Written by Dr. Laura Jones
Many of our patients will tell you the same thing…The weight crept on at a steady pace since March of 2020. Weight loss goals are common this time of year, especially after a year full of social and emotional challenges. Human nature often has us reaching for our vices during difficult times.
Some have already dived back into healthy habits; cleaning up the diet and getting reacquainted with their sneakers. Others still need a little encouragement. It can be overwhelming when you have strayed so far from where you want to be with weight, nutrition, and exercise goals.
For some, the weight is coming off quickly this first week back on track. For others, they are too afraid to start, and for others they have already hit a weight loss plateau.
Weight loss plateaus are a quite common and frustrating hurdle. As a practitioner who works with patients on weight loss often, I commonly see patients who are doing all the right things but not seeing the changes they are hoping for. There are a few things I look at when I am working with a patient and we hit a weight loss plateau. The following four areas can be very important to investigate if weight loss stalls despite much compliance and effort with our plan.
Greater than thirty percent of the US population is deficient in at least one nutrient. For example, low vitamin D3 levels are present in eight out of ten people, especially here in New England. D3 is important for many things, including hormone signaling. Ninety percent of people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids which are critical for blood sugar regulation and anti-inflammatory action.
There is a misunderstanding among many that plenty of calories means plenty of nutrients. This is not the case. We can eat plenty of calories while consuming not nearly enough nutrients. Nutrient depleted foods like refined flours, refined sugars, and junky fats rack up calories but provide little nutrition. The average bread, pasta, cracker or sweet treat has few nutrients, but an abundance of calories. In fact, it takes extra nutrients to even process all the refined sugars and flours…resulting in a larger deficiency. This is called overfed and under nourished. This is a dangerous combination that presents in my office as overweight, fatigued, and at particularly high risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes if left unaddressed.
Another consequence of being nutrient depleted is a slow, suboptimal metabolism which further contributes to weight gain.
Nutrient deficiencies can be managed easily with a good quality multivitamin and B complex if gut absorption is adequate. Nutrient deficiency testing can be run through a specialty lab to investigate the level of common nutrients and antioxidants in patient’s cells. This information makes it simple to design an individualized treatment plan with nutrition and supplement suggestions to cater to the specific deficiencies, leading to improved health and body composition.
Flora Imbalances in the Gut
Over 1000 different species of bacteria in our gut make up our microbiome. The microbiome is critical to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Research has clearly shown that the bacterial species in the gut have a significant impact on our weight and our metabolism. Some bacteria are particularly beneficial and other species are troublesome when it comes to weight and metabolism. For example, an overgrowth of dysbiotic bacteria can lead to more inflammation, and more difficulty metabolizing carbohydrates. Healthy foods- rich in fiber to feed our good gut flora, fermented foods if well tolerated, and good quality (so important) probiotic supplements can significantly improve the microbiome, body composition and overall health. Focus points for supporting a healthy microbiome include whole/unprocessed foods, ¾ of your plate filled with plant-based foods, good quality fats such as olive oil or omega-3s from wild caught salmon (Alaskan is the best), and plenty of fiber.
Putting the Hose on Inflammation
There is clear evidence that the state of being overweight or obese is an inflammatory state. Weight gain and related disease is influenced by inflammatory chemicals made by fat cells. The types of foods we eat, the toxins we are exposed to in our home or workplace, allergens in our environment, even our stress hormones… all can be triggers for inflammation and related weight gain. Using anti-inflammatory foods and supplements such as omega-3s, curcuminoids from turmeric, and green tea extract can help put a damper on inflammation contributing to weight gain.
Detoxification is a constantly occurring process in our bodies. When all systems are working well, our bodies are exceptionally good at neutralizing toxins and eliminating them from the body. However, we can get into hot water when our toxic exposure becomes greater than what the body can keep up with. Additionally, our ability to detoxify can become impeded for several different reasons. This can lead to a build up of toxins in the body. A build up of toxins or hindered detox pathways can greatly affect body composition.
Any one of the tens of thousands of chemicals in our world can potentially interfere with our metabolism and lead to weight gain. This includes plastics, pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, and metals like mercury and lead. These chemicals are called obesogens because of the way they promote weight gain by interfering with metabolism, hormone regulation and even brain biochemistry. Reducing toxic exposure is the first step to addressing this vulnerability. Eating organic foods, limiting mercury exposure by purchasing only healthy fish, reducing animal protein and making sure that what you do eat is free of hormones and antibiotic treatment can make a difference. Additionally, correcting nutrient deficiencies that can negatively impact our ability to detoxify, a fiber rich diet to bind toxicity in the gut before it is absorbed, and focusing on foods that encourage healthy detox such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts can all make a positive difference.
Weight loss plateaus happen…but when this occurs, there are avenues to investigate. When significant findings are addressed, the weight loss ball keeps rolling. This is not done without a great deal of work and commitment from the patient. Addressing the cause of the health concern, rather than merely the symptom makes all the difference in the world.
Depending on interest, Dr Jones will likely be running a weight loss program to start in March. Individual treatment plans as well as specialty lab investigation will be part of the program. Each patient will be assessed for each of the four plateauing factors mentioned in this article. If you have interest in participating in this program, please email her at drjones@naturalmedicineNH.com so she can keep you updated.