So, you vowed to be healthier and slimmer this year. You’ve been nibbling on carrot sticks between meals, religiously keeping a food journal and slogging it out at the gym daily, only to find that the scales… Just. Won’t. Budge.
Putting in all that effort and not seeing the reward is beyond frustrating, but before you get ready to ditch those carrot sticks for a king-size Kit Kat, check this out. Some surprising factors, you’ve probably never even considered, could be sabotaging your efforts. So, don’t abandon your goals just yet. We help you dodge these cunning weight-loss traps to put your fat loss in the fast lane.
1. Your brain’s missing the message
You might think weight loss is just the result of a good fitness and food combo, but your brain plays a big part in helping you slim down, too. Everyone’s noggin is wired differently, which means that some people have a reduced response to the appetite-satiating hormone leptin. Leptin’s job is to tell your brain when you need to stop eating and start processing calories, but if you produce too much of the leptin hormone, your brain receptors may become resistant to it and the message simply won’t get through.
‘Usually, when levels of leptin are high, this acts on the hypothalamus to signal that it’s OK to stop eating,’ explains Christine Bailey, director of Advanced Nutrition (advancenutrition.co.uk). ‘The problem arises when you become leptin-resistant. Essentially this means you just don’t stop eating or know when you are full.’
Outsmart it: Watch what you eat
Eating too much can affect your leptin response, so go easy on portion size and avoid grazing all day. ‘Chronic overeating and high carbohydrate consumption causes leptin receptors to become resistant,’ says Christine. ‘This makes it harder to lose weight as you constantly want to eat.’ Cut out simple carbs such as white bread and pasta, and eat your complex carbs (think brown rice or wholemeal bread) before 4pm. Make sure you’re regularly active, too, as a study by the National Center for Tumor Diseases showed that exercise combined with a healthy diet can lower those leptin levels by up to 40 per cent.
2. You’re an apple
Your natural body shape has a huge impact on where you store fat. While pear shapes are more likely to carry weight around their thighs and bottom, apple shapes hold on to fat around their middles. Tummy fat is often associated with high levels of the blood sugar-balancing hormone insulin and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So if you’re an apple shape with a stressful job, you’re probably fighting a tougher battle than the rest of us. ‘Apple shapes have a harder time shifting weight than other body shapes,’ says Christine.
Outsmart it: Quit sugar
As tempting as it may be to reach for the choccie when deadlines loom, caving to sugar cravings can sabotage your good work in the gym. Aim to minimise sugar intake to keep your blood sugar even and whittle your middle – this means cutting back on simple carbs such as white pasta and rice, as well as the obvious biscuits, chocolate and other sweet treats.
Making an effort to reduce stress could also help, as the stress hormone cortisol tends to cushion your waistline. ‘Take stock of your stress levels – they may be holding you back,’ adds Christine.
3. Your immunity is low
If you’re dramatically cutting calories, you could actually be stalling your slim-down. Radically reducing calories (prolonged fasting or detoxing) can lower your levels of cytokines – immune cells which play a role in weight loss – according to a study by the University of Illinois College of Medicine. ‘In addition, food intolerances and sensitivities, which lead to an immune response, have been linked to water retention, bloating and weight-loss difficulties,’ adds Christine.
Outsmart it: Power up your body
If you think certain foods may be triggering a response, cut out the suspected food for a month, then slowly reintroduce it, to see if symptoms subside. Ditch calorie counting for a wholesome, balanced diet packed with antioxidant fruit and veg to power up your immune system. Aim for a variety of food colours and ensure you eat all food groups.
4. Your digestion is sluggish
We’ve all heard of friendly gut bacteria – the millions of good guys who keep your digestive system working efficiently – but scientists have found a new digestive hero. A bacterial strain called Akkermansia muciniphila is thought to help keep you at a healthy weight while minimising the risk of type 2 diabetes. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found adequate levels of this strain ward off obesity and insulin resistance in mice.
Outsmart it: Feed your gut
Sure, you can opt for probiotic-rich food to up your friendly bacteria, but the smart move is to pay attention to what’s already there. So nosh on prebiotic food to maintain the super-duper Akkermansia muciniphila strain. You can get a dose from bananas, oats, artichokes and asparagus.
5 secret assassins
These foods sound pretty healthy, but just how innocent are they?
1. Flavoured probiotic yoghurt
Probiotic yoghurts are a great way of maintaining your body’s inner ecosystem, but add a sweet flavouring and the high sugar content negates any of the beneficial effects.
It’s wrapped in seaweed and it’s full of fish, so it sounds pretty healthy, but sushi is packed with salt which, in high quantities, can lead to water retention and bloating.
3. Olive oil
Olive oil is the perfect accompaniment to salads, but a no-no for cooking due to its low smoke point. Fry or bake with metabolism-boosting coconut oil instead, as the medium chain triglyceride make-up means the oil remains stable at a high temperature.
Eating a good brekkie is essential for weight loss. After eight hours without food your body needs fuel to support its adrenal glands and regulate insulin. Ditch sugary cereals, which cause blood sugar highs and lows, for complex carbs and protein – such as scrambled eggs on toast. You’ll feel full for hours.
5. Fruit juice
Think OJ is a great way to get your five-a-day? Think again. Fruit juice is packed with sugar, and too much leads to weight gain. Opt for veg juices instead.