Over the years, I have seen many patients who have been struggling with their weight in my Ottawa practice. Many have tried multiple strategies without lasting success before coming to see a naturopathic doctor. Trying to lose weight can be an emotional roller coaster, and is often not simply a matter of willpower and portion control. The only way to truly make a difference in the long run is to address the underlying cause(s) of weight gain.
I am excited to share with you some of the key points I talked about in my recent “Wellness for Weight Loss” seminars at the Ottawa Public Library. These are my top 5 weight loss sabotagers that I screen for in patients who are having difficulty losing weight.
Top 5 Hidden Causes of Weight Gain
Despite the large amount of food available to us, most North Americans following the Standard American Diet (appropriately referred to as the “SAD” diet) are overfed but undernourished! This diet is low in essential nutrients that are needed for proper metabolism and hormone balance. Without these nutrients, we can experience hunger even while eating larger quantities of food, since the body is still starving for those nutrients. Eating a whole food, varied diet, high in vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids, can help decrease inflammation in the body and help with proper hormone balance.
2. Blood Sugar Imbalances
Some carbohydrates in foods convert to sugar in the bloodstream faster than others. To prevent excessive storage of blood sugar into fat, you want your blood sugar to stay tightly regulated, with no sharp rises or dips. This is because sharp rises in blood sugar triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels and storage into fat. As long as insulin levels are high, you cannot burn fat from adipose tissue because your body is focusing on storing excess blood sugar into triglycerides and then into fat cells. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates and low in protein and fibre will cause an initial spike in blood sugar, leading to an initial energy boost. However, this is short-lived and is quickly followed by a dip as the sugar is taken up into cells and stored, leading to low blood sugar, low energy, and hunger cravings. And what do we typically reach for when we are hungry and in a hurry? High carbohydrate foods, which just perpetuate the cycle! Keeping your blood sugar more even by eating the right foods can make a big difference.
3. Food Sensitivities
Many people have underlying food sensitivities which are causing inflammation in their body, hindering weight loss. Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities may decrease chronic inflammation which fuels obesity. Food sensitivities are delayed immune-mediated reactions to foods, which can occur anytime from eating the food and up to 72 hours after. The body can produce excessive amounts of a type of antibody called immunoglobulin G, or IgG, which recognizes and attaches to specific proteins in food particles. (This is different from the typical anaphylactic allergic reactions we hear about, which are mediated by a different type of antibody called IgE.) Common symptoms of food sensitivities include digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea), feeling like food “just sits there”, foggy thinking, migraine headaches, fatigue, difficulty losing weight, or skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis). If you suspect that you might have a food sensitivity, a naturopathic doctor can help you identify problematic foods through IgG food sensitivity testing (blood test) or an elimination diet.
4. Chronic Stress
All of us go through stressful periods. Usually, we can recover after a short-term stress and go on with our lives. However, we often don’t realize the detrimental impact of long-term, chronic stress on our bodies. Our body deals with any long-term stress through the adrenal glands (“ad” means “near” and “renal” means “the region of the kidneys”), which produce cortisol. If you tend to gain weight in your mid-section, chances are chronic stress (or sugar imbalances) may be an issue. Over time, high cortisol leads to the breakdown of muscle mass (decreasing metabolic rate), decreased production of active thyroid hormone, depressed mood, cravings for sweets, fats, and salty food, and central weight gain. Learning stress management tools and using the appropriate nutritional supplementation can help you improve your metabolism and help you lose weight around the middle.
5. Thyroid Dysfunction
Optimal thyroid function is very important for anyone who is trying to lose weight. The thyroid controls metabolism and therefore weight. An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is associated with weight gain, depressed mood, cold intolerance, constipation, and many other symptoms. Think about what would happen in your body if you slowed down how quickly everything worked, and you could explain most symptoms of hypothyroidism. If you have symptoms but your thyroid has been tested and found to be “normal”, there still could be a problem with your thyroid. I look for optimal rather than normal levels in those patients, and often order a complete thyroid panel (TSH, fT3, fT4, TPO) to make sure everything is functioning as well as it could. As mentioned above, chronic stress can also impair the way thyroid hormone is used by the tissues, and may be a reason you could have symptoms when your lab tests appear normal.
So that’s it: 5 underlying causes of weight gain to look out for! Are there any that you think could apply to you? If you have been struggling with weight for some time and want to treat the underlying cause, come on in for a visit at my clinic!
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.