Most women regardless of their actual weight or size want to lose weight at some point in their lives. Some of us have pursued that goal for years, and years, with little or no success at all. We might have lost some weight with a diet, exercise program or supplement, and then put it all back on and then some more. And from then on we embark on this roller coaster; trying different diets, foods, exercise programs, and even some diet pills!; some work and some don’t, but nevertheless, we end up dedicating considerable time, effort, and even money in this pursuit. Eventually we come to the point where, the more we try the more difficult it gets. Sometimes, even when we have let go of our obsessions with body and weight and we are more focused on our health, we still struggle to trim off excess fat in our body.
In this article I want to explore some of the possible causes/reasons why weight/fat loss seems to be quite challenging for a lot of women. I also suggest some simple specific actions that have effectively helped me in losing excess fat without restrictions, radical diets or intense exercise routines.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, please always consult with a qualified professional for any concerns with your health and nutritional program. The information and suggestions in this article are based on my formal studies in Nutritional Science, several literature reviews on the topic, experiences shared with other women, and my personal journey with overcoming an Eating disorder, obsessive dieting and exercising, as well as digestive and hormonal issues.
• The reason WHY
Sometimes our main obstacle for weight loss is the perception that we have of ourselves in the world, our beliefs about beauty, the influence of the media, and ultimately the reasons why we want to lose weight can determine our success or our failure in achieving a healthy weight. Some common hidden reasons for women to want to lose weight are: being more attractive, fitting in, filling emotional gaps, gaining acceptance, confidence, etc. Let me explain, I had low self-esteem for several years and my perception was that if only I was skinny I would then be more confident and socially accepted. However, even when I had lost considerable amount of weight I still felt not good enough, I still didn’t find my place in the world, and I still had low self- esteem. I did gain some self-confidence but it wasn’t real and long lasting, because it was dependent on my perception of being “skinny”, it was sort of borrowed confidence because when I put the weight on again, that confidence went out the door, leaving me right where I started.
On the other hand, when I made health my priority, and committed to healing first and foremost, I obtained much better results; I was naturally more loyal to my goal. I embarked on a journey of discovery of my own body, emotions, driving forces, etc. I found what I was really in search of, and realized that losing weight was not going to give me what I needed. I knew that some other areas had to be fixed first, and that then, weight loss would come. It is OK to want to lose weight when the reasons are genuine like; to have better health, live longer, have more quality of life, etc., understanding that when we are healthy, weight loss happens more easily. “What heals your body slims your body”.
When we get clear on the reasons why, weight-loss becomes a more nourishing, and fulfilling experience. When you know your reason why, you will have a better starting point for the next steps.
• Good digestion = Good detoxification = Better chances for fat loss
One way to assess how good your health is, is by looking at how good your digestion is.
Good digestive function is a crucial aspect in making sure that our body is processing nutrients, absorbing what it needs, and excreting normally and efficiently everything that does not serve us well. If you have any sort of digestive issue, however small it is, it is important to work on restoring normal digestive function first. This should be a priority, and before worrying about counting calories, fats and carbohydrates, a diet must be developed around restoring normal digestive function. Sometimes even our exercise routine has to be adjusted to accommodate energy levels from food intake when our digestion is compromised, because the body might not be getting all the nutrition needed to support the metabolism of exercise.
Stress also affects our digestion in many ways, so it has to be considered when we try to fix our digestion, sometimes it is not the food we eat, but how, and when we eat.
If you are one of those lucky ones with an iron stomach and immaculate digestion, you have one less thing to worry about, and can start looking at the next steps.
• Restrictive eating and Stress
Stress —–> increased cortisol + increased insulin +hormonal imbalance = more fat storage
Restrictive, low calorie diets and exercise in excess are stressors for the body. We have stress coming at us in every which way nowadays, and on top of that we add more stress to our bodies with restrictive eating and exercising too much. Simply put, when we are stressed out, the last thing the body wants to do is to burn fat, because the body, especially in women needs to feel safe, and if it detects any signs of starvation or danger, it will go into fat saving mode, and if the restriction is severe it can even lower, and shut down some functions in the body. Science has demonstrated that the human body is very efficient at storing fat, this is how the body was design, and it is important to understand that, so that instead of fighting the nature of the body, we embrace it and work with it, and around it.
