficulties of weight loss resistance include:
- Gas, bloating, cramping, and other digestive problems, especially after a meal
- Less than a single bowel movement a day
- Anxiety and/or stress
- Unstable or low energy throughout your entire day
- Yearning for foods, especially high-carbohydrate foods
- Difficulty building and/or maintaining muscle
Numerous conditions create weight loss resistance. Some could be obvious. For instance, an excessive amount of caffeine could raise your stress hormone cortisol (which you'll hear about often in this article) and stall fat burning. For others, you might not make the connection. Were you aware that birth control pills, for example, could create insulin resistance by knocking hormones like insulin out of whack? Hormones are what signal your body to break down or build muscle, blast or crash metabolism, you will find, store or burn fat. And oftentimes they play a key role in weight loss resistance. In other words, you could bemilitantly watching calories, taking the right supplements, and exercising like crazy. Yet, if your hormones are sending the wrong message, weight loss resistance could be the disappointing result. Among the many culprits of weight loss resistance, these seven are probably the most researched and prevalent.
Stress makes you weight loss resistant on several fronts, and numerous studies confirm its affect on fat gain.
For instance, one study in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at 1,355 men and women over nine years. Researchers discovered that both genders had higher body mass index (BMI) levels if they worked super-stressful jobs in addition had other demands that increased stress. (BMI scores can determine whether you are overweight or obese.) "Interventions to address psychosocial stress may limit an increase in weight among overweight and obese males and females," they concluded. On a more practical level, stress makes you head straight for the Krispy Kremes or whatever your chosencomfort food might be. After all, you're not exactly gravitating to quinoa and Brussels sprouts after your boss lets you have it for not meeting third-quarter quota.
Your adrenals react to stress by secreting cortisol. This hormone gets a bad rap, but cortisol can actually be beneficial in certain situations. For instance, if you're working out, cortisol helps redistribute fat out of your fat cells to your muscle cells, which need that energy to work (that's one reason cortisol increases during exercise).
But responding to chronic stress by continually secreting cortisol eventually wears your adrenals out. Adrenal burnout manifests as sleeping poorly, insulin resistance, decreased thyroid function, and lowered nutrient status. Most of these symptoms contribute to weight loss resistance. Strategies to address adrenal fatigue: Learn to manage stress levels through yoga, deep breathing, or simply just keeping the present. Your adrenals store more vitamin C than any other organ, and stress depletes this crucial vitamin. Eat vitamin C-rich foods and take a supplement.
The Wrong Kind Of Exercise
You probably know somebody whose gym routine involves reading OK! Magazine or perhaps watching The View while she leisurely strolls the treadmill. She's probably neither toned nor near her goal weight. Guys are equally guilty of elliptical surfing instead of lifting heavy weights or vigorous exercise. Cardio is hardly the most effective type of exercise to get rid of fat and can actually create weight loss resistance. That is because cardio chronically increases your stress hormone cortisol. On the other hand, if you're lifting weights cortisol works to your advantage by delivering fat to muscle tissue. "When cortisol is 'socializing' with HGH and testosterone, such as when you're intense weight training, it aids fat loss," says Teta. Not so with cardio. Keep your cortisol levels elevated extended periods with low-intensity exercise (without HGH and testosterone present), and you start to break down lean muscle tissue and store fat. Sure, you get rid of fatduring exercise, but lower-intensity exercise like elliptical machines means the body doesn't require any metabolic repair. Simply put: you do not get post-workout fat-burning benefits. Lower-intensity also means fewer calories burned while you're exercising.
All in all, it's not a good scenario for fat burning and could be making you weight loss resistant. So what's the alternative to hours striding elliptical machines and aerobics classes? Weight resistance, for one. Despite what you might think, you're not going to turn into Madonna or Arnold Schwarzenegger strength training 20 minutes, three times a week.
You might not have the time or inclination, however, to buy free weights or frequent your local gym. Fortunately, there's an even more efficient burn-burning exercise called high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT, also called burst training, involves short, intense 30 to 60 second bursts followed by one to two minutes of active recovery where you're moving at the low intensity so you can catch your breath and stabilize your heart rate.
You do not need any special equipment. Any park (especially ones with hills) works, as also does any set of stairs. You might run up the hill, walk briskly down, and repeat. Or you may run, walk, and repeat. Full throttle going up, steady coming down, and repeat: that's burst training.
You want to shoot for four to 12 total minutes of high intensity bursts. The point is to push your body to maximum capacity. If you're able to do burst training for more than a minute at a time, you're not doing it hard enough.
Why Burst Training Helps You Overcome Weight Loss Resistance
Burst training works in your favor for fat burning because it creates oxygen debt and forces recovery: your system literally must catch up for the oxygen you expended. Studies in the Journal of Applied Physiology and other journals confirm burst training increases oxygen debt for fat burning better than other kinds of exercise.
Burst training also raises your stress hormone cortisol. ("Most exercise, with the exception of leisure walking, restorative yoga, and tai chi will raise cortisol," says Teta.")
