Have you ever hopped on the next best weight loss scheme and watched gleefully as the pounds melted off only to come to a screeching halt? No matter what you did the weight wouldn’t budge past a certain point or you would drop a few pounds only to see it come right back. Welcome to the weight loss stall… or in other words your fat mass set point.
Up until recently the only theory on how to lose weight was eat less calories than you burn. The majority of health professionals now a day will still agree that if you want to lose weight that’s the only way to do it. Unfortunately it ain’t that simple and more often than not it will backfire.
Truth be told when we first start a “diet” for a period of time the majority of people will lose weight because of that rule. However, after a period of time what begins to happen is your body says hey wait a sec I am freaking starving and clearly there isn’t much food around so I better reserve some of this fat I got so I won’t die! At this point in walks the famous weight loss stall. This stall will happen at different times for different people. I have seen it happen a few months into a program and for others it could be a year before it happens.
So what causes this stall?
In short: Your metabolism slows down! When you are doing conventional “diets” there are three metabolic adaptations that can affect how your metabolism will react to low calorie or extreme dieting.
- It decreases thyroid hormone. Which is the main controller of your metabolic rate (how fast your body is burning calories). When your body feels it is under threat of famine it will naturally slow metabolism so you don’t use up all your fat stores to quickly. Yeah I know how super is that….NOT!
- It destroys muscle because muscle burns more energy than fat does. On the bright side that proves that the more muscle you have the more fat you burn!
- It causes fatigue. Why? Because it wants you to slow down and start preserving energy in case this famine lasts for awhile.
The more you starve yourself the slower your metabolism will be and the slower the fat loss because we are hardwired for survival.
Fat Mass Set point
We have something called the fat mass set point. This is a natural biological feedback system that is there to keep our body weight stable over time. It can feel unfair and frustrating. My fat mass set point is 128 my body freaking loves 128 and I could go low calorie for a week and it will lose weight then within a few days or eating normally my body weight will return to 128. But don’t worry there are ways to blow past that set point especially if you have more the 10 pounds to lose. The only way to change this set point is to get rid of whatever is causing your body to want to store fat.
Before disco and obesity
Now before we begin let’s back this bus up and take note that for 100’s of thousands of years we stayed lean effortlessly! Then came the 1970’s and with it not only came disco but also obesity! So what the hell happened in this free loving, dope smoking, flare wearin era that sent us into an ever increasing obesity epidemic? Were people so high they decided to eat an extra 500-1000 calories a day?
No, we started eating more because we were getting hungrier! We were listening to our bodies as the need to eat began to increase. Which slowly increased people’s fat mass set point. The trick is getting to the root cause of this weight gain.
We need to somehow send our bodies the signal that it can lower our fat mass set point. Now stay with me here because its obviously not as easy as it sounds.
First off let’s discuss exactly what happened in the 70’s that began this ravenous behaviour in the human race.
High food reward
Food began to be manufactured to have a high food reward. Things that taste really good like sugar have an effect on your brain much like drugs do. They release chemical feel good hormones like dopamine which make you feel relaxed and happy.
Companies realized “ Hey if we load up all of our food with sugar this drives people to over consume ! Perfect! But like any good drug the body builds up a tolerance level to it so that we quickly need more in order to get that same feeling of euphoria…hello binge eating!
Soon enough we began eating for pleasure rather than to fuel our body and pleasure unfortunately weighs out over basic biology. Companies quickly began creating food cocktails that had massive impact on the pleasure centers of our brains. Mixes like refined sugar, fat and artificial flavorings became the hyper rewarding food that now line our grocery store shelves.
High food variety
We not only got highly rewarding foods we also got way too much variety to choose from. When you look at our traditional diets they were simple, basic meals in most cases 1-2 meals a day depending on how far you go back. Think about what your grandma likely ate for dinner; roast, potatoes or maybe some homemade sourdough bread with some lard that she rendered herself and carrots from the garden. It didn’t get much more complicated than that. Dessert if you were lucky consisted of some baked apples with fresh whole cream on top. Now food is everywhere and is widely accessible we eat appetizers, entrees, desserts and snacks between every meal.
Obesity researchers have stated that highly rewarding foods and high food variety can explain the entire obesity epidemic!
Between natural stressors like artificial lights, pollution, chemicals and self induced stress from work, lack of community, sleep deprivation and much more we are creating an inner storm that breeds over-eating. Stress affects every level of your body but most importantly drives hunger signals through the roof.
What to do about it?
Get rid of the high food reward fix
This will get your body back in tune with eating and re-establish what you are really hungry for. Know that the food is addictive and treat as such. Find your tolerance for some people that’s 80/20 but I know some that have to be 100 % off things like sugar or like any true addict they can’t stop once they start.Eat whole unprocessed foods this has been shown to significantly reduce calorie intake without hunger.When you get cravings for salt listen to your body and make some homemade fries with sea salt. When you want sugar have a fruit smoothie or dark chocolate.
Eat simple meals
It has been proven that lowering food variety (eating simple meals) without a lot of sauce or bold flavors will assist you in not overeating. This doesn’t mean you have to eat boring food, trust me once you re-adjust your taste buds whole unprocessed food won’t need a lot of dressing up. You will begin to appreciate the taste of real food.
One of the hardest things for north Americans to wrap our heads around is how to lower stress but it is killing us, literally in so many ways! Incorporate time with community, friends, start a yoga practice, meditate whatever it is that brings you enjoyment and fulfillment in life. When you are getting those feel-good hormones from something other than food, you won’t depend on it any more to fill that void and release those feel good chemicals.
When you don’t get a good sleep you will not only raise your stress hormones but mess up your leptin signals. Leptin is your hunger hormone when it’s malfunctioning you feel hungry constantly. You need uninterrupted 7-9 hours of sleep.
Remove metabolically toxic foods
These foods wreak havoc on your ability to burn fat.
Bad fats: trans fat like margarine, heated vegetable oils, excess omega 6 which creates inflammation and are extremely toxic in high amounts like conventionally raised meats.
Gluten: destroys the intestinal walls causing inflammation and leaky gut. Leaky gut creates systemic inflammation which then can lead to immune system over activity, autoimmune disease, hormonal dysfunction, stress and fat gain.
Pesticides/ herbicides/plastic softeners: all of which are endocrine (hormonal) disruptors
Allergens: Food sensitivities and allergens destroy the gut lining which creates a cascade of events that lead to slowed metabolism and over-eating.
Micro nutrient absorption- blocking food (anti-nutrients) such as grains and legumes both can create inflammation to the gut and contain lectins which can alter the absorption of micronutrients.
Lifting weights is one of the best ways to rev up metabolism. More muscle = higher fat burning abilities.
Your next steps
So now you know what to do you can rest assured it’s not simply a matter of you not trying hard enough to lose weight – and with a few tweaks you can shift that stubborn last 5, 10 or 20 lbs. If you have any questions, reach out! I am here to help.