02/02/2012 03:24 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2012

Just When You Thought Weight Loss Was Impossible

Every day millions of overweight women and men berate themselves for not being able to lose weight. They work out endlessly, cut calories until all they can do is think about food, try eating only grapefruit, only cabbage, or skip meals altogether -- and nothing seems to work. They feel embarrassed, ashamed and as if they're being perceived as lazy over-eaters by society.

Then they read Tara Parker-Pope's recent article, "The Fat Trap," in the New York Times and discover that if they've already gained weight, it is much harder to lose it because their bodies will defend that new, heavier weight vigilantly.[1] If they hadn't given up on losing weight yet, finding out that their bodies are working against them will certainly put them over the edge.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

It's true that genetics, hormones and overall physiology have a lot to do with how we gain and lose weight, but addressing these physiological imbalances as part of a weight loss plan can make all the difference. This concept is called "weight loss resistance."

What Is Weight Loss Resistance?

Weight loss resistance happens when a metabolic imbalance in the body causes us to hold on to extra weight no matter how much we exercise or limit our calories. And in order for our genes and physiology to turn around to accept a new weight, we have to solve the imbalance first and get the body out of crisis mode.

Get to the Bottom of Your Weight Problem First

For about two-thirds of us, losing weight can thankfully be as easy as eating less and exercising more -- we've heard this story all along. But for the other one-third, weight loss can be a huge battle because of weight loss resistance. Trust your body. It knows what it's doing! In the case of adding or holding on to extra padding, it's really the body's way of saying, "I'm prepared for whatever crisis is coming." If your body is refusing to shed pounds, ask, "What is my body protecting me from?"

In many cases, we ignore this question altogether and put overweight people on extreme low-calorie diets such as those discussed in Pope's article. This sets people up for failure by sending the body into crisis mode even further.

Here are some of the most common systemic imbalances I see prohibiting weight loss:

  • Hormonal imbalance (including thyroid imbalance)
  • Adrenal imbalance (due to chronic stress)
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance
  • Digestive imbalance
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Impaired detoxification

For more information, see my other articles on weight loss resistance.

Losing Weight for Good

Once you've found the imbalance (or multiple imbalances) keeping you from weight loss, these basic steps will help put you on the road to keeping the weight off long-term. The ticket here is slow and steady. Remember that when we lose weight too quickly, the body can flip back into crisis mode and hang on to extra calories for dear life.

Stay active and strong. Dieting can deplete our muscle mass and when we regain weight, it often comes in the form of fat. Stay active and pay attention to maintaining and gaining muscle mass.

Address your emotional health. Emotional troubles can certainly sit at the core of any health issue, so don't ignore your feelings. Check in with your emotional health and find someone to talk to if you need help.

Rest and restore. Sleeping seven to eight hours a night is so important to your weight loss efforts. We now know that less sleep can directly influence our appetite and the way we use insulin in the body.[2]

Find support. Research tells us that we have much more success losing weight when we have a community to rely on.[3] Find a friend who has committed to losing weight, and talk about your process.

Getting to the bottom of weight loss resistance can feel like a miracle for people, because once they help their bodies back into balance, and take steps to maintain it, the weight begins to fall off -- I see it every day in my practice. Remove the road blocks so you can lose weight for good.

For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, N.P., click here.

For more on weight loss, click here.


[1] Parker-Pope, T. 2011. The Fat Trap. The New York Times Magazine. URL:

[2] Vorona, R., et al. 2005. Overweight and obese patients in a primary care population report less sleep than patients with a normal body mass index. Arch. Intern. Med., 165 (1), 25-30. URL:

Barnea, M, et al. High fat diet delays and fasting advances the circadian expression of adiponectin signaling components in mouse liver. Endocrinology, 150, 161-168. URL:

[3] Dale, K., et al. 2009. Determining optimal approaches for weight maintenance: A randomized controlled trial. CMAJ, 180 (10), E39-E46. URL: