Weight loss is simple, but unfortunately not for everyone.
Some of us just need to eat more fresh whole foods in place of junk and the weight falls off. For others, it’s not always that obvious. We think we’re doing everything perfectly—eating “clean,” exercising daily—but there are still those few bubbles of body fat that don’t seem to budge.
If this sounds a little like you, I’m glad I have your attention.
As an integrative dietitian, I’ve always made it my mission to hack the anomalies in health and nutrition. From the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed version of myself in dietitian school, I learnt very early on that weight loss is rarely as simple as following the “correct diet” or “balancing calories.”
I’ve since met many women with the same story: they eat healthily, exercise, and are aware of calories, but despite their best efforts are faced with the ongoing battle of stubborn excess weight.
I’d like to share what I’ve learnt in my journey giving weight loss advice. Truth be told, this is as much a personal story as it has been for many of my clients. I too am a Type A perfectionist, also on my own wellness journey, trying to figure it all out.
Let me share the four main reasons you might not be getting the results you expect, despite diligently following the perfect, “clean” whole food diet.
1. The perfect diet might not be the perfect diet for your body.
One of the most ironic revelations which came from completing a science bachelors and master’s degree in human nutrition, was discovering dietary guidelines are based on only a modest amount of science. The scientific community are excellent observers of trends in populations, however, understanding individual variation and precise personal needs remains a challenge. We don’t know what we don’t know.
The reality is, working out your perfect diet is practically impossible, scientifically. No one dietary guideline, fad, or trend will ever nail your perfect diet plan for your lifestyle and body. This means that even though you might be following a diet perfectly, it might not be perfect for you.
Occasionally, I come across a vegan or vegetarian struggling with immune, digestive, and energy problems. It’s common for nutrient density to be sacrificed in exchange for ethical choices, which increases the chances of nutrient deficiencies, blood sugar problems, and gut irritation. Usually it’s not until we add in the odd organic chicken liver, oily fish, and free range egg that we really start to resolve some of these issues—a shift in diet philosophy indeed.
Another common mistake comes from the increasing popularity of extremely low carb ketogenic diets. Yes, low can indeed be effective, but not everyone needs to take it to the extreme. Particularly for anyone with a lot of stress, fertility issues, or an existing autoimmune condition, removing every trace of carbs in your diet might just make things worse.
In my role, I encourage women to listen to their bodies and experiment. Drop any extremist philosophy and just think about healthy eating as choosing minimally processed whole foods. Dare to experiment with maybe more carbs, less carbs, more protein, less animal products, more fat, more raw, or less fibre. Unfortunately there are no clear and universal guidelines—we just have to try things out.
2. You might have a food intolerance.
If you’ve already got healthy eating sorted but are still having issues, there’s a chance you might have some form of food intolerance. Intolerances to seemingly healthy foods can be more than just an unwelcome annoyance, they could even be preventing you from losing weight.
Food intolerances are most common in people with gut issues as they usually develop from some form of gut distress such an infection or IBS. They can build up over time, making it difficult to identify when something, which at one point in time could have been a favourite food, started to cause issues.
Just as the person you live with might be the most likely of everyone you know to piss you off, so the staple foods you’re eating every day could be exactly what your gut and immune system have had enough of.
Food intolerances are another source of inflammation and unneeded stress. Your body has zero concern for burning fat when it’s too busy dealing with something in your gut that it thinks is going to hurt you.
For me, working out I had an intolerance to sesame, blueberry, and coffee was a real game changer—I couldn’t have imagined that my favourite healthy snacks were largely the cause of my bloating and discomfort. Eliminating these led to a flat belly, less brain fog, less craving, more energy to exercise for enjoyment, and altogether effortless fat loss.
If a food intolerance could be one of your issues, do your homework and start paying close attention to some of he symptoms. Bloating, pain, reflux, and skin irritations can all be ways your body is tying to tell you something is off. Start by eliminating common allergens such as grains, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, seeds, legumes, and nightshades and then gradually reintroduce them, taking note of any symptoms. It can also be helpful to seek out guidance from a practitioner with experience in picking up intolerances.
3. Your hormones are working against you.
We now know, thankfully, that our bodies are far more complicated than the ancient calories-in-versus-calories-out model. Indeed, we’re a complicated bag of hormones and emotions, fine-tuning our metabolism to suit the environment in which we live.
For many of us, this is one of chronic stress, with demands from work, family, study, over-training, and nutrient or caloric restriction. All of these stressors can act as a bombshell for hormone issues.
There are many different hormones which play several roles in regulating our metabolism (a.k.a. fat-burning capacity). The thyroid, adrenals, gonads, and even our fat and muscle tissues work in synchronicity to drive a well-oiled, fat-burning human machine. When these systems are out of balance, we’re left with fatigue, sleep issues, stubborn body fat, brain fog, altered libido, premenstrual tension, mood disturbances, and the general loss of our edge.
Here’s the thing, if your hormones are an issue, trying to diet or exercise off that belly fat is a near-wasted effort. In fact, stressing your system is almost the complete opposite of what you should be doing.
I’ve been there on the hormone-driven rat wheel of anxiety, lethargy, and mind-boggling weight fluctuations. For both me and my clients, long-lasting weight loss needs to be supported by a healthy metabolism and healthy hormone levels.
Unfortunately, hormones aren’t just fixable with a pill. Doctors may try with the oral contraceptive pill or other hormone replacements, but that’s nothing like the real thing. We need to be taking an integrated approach to dig at the underlying causes of these hormonal problems, not just cover up a deficiency.
If you’re stick in a rut with hormonal imbalances slowing your metabolism, start by ticking the boxes of basic self-care: make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep; exercise enough, but not too much or too intensely if you’re feeling burnt out; find tools to deal with stress; protect nourishing relationships; eat nutrient dense food. All these basic lifestyle elements play important roles in signalling to our bodies that we’re safe and can afford to burn fat
4. You might need to fix your attitude.
The last, but most sinister reason many of us are held back from the things we strive for is far simpler than any complicated metabolic mystery of nutrition: it’s the conversations going on in our heads.
The most powerful element influencing our ability to burn fat might in fact be a negative voice playing on repeat in the back of our minds. Indeed, negative self-talk around doubt and worthiness can be one of the most damaging influences we encounter on a daily basis.
You might have the best intentions and clear goals for where you’re heading in your wellness journey (bikini, goal weight…), but if you let it, negative inner talk will become the root of your self-sabotage.
I often catch myself in weak moments where I’m overindulging or snacking more than I need to because of some other emotional or mental issue that’s come up. We’re good at using food to pacify emotion, which I’ve found in my journey is something that will boil up when there’s some form of emotional or spiritual disconnect. In the past when I’ve been unhappy in a job or lonely, the snacks come out. And I know I’m not alone.
I’m not a psychoanalyst, nor do I claim any magical dietary technique that can cure us of negative or self-sabotaging thoughts. However, with many of my clients, it’s merely about recognising the mental and emotional side of weight loss so we can be better empowered to move on in our journey to wellness.
Author: Sylvia North
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron