In this episode I am going to talk about the main reasons you remain overweight.
When you’re a busy professional you have a lot of plates spinning. You got your work, your family, social groups you may be part of. Many times its our health that gets kicked to the curb. Not intentionally of course; I haven’t met many people who say explicitly they want to make their health worse.
Because our health is a cumulative effect, it is easy to miss it deteriorating bit by bit as the years go by.
One of the biggest markers we use to indicate the quality of our health is our weight, or from an aesthetic perspective, how overweight we look.
How weight gain can affect your work
On a fundamental level how much you weigh should have very little influence on the quality of your work performance. However there are a number of indirect factors that CAN, over time lead to directly influencing your work performance;
1 There is some evidence to suggest that increase weight can lead to increased occurrence of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and knee pain.
2 If increased weight has been coupled with regular sugar intake this can affect blood sugar levels which ultimately affects energy levels.
While weight loss doesn’t always lead to greater levels of self-confidence; you can find many benefits to reducing your weight to a level you can stick with.
You have probably seen the figure that 95% of people who attempt to lose weight end up putting it back on again and to a certain extent the figure is true. We are lousy at keeping off lost weight.
Be Part of the 5%
Yet that doesn’t have to be you. You can be part of that 5% that loses weight AND keeps it off. H you have to be aware of 2 things; a strategy at which you go about it and the common roadblocks that keep you in the 95%.
You will know a few of these roadblocks already if you have a history of yo-yo dieting but over the rest of this podcast episode I am going to give you 3 common reasons you (and many others) remain overweight
Reasons you remain overweight
Reasons you remain overweight 1: Not in a calorie deficit
I’m going to start with the most commonly told and obvious one; you’re not in a calorie deficit.
Now, I get it; not everyone likes to track their calories – thats fine. Whilst I have consistently found it to be the most effective way of losing weight, I understand it is not for everyone.
When I work with clients I don’t give them a meal plan. I explain to them, those who are most successful have a level of autonomy over the food choices they make.
So I show them the most successful methods of losing weight and invite them to choice which one they think will fit most successfully within their lifestyle.
Tracking Calories shouldn’t be forever
For everyone of my clients that does track their calories, I inform them that tracking calories shouldn’t be forever, just for a period of time where their brain can get a new visual representation of what a sufficient level of food should be to be within a deficit.
Either way, whatever method you choose, to be successful you have to be in a calorie deficit. Now, this can be either explicitly (e.g. calorie tracking) or implicitly (e.g. portion control).
The bottom line is this; if you are not losing weight, you are not in a calorie deficit. One common factor that can arise is you started losing weight and it stalled or you started losing weight but now you’ve noticed the weight creeping up again.
Losing weight but now it’s stalled?
The 2 most common reasons for this is;
1 You WERE in a calorie deficit but now due to something called Adaptive thermogenesis. As you lose weight, your body compensates by slowing your metabolism; essentially subtly conserving energy while increasing your hunger signals.
2 You have subtly started eating more than you think and have now entered into a calorie surplus.
From experience of working with clients this is common after the first indications of success, at which you then TREAT yourself with the foods you have restricted yourself of during the weight loss.
Solution for Stalled Weight Loss
If you believe this is a factor for you my solution is choose one of 3 ways for a set period of time, say two weeks;
1 track your calories for 2 weeks, make sure you are in a deficit and see how it makes a difference. After 2 weeks assess how you can change your eating ongoing.
2 Stick with what you are eating but reduce your portions by a noticeable level.
3 Reduce the quantity of carbs or fat from what you are eating.
If any of these 3 works in reducing your bodyweight, you can then conclude that you weren’t really in a calorie deficit before hand.
Reasons you remain overweight 2: Too stressed and sleeping badly
It is correct to say weight is about calories in vs. calories out. However, to stop there would be naive. The influences that play on either side of that equation are vast and sleep is one of them.
How Poor Sleep helps you remain overweight
There are two areas where poor sleep can affect weight gain; hormonal responses and decision making.
In terms of hormonal responses a number of studies have shown that poor sleep can increase your hunger response.
