Eight Little-Known Factors That Sabotage Your Weight Loss

Do you try every new diet that surfs the covers of monthly magazines?

You are not alone.

Let’s be honest. It’s rough. Weight loss can seem impossible in this world of fast, cheap, unhealthy convenience food.

I used to try a new diet monthly and then feel like an utter failure: “More money wasted. More time spent. What’s wrong with me?

I hoped for a simple answer. If that existed, then why the need for the billion-dollar diet industry? One of America’s favorite pastimes is its obsession with dieting.

Naturally, you first think about what you eat. But why can’t one diet consistently and reliably lead to weight loss?

Other surprising factors make losing weight difficult.  Some of them you can control, some you can’t. In my case, I struggled with emotional overeating. Later, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance that causes weight issues and infertility among reproductive-aged women.

The more I learned about the specific struggles I faced, the more I found solutions that worked for me. Starting from a point of understanding is a whole lot better than trying to navigate the rough waters of dieting lore without some help.

Eventually, I developed a diet based on simple whole foods that addressed my hormonal imbalance and allowed me to thrive. I also learned that maintaining a healthy weight is about much more than the food you eat. I learned to prioritize things that help me feel better and release stress. And most important, I accept that my body size does not determine my self-worth. Now my weight balances itself naturally without diets, pills, or powders.

Here are eight little-known factors that could be sabotaging your weight loss, and ways you can overcome them to find your healthy weight.


A Cheat Sheet for Effortless Weight Loss.

1. You Ignore Your Stress

When you approach your office, are you saddled with a sense of dread? Chronic stress provokes changes in hormonal balance, including increases in glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, making it easier to gain weight. In stressful situations, your brain turns off the logical pre-frontal cortex so that it can take immediate and quick action. Translation — you can’t control the urge to indulge in that scrumptious cheesecake calling your name.  Stress can unleash anxiety and a cascade of naughty behaviors – snacking, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and skipping exercise.

Tip#1: Manage your stress.

Devote ten minutes per day towards stress management. Take ten minutes to sit, breathe deeply, and let your mind be empty. Mindfulness practices help you to deepen your self-connection and increase your ability to take care of yourself.  Exhale for longer than you inhale, and you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system. And you’ll feel relaxed and calm. Try these stress-reducing exercises.

2. Movement isn’t built into your life.
How much time do you spend sitting each day? Lack of activity is a major contributor to weight gain. A recent study even suggested that prolonged sedentary time increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and death (even among people who exercise regularly).

Tip#2: Build movement into your routine.

Look for ways to add tiny bouts of movement to your day. Stand up every hour and stretch. Walk or bike to lunch, the gym and the grocery store. The more you integrate movement into your daily routine, the less likely you are to skip. Why wait until the end of the day to move? Then if you miss your scheduled workout, you’ve done nothing. Instead, pack your day with mini-workouts, and don’t worry if you miss the gym sometimes.

3. Your friends and family sabotage your efforts.
Studies show that our risk of being obese increases almost 200% with a friend who is obese. The research also shows that obesity, smoking, and even loneliness are contagious. What those around you eat subtly influences your own normal behavior. Does your family snack on ice cream or candy after dinner? It’s hard to say no when everyone else is enjoying. But this seemingly innocent snack could pack on 5-10 pounds over six months.

Tip#3: Build a healthy habits tribe.

In the world’s longest-lived places, termed Blue Zones, the people choose or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors. You can form your own healthy support group with a little planning. Yoga studios and gyms are full of people trying to be healthier. For example, make a pact with one of your friends to go on walks twice a week, and eat two servings of fruits or vegetables each day.

4. Your gut bacteria are taking over.

Did you know that we are only 10% human? The other 90% of our cells are non-human microbial cells that flourish in our bodies from the things we eat and come in contact with. Yes, you really are what you eat. In a study, mice given bacteria from a lean human twin stayed slim, whereas those given bacteria from an obese twin quickly gained weight, even though all the mice ate the same amount of food. The population of gut bacteria in obese people is less diverse than that in lean people, leaving unfilled niches in the microbiota. Your gut bacteria may help to regulate your metabolism, boost your immunity, and control the absorption of nutrients.  The wrong type of gut bacteria may trigger inflammation, causing hormonal changes that increase weight gain.

Tip #4 Build healthy gut bacteria.

Luckily, you can easily accumulate good gut bacteria. Simply put, a diet high in saturated fat and low in vegetables builds less healthy gut bacteria than a diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Foods that act as prebiotics help to colonize healthy gut flora.  Helpful foods include bananas, blueberries, beans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula), whole grains, and fermented products (kimchi, yoghurt, sauerkraut, and tempeh). Over time, improving your gut bacteria’s health can improve your immunity, reduce allergies, and treat IBS. And help you to lose weight.

