Today is Part 2 of our discussion around reasons for hitting a weight loss plateau.
One of my followers tweeted me saying, “I Lost 30 lbs on The Blood Sugar Solution. I am doing Eat Fat, Get Thin for another 30 days. NO sugar/carbs – all veggies, proteins, and good fats, but much slower weight loss this time.”
- Nutritional imbalances
- Gut microbiome imbalances
- Inflammation and immune function
- Environmental toxins
This week we are going to cover four additional reasons:
- Troubles with metabolism
- Hormonal imbalances
- Social connections
Each of us were born with trillions of tiny energy factories, called mitochondria. Every cell in our body has hundreds to thousands of mitochondria, and they convert the oxygen you breathe and the food you eat into energy that is used as fuel for your body. When scientists talk about “metabolism”, they are often referring to mitochondria.
If your mitochondria are effective, they are burning calories and you have a fast metabolism; conversely, if they are ineffective, they are not burning calories and you have a slow metabolism.
There are many things that affect the number and function of your mitochondria, and therefore your metabolism, that you can control. The greatest damage to our energy system comes from our diet. When we eat lots of sugary, processed, inflammatory foods like refined oils, or we simply consume too much food, we overload our energy factories and they become damaged.
Environmental toxins like pesticides and mercury, along with hidden infections and stress, also harm our energy systems. Even your gut microbiome can be a problem if the unhealthy inflammatory bugs outweigh the good bugs. Essentially, anything that causes inflammation (also known as oxidative stress) damages the mitochondria.
The natural act of aging and most chronic diseases– including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia – are related to mitochondrial dysfunction.
To boost your mitochondria and fire up your metabolism, I recommend eating real, whole foods, avoiding flour, moving more often and faster, reducing toxic exposure, keeping a healthy gut, and taking energy boosting nutrients. Here are my top supplements for boosting mitochondria:
The hormone that has the greatest connection to weight gain and disease is insulin – specifically too much of it. My book, Eat Fat Get Thin, is all about how to naturally regulate insulin to shift from fat storage to fat burning.
There are other hormones that are dynamically interacting every minute, which also affects your weight and health. The hormones most likely to affect your weight are thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones.
Many things contribute to these imbalances. In my e-book, The UltraThyroid Solution, I explain how diet, nutrient deficiencies, stress, and environmental toxins impact your thyroid and how to address these problems.
A common cause of hypothyroidism is gluten intolerance.
Other major culprits that interfere with thyroid function include pesticides and heavy metals. Nutrient deficiencies can also slow things down. Your thyroid needs specific nutrients to run optimally including selenium, zinc, iodine, and omega-3 fats.
Most doctors don’t test for thyroid function correctly. Even when they do diagnose it, they don’t treat it effectively by optimizing thyroid function through diet, supplements, and the right thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
That’s unfortunate since thyroid function plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy weight and hypothyroidism is a major player in weight-loss resistance. Among my patients, I’ve found these four strategies can optimize thyroid function and weight loss:
- Get the right tests. Ask your doctor to check your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH and free T3 and T4, as well as thyroid antibodies including thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies (TGAb). I cover this extensively in my e-book. Some people may need to dig deeper and get a special test called reverse T3 to learn if something like heavy metals (mercury), pesticides, yeast, or nutritional deficiencies like selenium, vitamin D, zinc, or even iodine could block thyroid hormone function. Reverse T3 is the brake that stops your thyroid hormone from working at the right times. Unfortunately, toxins and inflammation increase levels of reverse T3. Even if regular thyroid tests appear normal, high levels of reverse T3 mean your thyroid is not working properly!
- Eat right for your thyroid. Limit soybeans, raw kale, and other raw cruciferous veggies, which might contain thyroid-blocking compounds called goitrogens. I know this sounds confusing. After all, I usually recommend plenty of cruciferous veggies. In this scenario, I am saying it’s okay to eat them…just not raw! You should limit the kale juice and kale salad. One study in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at a woman who ate two pounds of raw bok choy a day and went into a hypothyroid coma! I know that sounds extreme, but it could happen. I also recommend wild-caught, low-mercury fish, and seaweed for additional iodine – the mineral your thyroid hormones are made from. Since people eat less iodized salt, you might be iodine deficient. Over-exposure to fluoride and chlorine also create iodine deficiencies. Pumpkin seeds and oysters are excellent sources of zinc, and Brazil nuts provide selenium and iodine.
- Use quality supplements for thyroid health. A good multivitamin that contains the above nutrients, plus fish oil and vitamin D, makes an excellent nutrient base. Some people may benefit from iodine supplements. Just be careful not to overdose and be sure to get your iodine levels measured regularly.
- Replace the right thyroid hormones. Most doctors will only prescribe T4 (such as Synthroid), the inactive form of thyroid hormone your body must convert to its active form, T3. Most people do better on bioidentical hormones (like Armour, Westhroid or Nature Throid) or a combination of T4 and T3. A Functional Medicine doctor who understands how to optimize thyroid balance can customize a nutrient protocol.
Another source of weight-loss resistance is stress. Yes, you actually can think yourself fat or think yourself thin, and science proves it. Stressful thoughts activate metabolic pathways that cause weight gain and insulin resistance.
Stress creates hormonal responses that cause weight gain and insulin resistance. Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that helps you to run faster, see further, hear better, and pump fuel into your bloodstream for quick energy. It is the hormone that helps us survive in the face of true danger. It also shuts down digestion and slows your metabolism.
All of this is perfectly normal in the short term, yet if left unchecked, prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol cause high blood sugar, increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and muscle loss.
You can’t eliminate stress completely, but you can reduce it with meditation, yoga, or deep relaxation. These activities activate pathways that promote weight loss and health.
