My career began answering fat loss questions, and it will most likely end that way. Part of the confusion is that there are so many philosophies, hacks, variabilities, and just flat out lies when it comes to fat loss. This article from bengreenfieldlife.com tackles – with in depth facts and insight – some of the most persistent and least understood roadblocks:
May 21, 2019
In my recent article, “The 2 Best Ways To Burn Fat Fast (Without Destroying Your Hormones Or Metabolism)” I went over several big common misconceptions regarding fat loss, the most notable of all myths being that no matter what you do, how much you exercise or diet, you’ll always be stuck with the same number of fat cells you’ve built earlier in your life, and the best you could hope for is that one day you’ll be able to shrink them down.
In that article, I told you why that’s a myth, how to truly “kill off” excess adipose tissue, and also gave you potent tips for battling two of the biggest contributors to a bulging waistline: inflammation and glycemic variability.
In today’s article, I’ll go over a whopping 14 more reasons you can’t lose weight, along with proven tips that will help you combat contributing variables to obesity such as high cortisol, out-of-control cravings and snacking, a sedentary lifestyle, and even being too active, so that you can burn fat fast without destroying your body.
Reason #1: Cortisol & Stress
When you are stressed, your body releases hormones such as cortisol that turn on essential functions for your survival, such as higher blood pressure and rapid decision-making, while inhibiting non-essential functions, such as immune function, digestion, and protein synthesis.
This is helpful if you need to handle an acute stressor (like a looming deadline or an obstacle race), but it is also the reason why chronic stress restricts your ability to shed that extra weight around your midsection.
Cortisol acts by suppressing insulin secretion, inhibiting glucose uptake into your cells, and disrupting insulin-signaling to muscle tissue. That means that chronic stress directly causes insulin resistance, which then leads to weight loss resistance, increased inflammation, dyslipidemia (elevated blood fat and cholesterol levels) and hypertension.
I have coached many clients, especially lean, hard-charging, type-A males, who are already controlling for many of the other factors you’ll learn about in this article but still can’t eliminate that last bit of belly fat. Once they learn how to manage stress and reduce cortisol, the extra belly fat often vanishes, much to their surprise and satisfaction (the other notorious variable that achieves a similar effect is the complete elimination of processed sugar). Even exercise, when performed in excess, can leave you chronically stressed with elevated cortisol levels. And overtraining does not just happen to athletes – you may be in this category if you are not recovering properly, you under-nourish your body, or you fail to get quality sleep.
Other daily stressors that spike cortisol include:
- The death of a loved one
- Relationship or personality conflicts and sexual frustrations
- Termination of employment
- Academic stress or continuing educational pressure
- Emotions such as boredom, hunger, anger, depression, fear, and anxiety
- Toxins and pollutants from your food or environment
- Excessive heat, cold or humidity (including some hair-brained decision to take a 30-minute ice bath every day or blast yourself with a 90-minute hot yoga class five days a week)
- Altitude or poor oxygen availability (including shallow chest breathing)
- Poorly designed, restrictive or uncomfortable clothing and shoes
- Psyching yourself up too frequently (like engaging in Wim Hof fire-breathing at the beginning of every decision from waking to working out to amping yourself up for an important call)
- Pressure to perform and constant limelight from social media
- Lack of encouragement or love from others
One of the best ways to know if you are chronically stressed is by measuring your heart rate variability(HRV). HRV is the variability in the amount of time between each heartbeat and can be used to track your nervous system health and recovery status. When the parasympathetic rest-and-digest nervous system is activated, it releases acetylcholine to induce a low heart rate and a state of relaxation. Your HRV will be highest at this point, so a high HRV indicates a low state of stress.
If you are not well-rested, the normal, healthy beat-to-beat variation in your heart rhythm falls. Abnormal variation can indicate a serious stress issue, especially if you see consistently low HRV values (my personal red flag metric is any HRV value below 80, unless I’m purposefully training myself very hard for a competition and in an overreached state) or values that jump around from day to day (70 one day, 90 another day, 60 the next day). Tracking your HRV allows you to see if you are overstressing your body, producing excess cortisol or becoming weight-loss resistant.
In the following articles and podcasts, you can learn how to track HRV quickly and effectively and interpret your numbers:
- Everything You Need To Know About Heart Rate Variability Testing
- A Deep Dive Into HRV: The Myths & Truths of Heart Rate Variability Testing
- HRV: The Single, Next Big Trend In Biohacking And Self-Quantification And How To Use It
- The Best Way To Know How Stress, Supplements, Sleep, Sex & More Affects Your Nervous System: The Latest News About Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training
In my experience, low HRV primarily arises from a poor diet, bad breathing, relationship and work stress, overtraining, poor air quality, excessive artificial light exposure, electrical pollution from WiFi and Bluetooth signals and impure water. When I addressed each of these variables in my own life over years of cleaning up damage, I achieved a consistent HRV of 90 every day except days during which I was purposefully training hard for a race or competition.
