Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight

There is a fairly large percentage of people who truly cannot lose weight. Their extra weight has nothing to do with poor Crossed out scalelifestyle choices or lack of exercise, but is instead the cause of a metabolic disorder or other physiological imbalance. I work with many people (typically women) who are working out six days per week and eating a very healthy diet but who absolutely cannot lose weight. The horror stories they share of being told they are “lazy” or “dishonest” by their physician are even more heartbreaking. There are a number of different physiological issues that may cause the body to refuse to release excess weight. Those possible reasons include:

  1. Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance, often a precursor to diabetes, occurs when the body produces adequate insulin, but the insulin produced is not absorbed and used by the body’s cells. This causes the body to produce even more insulin, which makes insulin resistance worse as the cells become “overwhelmed” by the high amounts of insulin in the bloodstream. As insulin levels increase, the cells’ ability to absorb it decreases even more. Those with insulin resistance may not have elevated glucose levels during a fasting blood test, but often have elevated glucose following meals. The problem with insulin resistance is that insulin is a fat storage hormone. If your body is producing excess insulin, the excess insulin in the blood stream stimulates the body to store fat instead of releasing it. This may manifest as an inability to lose weight, and may also result in elevated liver enzymes as the body begins to store fat in the liver as a result of the excess insulin and excess glucose in the blood stream. The best way to check for insulin resistance is by having your blood insulin levels checked. (See my post, The Top Three Blood Tests Almost Everyone Should Request for more info on this test.) Although most labs state that “normal” insulin levels are anything below 17, I usually start addressing insulin resistance with any result above 8, especially if symptoms of insulin resistance exist. Unfortunately, many mainstream physicians check glucose levels during a fasting blood test but never check insulin levels. Anyone who has more than ten pounds of excess weight should have their insulin level checked. Checking it yearly serves to establish a baseline and recognize changes. If your insulin levels are elevated, following a low glycemic impact eating plan is the first step toward reversing the issue and losing weight. 
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  2. Excess Toxicity: Many people do not realize that toxins are typically stored in our fat cells. It is not unusual for people who are exposed to high toxin levels from their diet or from environmental exposure to find it difficult to lose weight. This is because their body is using fat to protect itself and trap the toxins. Eliminating the toxins stored in fat cells and limiting toxic exposure is often key to boosting weight loss. When I lead my clients through a thorough detoxification regimen, it is not unusual to see them lose anywhere from 10-20 pounds they had been unable to lose before the detox. The elimination of toxins helps with weight loss because the body will release excess fat when the fat cells are no longer needed as a protective mechanism against toxins. Please work with a professional when doing a detoxification program, and make sure you are aware of the potential detoxification symptoms so that you aren’t caught by surprise when they hit. A very simple detox is to eliminate all caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods for anywhere from three days to three months. There are also a wide variety of supplements and cleansing kits that can be used to assist with cleansing, but please work with a trained professional to help choose the correct one for your specific needs. People who detoxify often report having higher energy levels and feeling better, so it’s a win-win.
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  3. Undiagnosed or Undertreated Thyroid Issues: We live in a world where hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid activity) has become an epidemic. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is a very common cause of unexplained weight gain.One of the reasons hypothyroidism is so frequently missed is because many MDs test a pituitary hormone (TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) instead of measuring the level of actual thyroid hormones in the blood stream. In my opinion, this is similar to checking the amount of water in the radiator to see if the car needs oil instead of measuring the actual level of oil. It’s indirect and inaccurate and has devastating results. It is not unusual for people to have “normal” TSH levels but to have subnormal levels of one or both of the most important thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. Physicians are sometimes challenged to diagnose hypothyroidism because the current health insurance protocols only allow them to prescribe medication based on test results instead of prescribing based on physical symptoms. A growing number of physicians and endocrinologists recognize that the “normal” levels assigned by labs are based on a demographic to which their patient does not belong. These physicians are willing to prescribe based on symptoms. I adore those physicians and am thrilled to see their numbers growing. Please ask your doctor to run a full thyroid panel instead of merely testing TSH levels if you suspect you have a thyroid imbalance. (Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid function, is also a potential although less common cause of weight gain. Hyperthyroidism typically causes weight loss, but causes weight gain in 20% of cases.)
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  4. Adrenal Fatigue: The adrenal glands are itty-bitty little glands located on top of each kidney that are responsible for secreting over 400 hormones that affect every system in the body. In spite of that, the adrenals are given little or no attention by mainstream medicine unless they quit completely. The adrenal glands deserve much more attention than they receive. Adrenal fatigue can create a multitude of symptoms, but unexplained weight loss is one of the most common. Currently, there are no blood tests to test for adrenal fatigue. The best test method is a saliva hormone test. There is also a simple test that measures blood pressure while lying down and immediately upon rising that is very accurate. I use an electrodermal scan (EDS) unit, Iridology and facial indicators to confirm subnormal adrenal function and nutritional deficiencies that may cause it. (Please read, Dark Circles Under the Eyes, Causes and Solutions for more info on some of the facial indicators of adrenal fatigue.) Adrenal fatigue can be reversed, but it is a condition that does not disappear overnight and which requires changes to lifestyle habits, eating habits and which may require supplements.
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  5. Malabsorption and/or Food Sensitivities: People who have severe digestive disorders, food sensitivities, or both sometimes lose weight rapidly. It is also common that a digestive disorder may manifest as an inability to lose weight. This occurs because the body believes it is starving, even though the affected person may be eating a healthy diet loaded with nutrients. The body’s inability to absorb the nutrients being eaten may cause the body to protect itself by slowing the metabolism and refusing to release any stored fat. Malabsorption can be caused by a wide variety of digestive disorders, but may also be caused by parasites. Please work with a physician or other trained professional to identify and address the cause of any digestive disorders.
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  6. Leptin Resistance: Leptin is a hormone that stimulates the hypothalamus to signal the body to burn fat. Leptin is stored in fat cells, so in a perfect world, higher levels of fat on the body should create an increase in stimulation to burn fat. Similar to insulin resistance, when the body has excess levels of leptin circulating in the bloodstream, the cells may become resistant to the leptin and may stop absorbing it the way they should. This can result in a decrease in the amount of fat burned, even when the person is exercising and eating correctly. Leptin resistance can usually be addressed using dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments and specific supplements which improve leptin metabolism.
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  7. Imbalance in Reproductive Hormones: An imbalance in reproductive hormones, such as excess estrogen levels or insufficient testosterone levels, can have a direct impact on one’s ability to lose weight. This occurs because the reproductive hormones not only affect the body’s basal metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories at rest), but also affects adrenal function, insulin metabolism, thyroid function, leptin metabolism and more. Saliva hormone tests or blood tests can help pinpoint hormone imbalances. Please never take a supplement which claims to affect hormone levels unless you know your specific deficiency or excess. “Playing” with hormones based on assumption can have serious consequences. Please get your levels measured before starting any supplement. This is also true for prescribed hormones. Please never allow your practitioner to prescribe a hormone replacement – even bio-identical hormones – without first testing to see what imbalance(s) you have.

As these points explain, weight gain and inability to lose weight are not always lifestyle issues but often have a true physiological cause. If you have been exercising and making better lifestyle choices but still cannot lose weight, please ask your doctor to dig deeper. Identifying the cause of your inability to lose weight is often the first step toward finally losing the weight.

Please also be aware that stress and psychological issues can negatively impact weight loss. Work with a counselor or other trained professional to help work through any emotional or psychological issues you feel may be affecting your ability to lose weight.

If you are ready to move forward and receive coaching to achieve your health goals, please join me for the E.N.E.R.G.Y. Life Revitalization Program! The program addresses each of the items mentioned in this article. Click the link to learn more about this innovative 12-week program and receive a special discount.

As always, none of these statements were evaluated by the FDA and none are intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health condition. Please check with your physician before making any major changes to diet or lifestyle or before taking any new supplement.

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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28 Responses to Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight

  1. […] who will then work with you to address that cause. For more information on this topic, please read: The Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight. […]

  2. Renée says:

    Pamela, thanks so much for this post. Finally, someone who GETS it! I knew something was wrong with me when I stopped losing weight on every diet and exercise program but my doctors and even dieticians all blamed me for it and insinuated that I was lying. Even friends acted like I was doing something wrong when I know more about diet and exercise than they EVER will.

    I know soooo many other women in this boat, especially now that we’re post-menopause. I used to diet and exercise and it worked. Now, nothing works. Well, lo and behold I just found out my blood sugar is 108 and I’m likely insulin resistant. For years I thought it might be my thyroid since my mother had Hashimoto’s, but even the advanced thyroid tests I took with a naturopath turned up normal results (which I’m still skeptical about, but oh well). My blood sugar suddenly went up post menopause (just like my mother’s, by the way). I have a feeling that even though my blood sugar was “normal” during perimenopause no one saw the trend upward nor did they warn me. Of course now that I am borderline my doctor alerts me – Thanks so much, but that’s typical….Anyway now that I know the cause I can address it and hopefully get my blood sugar and weight back on track. I have an appointment scheduled with a dietician who is aware of my issues and will help me. But it was thanks to this post that I finally realized I should go and get that yearly physical that I was overdue for by about 5 months. I needed your validation to give me the courage to continue to find out what the problem was and not accept the abusive blame of doctors and friends. I wish more women would wake up to this and realize that it’s likely not their fault and they have a medical issue that has not been discovered. I am going to share this page with all of my friends! I wish I were in the Indy. area or I’d come and see you (Alas, I am in CT). Again, thanks so much!

  3. […] Top Seven Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight An inability to lose weight is not always due to lifestyle issues. This article discusses physiological imbalances that can make weight loss impossible. .  […]

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  5. Kate says:

    Hello Pamela, thanks for posting this. I have been struggling with my weight since last fall. I have had a number of tests done, and all have come back normal except for the Estradiol/Progesterone saliva test I ordered online; It said my progesterone was low and I started a cream about a week ago which has already caused me to gain about 8 pounds. I am under the impression it is a hormone imbalance, and I was wondering if you would be open to discussing it with me. It is difficult to find a doctor who is familiar with hormone testing, let alone one who is concerned with an inability to lose weight.

