8 out of 10 women that I treat at Parsley Health express difficulty in losing weight. They firmly believe that there may be an underlying hormonal issue contributing to their weight gain because—despite maintaining a "clean" diet and engaging in regular exercise—they find their weight stubbornly resistant to change.
Their concerns and observations are indeed valid, leading them to assume that hormonal imbalances or other mysterious factors could be influencing their inability to lose weight. This article aims to shed light on the problem of weight resistance and provide insights for better understanding.
Why is weight loss so difficult?
Over 70% of the American population falls into the overweight category, defined by a BMI above 25. Obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) exceeding 30, has increasingly become an issue in economically developed countries, and is a growing concern in developing nations.
One reason for the frustration with weight loss is the misconception that all the right things are being done to achieve it. It is important to address some common myths surrounding weight loss to gain a better understanding of the process.
Common myths about weight loss
By dispelling the following weight loss myths, you can gain a more realistic understanding of the factors that contribute to successful weight management and make informed decisions about your weight-loss goals.
- I’m overweight because of a hormone imbalance . Hormone imbalances are often blamed for weight gain, but scientific evidence does not support this claim. While hormones like estrogen can redistribute fat in the body, they do not directly cause weight gain. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help reshape body composition, but it is unlikely to lead to dramatic weight loss.
- I’m overweight because I have insulin resistance. Insulin, another hormone associated with weight gain, is not a condition one is born with but rather a result of insulin resistance caused by excessive calorie intake. It is acquired through an abundance of calories in cells, rather than being a pre-existing hormonal issue.
- I’m overweight because I don’t eat enough protein . The notion that a diet should be high in protein is not accurate. The key factor in weight loss is consuming fewer calories than expended. However, a high-protein, high-fiber diet can help promote weight loss by inducing a feeling of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake. Adequate protein intake has been shown to assist in weight loss and maintenance.
- My BMI and weight are the most accurate measures of weight loss progress. Assessing body composition, particularly the ratio of fat to lean muscle mass, provides a more meaningful evaluation of metabolic health , hormone balance, inflammation, and weight management.
- All I need to lose weight is eat less and exercise more. While exercise plays a crucial role in overall health and reducing inflammation, the brain compensates for increased physical activity by increasing appetite. However, exercise is essential for weight maintenance once it has been achieved. Furthermore, drastically reducing calorie intake can have negative effects on the immune system and overall well being. It’s important to make gradual and consistent adjustments to caloric intake and output to achieve sustainable results.
- Intermittent fasting guarantees weight loss. While it can be beneficial for many individuals, it may not work for everyone, and excessive fasting can lead to the loss of lean muscle mass and potential weight gain. Proper guidance is necessary to ensure its sustainability.
- All I need to lose weight is a wearable or exercise machine. These devices often provide indirect measurements that can be significantly inaccurate, leading to overestimations of calorie expenditure and difficulty in determining an exact caloric deficit.
- My adrenals just need support: Cortisol hormone from the adrenals is a chronic stress hormone. Chronic stress can influence weight management indirectly by affecting behaviors and choices related to food. People experiencing chronic stress may be more prone to seeking comfort in unhealthy foods, particularly those that are processed and high in calories. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. Implementing effective stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises, mindfulness, or seeking support from a therapist or counselor, can be beneficial for overall metabolic health and wellbeing.
What science has to say about weight loss
Now that you know a little more about the weight-loss myths, let’s explore what the research has to say about what actually works.
- The fewer labels, the better: Pay attention to the food you consume. If you find yourself constantly reading labels, it's likely that you're consuming processed foods. Whole foods, on the other hand, do not require labels. Processed foods can confuse the brain's satiety signals, leading to overeating. For example, at a buffet, even after feeling "stuffed" from savory foods, you may still have room for dessert. Aim for a variety of whole, unprocessed foods in your diet.
- Beware of alcohol and liquid calories: Regular consumption of alcohol can interfere with the brain's ability to signal fullness, potentially leading to excess calorie consumption. Additionally, watch out for hidden liquid calories from sources like sweetened beverages or specialty coffee drinks, such as lattes or teas.
- Pay attention to your activity level: Assess any changes in your activity level. If you tend to be more sedentary, incorporate daily activity and include high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises regularly.
- Genetics play a role in obesity. There are over 1,000 genes associated with obesity, and they can influence factors such as food satisfaction, response to exercise, ability to do intermittent fasting, hormone detoxification, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Knowing your genetic makeup can help you tailor a personalized lifestyle to support your weight loss journey.
- Get to know your hormonal health: If you suspect that hormones may contribute to your weight gain, it's important to have accurate metrics on your genetics and lifestyle before pursuing hormone-related treatments. Hormone levels should be checked by a qualified professional who can interpret the results effectively.
Steps to start your weight loss
By implementing the following strategies and maintaining a sustainable approach to weight loss, you can naturally shed extra pounds and improve your overall energy utilization.
- Get a body composition scan: These scans assess fat distribution, especially in the midsection versus subcutaneous areas, and may provide insights into your insulin, thyroid, and estrogen hormones. Additionally, it can provide information about your fat percentage, muscle mass, and bone density. For women, the ideal fat percentage usually ranges from 28-35%.
- Use a calorie-tracking program: Programs like MyFitnessPal or Noom can help you monitor your caloric intake. Keep in mind that many wearables tend to overestimate calorie burn by around 250-300 calories, so accurately tracking your caloric expenditure can be challenging.
- Gradually increase physical activity: If you're new to exercise, start by counting your steps and gradually increase them weekly until you reach 10,000 steps per day.
- Seek professional guidance: Work with a medical provider who can help you understand your hormone status, genetics, and baseline labs to establish a starting point for your weight loss journey. Consider trying continuous glucose monitoring to assess sugar fluctuations and their potential impact on symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
- Find a health coach : Work with a health coach who can assist you in understanding your caloric intake, creating balanced meals according to your activity level, and providing resources for meal plans. They can also help you stay motivated while providing guidance for better sleep and stress management.
- Overcome weight-loss plateaus: If you hit a weight-loss plateau, it may be necessary to slowly and consistently create a new caloric deficit to challenge your body's new normal. Consult with professionals to develop an appropriate plan.
- Embrace hunger signals: Learning to embrace the feeling of hunger can be beneficial. Never experiencing hunger may indicate that you are not in a caloric deficit. Going to bed slightly hungry can be a sign of a small caloric deficit, but it's essential to strike a balance and not excessively restrict calories.
- Understand your body's physiology: Take the time to understand your body's unique physiology, as this knowledge will make it easier to achieve and maintain weight loss. Remember that everyone's body is wired differently, so finding a consistent and sustainable program is key.
It is important to acknowledge that weight loss can be a frustrating journey when quick results are expected. However, with a commitment to self-support and by seeking accountability and guidance along the way, successful outcomes can be achieved. Recognize that sustained weight loss requires effort, but once the appropriate strategies are implemented, it can become a sustainable and rewarding process.
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- https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/about-dietary-guidelines/history-dietary-guidelines ( dietary guidelines)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5041043/ (hormones and weight)
- https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30602-X/fulltext (menopause and weight)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958156/ (cortisol, stress and obesity)https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/106/5/1213/4822338 (calories at bedtime)