Reason #2: Sleep Deprivation
Only about 35% of all Americans get the recommended amount of sleep every night – between seven and nine hours – and many get less than six hours.
Sleep deprivation has severe effects on the human body and weakens the immune and nervous systems so much that you become vulnerable to diseases and neurodegeneration.
When it comes to fat loss, research has shown that getting between four to five hours of sleep per night causes insulin resistance and high glycemic variability, leading to diabetes, appetite cravings, and weight gain in what would otherwise be a healthy population. Scarier yet is that all it takes to cause this type of damage is a single night of partial sleep.
Sleep deprivation is known to raise cortisol levels, reduce glucose tolerance and increase sympathetic nervous system activity. One study found that, in addition to reducing insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, sleep deprivation produces a neuroendocrine effect by reducing levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin and increasing levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin. So not only does sleep deprivation reduce your ability to metabolize glucose, but it also makes you want to consume more sugar and hedonistic, vegetable-oil-laden snack food.
This is why it is so easy to grab a second helping at the buffet or fail to stroll by a vending machine unscathed when you are sleep-deprived. To understand even more about the link between sleep and weight gain, I highly recommend you read Dr. Satchin Panda’s “Circadian Code” and Dr. Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep”.
Reason #3: Snacking & Post-Workout Calories
When I was bodybuilding, it was well known in the “mass gain” community that one of the best strategies to pile on the pounds was to arrive at work with a container of yogurt, a couple Tupperware containers of lean chicken with rice and broccoli (bricken!), a couple Ziplock bags of almonds, a handful of energy bars, and a pre-made protein shake.
Sure, by lifting heavy weights morning and night for a couple of hours at a time, I would convert most of this food to muscle, but this type of grazing is also a fantastic strategy to pile on fat, especially if you don’t spend your life pumping iron in a gym.
The theory that you need to eat six small meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism elevated is a myth that I am guilty of having preached to many of my fat-loss clients. But it has long since been debunked by science. While digestion does produce a thermic effect that increases your metabolism, the bump is slight.
Frequent snacking also increases glycemic variability and eliminates any gut- or longevity-boosting benefits of fasting. In fact, there is no evidence that eating more than three meals per day boosts your metabolism, helps you lose weight or aids in appetite control.
On the other hand, if you eat only two or three meals per day in what is called a compressed feeding window, your body releases more anti-aging and growth hormones and burns fat. Frequent feeding also keeps your blood sugar levels elevated and shifts your metabolism into sugar-burning mode, which does not allow your body to tap into its stored fats for fuel. So eating six small meals per day may be worse for your waistline than eating two or three larger meals spread throughout the day.
The belief that you will enter “starvation mode” if you don’t eat frequently is also false. It takes about three days of complete fasting or up to four weeks of extreme caloric restriction for your body to downregulate metabolism and thyroid activity. Research has shown that short-term fasts, such as daily and overnight 12- to 16-hour fasts, will actually increase your metabolic rate due to an increase in norepinephrine, one of the hormones that signal fat cells to break down. You don’t necessarily have to reduce your caloric intake, especially if you are an active individual. The trick is to eat less often, not eat less.
Another common myth is that you need to shove some protein and carbs in your mouth or grab a Jamba Juice immediately after a workout. The idea behind eating right after finishing a workout is to maximize muscular adaptations, repair damaged tissues and rapidly shuttle glycogen into muscle for ample anabolic growth during a limited window of maximum carbohydrate absorption (20 minutes to two hours) after training. But in every study looking at the benefits of immediate post-workout eating, participants were fed after exercising, usually to exhaustion, in a fasted state – and frankly, most of us are not jumping out of bed to exercise for 90-120 minutes with no fuel.
So unless you want to gain significant mass (like if you are a high school or college football player trying to get to the next level by putting on twenty pounds), if you have eaten at some point prior to working out, there is no need to drop everything to slug down that post-workout protein drink. Your blood levels of amino acids and stored carbohydrates will still be elevated from any eating done prior to your workout (meaning that for a 5 pm visit to the gym, your body can metabolize your breakfast or lunch for fuel).
In fact, occasionally waiting to eat a couple of hours after you exercise may be beneficial for boosting growth hormone and testosterone levels. Unless you are performing two-a-day workouts within an 8-hour window each day, there is no need to drop the barbell and hustle to your gym bag for a shiny, wrapped recovery snack. You can listen to my podcast, “The Post-Workout Nutrition Myth, Your Personal Circadian Rhythm, Hot Vs. Cold For Recovery & More!” for more on this.