Sex Hormone Imbalances
Sex hormone imbalances, such as estrogen and testosterone, can also cause weight problems. Having too much estrogen causes weight gain whether you’re a man or a woman. Do you know how ranchers fatten steer before they go to market? They implant them with estrogen pellets.
For both genders too much sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol spike estrogen. Keeping your gut healthy also cultivates healthy sex-hormone metabolism. Too little fiber or too many antibiotics damage the gut, triggering estrogen spikes because your body can’t properly detoxify or excrete waste. Environmental toxins, like for example pesticides, are called xenoestrogens. This is because even at low doses, they act like estrogen in your body.
Symptoms of excess estrogen in women include breast tenderness, fluid retention, bad premenstrual syndrome, fibroids, and heavy menstrual bleeding.
In men, excess estrogen can cause loss of body hair (including chest, legs, and arms), a beer belly, and “man boobs.” Low testosterone in men can also accelerate aging. Lack of exercise, alcohol, stress, environmental toxins or diseases like diabesity, and even pituitary problems can also lower testosterone.
Low testosterone causes men to lose muscle and gain fat, leading to sexual dysfunction, low sex drive, fatigue, mental fogginess, and bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis.
Interestingly, cholesterol produces testosterone and other sex hormones. Eating a low-fat diet and taking statin drugs that block cholesterol production can negatively impact your sex hormones.
If you suspect imbalances, you’ll want to get tested. In my free e-book, How to Work with Your Doctor To Get What You Need, I explain exactly how to test for these and other hormone imbalances. These five strategies can help get you started:
- Eat a hormone-balancing diet. The nutritional principles in Eat Fat, Get Thin, which is low in sugar, high in good fats, and high in fiber, can help balance hormones. My own testosterone went up 500 points when I ate more healthy fats!
- Bulk up on fiber. Ground flaxseeds provide optimal fiber and lignans, which balance hormones. Even adding two tablespoons a day to a shake or a salad can help. You’ll also want to eat fiber-rich organic fruits and veggies.
- Foster daily elimination. Constipation is bad for your hormones. Take magnesium citrate, vitamin C, probiotics, and flaxseeds daily to help maintain regularity. It’s a foolproof combo for most people.
- Limit or remove alcohol. Excess alcohol can compromise liver and kidney function, which inhibit detoxification and create hormonal imbalances, high triglycerides, and fatty liver.
- Get moving. Exercise helps balance hormones, reducing estrogen and increasing testosterone, which helps you lose fat and build muscle.
Can our genes make us fat?
There are definitely some genes that can cause obesity. Though some of us may have the genes that predispose us to obesity and type 2 diabetes, predisposition does not mean pre-destiny.
If you have a family history of obesity or type 2 diabetes, or you are of Asian, East Indian, Native American, Pacific Islander or Middle Eastern heritage, you are much more likely to be carbohydrate intolerant. A little bit of sugar or starch will cause you to make way more insulin than others. This starts you on the vicious cycle of weight gain, hunger, and fatigue. The good news is that by eating well and exercising you can completely prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.
There are other genes that play a role in weight gain and weight loss as well.
The brain has genes that code receptors for dopamine, the pleasure producing neurotransmitter. Some of these genes cause the dopamine receptors to be less responsive to the pleasure signals provided by dopamine. Many drugs of abuse, including cocaine and heroin, trigger dopamine receptors.
The abundant abuse of drugs that are available freely and over the counter also triggers these dopamine receptors. These drugs are commonly known as “sugar” and “refined carbs”!
When your dopamine receptors need more stimulation to feel pleasure, it predisposes you to cravings and addiction. We know that sugar acts just like cocaine and drives food addiction and causes overeating. I describe the research in detail in my book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, and provide a clear plan to break the sugar and carb addiction.
Other genetic factors also play a role. Just as different people have varying responses to carbs, they also have different responses to fats. This is new and emerging research, and more is being discovered every day. Some people do better with more omega-3 fats, while some do better with saturated fats, and still others do better with more omega-6 fats. Different people need different levels for balance. There can be a big difference in how your body responds to different fats and how they affect your blood sugar, cholesterol, and even gut bacteria.
The best consultant in the house is your very own body. Listen to that wise inner voice who gives you direct and immediate feedback about what works and what doesn’t!
Statistics show that we are 171 percent more likely to be overweight if our friends are overweight, but only 40 percent more likely to be overweight if our parents are overweight.
What does this tell us? Simply put: Our social connections are more important than our genetic connections in determining our health. The reason? Social connections influence our behavior. It’s the power of peer pressure.
The way in which our environment and our social connections influence our health is what I call sociogenomics.
With Pastor Rick Warren and Daniel Amen, I created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based wellness program that helped 15,000 people from Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church lose 250,000 pounds collectively, in 10 months, by doing it together. Rick says, “every body needs a buddy!”
So together, we wrote the #1 best-selling book, The Daniel Plan that details a practical plan to get healthy together because we found that getting healthy is a team sport.
Using the power of peer pressure for good can make it easier to do the right thing. Even if I don’t say a word, when people eat out with me, they choose healthier foods because they know it matters to me. I don’t care what they eat and I don’t prompt them, but their internal compass shifts.
So, you can see it’s important to surround yourself with healthy people if possible or join a community of healthy, like-minded people.
Those are my top tips for addressing a weight loss plateau. There is always something you can do. We can always dig a little deeper. And, if you feel like you’re doing everything right and still not losing the desired weight, I highly encourage working with a Functional Medicine practitioner – like one of the practitioners at The UltraWellness Center, where we dig deep to get to the root cause of the issue.
If you liked this video, be sure to share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Also, don’t forget to tweet me your health questions using #housecallwithdrhyman, and maybe next week, I’ll make a House Call to you.
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD