During my thirty years in the fitness industry I have seen many changes. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is the difficulty in many individuals ability to lose weight. Fitness professionals, doctors, dietitians, and researchers have all subscribed to the eat less and move more theory of weight loss. While usually the first place to start on a weight loss journey, this model has become less effective.


While I do believe this theory has a place (most individuals will still lose weight by reducing calories and increasing activity) there are often other factors at play. A paradigm shift is needed in our battle with obesity, especially for those who have cut calories and increased activity.


Unfortunately for those who haven’t found success cutting calories – it’s not always an easy solution. There are multiple factors that could be making it difficult to shed pounds. These factors are not always easy to determine, however after reading this article they should become clearer.


This article serves as a comprehensive checklist for things to try if the scale isn’t budging. One might consider starting with ideas closer to the top and working down the list. In addition this guide is meant to be a summary.  Many of the topics have links that provide additional information. These links will provide greater insight into the topic. Let’s begin:


1. Reducing Calories – The first stop on a weight loss journey. Individuals need to take an honest look at the number of calories consumed (people underestimate their calories from 10 – 50%). There are dozens of apps today that can provide you with an estimate of the calories needed for you to lose weight (examples include Weight Watchers and Myfitnesspal). For most individuals following these guidelines is enough to see the scale move in the right direction. If not – read on.


2. Increasing Exercise/Right Kind of Exercise – Everyone knows that exercise should be a part of weight loss program, however not everyone knows the proper type. Many individuals believe cardio is the only form of exercise that is necessary to lose weight. While cardio can be helpful, ideally one should also incorporate strength training, high intensity interval training (HIIT), and/or a program that combines them all. Engaging in cardio helps burn calories, strength training builds muscle which speeds up the metabolism 24/7, and HIIT burns calories, speeds up the metabolism after exercise, and changes your hormonal environment for the better.


3. Breakdown of Calories – For years people have said that it doesn’t matter where the calories come from it’s only the total that matters – not true (especially for those who struggle with weight). We know that a higher protein/lower carbohydrate/moderate fat diets are more effective for maximizing fat loss, especially for sedentary individuals. This exact breakdown of macronutrients is up for debate, but general recommendations are roughly equal amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats vs. the old school recommendations of approximately 60-65% carbs, 12-15% proteins, and 20-30% fat.


4. Medical Conditions/Hormonal Issues – This is one of the most common pitfalls when it comes to weight loss, especially as we age. Low T, hypothyroidism, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and Insulin Resistance/Syndrome X are issues that can make weight loss difficult if not impossible. Talking with your primary care physician or endocrinologist can help you determine if this is the case. Please be aware that there is controversy over acceptable hormone ranges and some doctors are more aggressive in offering solutions when weight loss is the goal. For more information on hormonal issues and how to test for them properly check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBZwqKXGYJ8


5. Probiotics/Gut Health – Poor gut health can lead to a host of problems including weight gain. Individuals with compromised gut bacteria/health should consider addressing this symptom. Most experts recommend taking a probiotic, eating whole foods vs processed, consuming healthy fats (especially fish oils), and reducing inflammatory foods. For a detailed four minute video on gut health check out the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTAUaPs8Zp4


6. Medications – When it comes to weight loss certain medications can make it extremely difficult. Make sure to check your medicine cabinet to see if this might be the case. Some common medications that can hinder weight loss include: beta blockers, birth control pills, some anxiety medications, those that treat epilepsy, prescriptions that treat inflammatory conditions, and diabetes. For a thorough article on medications and weight loss check out the following link: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=23531


7. Food Supply – There’s a reason that individuals are having more difficulty losing weight today than thirty years ago. Arguably the biggest reason is the food supply. Today our cattle is inundated with antibiotics and hormones, our fruits and vegetables are laden with pesticides, and many of our foods have been genetically modified (GMO). Many studies show that consuming antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and GMOs can increase body fat. Going organic and cutting back on GMOs can be helpful on the weight loss journey.  For a more detailed discussion on this subject please check out my blog at http://freedom4lifefitness.com/exercising-moreeating-less-still-not-losing-weight/


8. Inflammation/Inflammatory Foods – Inflammation can wreak havoc on the body and cause a multitude of problems including weight gain. While a fairly complex subject many experts agree that certain foods are inflammatory. According to J.J. Virgin author of the Virgin Diet – gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, peanuts, sugar, and artificial sweeteners can cause inflammation and weight gain. Eliminating all these foods (especially gluten, dairy, and sugar) might help reduce weight. Virgin recommends eliminating these foods from your diet for 21 days and measuring improvements. After the 21 days certain foods are introduced back into the diet and to see if these were the foods creating inflammation. To understand better about the weight gain inflammation connection check out the following blog: http://blog.myfitnesspal.com/the-weight-gain-inflammation-connection/


9. High Fructose Corn Syrup/Sugar Intake – There’s a saying in the fitness industry “Sugar makes you Fat.” While the lower the better – the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 or less for men. A regular coke has 33 grams of sugar (actually high fructose corn syrup – which some studies show is worse than table sugar).  By law labels are required to list sugars on the package so for many foods it is easy to monitor. Some of the most common culprits of sugar include sodas, fruit juices, candy, and energy bars. 


10. Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency – Being deficient in vitamins and minerals can lead to a slowed metabolism, increased cravings, and lack of energy. According to Rick Tague, M.D. individuals with the lowest amount of vitamins and minerals gain the most weight. In order to combat deficiencies he recommends eating 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables, consuming a multivitamin, taking omega 3s, and a calcium magnesium blend. While getting our foods through fruits and vegetables is ideal, there are supplement companies that manufacture protein/vitamin mineral blends that use whole foods. For those who find it nearly impossible to eat that way “Vega all in one” and “Green Vibrance” are products that can help ensure adequate intake of fruits and vegetables in addition to an array of vitamins minerals, etc.


11. Fiber – Eating plenty of fiber can help stabilize blood sugar, make you feel fuller, and slightly block the absorption of extra calories. The daily recommendations are 25 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet, however many experts recommend more. Foods high in fiber include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. For a list of 16 high fiber foods check out the following link: https://greatist.com/health/surprising-high-fiber-foods


12. Water – Drinking water helps boost metabolism, cleanse your body of waste, and acts as an appetite suppressant. If your weight loss is slower than anticipated, consider upping your water intake. The Institute of Medicine recommends that the average woman consume 11 cups of water whereas men need 15. To see how water can negatively affect your body including weight loss check out this infographic: http://blog.naturessunshine.com/en/dehydration-infographic/


13. Food Sensitivities/Food Allergies – Authors from a study in Europe that looked at children found that obese kids had threefold higher levels of C reactive protein (CRP) and a 2 and a half times higher level of IgG antibodies to food. The researchers believe that elevated CRP and IgG levels result in general inflammation in the body and play a role in obesity.  In order to determine food allergies there are tests that can be performed (e.g. Alcat test or Alletess). For those choosing not to perform a test eliminating the seven most inflammatory foods mentioned earlier is another option. Typically eliminating some of the most common food allergies for three weeks can sometimes determine inflammation from certain foods. For a detailed video on food allergies check out the following video: https://youtu.be/wWJdnKmJKrc


14. Eating Processed Foods vs. Whole Foods – Some studies have shown calories from processed foods will lead to about 50 percent less calories being burnt after the meal vs. whole foods. This means diets that feature a high proportion of processed foods can make weight loss more difficult. Similarly, it has been recently suggested by research that artificial sweeteners modify the microbiome in our gut. And even though these sweeteners contain zero calories, these changes in the gut are responsible for both high blood sugar and weight gain.” Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-ricci/weight-loss-mistakes_b_7634472.html


15. Removing Toxins – Environmental toxins can cause weight gain and lead to diabetes. In order to remove toxins regular bowel movements, urination, movement, and perspiration are needed. If you’re not exercising, sweating, and having regular bowel movements you might be building up toxins in the body. Besides regular exercise consuming a high fiber diet, using an infrared sauna, and foam rolling/massage/fascia blasting can help detox the body (some individuals have found success using the fascia blaster while in an infrared sauna). For a detailed video on the Fascia Blaster check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLolFaiWmqWmJ1RudlB3TAHLcYIumET4v3&v=ybloWqe82Ck


16. Chronic Stress – When you live in a state of anxiety, stress, or fear there is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, especially in the waist. We know that stress can alter our metabolism and some researchers say that stress can put on as much as eleven pounds a year. For more information on this subject check out this TV interview with a doctor who discusses stress, weight gain, and foods that can help fight stress. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH0xgJoeKZQ


17. Lack of Sleep – Sleep deprivation can cause you to eat more overall, put you at risk of overeating in the evening, and increase intake of foods high in dietary fat.  Being sleep deprived can cause individuals to seek out energy and often it is in the form of extra calories. Individuals who are sleep deprived are estimated to consume an extra 250 – 500 calories daily. For more information on how lack of sleep effects weight check out the following study: https://news.uchicago.edu/article/2010/10/03/sleep-loss-limits-fat-loss-study-finds


18. High Sodium Diets – It is well known that eating a high sodium diet causes an increase in water weight and bloating. Constant exposure to a high sodium lifestyle can make weight loss a challenge. Packaged foods, canned items, and processed meats are typically high in salt. In addition some suggest that high sodium intake causes weight gain regardless of calories (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/much-salt-makes-you-fat-6366145). The RDA recommends less than 2300 mg a day or less however the average American consumes 3400. Also check labels as with sugar – manufacturers are required to list sodium on the label.


Hopefully this blog gave you some insight into possible culprits hindering weight loss. Because whole articles could be written on each subject, I would encourage you to dig deeper if any of these resonate with you. You hold the power to your success and know yourself better than anyone! Much success!


Glen Carrigan is co-owner and operator of Freedom 4 Life Fitness with his wife Yvette. Glen & Yvette are dedicated and experienced personal trainers providing residents of Leawood, Overland Park KS, and greater Kansas City with an outstanding fitness experience.