Reason #4: Not Moving Enough
Whether I am standing, lunging, kneeling, sitting, leaning or in any other position I frequently adopt during a day of work, I stop every 25 to 50 minutes for a 2- to 5-minute break of activities like kettlebell swings, a quick stroll up the stairs, jumping jacks or a handful of burpees. (I’ve got some great tips/gear for getting an effective workout in just about anywhere in this article.) Heck, I even pull over my car during road trips to do 100 jumping jacks for each hour of driving, duck into the bathroom at restaurants for 40 air squats in the stall, and do elaborate stretch routines at the back of airplanes.
I don’t do this because I am a hyperactive freak who is addicted to exercise. Rather, as you have already learned, weight loss involves an expenditure of energy greater than the intake of energy through your diet.
The brutal truth is that for most people, sitting for eight hours a day does not expend enough energy to counterbalance breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, despite any exercise performed at the beginning or end of the day. Even in people who exercise, habitual sedentary behavior is associated with metabolic syndrome (MS), increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality.
When you are regularly sedentary for extended periods, your blood sugar levels go haywire because a low level of physical activity causes unfavorable changes in insulin-signaling, glucose transport, and lipoprotein lipase; the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down fats.
Move more, especially when you are at work, which is the time I have noted people tend to move the least. But even in a traditional cubicle office environment, it is not difficult to duck away to the bathroom for air squats, the parking lot for jumping jacks or the stairwell for stair climbs.
Research suggests that the time spent being sedentary and the accompanying insulin resistance are partly independent of the amount of time you spend in moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity. Yes, you read that correctly: if you spend the majority of your day sitting down or just standing there with your knees locked out, that hour you spent at the gym isn’t doing you many metabolic favors. Sitting and even static standing may even place you at risk for heart issues because a hard workout at the end of the day then becomes an attempt to force blood through “kinked” vessels.
In this article, I teach you how to turn your office into a calorie-decimating workstation. But for now, remember this: while a formal workout at the beginning or end of the day is not necessary for weight loss, low-level physical activity throughout the day is.
Reason #5: Too Much Exercise
Not only do you not lose weight when you don’t move enough, but you also don’t lose weight when you move too much. That may not be what you want to hear in an era of self-fulfillment and self-identity through exercise, combined with hardcore Crossfitters trying to stay on the whiteboard, Navy SEALs inspiring housewives to get up at 4 am to crush the day and go to the pain cave, and a physical culture all about zero days off, no pain no gain, balls to the wall and going hard as a motherf*cker.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to going to the pain cave, consistently going to the gym and exercising more than the average person (especially if you are trying to climb your own Mt. Everest such as training for a triathlon, Spartan race, the Crossfit Games or, well, Mt. Everest).
But excessive exercise can lead to elevated levels of cortisol and inflammation, and we now live in an era of overtrained, over-inflamed folks with hormonal dysregulation and cortisol bleeding out their ears.
To gain strength, you have to tear muscle fibers by lifting moderately heavy weights, which tells your body that it needs to build more muscle in that area. To tear your muscle fibers, especially if you are already a trained individual, you have to push your muscles past their comfort levels. So to get stronger, you must lift weights beyond what you can comfortably handle.
Building endurance involves a similar approach: you must encounter exhaustion and push the borders of your stamina to build everything from red blood cells to new mitochondria. But you don’t need to do this every day. Indeed, consistent, daily, difficult training is accompanied by serious physiological complications. One study concluded that severe overtraining leads to immune system damage, fatigue, mood disturbances, physical discomfort, sleep difficulties, and reduced appetite. Even during the recovery stages of this research, fatigue and immune system deficits persisted if an individual pushed themselves to the brink of overtraining.
The fix? Take days off. Take more days off if you are older. Most hard-charging high-achievers below 40 years of age benefit from at least one day of rest and recovery, and most folks over 40 from two to three such days. This doesn’t mean couch and dark-chocolate-face-stuffing time. It just means you scratch your “I-must-make-my-body-better” itch via activities such as sauna sessions, easy yoga, a cold soak, a massage, some trampolining, a nice hike (not the one that receives a brutality rating of five stars on your smartphone trails app) and anything else that allows you to enhance your body without beating it to shreds.
Reason #6: Chronic Cardio
But cardio tends to be vastly misunderstood as a fat-burning tool, and there is even an ongoing debate between meat-heads and endurance junkies over what good or harm cardio does.
