As a fitness nutritionist it is my job to help people lose weight. After giving birth to my daughter, and struggling to lose every pound, you can imagine not only the frustration, but how my confidence imploded as a health and wellness practitioner.
With 14lbs left, after months of meticulously counted calories, excessively working out, and exhausting not only my post-baby body, but all resources, I finally surrendered without any idea what was going on.
‘What’s wrong with me?!’
‘I’m breastfeeding – the weight should be falling off?!’
‘Why isn’t this working?! It’s worked every time before?’
‘How can this be possible?!’
On top of feeling exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally, my entire body was in agony. My joints ached and my 36-year old body felt like a 76-year old’s. Something was definitely wrong.
After countless visits to my doctor, other specialists, and endless blood tests, the possibility of an auto-immune issue emerged. A random conversation about my pain with a naturopathic girlfriend suggested that I connect with a colleague of hers, Dr. Sarah Wilson.
Feeling defeated after more blood tests came back inconclusive, I reached out to her. With over a month-long waiting list for an appointment, Sarah suggested we connect over Skype. Within minutes of our call I finally felt like someone was connecting the dots. The pain. The weight loss issues. The hormones. Everything was coming together. She provided me with some preliminary nutrition suggestions, a list of new tests to run, and an advanced copy of her book. ‘Someone finally gets it!’, was the thought that rang through my mind.
After reading Sarah’s book, ‘Finally Lose it – A professional women’s guide to stop dieting, fix your hormones and overcome weight loss resistance’, everything made sense. Not only for me, but for a number of past female clients I was unable to help lose weight, without any indication as to why. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t their fault. They had weight loss resistance.
So, my friends, I’m here to share this experience with you. Because sometimes, you can be doing EVERYTHING right and yet NOTHING works. And it’s not about the calories. It’s not about the workouts. It’s about weight loss resistance.
I asked Dr. Sarah to sit down with me and talk about her own struggles with her body, what lead her down this path, what are the biggest weight loss mistakes we make, how we can identify if we have weight loss resistance, and what the next steps are to overcome it. My hope is that if you, or someone you know is doing everything right, and yet struggling to lose weight, that this interview will bring this issue to light and help them push through to the other side.
What is it that you do?
I’m an advanced women’s healthcare practitioner. I’m trained as a Naturopath, but I’m not a traditional naturopath in that I’m a researcher first, which basically means that I go in without an agenda. Then from there, based on a person’s physiology, really detailed questionnaires, and their lab work, I objectively put the pieces together and figure out the next steps. So, I am a researcher first in that I don’t go in knowing what I’m actually going to be helping the patient with. I have no agenda except to figure out the one or two things that are causing all of the other symptoms!
I don’t deal with just weight loss, calories and macros and that’s it. I go in thinking, ok you need to lose weight, what does that mean – for your thyroid, your gut, your stress response, your circadian rhythm, all of your other hormones in the picture that is YOU.
What kinds of clients do you work with?
My clients fit into the ‘itty bitty shitty committee’ and have a little bit of everything going on with them. I really enjoy complex hormonal health conditions. The union between hormones and inflammation is my jam! I love it because those two systems have been separated in our medical system. Rheumatology and hormones are never treated together and I love combining those two things because that is where the magic happens. Your hormones are going to affect the inflammatory status of your body, especially when it comes to auto immune deficiencies, but then the immune system has a really huge impact on how your body responds to those hormones.
Why doesn’t our healthcare system combine these areas? It seems so necessary.
I don’t understand either. But it explains why there is a growing need for practitioners like me in the medical community and functional medicine. We need a systems-based medicine. Right now, we’re treating people like components instead of a whole package.
How long have you been practising?
I have been in the research sphere for a number of years and have been a Naturopath for two. In that time though, I’ve seen over a thousand patients. My practice has been mainly referral-based, which again goes back to the need for the type of work that I do.
What inspired you to take your career on this path?
