Tackling weight gain is puzzling and frustrating; just when you think you’ve cracked it and have found an easy way to lose the extra pounds, your weight loss plateaus. So, you look for another solution, follow yet another weight loss program, and may or may not lose weight. What gives?
The truth is, no matter what your personal trainer tells you, weight loss is not as simple as calories in vs. calories out. We all have different metabolic rates, genetics, lifestyles, and preferences, and it’s these factors that make weight loss more or less difficult.
Fortunately, there are 4 root causes of weight gain we all share, regardless of where in the world we live or whether we prefer to snack on sweet or savory. Read on to learn about these 4 pillars of weight gain, plus some of my best tips on how to combat them for yourself.
The 4 Pillars of Weight Gain
Let’s start with the most obvious - food! Regardless of the other aspects below, it all, ultimately, comes down to what we eat. Whether it’s mindless snacking or grabbing takeout meals when we’re on the road, what we choose has a huge impact on our weight.
But it’s not just the obvious foods that impact our weight - as you likely know, you can still struggle to lose weight even if you stopped grabbing the donuts at work.
What to do about it: While everyone has different dietary choices, most (if not all) people have an easier time losing weight when they focus on filling their plates with healthy protein sources (such as chicken, salmon, or tofu), plenty of fiber from vegetables and a small portion of healthy fats. This combination not only makes it easier to feel full without eating a ton of carbs, it also helps to lower your blood sugar and reduce cravings.
2. Gut Health
I’ve spoken before about the importance of gut health and how bad gut health can impact your health and weight loss, and it’s important to mention here.
Your gut contains thousands of bacteria that aide your digestion. They help pull the nutrients from the food you eat and convert it to energy. When we consume poor food choices we disrupt the microbiome. Overtime this can lead to overgrowth of bacteria causing malabsorption and other damages to your gut health.
Any imbalance here will likely hinder your ability to lose weight. If you frequently experience stomach discomfort you may have an intolerance to a food group that’s causing an imbalance in your gut bacteria. Another common cause of an imbalance is frequent or long-term indulgence in foods that aren’t good for us, such as fast food and candy.
What to do about it: cut out processed foods and consider taking a prebiotic to help restore your good gut bacteria. If you often feel digestive discomfort, talk to your doctor about trying an elimination diet to see if there are certain foods that are triggering your symptoms and damaging the delicate balance in your gut.
An imbalance in the gut can affect your body’s ability to extract nutrients from your food. This can lead to deficiencies in minerals, vitamins and other micronutrients. We need these vitamins and minerals to convert the food we eat into energy, as well as repair cells and other essential functions in the body. A micronutrient deficiency can lead to weight fluctuations, depression, anemia, brain fog and fatigue.
What to do about it: If you’ve been struggling not only with your weight loss but with other symptoms, consider reaching out to your doctor to check for any deficiencies and make sure you’re eating a diet with plenty of fresh, unprocessed foods. Taking a quality multivitamin is a good idea for most people, regardless.
4. Emotional Health
Lastly, your emotional health has a huge effect on your weight. It’s worth noting that this category doesn’t just include whether you feel happy or sad, it also encompasses sleep deprivation, stress, depression, and other factors that impact our physical and mental health.
We often think of the most obvious factor here: when we feel sad, we want to eat something that tastes good and is often full of sugar. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, ADHD, or just general stress- we’ll be more reliant on the things that give us that quick hit of good feelings and energy.
Another factor is the chemical side of what stress does to us. High levels of cortisol keep our insulin levels high, which means our bodies are constantly producing energy so we can run from what’s stressing us, even if we're not actually running. All that extra energy is then stored as fat.
As a cherry on top, chronic high levels of cortisol slow the metabolism, meaning we burn around 3% less calories a day.
What to do about it: Reach out for help if you need it - talk to a supervisor at work or to HR and tell them you’re struggling. If you’re struggling, see if someone can help take something off your plate - even if it's just getting healthy meals delivered so you don’t have to think about it. It’s important to prioritize self care.
As you move forward on your weight loss journey, try to keep these 4 pillars in mind and work to make the best choices possible. You don’t have to be perfect to make progress, but by knowing what may be contributing to your progress or hindering it, you can tweak your choices to help you continue losing weight.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.