The general belief among park joggers is that running melts fat off the belly like butter, while those who eschew cardio say it can harm your heart and may even make you more fat.
In reality, the truth is a bit more nuanced than “cardio is good” or “cardio is bad.” Cardio does not directly make you fat, especially since the day-long low-level physical activity I endorse in this article could technically be classified as cardio.
But cardio is not risk-free – especially the type that involves long marathon-training death marches, multi-hour cycling sessions and the excessive, draining slog on the line-up of cardio machines at the gym. For example, legendary ultra-marathoner Micah True died in 2012 at 58 years old during a typical “easy” 12-mile run. Considering that he could run as many as 100 miles in a single day, 12 miles should have been nothing. But upon autopsy, his heart was found to be enlarged and scarred, and his death is now believed to be due to Phidippides cardiomyopathy, which is caused by chronic, excessive endurance exercise. Named for a Greek messenger who died after running more than 175 miles in two days, Phidippides cardiomyopathy is characterized by dilation of the right atrium and ventricle of the heart, elevation of cardiac troponin and natriuretic peptides and small patches of cardiac fibrosis that are probably responsible for ventricular tachyarrhythmias and sudden death.
Unless you consistently run extreme distances, it is unlikely you need to worry about suffering (or pronouncing) anything like Phidippides cardiomyopathy. But the illustration – accompanied by many other such instances that I detail in my last book “Beyond Training” – serves as an example that long bouts of cardio, while they may significantly improve your endurance, are not necessarily the best for your health or your waistline. In fact, one of the problems that many endurance athletes become frustrated over is an inability to shed fat.
The reason for this is simple: endurance training and chronic cardio create a state of extreme metabolic efficiency. When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body wants to work as efficiently as possible while producing the greatest amount of physical output. So as you perform long cardio sessions with increasing volume and frequency, your body will attempt to shed unnecessary, excess weight while storing usable energy. Do you know what type of weight is more or less unnecessary when you run, due to its need to be carried and cooled? Muscle. And do you know what’s a great source of stored, usable energy for cardio? Body fat. So when you perform increasingly grueling death marches, your body gets rid of muscle and stores fat to prepare for each bout of cardio, while also downregulating anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, as these are paradoxical to extreme endurance efficiency. To see what I mean, perform a simple Google image search for “sprinter”, then again for “marathoner” and compare the difference – many marathoners, especially recreational marathoners, even have a visible paunch of fat at the waistline and belly.
To make matters worse, since muscle tissue mobilizes stored fat, especially when you are resting, the less muscle mass you have, the less fat you tend to burn. In addition, your body will eventually adapt to endurance cardio and continue to burn energy more efficiently, which means that when you do launch into a cardio session, you will begin to use less and less of the fat that you have stored. Unless you reach the training volume of hardcore endurance athletes like Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, Timothy Olson or other cardio junkies who are often performing cardio in excess of four hours a day, (which isn’t necessarily good for your heart, time management or productivity), chronic cardio won’t do much to help you reach your weight loss goals. Indeed, research suggests that aerobic exercise and cardio are only effective when you are both overweight and new to exercise.
So if you are already well trained, you should instead engage in short, high-intensity interval cardio sessions and also switch cardio modes frequently (meaning that if you do three intense cardio sessions per week, you could alternate between swimming, cycling, and running for each workout). One study found that after 20 weeks of training, the participants that performed HIIT (high-intensity interval training) experienced a greater reduction in subcutaneous adiposity (body fat) than those who engaged in steady-state endurance training (like long, slow treadmill runs). HIIT is also effective in the prevention and management of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Most HIIT sessions last about 30 minutes at the most, so you are getting a lot more bang for your buck than if you were to spend an hour tooling along on a treadmill.
Reason #7: SAID Principle
The SAID principle is one of the first principles I learned in my undergraduate exercise physiology courses. It stands for “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.” In other words, your body will eventually adapt to the demands you place upon it, such as running as your only form of cardio or push-ups as your only form of upper-body training. Eventually, your body will become so adapted to those demands that it burns fewer calories and experiences fewer gains in response to the stimuli.
As a result, you see fewer and fewer results from the tried-and-true exercise regime that seemed to work so well for 12 weeks.
Perhaps there actually is something to adopting the latest workout fad found in the insert of the last health magazine you read (Get The Six Day Beach Body You Deserve With These 12 Body Weight Moves!), then dropping it for an entirely new routine once the next magazine arrives in your mailbox a month later (Norwegian Volume Training For A Better Butt!).
Sometimes, the best workout plan is the one you are not currently doing. Not only that, but – much to the chagrin of type-A personalities – the best time of day to work out is often whatever time of day you are not currently working out, the best HIIT cardio length of time is anything shorter or longer than what you are currently doing, and the best sport to shed pounds is whichever sport you are not currently playing. Sure, you do want some consistency and reliable routine that keeps you motivated, but if the scale isn’t budging, sometimes randomness and variety are the answers.
The following are five specific modifications you can make to minimize the effects of endless repetition:
- Modification #1: Combine exercises
If your regime includes a lot of weightlifting, you can combine many lifts into highly dynamic movements. If your current routine has you performing a set of squats and a set of shoulder presses, you can shock your muscles by combining the lifts into one single squat-to-shoulder-press movement. You can also do lunges and curls, vertical jumps and push-ups (a burpee), or medicine ball lift-and-throws.
- Modification #2: Active rest periods
Rather than resting between weight training sets, do a 30-, 60- or 90-second cardio boost. For example, between sets of pull-downs or presses, run to the stationary bike and sprint for a minute. The metabolic demand of your workout will completely change (this is my usual workout mode at hotel gyms due to the potent combination of strength and cardio training).
- Modification #3: Take it outside
Instead of your usual 45-minute jaunt on an elliptical, grab a set of dumbbells or a weighted backpack and hit the hiking trails. The unpredictability and undulation of a hiking trail can significantly increase physical demands and throw your body new curveballs.
- Modification #4: Change the center of gravity
If you usually use a barbell for your lunges, switch it up and try using dumbbells, kettlebells or a medicine ball instead. Don a weighted vest or weighted backpack during a walk. For a cable exercise, move the cable up or down a few notches and come at the movement from a new angle. The altered weight positions and angles will force your body into an entirely new metabolic situation.
- Modification #5: Work out at a different time of day
Been working out in the morning for the past few years? Throw your body for a loop and hit the gym an hour before dinner. The whole workout will feel entirely different. If you normally exercise after lunch, turn lunch into a nap session and hit the gym for an early morning workout instead. The only folks for whom this trick isn’t such a great idea are people suffering from poor sleep: exercising at random intervals throughout the day isn’t so great for your chronobiology (to refresh your memory on the importance of your chronobiology, go read my last big article on sleep.
These are just a few ways you can switch up your workouts and minimize repetition. When in doubt, follow this rule: don’t go for more than four weeks without significantly changing a specific staple of your exercise program.
Reason #8: Avoiding Cold
It might surprise you to learn that not all fat is created equal. When most people think of fat, they think of the bad fat that accumulates around the belly, waist, hips, butt, and thighs. But that’s just the tip of the fatberg (pun intended).
This bad fat is known as white adipose tissue (WAT, or white fat). WAT is stored energy that sits there waiting for you to mobilize it, providing, in the meantime, a bit of insulation and organ cushioning.
In contrast, brown adipose tissue (BAT, or brown fat) is primarily located around the sternum, clavicle and rib cage and generates heat by directly mobilizing the energy stored in white fat. This process is known as non-shivering thermogenesis (commonly referred to as “cold thermogenesis”) and occurs in BAT mitochondria when proton motive force across the inner membrane is turned into heat instead of ATP.
I have a ton of podcasts and articles on cold thermogenesis that you can check out to learn more about this process. Here are a few:
- Tips For Burning More Fat With Cold Thermogenesis (And Why Icing Really Does Work)
- How You Can Use Cold Thermogenesis To Perform Like Lance Armstrong And Michael Phelps
- Cool New Research On Cold Thermogenesis
- Conquer The Cold And Get Quantum Leaps In Performance In This Exclusive Interview With The Amazing Iceman Wim Hof
- The Iceman Returns: Wim Hof On Climbing Frigid Mountains In Underwear, Eating Only Once A Day, Activating Hormones With Breathing & More
- What Doesn’t Kill Us: Why Your Body Needs Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude & Environmental Conditioning
- Cracking The Code Of Wim Hof Breathing, Writing A Bestseller In 30 Days, Barefoot Ultrarunning & More With Kasper van der Meulen
- The Ultimate Guide To DIY Cold Thermogenesis: The Cold Tub Secrets Of Some Of The Top Biohackers On The Planet & How To Make Your Own Cold Tub Setup
The hypothalamic and stem regions of the brain cause this sympathetic (referring to the sympathetic nervous system) innervation when they are activated by a sensation of cold. Please note that it is quite cool (ha!) that BAT uses calories to create heat rather than ATP because this means that cold drains your gas tank similarly to fasting.
There is also another type of fat called beige fat. Beige adipose tissue is BAT that, after cold exposure, appears within white adipose tissue. This process is known as the browning of white adipose tissue. But functionally, there is no difference between the metabolic activity of brown fat and beige fat, so the distinction pretty much comes down to location.
The key takeaway is that brown fat is stimulated by cold exposure to burn white fat, so one of your primary fat-burning techniques should be daily cold thermogenesis. In addition to daily cold showers at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, a weekly cold soak for about 20 minutes in an ice tub and frequent forays from the sauna to the cold and back multiple times, I use actual cold gear, especially in the summer when I want to enhance the formation of BAT. For example, the Cool Fat Burner Vest wraps around your upper torso and activates the BAT in those regions, while the Cool Gut Buster enhances the formation of metabolically active beige fat around the waistline.
Reason #9: Hormones
Endocrine disruption and hormonal imbalances can occur as young as your early 20s and can be caused by exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and plasticizers, external stress such as relationship or financial stress, internal stress such as viruses, heavy metal accumulation and blood sugar swings, dietary contaminants, deficiencies in critical micronutrients, lack of sleep and poor digestive health.
When this occurs, metabolism slows down, appetites rage, and inflammation manifests.
Although both men and women struggle with hormonal imbalances, women seem to have more trouble with imbalances that specifically cause resistance to fat loss. For example, the hormone estrogen is produced in the ovaries and promotes cell division, cell growth and, in excessive amounts, the formation of fat tissue. Women also naturally produce progesterone, which protects against such excessive fat growth.
Problem is, progesterone production declines much faster with age than estrogen production, so by the time a woman reaches 30 to 50 years old, she can develop estrogen dominance. At that point, fat rapidly accumulates and becomes much harder to lose. Of course, men can also experience similar age-related issues as testosterone falls and estrogen rises.
There are steps you can take to minimize the effects of hormonal imbalances, tactics that apply to both men and women. But first, you need to determine whether or not hormonal imbalances are causing weight loss resistance. Some blood tests give you a snapshot view of your hormone levels at a single moment, but you can test for hormonal imbalances that occur throughout a 24-hour cycle with the DUTCH test.
The DUTCH test is a steroid profile that measures hormones and hormone metabolites in a dried urine sample. It can be performed in the comfort of your own home by peeing on a lab stick a few times over a 24-hour period. Measuring metabolites is particularly helpful. For example, a DUTCH test performed on someone with low salivary cortisol could reveal normal cortisol production but high levels of cortisol metabolites. This would indicate that you are producing enough cortisol, but that cortisol quickly gets broken down, so it appears you have “adrenal fatigue” accompanied by very low cortisol, when, in fact, your adrenals are producing cortisol just fine.
Or you may show high cortisol on a blood test, but a DUTCH test reveals low cortisol metabolites, indicating that your high cortisol may not be due to excess stress, but perhaps from something keeping the cortisol from getting broken down, such as low thyroid activity (this is often the case in hard-charging athletes who are restricting carbohydrates). The DUTCH profile tests for free cortisol, cortisone (a metabolic byproduct of cortisol), DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and a host of other androgen and estrogen metabolites, making it the gold standard of hormone panels.
If you do find hormonal imbalances after receiving the results of your DUTCH panel, you can make some lifestyle and dietary changes to mitigate the damage:
- Hormone Strategy #1: Eat more cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. They contain indole-3-carbinol, an antioxidant that metabolizes excess estrogen in the body.
- Hormone Strategy #2: Filter your water
Heavy metals and chemicals like fluoride (which is actually a registered insecticide and rodenticide) found in drinking water can damage the endocrine system. You can eliminate these metals and chemicals by installing a drinking water filtration system, such as a reverse osmosis filter, in your home. Unless you want to add trace liquid minerals to your water afterward, be sure to get a unit with a built-in remineralizer to refortify the water with good minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Hormone Strategy #3: Use glass or stainless steel products instead of plastic
Chemicals like BPA can seep from plastic bottles and cups into your drinking water. My friend Anthony Jay has written an entire book called “Estrogeneration” that specifically addresses plastic exposure, and in my “How To Detox Your Home article,” you can learn plenty more potent environmental hacking strategies that will significantly reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors beyond BPA.
Reason #10: Toxins & Chemicals
Three-letter-acronym toxins like PCBs, DDT, DDE, and BPA have been found in extremely high concentrations in human fat tissue and cause significant metabolic damage, hormonal imbalances, and even more fat storage. Not only are toxins found in adipose tissue, but they are actually shoveled in there by your body to protect other functional tissues and the internal organs.
This is why a rapid fat loss regimen often results in skin rashes, zits, and diarrhea – as you mobilize fat, you also mobilize the toxins it contains.
The toxins then cause other symptoms if they are not dealt with via a detox protocol. In addition, if you store too many toxins and non-degradable chemicals in fat tissue, you will have a much harder time losing weight, no matter how much you exercise or how much clean food you eat or how much cold exposure you get.
Tactics 2 and 3 in the above section on hormonal imbalances are great ways to begin minimizing or sopping up toxin and chemical damage. You can also take steps to minimize uncomfortable side effects, such as irritability and inflammation, that can occur as chemicals and toxins get mobilized from fat and released back into your blood system. A full spectrum of whole food antioxidant sources can be incredibly beneficial in eliminating the free radicals and oxidants that cause cellular damage and accelerate aging. In my last big article on detoxification, you can learn how to detox your body, and in my “How To Detox Your Home” article, you can discover more about detoxing your home from invisible chemicals in air and water.
If you get some of your antioxidants from sources such as dark berries and leafy greens, then you will also get fiber in your diet. Fiber acts like a sponge and can soak up toxins from your system as they are released. For this reason, while on any fat loss regimen, you should aim for roughly 35 to 60 grams of fiber per day from organic produce, berries and a limited amount of larger fruits, seeds, and nuts.
Reason #11: Allergies & Intolerances
If you have a food allergy, then you probably already know this. Food allergies can be accompanied by severe symptoms such as throat swelling or respiratory distress – as in your friend who needs to be within a stone’s throw of an ambulance if he so much as sniffs a peanut.
An allergy occurs when your immune system misidentifies a protein as harmful and mounts an emergency response to that protein.
Some proteins or protein fragments, such as those found in peanuts or shellfish, are resistant to digestion, and those that don’t get broken down during digestion are tagged by an antibody called Immunoglobulin E. This fools your immune system into thinking that the protein is an invader, so your immune system attacks it and triggers an allergic reaction. The subsequent effects include hives, shock, severe drops in blood pressure, respiratory distress and anaphylactic reactions. As you can imagine, weight gain is not your primary concern if this happens – simply staying alive may become a higher priority.
In contrast, a food intolerance is much more subtle and can happen because of a number of physiological deficiencies, such as insufficient levels of the liver enzymes that dissolve fructose or a lactose intolerance to unfermented dairy products due to low lactase levels (the fermentation process of making, say, yogurt tends to significantly reduce levels of the sugar lactose.
Gluten intolerances are also common, although many people who believe they have gluten issues may have an entirely different problem. Most gluten-containing foods also contain gliadin. If you have what is called a subclinical sensitivity to gliadin, consuming these foods can cause an inflammatory response in the small intestines. This is more common in people of Northern and Eastern European descent. The symptoms of all these food intolerances can be similar to those of a food allergy but are not quite as pronounced. But both involve an inflammatory response, which can lead to weight gain if you consistently consume foods you are intolerant to.
Cyrex Laboratories offers what I consider to be the best food intolerance panel. Rather than a frustrating laundry list of foods you are never supposed to touch again, it identifies a targeted list of foods to remove from your diet. Cyrex’s approach to testing for reactivity to cooked, modified and raw foods sets the laboratory apart from its competitors because once a food is heated to 118 degrees or more, its protein structure and antigenicity may change. For example, the inflammatory response to cooked chicken may be far different than the response to raw chicken. As a result, Cyrex Array 10-90 minimizes the risk of missing reactivity or generating false positives in response to common foods, and Cyrex’s “Comprehensive Food Immune Reactivity Panel” – although expensive at close to one thousand dollars and only available if ordered through a physician – is even more informative as it combines testing for wheat and gluten cross-reactivity along with over 180 different food antigens.
Reason #12: Micronutrient Deficiencies
If you have spent any time trying to balance your diet, you have undoubtedly heard the term “macros,” which refers to the three macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
While these are crucial nutrients, they don’t even begin to cover all the vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that your body needs to function at a basic level.
Research has shown that specific micronutrient deficiencies are associated with weight gain and obesity. Among these micronutrients, the most significant are vitamin D, chromium, biotin, thiamine, and antioxidants. Deficiencies in these specific compounds can prevent fat loss via mechanisms that include altered insulin gene transcription, amplification of intracellular insulin-signaling and changes to glucose and amino acid metabolism. Metabolism and resistance to weight loss are also negatively affected by deficiencies in magnesium, boron, vitamin A, vitamin K2, and choline.
Micronutrient deficiencies can be caused by digestion issues or, because many of these micronutrients are fat soluble, fat deficiencies and malabsorption. How much of which micronutrients a person needs varies from person to person, a diversity which I first discovered in Roger William’s book “Biochemical Individuality”. For example, some people have higher rates of excretion versus retention of micronutrients, and people with tuberculosis have far greater needs for vitamin C and vitamin A. While it is unlikely that you have tuberculosis, you get the idea: different people have different nutritional requirements.
