Because weight issues are so common in my practice, I felt inspired to write yet another blog post about weight.
I meet a LOT of women who experience issues with weight. Here are some common scenarios I hear about on a regular basis:
-“I gain weight so easily, if I don’t watch what I eat on a constant basis, the weight just comes back”
-“I am not able to lose weight no matter how clean I eat and how much I work out”
-“I now have a “spare tire” in my belly area. I never had this before and suddenly its here and I can’t get rid of it!”
If you can relate to these statements, then I am writing this for you. I will share with you what I know about these types of situations and what you can do to help yourself.
Here is what I think about, when I meet a woman who is struggling in this way.
1. Does she have food sensitivities?
We can be sensitive to certain foods without knowing it. In some people, when they eat certain foods their body mounts an immune reaction against the food. Its like an allergic reaction only it doesn’t cause the immediate symptoms of hives/swelling/itchiness/rash like a typical allergic reaction. Its a delayed reaction (happening hours or days after eating the substance) and it can cause things like brain fog, headache, moodiness, bloating, joint pain, and weight gain. It can be very hard to figure out that you are sensitive to certain foods because of the fact that the reaction is delayed. It’s hard to see cause and effect.
What happens during a food sensitivity reaction, is that the food you eat crosses the intestinal lining and enters your blood stream. This is not supposed to happen, normally your blood should have no undigested food. However due to “leaky gut” (an effect of stress on the gut), you may be “leaking” food into your bloodstream The food particles are not supposed to be there, and so your body mounts a reaction against them with your immune system- like “fighting off the invader”. This causes inflammation, which is what leads to all of symptoms I mentioned above. For some people it leads to arthritic pains or joint pains, for others its cognitive symptoms like brain fog or headache, and for others its weight gain and/or bloating.
How can you know if you have a food sensitivity?
There are a couple of things you can do in order to find out if you are sensitive to certain foods.
a. See how you feel after you eat certain foods. If there is any food that, after eating, you know you react poorly to- this is a no-brainer, you are obviously sensitive to the food. If you know you can’t eat dairy because it gives you a stomach ache, don’t eat it! If you know wheat causes bloating, don’t eat it! It is easy if you are able to identify the cause and effect so easily.
b. Do a food sensitivity test. This is a blood test that measures your antibody response to many different foods. You get a report that lists out the foods you are sensitive to so you can then avoid them. This an be tested through your naturopath or Integrative MD. With the help of your practitioner, you can learn how to eventually be able to rotate them back into your diet if you miss them. But this will be at a later date when your leaky gut has been dealt with.
c. Do a Diet Elimination. This is where you cut out many food groups and slowly add them back over time. This allow you to see which ones cause what symptoms. To do this properly, you may want the help of a naturopath or integrative MD to help guide you on a good protocol for how to do this.
2. Are her hormones balanced?
We know that when hormones are out of balance, women can get symptoms. Here are some common imbalances I see in women:
a. Estrogen/progesterone imbalance (Estrogen running high relative to progesterone). This is a result of many possible reasons (which I won’t get into here) but just know that there are some symptoms that are pretty classic for this situation: pre-menstrual symptoms like headaches, moodiness, breast soreness, bloating, fatigue; menstrual symptoms like heavy periods, cramping, or history of fibroids/polyps/ovarian cysts; increased anxiety, sensation of “brain fog”, low sex drive, and fatigue. If you have a few of these symptoms it is a good idea to explore whether you may have this imbalance.
b. Low hormones due to menopause. Common symptoms of this include insomnia, hot flashes and/or night sweats, anxiety, low mood, impatience, irritability, low libido, vaginal dryness, fatigue, impaired memory or brain fog, inability to put on muscle.
c, Low thyroid. Your thyroid gland is responsible for metabolism and has a direct effect on weight. It can become sluggish when your are stressed, when your other hormones are out of balance, when you are nutrient deficient, or if you have an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s. Low thyroid is not always detected on routine conventional blood testing (TSH). It may be the case that your integrative MD needs to dig a little deeper in order to determine if you have a more subtle case of low thyroid. They may check other levels such as reverse T3, free T4, free T3 levels and thyroid antibody levels. In some cases, urine thyroid testing can be done as well.
d. “Stressed” stress hormones
DHEA and cortisol work closely together to handle your stress response. Cortisol goes up with stress (its responsible for your fight or flight response) and DHEA is like your anti-stress hormone, helping your body repair, helping you recover from stress. When you are in a constant state of stress, your body goes into self-preservation mode- which means slowing metabolism, putting on weight. Your body thinks you are fighting for your life- so it stops all unnecessary activities and tries to protect you from starvation by keeping you “well-insulated”.
The hormones in your body work like an orchestra, also all of the hormones listed above will influence the others. For example a low thyroid can impact your stress hormones which can then impact our sex hormones. Viceversa applies as well- imbalanced stress hormones can impact
your thyroid which can impact your sex hormones. Balance in all areas is the name of the game!
3. Is something else going on, in this miscellaneous category?
-heavy metals or pollutants
-blood sugar issues or insulin resistance
-poor gut health including dysbiosis (having the “wrong” bacteria in the gut, not enough of the good healthy bacteria)
-chronic emotional stress or physical stress
If you think you have a hormone imbalance, I recommend you do these two things:
1. find a naturopath or integrative MD who can help you do testing to see where your levels are at, and work with you to restore balance
2. Begin reading books about bio-identical hormones so you can educate yourself about the world of hormones.
Sometimes weight gain persists despite balancing hormones and eliminating food sensitivities. This is because there are many other things that could be going on. It is really not possible to test
everything, so we have to start with the most probable cause and work our way down the list.
What can you do to lose your stubborn weight:
You are what you eat.
What you eat is CRITICAL for you to achieve and maintain your desired weight. You want to eat in a way that supports your hormonal balance, and in a way that minimizes food sensitivity reactions. Also you want eat in a way that reduces inflammation and that does not stress your blood sugar-insulin system. This means your diet should be:
-free of common food sensitivities
-supportive of your adrenal health
One of my favourite diets that does all this is the Paleo diet. Short for the “Paleolithic Diet”. this diet is based on the idea that we should only be eating what our ancestors in the paleolithic era were able to eat. In short, this means, whole foods, nothing processed, no grains, no added sugars. The diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat while excluding foods such as dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, alcohol or coffee.
The paleo diet is high in healthy fat, which is what makes it a tasty and easy diet to follow.
People often end up feeling much very satiated and satisfied on this diet. Many notice that their chronic symptoms improve.
Do the RIGHT exercise for YOU.
Many people how want to lose weight will instinctively begin exercising- thinking that burning more calories will help them. Of course this is right in theory, however it does not always prove to be the case.
If a person is very stressed, any intense exercise they do will ADD to their cortisol issue, aka it will add further stress to their body. This can actually cause – you guessed it- weight gain. So unknowingly, a person can be sabotaging their success by over-exercising.
In most cases of stubborn weight, the best type of exercise is the gentle, supportive types- the type that rejuvenate you and make you feel balanced (not exhausted). Some examples are: pilates, yoga, tai chi, essentrics. If you like cardio like I do, I would recommend using an elliptical or treadmill on a low intensity for a short period of time, say 15 mins. Anytime you feel you are getting worn down, you know its time to stop.
Regardless of what type of exercise you do, it is always important to know your limits and don’t try and push past them- it will only backfire on you in the longterm.
If you eat paleo-style and exercise in a way that nourishes you, and you STILL don’t lose any weight, you may need the help of a naturopath or integrative MD to help you look for other possible causes that can be addressed.