I’ve been extremely sick for my whole life. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease at 18. I was in and out of hospitals with ear infections, pneumonia and I was very obese from a young age and no one could explain it. Everyone just said, ‘You’re not broken, we’re not going to fix it’ or, ‘You’re broken, but we don’t know why so see another specialist.’ I wanted to get into the medical community so that I could change that. I wanted to become the doctor that I needed.
You have a new book that just came out, “Finally Lose it – A professional women’s guide to stop dieting, fix your hormones and overcome weight loss resistance”. What would you say is the number 1 thing that most people are doing wrong when attempting to lose weight?
There are two things actually: Focusing on calories and not focusing on the timing of when they eat. I think that women today who can’t seem to lose weight get stuck in a trap of eating next to nothing, killing themselves in the gym, and hating their bodies. They don’t stop and think that something else might actually be wrong.
Which is why I wanted to write a book on weight loss resistance and not weight loss. There are millions of women doing all the ‘right’ things and yet still can’t seem to lose the weight. Sadly, they don’t realize that it has nothing to do with calories, macros, and HIIT sessions – it has to do with what’s going on inside them.
I think that we have a very patriarchal model of healthcare that focuses on men whose hormones generally stay the same all the time. But with women, it’s entirely different which is why all of these issues come up. Not to mention, our bodies are constantly changing and evolving. Meaning that the techniques and tools you used years ago to lose weight, aren’t going to always work now. This is especially the case for new moms whose hormones are so out-of-whack.
You need to understand that you are different and your body is different. So you can’t get stuck in the cycle of what ‘used to work,’ because it’s not going to. You need to be willing to do a deeper dive and figure out what’s actually going on in your body.
In regards to the timing of when they eat, I think we need to pay more attention to aligning with our natural circadian rhythm and especially in Canada, because of the changing seasons, this is hard to do.
What is your circadian rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal 24-hour clock. It helps your body to know when to be awake, asleep, when to burn fat, and when to store it. In North America, our circadian rhythms are so off because of the seasons and because of our daily habits. You need to have daily light in the morning to signal your body to increase its cortisol levels, raises your energy and alertness and increases your metabolism and yet we walk in underground garages, put sunglasses on and head to work with artificial lights all day. Alternatively, decreasing your artificial light at night increases your melatonin, regulates your appetite, and helps your body recover from the day. Yet we have screen time before bed and are snacking into the late evening. Your body doesn’t know when to wake up, burn fat, rest, etc. and it loses the ability to perform optimally, which can have a huge impact on your weight.
The timing of when we eat is also important in terms of your circadian rhythm. We’re are a culture of grazing. The snacking industry is huge. We’re constantly told to eat 5 small meals a day and that the more we eat, the more we speed up our metabolism and that’s not true. We need to give our bodies time to fast. Which means 3 meals a day and 12-hour cycle of fasting a night.
Yes! You mentioned that you’re a big believer in Intermittent Fasting (IF). What is it and why do you recommend it?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is basically a cycle of defined periods of fasting and eating for a certain amount of time. It allows your body and digestive system to not only rest, but to use up the stored fat in your body for fuel. There are a variety of different cycles to adopt. Most people have heard of the 8-16 cycle where you eat for 8 hours and fast for 16. Others use the 12 (eating) – 12(fasted) or the 10 (eating) -14 (fasted).
Again, even with IF, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If your cortisol (stress hormone) levels are high, you shouldn’t attempt this as a first step. The longer periods of fasting will put even more stress on your system and we don’t want that. However, if your cortisol levels are lower, and you can slowly progress to a cycle of 8 hours eating and 16 fasted, great! Otherwise, the 12-12 is effective.
What you eat, and when you eat it is also important with IF. Coming out of a fast and diving into a plate of carbohydrates is not ideal. IF helps you to regulate your insulin levels – if you break your fast with a massive carb-based meal, you’re going to spike them, which is counteractive to what you want.