5. You try to eat like the skinny person next to you.

Over your lifespan, has your journey to weight loss been effortless or Herculean? You might hate to hear this, but imitating that skinny person downing a large fries and hamburger might not work for you. Genetics account for a 30% factor in weight gain — so understanding the role genetics play in your weight is crucial for finding a diet and lifestyle that works for you. Studies of overfed twins show similar weight gains among siblings. Imagine Jack & Mary (Twins A) are fed the same diet as Joe and Sue (Twins B). After three months, Twins A gained five pounds more than Twins B. As all other factors were the same, genetics determine your propensity for weight gain (or loss). Your metabolism is unique, and a portion of this comes from your genetics.

Tip#5: Understand your body.
Your metabolism and genetics may facilitate or hinder weight loss. The key is to accept yourself unconditionally, and then focus on changes you can make. Most of us are not meant to look like the waifs on the cover of fashion industries. Be honest with yourself. What is a healthy weight for you?  Look at how you can tweak your diet, and follow some of the other tips mentioned for inflammation, movement, stress, and gut bacteria.

6. Your mom gained excess weight during pregnancy.
Is your mom overweight, or was she during pregnancy? Mothers who gain excessive weight can increase the risk of obesity in their children.  Even if your mom is a healthy weight now, if she gained excessive weight during pregnancy, it heightens your risks of being overweight.  Obesity in pregnancy can cause insulin resistance and inflammatory changes that exacerbate in combination, thus increasing the transfer of lipids from mother to fetus earlier in gestation. More fat cells transfer from mother to fetus early in life. (Note: Other factors that increase the likelihood of developing childhood obesity include smoking when pregnant, breastfeeding for less than 12 months, and lack of sleep for infants.)

Tip #6 Accept the past and focus on the present.

If your mother was overweight, it’s tempting to blame her for your struggles. You can’t change the past, and don’t waste your energy blaming your parents. Your mother probably had her own struggles, and you can take the opportunity to learn from her. How has your mother felt about her weight? This information is another piece of the puzzle, along with your genetics, your diet, and many other factors. Remember that you are not alone, and you and your mother could support each other in your journeys to a healthy weight.

7. Your hormonal balance is askew.
When you are overweight, your body’s hormonal balance changes, and a higher level of bodily inflammation exists. This may trigger inflammation in your brain, impacting the hypothalamus pathways that control hunger and satiation.  So if you are overweight now and have difficulty controlling your appetite, your hormones may be to blame.

Tip #7 Fight inflammation with your diet.

Stock your pantry with inflammation fighters: turmeric, ginger, berries, cinnamon, greens, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and kale) are some of nature’s best inflammation fighters. Also choose anti-inflammatory fats from walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and avocados. Include a couple of these in your diet every day.

8. You focus on what you can’t eat.
It’s proven that the more we try to suppress thoughts of forbidden foods, the more we want to eat them. This is a hard-wired human instinct. So the more you think, “I shouldn’t eat chocolate,” the more you’ll struggle to resist chocolate. Dieters who suppress their thoughts about food have the least control over what they eat. They experience more intense food cravings and are more likely to binge eat than this who don’t try to control their thoughts.

Tip #8 Focus on the pleasures of healthy eating.

Rather than thinking about all the foods that you can’t eat, focus on the abundant array of whole foods that mother nature offers. Let your prohibitions dissolve. Instead, learn to eat for pleasure, and be mindful of when you have had enough.  If you notice that you’re craving chocolate cookies or French fries, try this mindfulness exercise: Breathe deeply, and accept the thought. Try to identify the thought in your body. Where is it located? Direct your breath there, and feel the craving dissolve as you exhale.

Your New Approach To Weight Loss

Don’t turn off your intuition and blindly follow the next fad diet. Because it’s clear that no exclusive diet exists with a proven track record for everyone.

Instead, you must take a holistic view of your weight (not in a hippy, new-agey way).  Holistic means taking the whole picture of your health into consideration.

As we’ve seen, weight depends on a number of factors, and you are a gorgeous, unique individual.

Empower yourself, and take charge of your weight, your health, and your happiness.

Start by jotting down your thoughts on each of the tips above. Use them to map your journey to a healthy weight.
Rather than restricting, make a list of the lovely fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other whole foods you love.
Seek out your tribe to join you in your healthy living. Breathe deeply. Move every day.
And experience how you’ll feel like a million bucks — because you are on the right path.
And remember to relish every step of your journey to a healthy weight because it’s your unique journey.
You’ve found the path that’s perfect for you.

Jessica Blanchard

Jessica Blanchard is a registered dietitian, longtime Ayurvedic practitioner, and yoga teacher. She's on a mission to dispel dietary myths and make healthy habits accessible to everyone. She's here to help you on your journey to a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life.

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A checklist to help you lose weight:

  • Conquer cravings
  • Reduce stress
  • Boost your energy
  • Fight inflammation