Fat loss can be a complicated subject to teach, because there are so many possible limiting factors in a person’s ability to lose fat.
- There’s the exercise part – which plays a huge role.
- There’s the diet part – another major player.
- There’s the psychology – which is a stumbling block for many recreational exercisers.
- And there’s the social part – which many believe plays a massive, but underappreciated role.
But what happens if you’ve got the diet and the exercise part down pat; if your social support is great; your psychology on track… and you still can’t lose fat?
Well, that’s when you’ve gotta dig deeper physiologically. That’s when you have to look to the 4 major physiological systems that could be holding you back. These include:
- Your oxygen delivery system
- Your blood sugar management system
- Your adrenal system
- Your digestive system
Now, I want to be real honest here. 85% of those folks who follow Precision Nutrition, those folks who nail down the exercise, diet, psych, and social parts of the fat loss equation, do very well. Under normal physiological situations, the body has no problem giving up the fat, as long as the basics – discussed above – are covered.
However, there’s always that other 15%: folks who seem to be doing everything else right but still can’t lose fat. What’s up with them?
Well, assuming they really are on track, they’re likely experiencing abnormal physiological situations where fat loss is quite difficult because the body isn’t functioning as it should.
It’s kind of like planting a garden. Sunshine and water are requirements for a garden to grow, just like diet and exercise are necessary for fat loss. But even with all the sunshine and water in the world, your garden won’t grow if the soil is unhealthy.
In other words, you can diet and exercise all you want, you can develop a strong social support circle, and you can get your head screwed on right. But if your body — your soil — is not working properly, neither will your weight loss program.
So let’s dig a little deeper and discuss the big 4 physiological situations that might be preventing you from losing fat.
Fat Loss Barrier #1: The oxygen delivery system
The cells of your body run primarily on two things: oxygen and glucose. If either one of these is deficient in any way, hundreds of trillions of cells in your body will not work correctly.
The cells of your body produce something called ATP or, adenosine triphosphate. ATP is the basic energy source for your body and allows each cell of your body to do what it does. Without ATP, nothing works correctly. In fact reduced ATP production is one of the hallmarks of the aging process.
While there are many nutrients that help with the production of ATP, one of the most fundamental components is oxygen. If your cells are not receiving adequate amounts of oxygen, nothing in your body will work correctly… including weight loss.
In conventional medicine, a decrease in the ability to deliver oxygen to cells is often called anemia, a condition referring to a quantitative and/or qualitative deficiency in red blood cells’ ability to deliver oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body.
While a full discussion on anemia and your body’s inability to deliver oxygen to cells is too extensive to cover here, you can start by getting your doctor to run standard blood work, which should include RBC, hemoglobin, hematocrit, MCV, MCH, MCHC, iron, ferritin and transferrin.
Fat Loss Barrier #2: The blood sugar management system
Blood sugar balance is the focus of virtually every diet book from The Pritikin Diet to The Atkins Diet. And with good reason: imbalanced blood sugar levels are at the crux of many health issues, including being overweight.
When talking about blood sugar balance, for simplicity’s sake, there are two possibilities:
- Insulin resistance – chronically elevated blood sugar levels
- Hypoglycemia – blood sugar fluctuations – sometimes it’s high and sometimes it’s low.
Both of these imbalances result in elevated insulin.
When someone is insulin resistant, glucose can no longer effectively enter into the cell. Because blood sugar is not adequately entering the cells, it stays in general circulation rather than being stored. As a result, the body produces higher levels of insulin to remove glucose from the blood stream, which causes even greater metabolic dysfunction.
Individuals with hypoglycemic tendencies will have periods of low blood sugar and therefore surges of insulin, rather than chronically elevated levels. During periods of low blood sugar, adrenaline is often used to elevate blood sugar, causing a sharp rise in glucose and insulin. The table below highlights some of the symptoms associated with each imbalance.
|HYPOGLYCEMIC TENDENCIES||INSULIN RESISTANT TENDENCIES|
|Feels better after meals||Feels tired after meals|
|Sugar cravings before meals||Sugar cravings after meals|
|May have difficulty staying asleep at night||May have difficulty getting to sleep at night|
There are numerous problems with insulin surges. You can read more about themhere. Blood sugar imbalances are typically assessed through routine blood work run by your doctor.
Fat Loss Barrier #3: The adrenal system
The adrenal glands are your body’s primary defense for managing stress.
When the adrenal glands are activated, they produce a number of hormones that help your body deal with both acute and chronic stressors. One such hormone is cortisol.
Cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar levels so your brain, muscles and organs have enough fuel to get you through a stressful situation. Problems occur when stress becomes chronic.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels increase blood sugar levels, which then elevate insulin levels. This, among other things, will stop you from burning fat no matter what exercise or diet program you follow.
There are many chronic stressors in today’s society including mental/emotional stress, food sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances, infections (i.e. parasitic, bacterial), excessive exercise… basically anything that is a perceived stress on the body.
The most effective way of assessing adrenal gland function is the Adrenal Salivary Test. This test uses four salivary samples throughout the day and assesses levels of salivary cortisol and DHEA.
Fat Loss Barrier #4: The gastrointestinal system
A properly functioning gastrointestinal system is critical for overall health and well-being. In fact, we should start treating our gut with care if we are interested in weight loss.
How do you know if you have a dysfunctional digestive system? Any of the following symptoms can indicate gastrointestinal issues:
• burping after meals
• inadequate digestion (feeling like you have a brick in your stomach after you eat)
• undigested food in your stools
• foul smelling stools
• burning in the stomach
• bad breath
Additionally, hormonal imbalances, migraines, allergies, eczema, and autoimmune disease all have links to the gastrointestinal system.
A dysfunctional gastrointestinal system can virtually ruin your chances of weight loss. From a compromised immune system, to a stress hormone imbalances, to an altered sex hormones, to blood sugar irregularities — many of these problems start in the gut.
One of the best ways to stop a vicious GI-related cycle is to control inflammation and identify food sensitivities. A strict elimination diet for a period of 3-6 weeks has helped countless people alleviate their gastrointestinal issues.
Despite what you might hear, fat loss is NOT just about diet and exercise. Physiology plays a very important role. And today, our physiologies are more out of whack than ever in human history.
If your diet and exercise program is not working for you, do yourself a favor and tend to your garden. The better your physiology works, the healthier you will be and the better your program will work for you.