At the very least, everyone should be providing their body with a 12-hour fasted period, nightly. Which means shutting down that window of eating from 7 or 8 pm onward and holding off on breakfast until 7 or 8am. This will also do wonders for your sleep habits.
Ah yes sleep! The most highly underrated weight loss tool. Why is sleep so important for weight loss?
Sleep is essential for weight loss and overcoming weight loss resistance. Sleep provides your body with the ability to reset its metabolic hormones (insulin, cortisol, leptin, growth hormone) that control your body’s ability to burn and store fat.
When we don’t get enough sleep we also tend to eat more – and all the wrong things. Mainly – carbohydrates. Your body naturally craves them because it thinks it needs fuel for energy. But the reality is, you don’t need the fuel, you need rest. Your body just doesn’t know that.
Sleep deprivation impacts two important hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for signaling hunger in the brain. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells. It suppresses hunger and signals fullness in the brain. So, when you don’t get adequate sleep, the body makes more ghrelin and less leptin, leaving you hungry. Aka: you overeat.
Sleep deprivation can also dull the activity in the frontal lobe of the brain which is responsible for of decision-making and self-control. Therefore, when you’re tired, it makes it harder to make healthy choices and resist tempting foods. On top of that, the reward centers of the brain are more stimulated by food when you are sleep deprived which means that not only do you crave foods that are higher in fats and carbohydrates, but you have a harder time practicing self-control so that you don’t eat them.
So in terms of weight loss, how important is it to actually eat a healthy, whole foods based diet?
It’s extremely important. Many diets just focus on the calories and the macros – but there is more to it than that. For some, this method of eating may work, but for most – it won’t. Paying attention to foods that spike your insulin and properly support your diet and your gut is essential not only to weight loss but to your overall health. I dedicated a whole chapter to this very topic in my book with recommended foods and portions because it’s that important! You want to eat to make sure everything is functioning optimally – not just to lose or maintain a certain amount of weight.
For example, an average woman should be able to maintain her weight around 2000 and lose weight at 1500 calories. If she can’t – something else is wrong. You don’t need to restrict more or increase your workouts – you need to explore what’s going on inside your body. Too many women go to extremes to try to solve their weight loss issues instead of considering the greater health issues that might be at play. Those issues can lead to even bigger issues like diabetes, cancer, etc. We need to start realizing that our bodies are smart and have the ability to do exactly what they are supposed to – but they need to be in a healthy state. If they’re not performing the way they should, something is wrong and we need to explore that.
What are some of the major weight loss inhibitors that people don’t think about when trying to lose weight?
Digestion issues are huge! We need to pay more attention to gut health in today’s society. Not just for weight loss and for vanity reasons, but because it makes us prone to aging, cancers, diabetes, etc. If your gut isn’t operating the way it should, you’re at risk for way more important health concerns than just weight loss. What we eat, when we eat it, and even how we eat is critical to gut health. Which means following your circadian rhythm, eating things that support your gut, and eating them in a slow, relaxed state to help your digestive system perform optimally.
What are some things that people can do now to determine if they have an issue?
If you’re struggling to lose weight and are already eating healthy and working out, then I would say there is likely an issue. Bloating, gassiness, burping after meals are also an indication that something isn’t quite right.
Paying attention to your sleep habits and stress levels are also huge. If you’re not sleeping – that’s an issue. Our society prides people on being overworked, sleep deprived and busy. If you’re hustlin’ – you’re doing something right. When in reality – you’re likely doing it all wrong. Selfcare is a growing phenomenon for a reason and more people need to pay attention to taking care of their bodies. I also offer a free weight loss quiz, to help people assess where they’re at and what the next steps will be to get them to better health.
If people are struggling with weight loss resistance and want to learn more where can they pick up your book?
Amazing! Where else can people find you?
Over the next few months I’ll be documenting my experience with Sarah and the evolution of my health issues. If you have any questions for me or Sarah, I encourage you to write them below. We will do a follow up post in a few weeks and will be happy to address all your questions or concerns.
With love and nut butter,