The Research Showing That Burst Training Helps Boost Fat-burning
But because burst training is short and intense, you aren't chronically elevating cortisol like aerobic exercises does. Just as in weight resistance, you're also raising anabolic hormones like testosterone to counteract those stress hormones. Burst training also raises lactic acid, which increases human growth hormone (HGH) and supports fat burning. You have got several hormones working in your favor. For instance, a study in The International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders showed that HGH helped reduce fat gain, increase fat-burning, and stimulate fat breakdown in obese mice. Studies prove burst training superior to cardio. One in the journal Metabolism, for instance, showed that compared to treadmills and hour-long aerobics classes, burst training helps you burn fat more efficiently and quickly. And a recent study in the Journal of Obesity elucidated those benefits. As outlined by researchers, burst training:
- Provides significant increases in aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- Brings about significant skeletal muscle adaptations
- Has a dramatic acute and chronic effect on insulin sensitivity
- Offers promising effects on subcutaneous and stomach flab loss
- Is efficient and does not demand hours for people who need to reduce fat
Not Enough Sleep Leads To Weight Loss Resistance
Sleeping below seven hours a night or constantly awakening during the night time can cause more than merely feeling spacey and requiring a caffeine IV to get you through the next morning. Moreover, you may knock your fat-burning hormones out of whack and set the scene for weight loss resistance. Too little sleep, for instance, elevates your levels of insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone: it stores fat perfectly. A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that even healthy people who got too little sleep for even one night increased your risk for insulin resistance. Other research shows just one terrible night's sleep increases levels of your stress hormone cortisol as well as your hunger hormone ghrelin the next day. Translation: you're more stressed out and hungrier. You can predict how that scenario will play out! But wait, there's more. Failing to get enough sleep can make you leptin resistant. Leptin tells your brain to stop eating, but when your brain cells become leptin resistant, they stop "hearing" that hormone. You're more apt to get seconds at the buffet even if you're not hungry.
Hypothyroidism, described as increased thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and suppressed amounts ofthyroid hormones, is synonymous with weight loss resistance. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found even tiny increases in TSH stalled fat loss. Former studies, such as one in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, also concluded TSH could create weight loss resistance. "Overt hypothyroidism can suppress basal metabolic rate (BMR) up to 40%," says thyroid specialist Dr. Alan Christianson. (Basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories you burn when you're inactive. A higher BMR means you burn more calories.) "Being hypothyroid can require two to three hours of exercise needed to create a normal BMR. Hypothyroidism also causes severe fatigue, making exercise hard at best."
In other words, hypothyroidism can crash your metabolic process and cause you to be weight loss resistant. You might fall outside the normal range of hypothyroidism but still manifest symptoms like weight loss resistance.
Strategies to improve thyroid function: If you suspect thyroid fatigue, find an integrative physician who can check your TSH, free T3 and T4, and thyroid antibody levels to look for optimal levels, not normal ranges. Additionally, in the view of Dr. Christianson, the root cause of hypothyroidism is auto-immune by nature. So any proven auto-immune protocol can help. Increasing the nutrient density of your diet, removing toxic foods and following an overall "clean" diet will help to improve your immune system function over time.
You might confuse food allergies with food sensitivities (also called food intolerances). They are both immune reactions, but food allergies are acute and their symptoms could be severe. Think of someone with a food allergy going into anaphylactic shock after eating peanuts. "Food sensitivities, by contrast, can keep your immune system fired up on a chronic basis," says JJ Virgin in her upcoming book The Virgin Diet, "because you keep consuming the foods that set them off." Not only does the food itself lead to further problems, repeatedly eating that same food exacerbates the problem. Food sensitivities overwhelm your system, and your immune system responds with an all-out assault. Inflammation is one end result, which can lead to (among other things) insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and -- you guessed it -- weight loss resistance. "Even after just several days of consuming foods that you may sensitive too, you'll put weight on," says Dr. Grace Suh Coscia. "In my practice, when I go over my patient's diets and see what they are eating, I look for cravings and foods that patients eat numerous times every week. Both of these create food sensitivities."
Strategies to eliminate food sensitivities: Suh Coscia recommends a rotational diet, where you eat a variety of foods throughout the week rather than the same foods every day. You might also consider an elimination diet and remove gluten, dairy, soy, and other potential culprits to see if you're able to lose weight.
You could possiblychoose a detox or cleanse program to get lean and sexy for your high school reunion. Partly fat burning comes from increased protein and healthier organic foods you eat on that cleanse. But lowering your toxic burden can also help you overcome weight loss resistance. According to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives, for instance, bisphenol-A (BPA) can bind to fat cells and increase inflammation. Inflammation, you'll remember, is a huge culprit for weight loss resistance.
Another study in the Alternative Medicine Review showed numerous environmental toxins could inhibit thyroid metabolism, leading to weight loss resistance. Toxins can also create leptin resistance. When toxins bind to brain receptor sites, they stop "hearing" leptin's message. Plus, toxins can interfere with your mitochondria, your cells' "power plants" that burn fat for energy. In both cases, your body's machinery can't do its job and fat burning goes to a halt. Strategies to detoxify: Eat lots of protein, good fats, and sulfur-rich foods every day. Ensure you're getting 35 grams of fiber from food and (if necessary) a supplement. Once or twice a year.
Maybe you had a friend who vigilantly followed a 1,200-calorie diet. In the beginning, she lost several pounds a week. And then, by some cruel fate of nature, her weight loss just stopped. Like most people, she concluded she wasn't being strict enough and pushed her calories right down to around 1,000. Despite her complaints about damaged metabolism, what she was experiencing was completely normal. Her basal metabolic rate (BMR) was compensating for her decreased calorie supply. Besides keeping you hungry and cranky, low-calorie diets raise your stress levels. A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed women that ate a 1200-calorie or less diet increased their cortisol levels. Researchers concluded that low-calorie diets "may be deleterious to psychological well-being and biological functioning."
If you get just one thing from this article, it's that hormones, not calories, run the show. Weight loss resistance happens when you send the body the wrong messages. In case you are eating a 1,200 calorie high-carbohydrate diet, you're cranking up insulin and cortisol levels, both of which signal your body to store fat.
Strategy: Focus on food quality as opposed to just calories. Eating 500 calories of salmon and spinach, for example, will allow you to burn more fat than 200 calories of pizza.