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Kate. I’m so sorry to hear about your challenges. I would be happy to help; however, I cannot provide advice to anyone who is not a client due to liability issues. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to call me at 317.489.0909. In the meantime, it sounds as if you may be taking too much progesterone. Please reconsider the dosage. I usually recommend ladies start at 1/4 of the dosage recommended on the package and then work up VERY slowly if needed.

  6. Caitlin says:

    Pamela, stumbling across this article in another desperate search for some miracle to help me lose weight, has almost brought me to tears. I have been struggling with my weight for many years now and live a very healthy lifestyle, exercising almost everyday and eating a very healthy diet with no dairy or gluten. I have never been able to figure out what is wrong with me and I am still struggling to find someone to help me or find out where to go and what to ask for. I am in California and I wish so badly that I could meet you. Can you please tell me where I should start to see if any of these problems pertain to me?

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Caitlyn. I do many consultations via telephone. That is definitely an option. There are many wonderful practitioners in California, too. If you would like to schedule a consult, please feel free to call me at 317.489.0909. I wish you the very best!

  7. Dina says:

    Hi great article …I have been struggling with weight for over ten years now…..I never EVER lose weight no matter what….I have to eat under 900 cal or I gain weight…..all my thyroid hormones are normal

    My question is can you help me find out what is the problem?! BUT I live in Saudi Arabia ……
    Please please if you can help me and welling to work with me from distance let me know
    Thanks

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Dina. I’m so sorry to hear of your struggles. I’ve helped many people in similar situations. I conduct many consultations via telephone or Skype, so we can definitely schedule a consultation if you wish to. Please email me at support [@] goodworkswellness . com to discuss this in more detail. Thanks!

  8. cherry says:

    How can I set up an appointment with you …great advise

  9. Anita says:

    Re the saliva tests, would you please give me the information – thanks!!

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Anita. I am responding to the comment you left asking for information about saliva tests. The test I recommend is: http://amzn.to/Q7K5MG. If you order the test, please feel free to contact me to schedule a consultation to discuss your results.

  10. Dai Roberts says:

    Very useful discussion, thanks. We work with several larger (250lb+ male)athletes who are training regularly for competitions and try to eat as little as possible to lose weight. Their healthy weight is about 180/190lbs for a healthy BMI so they should be able to lose weight but just cannot and this is a chronic issue over several years. Can it be that eating too little also means that fat is stored as a result for “later”? Also we have seen pH balance can be an issue and that alkaline diets might help with fat loss as I have heard that fat also stores acids as well as other toxins. Any thoughts?

    • GWWR says:

      Definitely. As I mention in the article, eating too few calories sends the body into “starvation” mode where it refuses to release any fat. It is a dangerous state of existence. It also puts professional athletes in danger because their body will start eating muscle in order to provide energy for the workouts.

    • GWWR says:

      Yes. As I stated in the article, eating too little interfered with weight loss because the body goes into “starvation mode” and refuses to let go of anything. Body builders often have issues with weight loss due to insulin resistance. My suspicion is your athletes are dealing with a variety of different issues.

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  12. […] losing weight has been a problem for you, please read my article, The Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight for more information on the potential physiological reasons that prevent weight […]

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  14. Kari says:

    Thanks for this article! I have struggled with depression and fatigue for many years and have been tested for oodles of different conditions (including hypothyroid), without lasting results. Someone recently suggested I get my hormone levels checked so I will definitely be requesting that at my next appointment. I will also have to look into adrenal fatigue as well, because what you describe also seems to mirror the depression symptoms which have always troubled me (and as it happens, I have had a problem with very dark circles under my eyes since I was a teenager)… Does this saliva test you mentioned have a name, so I can ask my doctor about it?

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Kari. Many companies sell saliva hormone tests. If your doctor uses saliva hormone tests, s/he will be able to recommend one that fits your needs. Some MDs do not offer saliva hormone tests. If yours does not, you may want to shop around to find one who does. Or, you can contact me privately and I will share information about the tests I recommend and can provide feedback on your results if you wish. Thanks much!

  15. […] read my article, The Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight, for more information on weight loss and on physiological issues that may prevent […]

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  17. […] The Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight Is it absolutely impossible for you to lose weight? I would argue there is a very small percentage of people in this position, but it’s possible that you may have an underlying physiological imbalance preventing you from losing weight. If you think this might be you, read this post and then consult with your doctor for advice on how to proceed. […]

  18. Hazel Walker says:

    Pamela, what a great blog! So informative and very helpful. I don’t even know where to begin. Think I will start with a physical. Thanks for the great work you do.

    • GWWR says:

      Thanks so much, Hazel. Getting a physical with a CBC, insulin level and basic thyroid panel is great place to start. After that, baby steps of improvement on a daily basis create powerful change in a very positive way. Feel free to let me know if I can help in any way!

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