Are you eating a clean diet of real, whole foods yet still in a constant battle with the scale? Are you exercising regularly yet feel as though your metabolism is at a crawl?
The truth is that stubborn weight gain can often be a result of an underlying health issue. As with all symptoms, my functional medicine approach to stubborn pounds is to identify the real underlying cause and address it using lifestyle changes to help you reach your healthy, ideal weight naturally.
Here are the four most common causes of stubborn weight gain that I’ve seen in my patients and four solutions for them.
Quick note, if you haven’t yet adopted a clean, anti-inflammatory diet, that is step one to addressing weight issues and I recommend checking out this article for tips to do that.
Ok, let’s begin!
Four Underlying Causes of Stubborn Weight
1. An Underactive Thyroid
It’s estimated that 27 million Americans have a thyroid problem, and up to 60% of them are completely unaware of it. Hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid, accounts for 90 percent of all thyroid imbalances, and one of the primary symptoms of hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain or the inability to lose weight.
This is because your thyroid is responsible for regulating many of your body’s processes, including metabolism. So if your thyroid is underactive, your metabolism slows down and your overall energy production decreases. In addition to an inability to lose weight, hypothyroidism can lead to fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, muscle and joint pain, hair loss, constipation, brain fog, and a low body temperature.
2. Chronic Stress
You’ve likely heard that stress contributes to weight gain, but it goes far beyond the urge to reach for the chocolate after a long, stressful day. When you experience stress, your body releases a flood of cortisol, the hormone that powers your fight or flight response. One unfortunate side effect of cortisol is that it can actually cause you to gain weight and prevent you from losing weight. Furthermore, when you’re chronically stressed, your cortisol levels go up and stay up, which can cause progressive weight gain or a weight loss plateau.
Numerous studies have shown that when animals are stressed, they gain weight, even if they’re eating the same number of calories as they did before they were stressed. These studies also show stressed animals gain more weight than unstressed animals eating the exact same number of calories.
3. Other Hormonal Imbalances
Imbalances in thyroid and stress hormones are common causes of an inability to lose weight, but they’re not the only hormones that can cause an issue. Imbalances in insulin and sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) are also common culprits of stubborn weight.
When insulin and blood sugar levels are off, it can cause sugar cravings, weakness, irritability, and excess belly fat. An imbalance in sex hormones can cause an inability to lose weight in addition to muscle loss, poor sleep, memory problems, and sexual difficulties.
4. A High Toxic Burden
Today’s modern world is filled with dangerous chemicals, heavy metals, medications, and other toxins that can wreak havoc on your endocrine system. Many of the toxins in your food, water, and personal and household care products, such as shampoo, lotion, candles, and makeup, mimic the activity of hormones, such as estrogen. This disruption in your natural hormonal cycle can cause an inability to lose weight, as well as other more serious issues, including autoimmune diseases.
Four Solutions for the Underlying Causes of Stubborn Weight Gain
1. Get a Complete Thyroid Work Up and Implement the Right Treatment Protocol
If you suspect that you may have an underactive thyroid, it’s important to get a complete thyroid panel to get a proper diagnosis. Most conventional doctors only use one or two tests, as opposed to a full panel, and use the “normal” lab reference ranges as their guide. For a full list of all of the thyroid tests I run on my patients, and optimal lab ranges, see this article, and check out my book The Thyroid Connection.
The book walks you through how your thyroid produces its hormones and how to restore optimal function using dietary and lifestyle changes. It also explains how to work with your doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment protocol. Plus, it includes a 28-day plan to jumpstart your thyroid and your metabolism.
2. Adopt Stress Relief Practices that Work for YOU
Step one, take an honest look at your daily stress levels. Are you constantly feeling overrun and overworked? Are you doing anything to reduce stress? If not, you’ll want to incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily and weekly routine. You can read more about how stress impacts your health, and how to relieve it, in my book, The Thyroid Connection. And here are a few of my favorites.
Daily Stress Relief:
- HeartMath Inner Balance App– I love the Inner Balance app for iPhone. It uses an external sensor on your earlobe to help you synchronize your heart rate, breath, and mind. It’s super easy to use, and convenient since I always have my iPhone with me. Plus, as a very goal-oriented person (yes, even in my stress reduction!), I love that it lets you set goals and track your progress.
- Amber Glasses for Restorative Sleep – Getting a great night of restful, restorative sleep can do wonders for minimizing your stress and equipping you to deal with the stress that you do experience. However, the blue light from our phone screens, computers, and even light bulbs reduce our ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall and stay asleep. Amber glasses block out blue light so that your body produces melatonin naturally after sunset. I wear mine around my home every night! You might feel a little silly at first, I know my husband certainly did. However, once you see the difference in your sleep you’ll never look back!
Weekly Stress Relief:
- Sensory Deprivation Floatation Session- Floatation tanks provide a light and sound-free environment, with a shallow pool of water containing about 1,000 lbs of dissolved epsom salt. The high concentration of epsom salt allows you to float effortlessly, and the temperature is the same as that of your skin, so that you can’t even feel the water around you. The effect is a completely dark, quiet, and weightless flotation that reduces your cortisol levels, relieves muscle aches, and allows you to spend 60-90 minutes free from any stimulation whatsoever.
- Infrared Sauna Therapy– Spending time in an infrared sauna has many health benefits, including stress relief and detoxification. I personally have one in my home, and you can also receive treatments from natural spas that house their own. I try to get in a few sessions a week to keep my stress levels minimized.
3. Balance Your Hormones
To keep your hormones balanced and metabolism back on track, I recommend working with my Wellness Coach and Registered Dietitian, Dana Faris. She works with complex autoimmune, thyroid, and chronic health conditions from all over the world and is an expert in The Myers Way®. She can recommend and review functional hormone testing and offer recommendations on lifestyle changes to reduce your exposure to estrogen-mimicking chemicals. While you work to address the root causes of your hormonal imbalances, you can also begin a Calcium d-Glucarate supplement, which helps your body naturally eliminate excess estrogens and xenoestrogens instead of allowing them to be reabsorbed.
4. Reduce Your Toxic Burden
My approach to reducing your toxic burden is two-fold. Part one is to reduce your exposure to toxins that may cause stubborn weight gain:
- Choosing 100% certified USDA organic foods
- Drinking filtered water
- Using a HEPA air filter in your home and workplace
- Opting for toxin-free body products and home cleaning products
Part two is to support your body’s natural detox pathways so that you can safely flush them out of your system. My top recommendations are:
- Supplement with Glutathione – this is your body’s biggest detoxifier and a powerful antioxidant
- Or try my Detox Support Kit– this kit includes three supplements to boost your natural production of glutathione and support your liver as it clears toxins from your body
- Infrared Sauna Therapy – in addition to its stress-relief benefits, infrared saunas are a great tool to help you sweat out your toxins
If you’d like some additional support, or an accountability buddy on your weight loss journey, be sure to join my free, online community forum, and consider booking a Wellness Coaching session with one of my registered dietitians.
Also, I know that for some of you who have been sick for years and are overcoming chronic illness, your goal is actually to gain weight not lose it. Check out this article with my tips on how to gain and maintain weight while still following The Myers Way®!