In one study 14 health non-obese individuals were placed on a fixed calorie diet and had one group sleep for 8.5 hours and the other group sleep for 4.5 hours for 4 days. Both groups took part in both conditions 4 weeks apart.
In the days following 4.5 hours sleep participants showed increased activation in the endocannabinoid (eCB) system. This also coincided with times when they reported elevated feelings of hunger.
Interestingly, after the 4th day evening meal all participants fasted until the afternoon of the 5th day where they were able to choose their own meals and snacks for the rest of the day.
While both groups ate 90% of their daily intake in the first meal they got on the 5th day, the sleep deprived group snacked more on the unhealthier snacks available to them.
The decision making around food when sleep deprived is the second problem area. This is because poor sleep can affect how we perceive risk and reward.
To highlight this, one study featured 29 volunteers who were either told to sleep in their usual way or pull an all nighter and miss a nights sleep. Following this they were then given a series of gambling tasks whilst lying in an fMRI scanner.
The results showed the group who had a night of no sleep took more risks to get the potential gains & had little concern for the losses they suffer. Their brain scans reflected this by showing increased activity in the brain reward areas.
The 2 Hormones to watch for
2 hormones that play a key part in decision making related to your weight are ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is known as the appetite hormone because it signals to the brain its time to eat. Ghrelin is supposed to be suppressed when you sleep for obvious reasons (the last thing you want at 2am is a signal that you are hungry).
Leptin is another hormone that communicates with the brain relating to appetite, only this time communicating when you are supposedly full. When you are asleep Leptin levels are increased indicating your energy levels are fine and there is no need for food consumption.
However, there is evidence short sleep durations puts these 2 hormones in reverse of what they are supposed to be.
In one study of 1024 participants they found the people who were sleeping for around 5 hours had close to 15% higher levels of Ghrelin and 15% lower levels of leptin in their system compared to those who were sleeping for 8 hours.
It is clear from the evidence presented here that poor sleep duration provides an environment ripe for weight gain and poor food choices. But that is not all when considering the effect poor sleep has on cognitive ability.
Stress = Comfort Food
In terms of stress, food can commonly be used as a comforter. You’ve had a rubbish day at work, its pouring down with rain on the way home, you’re stuck in a traffic jam and your child is complaining they will be late for practice.
You get home and all you want to do is feel a little better. What quicker way than to feast on some high sugar snacks.
This is why food and feeling good can create such a connection, but a connection that has to be broken to create a more efficient interaction with food.
The Solution if stress and poor sleep is a factor is to work on identifying what is causing a lot of the stress and creating ways on how to handle stress more effectively. In episode 4 I got into a number of ways of how to reduce levels of stress and will be releasing an online programme on this exact topic in the very near future.
Reasons you remain overweight 3: Continual self-sabotage
In the world of therapy there is a concept called ‘secondary gain’. This is the idea that, despite wanting to change something, it can also fulfil a benefit in some way. Smoking is a perfect example.
You may want to quit but it also allows you to have more breaks at work and provide a small stress reliever when you do that first exhale of the cigarette smoke.
In terms of weight, what we call ‘self-sabotage’ can also highlight a secondary gain experience by being the way you are. This isn’t always conscious and they tend to be perception so won’t always SEEM logical in the cold light of day;
Maybe being overweight protects you from the disappointment of being dumped if you get into a relationship – again a perception so wont always make sense.
Possibly you have always been known as “the bubbly” one in your social circle and think you’ll lose part of your identity if you lose weight.
Does a large part of your social network revolves around food and feel that may be lost if you lose weight.
I have heard all of these when working with clients. Each of them provide a validity in staying overweight in spite of your consciously wanting to lose weight.
The Solution this is less about the attempt to lose weight and more about exploring the psychology of why you feel you need to.
For you to lose weight, it is good to be fully onboard. If that means spending some time, recognising how to you can fulfil that secondary gain in a way more in line with your goal or even recognise the gain is no longer needed, then that is time well spent.
To summarise, 3 reasons you remain overweight can be, not being in a calorie deficit, stress and sleep factors and unconscious self-sabotage. If you take away one thing today have it be that every one is capable of lasting weight loss, it takes using a holistic systems approach rather than the one dimensional approach that is still common in todays advice.