Published Jan 4, 2021
Many of us have wanted to or even been advised to lose weight at one time or another. It’s perhaps the most frequently cited slice of lifestyle advice and that’s no real surprise. It’s alarmingly easy to pile on the pounds these days: our supermarket shelves overflow with rich food while many of us lead sedentary lives in front of screens. Rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes have been climbing steadily for decades.
This is a very new problem in evolutionary terms – perhaps the wealthy have always eaten well but for most of human history, famine was far more likely than feast. Those best able to store away the calories and survive food shortages were more likely to pass on their hardy genes to the next generation. And so forth, for millennia. This has left most of us with an all-too-familiar source of misery: our bodies are very good at gaining weight and very reluctant to lose it.
Putting on the pounds is a complex process – there is more at play than the simple equation calories in, energy out. Even if you do everything right – eat carefully and get plenty of exercise, it can still be difficult to reach a healthy weight and stay there.
But why? What causes this real and frustrating weight loss resistance? Here are some of the biggest influences…
Some foods are richer in nutrients than others and these promote overall health. Fresh foods are typically best and will help you maintain the right balance of vitamins and minerals for a healthy metabolism that will resist weight gain. Iron is an excellent example: it allows oxygen to enter our cells and this in turns allows our bodies to burn energy. Low iron levels therefore mean lower levels of blood oxygen and an impaired ability to metabolise fat and burn energy.
A well-balanced diet will also reduce your chances of other digestive disorders like acid reflux.
Your mental health
Unfortunately for many of us, chronic stress promotes weight gain, and not just by encouraging us to overeat. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline actually interfere with our metabolism, encouraging our bodies to cling on to calories and store fat in preparation for a fight or flight response that never quite arrives.
Although some of us are fortunate enough to have faster metabolic rates than others, from around the age of 35 onwards, we all start to slow down and this affects the rate at which we absorb calories and burn energy. But that’s just the start. Other factors can creep in with age, including:
Thyroid imbalances: the hormones released by this unobtrusive but vital little gland play an important role in our approach to food. If they drift out of balance, they can interfere with the sense of fullness, causing cravings and lowering our energy.
Hormonal imbalances: as women’s fertility declines with age, their bodies start to lay down more fat because this can be used to produce fertility-boosting estrogen. Mother Nature wants us to stay fertile for as long as we can!
Our bodies react to our meals in different ways thanks to the unique genetic make-up bequeathed to us by our parents. Lots of us are sensitive to certain foods, responding to these with bloating, gas, inflammation, stomach cramps and other unpleasant symptoms. This makes it harder to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy metabolism.
So what can we do?
Are some of us just doomed to be overweight? Thankfully not. But you will need to go that extra mile and really take stock of your lifestyle and overall state of health.
Are you significantly stressed? Has a doctor checked your thyroid function and hormone levels? How about food sensitivities – do you feel sluggish or uncomfortable after eating certain staples? Fortunately it’s easier than ever to check for food sensitivities using simple and inexpensive home testing kits.
Of course, you shouldn’t forget the fundamentals too: a healthy diet and an active lifestyle remain the cornerstones of sustainable weight loss.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.