Due to this nutritional diversity, it is worth investing in a laboratory test to determine whether or not you are deficient in any micronutrients. A comprehensive micronutrient test measures a host of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids in your blood to determine sufficiencies and deficiencies. My recommendation is the Genova ION® (Individual Optimal Nutrition) Profile with 40 Amino Acids nutritional analysis, which can also help identify nutritional deficiencies that may be causing chronic diseases, sleep disruption or cognitive decline.
Reason #13: Your Thyroid
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism. It secretes thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which influence the metabolic rate of lipids, cholesterol, glucose, and proteins within the cells throughout your body. When the thyroid becomes underactive, it results in a condition called hypothyroidism, which can often result in weight gain.
What causes hypothyroidism?
In adults, it can be caused by deficiencies in iodine and selenium, but it can also occur as a birth defectknown as congenital hypothyroidism. Excess stress can cause disorders of the hypothalamus that reduce levels of thyroid hormones such as T3 and T4. Long-term caloric or carbohydrate deprivation can also reduce thyroid activity. As you can imagine, when you combine hard exercise, a busy work life and lack of sleep, the thyroid takes a big hit. For example, the lowest thyroid activity I have ever experienced was when I was a skinny, carbohydrate-restricting Ironman triathlete, and the only factor saving me from the stereotypical endurance athlete “muffin top” was my extreme level of physical activity.
If you suspect you have hypothyroidism, you can get a comprehensive blood test for thyroid activity or a resting metabolic rate (RMR) test to evaluate whether your metabolic rate is too low. If you do identify thyroid-related issues, you can first, as ironic as it may seem, consider slowing down. Overtraining, as you have already learned, is one of the key contributors to weight-loss resistance. Back-to-back days of weightlifting or empty miles of the same ho-hum pace, limited recovery days and the absence of recovery weeks are all tough on your thyroid function.
Reason #14: Disordered Eating
Research suggests that for some people, maintaining a regular eating schedule can improve the metabolic response to meals.
So if you are having trouble losing weight, rather than haphazardly skipping breakfast some days and eating it on others, having dinner late some nights and early the other nights or shifting from restaurant to restaurant for your lunch choices, you should establish far more consistent meal patterns.
Heck, I have had clients shed pounds by eating the same meals (a smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, meat or fish and vegetables for dinner) at the same times day in and day out for a few months.
Women seem to benefit most from this type of regularity. In one study of healthy lean women, an irregular meal pattern resulted in lower postprandial energy expenditure than a regular meal pattern. In another study, lean women who ate meals on a regular schedule had better insulin sensitivity and improved blood fat levels. In yet another study of healthy obese women, regular mealtimes increased postprandial thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and blood lipids, putting the women in a state more receptive to weight loss.
Some folks can thrive on an erratic eating schedule. But for many people, irregular meal times depress metabolism because their bodies “expect” food at specific times. The result can be dysregulated appetite and altered metabolism. If you don’t have a structured eating schedule and you are having trouble losing weight, try eating at the same times every day for a while, and try to keep the volume and nature of the meals relatively consistent.
You’ve now learned a lot about different factors that can prevent you from losing weight. You have also learned how to reverse those negative effects to get the body that you desire. But before you go waltzing off into the sunset with your physique toolbox expecting to attain a perfect, shredded body, there is something you should understand…
…everybody is different, and so is every body.
Even if you aren’t satisfied with your physique according to what are societally subjective beauty standards thrown at you in grocery store magazines and from pop culture, it may be the case that your body has reached its ideal weight.
You may not like to read this, and it may not seem fair, but you can reach a state of healthy homeostasis, even if you have a higher-than-desired body fat percentage.
If you are doing everything right, if you have nailed every element in this article, and you still can’t seem to lose more weight, you might have to accept the fact that you have reached your healthy homeostasis, and you just weren’t designed to have veins in your abs or striated lats or skinny calves. And that’s ok – own those thick legs!
Excessive exercising and dieting with an orthorexic approach to life while beating your body to smithereens with fat loss biohacks is certainly not going to shift you into maximum fat-burning mode or shrink your waistline. In fact, it is more likely to downregulate vital components of life, such as fertility, satisfaction, and happiness.
So accept the fact that you have a unique body. Inject light levels of physical activity or mild discomfort throughout the day, stand while you work, take cold showers, avoid sitting for long periods of time, engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing, implement intermittent fasting and use the other unconventional fat loss techniques that you might not hear from mainstream health professionals. Then simply be satisfied and happy with the body you have been blessed with.