Part 1: 5 Reasons You Think You Are Not Losing Weight
Genes are units of heredity passed down from parents to their children. Our genes do determine some of our characteristics.
But how much control do genes have over your health?
The newer field of epigenetics studies changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. Meaning, our genes are more like a blueprint for our physiological makeup (including body mass and fat) than our destiny.
After an architect draws a blueprint, someone has to read it, right? The body works the same way. The genes are like the architect.
But our genes are read, or expressed, through our epigenome. The prefix “epi” literally means “upon, on, over, or beside.” So the epigenome is the cellular material that sits upon the genome. Think of them like “on” and “off” switches. They are proof that your destiny is not tied to your heredity.
Your genes are not the primary reason you are not losing weight.
If genes are the blueprint, a guide for making something, your epigenome allows you to design yourself.
The first place to start is belief. Stop believing your genes are the reason you are stuck and plateauing. Start believing you can take responsibility for your health, longevity, and successful weight loss
Yes, I’m talking about your mindset. Epigenetics deserves a series of posts on its own. So for now, know this: if you think you are not losing weight because of your genes — you’ll be right. But, if you want to do something about it, keep reading.
At what age are you at the top of the hill? Is it 50? Or is 50 the new 40? I don’t know.
In fitness, the thought that your metabolism starts to slow down around 30 is actually real.
The question: how much? The answer: minimally.
It’s also true that as you get older, you start to move less. That’s good news because you can do control your activity level.
How does your body burns calories?
Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the amount of energy you expend (“burn”) when you are at rest, doing nothing. It’s predetermined, like your genes. A few factors are also included are sex, age, and height to name a few.
But most people are not referring to their RMR when the mention their metabolism. They want to “boost” their metabolism by eating spicy foods or doing HIIT workouts.
When people refer to their “metabolism” they are actually relating to one or more of three phases of calorie burning:
- thermic effect of food
- physical-activity expenditure
- excess post-exercise oxygen consumption
Thermic effect of food
When you eat, you burn a small number of calories. About 10% of the calories you consume are burned during this process. You may be able to burn a few more calories by eating a high protein diet or drinking caffeine, but it will not equate to losing pounds on the scale.
Getting active and moving more is the most critical factor of the four listed above. It’s the one you have the most control over.
You can lift weights or go running. Or you join a CrossFit gym or try out a Zumba class. It’s up to you, as long as you are expending energy.
I’ll elaborate on this point later.
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption
The idea is you continue to burn more calories after a hard workout while you are at rest. I won’t go as far as to say EPOC is a myth, but I will say it’s been sensationalized. While it’s true that you do burn more calories after a bout of sprinting than you do when you go for a jog, you have to ask: how much more?
Answer: It’s not that much more.
What you do get when you do HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or HIIE (high interval intensity exercise) is time. You spend less time training at a higher rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE) than if you would go for a steady rate bike ride.
The bottom line on metabolism: don’t fall for the hype. Whether it’s food or exercise, don’t be too picky. Eat good food and move in a way that feels good for you then you can keeping doing.
The idea of balancing your hormones is becoming popular every year. Before it was insulin, and now it’s leptin, the “obesity hormone.”
You have probably heard that leptin imbalances are the cause of weight gain (or weight loss plateaus). There are diets and supplements that claim to bring your leptin levels back to functioning levels. That’s marketing.
What is Leptin?
Your fat cells produce the hormone, leptin. Leptin plays a crucial role in the regulation of your appetite, immunity, libido, metabolic rate, and motivation. But it’s primary role is to regulate your body weight.
It lets your brain know you have enough stored energy (in your fat cells) and your body can expend (burn) energy at regular rates.
Guess what happens when you restrict calories in an attempt to lose weight?
Your body produces less leptin, basically telling your brain that you don’t have enough energy and it needs to burn less and eat more calories. Remember all of the regulation leptin is good for?
Negatively, leptin works like this:
- Decreases your basal metabolic rate (the rate your body uses energy at rest)
- Decreases non-exercise activity (you move less)
- Stimulates hunger (you eat more)
In a healthy person, there’s a 6-step feedback loop:
- Eat food
- Body stores fat
- Body produces leptin
- Stop eating
- Body burns fat
- There’s less leptin
Again, this is in a healthy person, meaning it was normal and supposed to happen this way. You wake up hungry (or not) and eat breakfast, your body stores some fat, and you go about your day burning fat until it’s time to eat again. And that cycle repeats.
The problem is poor nutrition and exercise habits.
Leptin resistance (Too much of a good thing)
Even good things turn bad when we have too much.
If you are overweight or obese, you have a high percentage of body fat. Your body fat stores leptin and the more leptin you have in your fat cells, the more fat you have. You can see the vicious cycle at work.
Like insulin resistance, leptin resistance is when your body becomes less sensitive to signals to the brain, which through your appetite and metabolism out of order.
In a healthy body, leptin would tell your brain and body you don’t need energy for a while by decreasing your appetite. While abnormally high levels of leptin may tell your brain your need energy, making you eat more and move less.
Think of it like “short circuit.”
Instead of the 6-step process to maintain healthy body weight, you “feel hungry” so you “eat more” and your body keeps producing leptin, which causes you to “store fat.”
The best way to avoid this is to not gain weight in the first place. Obesity is like quicksand, and once it’s got you, your biology works against you. Instead of sinking in the sand, you fill yourself with chips and soda. As you eat more, you move less, and you weigh more, jeopardizing your health.
How to Restore Leptin Sensitivity?
If you aren’t losing weight…that means you also aren’t gaining weight. Which is a good thing because if you really had “bad hormones” you’d be gaining weight.
In the long term, if you want to increase your sensitivity to leptin, you have to get to healthy body weight.
In the short term, make healthier food choices and move more.
There may be a time when you need to “reset” your hormone levels, but if you’re early on your journey and you have a lot of weight to lose — it’s most likely not your hormones.
Note: If you think something may be wrong, do your research and then ask your doctor. There are various ways to test, each has their pros and cons. Again, do your research before talking to your doctor.
#4 Lacking the “Right Foods”
You are making “eating right” too complicated.
Most people know what they should avoid. There’s no “secret” to the best diet. All the “best” diets have these 5 things in common:
- They increase nutrition awareness and attention
- They focus on food quality
- They help eliminate nutrient deficiencies
- They help control appetite and food intake
- They promote regular exercise
I wrote about this in more detail here: “The Secret of the “Best” Diet: 5 factors all the”best diets” have in common.”
You don’t need to get too specific. Yes, it may work in the short-term. But when you are making a lifestyle change, you know enough to eat good food.
I wish I could just leave it right there, but I’ll elaborate a little bit.
Remember when I brought up insulin? The idea used to be that carbs make you fat because they raise levels of the hormone insulin. While insulin does many things it’s vital role relates to fat storage.
Insulin stops the breakdown of fat cells and starts the accumulation of body fat. Instead of your body burning its fat stores, it absorbs some of the fatty acids and glucose in the blood instead and stores them as body fat.
Good news: your body is more complicated than this reductionist thinking.
But I Was Successful On A Low-Carb Diet?
Low carb diets work great from many people. The main reason: they are automatically higher in protein. And protein makes you feel fuller, longer. Low carb diets also eliminate essentially all junk food, where most people get their extra calories from.
The science is in: carbs don’t make your more (or less) fat than any other nutrient.
This is part one of a three-part series on the question, “Why am I not losing weight?”
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, just a few ideas. These are some of the most common reasons I’ve heard from my clients as to why they think they are not losing weight.
In part two I’ll share — 5 Reasons You Are Probably Not Losing Weight.
And in part three I’ll share five questions you can ask yourself (a self-assessment) so you know what to measure and how to adjust titled 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Weight Loss.