Stress is a biggie, and you have probably heard this everywhere, so in this article I just want to mention a few things to watch for, that add significant amount of stress, and impede weight loss.
Stress sabotages our weight loss efforts through a variety of mechanisms in the body, and that it just the way the body was designed to work.
Some common behaviors in women that signal starvation, and consequently stress are: constant dieting, counting calories, fasting, under-eating, going to bed hungry, over-training, losing too much weight fast, etc. Men usually can afford a lot more abuse to their bodies, but women can’t because we were designed to bear and carry children. Whether you get pregnant or not, every month the female body prepares to bear a child, and we put ourselves at serious risk when starving ourselves. Our fertility, mental health, libido, skin, bone health, hormones, thyroid, and sleep all suffer consequences. In addition we may also lose the ability to burn fat.
The longer we starve ourselves with diets and over training the more potential for damage to our body, and the less chances for sustainable fat loss.
Stress also causes a decrease in sex hormone production which will impair muscle growth, cause excess fat to deposit in certain areas, mood disorders, irregular and painful menstrual periods, etc.
If the body is deprived of certain nutrients it has to choose between switching off certain processes temporarily or leeching what’s needed from somewhere else in the body. This would mean possible catabolism/ breakdown when you are already in a catabolic state from dieting and training. This puts a lot of stress on the body by asking it to provide further breakdown in another area to sustain itself, which is just more stress added to the system. This can manifest in muscle loss, fatigue, weakness, hair loss, thinning hair, lowered thyroid function, etc.
Other sources of stress:
• Illness, pain, aches
Health issues require more energy and specific nutrients to allow for healing. When we have a specific condition, especially chronic conditions such as colitis, the body spends a lot of energy, and resources trying to heal. Pain, and illness are stressors for the body, they increase cortisol which signals the body to store fat, especially when we push the body beyond its current capacity to cope. We must focus on providing the body with appropriate care before focusing on losing weight; otherwise we will promote further breakdown, and overcompensation in the body.
• Doing too much, Over-training, Lack of sleep/rest
I am not sure when it became more socially acceptable for women to be as busy as possible, accomplish as much or more than men in business, politics, sports etc., joggle a full time job, plus take care of kids and sustain a household, train like an athlete, look like a fitness model, and lift heavy weights to demonstrate strength. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first one to believe in the strength and intelligence of women. It is for a reason that we are the ones who can bear a child! But my question is, can our female biology and physiology support all of those demands that I mentioned above?
I think the answer relies on the health status of the majority of women with highly demanding jobs, performance athletes, and the women who work full time jobs, or more than one job, who study and work, plus run kids around, sleep little hours, and much more that most women do on a daily basis these days.
What I hear recently from the online women health community is that a lot of women are suffering detrimental effects of demanding lifestyles, excessive exercise, dieting, and stress caused by doing more than the body can handle, and not having enough rest!. This effects show in the increased incidence of amenorrhea (loss of your menstrual cycle), infertility, metabolic damage, hormonal imbalances, low energy, PMS, Painful periods, low thyroid function, digestive problems, stubborn weight gain, and more.
That said, I am sure that some women (even though the minority) might be more resilient to stress than others, and that there is a different level of activity that is supportive of good health for each of us. The point is to be honest with ourselves and find our threshold. How much can you honestly handle while maintaining optimal health? because yes! We are meant to feel good, and function well. We can’t and should not drag ourselves around on caffeine stimulation.
Most women need to sleep at least 7-8 hours every day to repair and detoxify. Some of us need more than that, I am one of them. Don’t give up your sleep! Sleep should be a priority over exercise, and sometimes more than eating.
When it comes to over-training, it means different things for each of us, depending on our level of health, and even our genetics. I will share with you that the stage where I am at in my healing journey; more than 30 minutes of light exercise a day is over-training!, and I do my body more harm than good if I push harder than that. One session of High intensity interval training can leave me exhausted for a whole week, and I can notice my stress level, and anxiety rising with that type of exercise. It took me a while to understand this, and it was hard to give up the gym, but I took a leap of faith, and in the end I felt better by cutting down.
I am not here to lecture you on what you should do and what you should give up, but I encourage you to analyze your lifestyle and your level of health by looking at your activity level, and how your body feels on a day to day basis. The message is to listen to your body, and determine how much is too much.