Most conventional weight loss programs completely overlook the real causes of why people gain weight in the first place and and focus on short term strategies like counting calories, eating less, feeling deprived, and working out harder – which actually sabotage success and make people feel like they failed. Again.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time for a smarter approach! To lose weight the healthy, sustainable, and successful way we have to address the causes of weight gain, fat storage, inflammation, and water retention.
How Stress & Adrenal Problems Cause Weight Gain Around The Belly
Stress is a strong contributor to weight gain, especially when weight gain is primarily focused around the belly. When your brain and adrenals perceive stress from external factors such as stress from work, family, and social stressors or unresolved sources of internal inflammation (like digestive inflammation and leaky gut) you release the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol’s job is to give you the energy to fight an attacker or flee a dangerous scene. When you’re stressed your brain tells the adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol then taps into the glucose (sugar) stored in your liver and sends it into circulation for a fast and furious dose of energy so you can protect yourself or run.
The problem is our brains don’t know the difference between a stressful work day and a lion, tiger, or bear. This creates a cycle of chronic stress and chronically elevated blood sugar that causes weight gain specifically around the abdomen and internal organs.
Unfortunately, many people are still advised to eat less and workout harder, which causes more stress, more cortisol, and more weight gain. Cutting calories and exercising more is the worst thing you can do in this scenario.
With my patients and weight loss clients we focus on a whole foods nutrition plan and sending the body a signal of safety to reduce cortisol through emphasizing stress reduction, mindset resilience, rest, and restful sleep.
How Estrogen Dominance Causes Weight Gain Around The Hips
Estrogen is an important reproductive hormone that is dominant in the first half of your menstrual cycle. It’s job is is to build up the lining of your uterus so in the event of pregnancy a fertilized egg can attach and grow. Estrogen also builds up the tissue which creates the curves around your breasts and hips as well as fullness of your skin and lips.
We love estrogen! But not too much. Estrogen should be in relative balance to progesterone, the other major player in women’s reproductive health – but many women produce too much estrogen resulting in estrogen dominance which leads to the storage of excess fat around the hips.
Estrogen dominance is caused by environmental toxins, poor detoxification, digestive inflammation, constipation, low progesterone production, and genetic mutations. The difficulty with weight loss and estrogen dominance is that it can turn into a self perpetuating cycle – once estrogen dominance builds up fat stores around the hips the excess fat produces even more estrogen.
To successfully resolve weight gain due to estrogen dominance detoxification, digestion, and hormone health must be addressed for effective and sustainable weight loss in addition to lifestyle and nutrition.
How Hypothyroidism (Low Thyroid) Causes Weight Gain And Slow Metabolism
The thyroid is our master metabolism gland. It’s a small, butterfly shaped gland located at the base of your throat that sets the rate of metabolism in our cells for everything from fat burning to brain and heart health.
When the thyroid isn’t producing enough active thyroid hormone metabolism slows down. This can cause weight gain and difficulty losing weight as well as fatigue, hair loss, cold hands and feet, constipation, brain fog, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and period problems.
When hypothyroidism causes weight gain the worst thing to do is cut calories and exercise more. The thyroid’s job is to sense your environment and if life is good and food is abundant, the thyroid will increase metabolism. If the environment is stressful and food is scarce it will decrease metabolism to conserve and safeguard your vital organs.
Our bodies are so smart! We just have to decode the signals and work with the body instead of against it. Many people experience suboptimal thyroid function that can be addressed with nutrition and lifestyle alone. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or hashimoto’s a comprehensive thyroid panel and root cause approach to heal the stressor the thyroid is reacting to is needed.
How Poor Nutrition Causes Weight Gain & Overeating
Our bodies and metabolism are much more than a bank account. We can’t feel our best just by managing calories in and calories out. Those calories have context! And the context is the protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in the food we’re eating.
Imagine comparing a donut to a sweet potato where calories are the same. The donut isn’t going to provide any nutrition that helps our cells (in fact, it might have fortified vitamins in the flour like folic acid that our body can’t use) while the sweet potato is going to provide carbohydrate, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
When you’re eating, the small intestine is communicating with your brain, reporting what nutrients it finds. When we eat something like a donut the brain detects the sweetness as a sign that the food is a dense source of nutrients – because any whole food found in nature with that much sweetness (like the sweet potato) would provide a lot of nutrients. This is how foods that are high in calories and deficient in nutrients trick our brain into eating more!
Many people who experience weight gain are calorie overloaded and nutrient deficient. Addressing nutrient deficiencies through a whole foods nutrition plan avoids stressing the body into fat storage mode and nourishes the body into a stress free state so fat can be burned efficiently.
In addition, poor nutrition causes bacterial imbalances in the digestive system and inflammation, another common but overlooked cause of weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
How Gut Bacteria Imbalances And Infections Cause Weight Gain
The gut microbiome is a diverse collection of bacteria, yeast, and viruses that help us digest, absorb, use nutrients, and regulate our immune system. Your microbiome changes based on diet, stress, toxic exposures, as well as pharmaceutical and antibiotic use.
A healthy microbiome is diverse in species, has a balance of symbiotic, healthy gut bugs, and protects against pathogenic, unhealthy bacteria, viruses, fungi/candida, parasites, and worms.
Many health problems including weight gain as well as inflammatory, autoimmune, and neurological conditions are triggered by imbalances of the digestive flora and chronic infections that are overlooked in most health care settings.
Although microbiome imbalances and root causes are unique to each individual, there are several common patterns that contribute to weight gain. Species diversity is decreased in people who are suffering from obesity or type 2 diabetes and is associated with higher BMI, fat mass, lower insulin sensitivity, and dyslipidemia (an abnormal cholesterol and lipid profile). Another common imbalance is the overgrowth of Firmicutes relative to Bacteroidetes phyla which is associated with obesity and insulin resistance.
In my clinic we use probiotics as well as incorporating fermented foods into a whole foods nutrition plan for healthy weight loss and digestive function.
Bouter K, van Raalte D, Groen A, Nieuwdorp M. Role of the Gut Microbiome in the Pathogenesis of Obesity and Obesity-Related Metabolic Dysfunction. Gastroenterology. 2017;152(7):1671–1678. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2016.12.048.