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Why It Can Be Hard to Lose Weight

With diet programs, plans and pills touting quick and easy weight loss, you might feel there’s something wrong with you if pounds are dropping off slowly—or not at all—even when you’re eating “normally.” The truth is that weight is easy to gain but not to lose, especially as you age. Don’t blame yourself. There are reasons behind the difficulty.

A York University study described in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice focused on “dietary and exercise data for tens of thousands of Americans over the past four decades. It found that even when eating the same diet with an equal activity level, “a given adult in 2006 had a higher BMI than a counterpart of the same age in 1988.” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/6/15, E48). Co-author of the study, professor Jennifer Kuk of York University, attributed the difference to several factors.

  • Americans sleep fewer hours than they used to—“in 2013, 40% of Americans got less than seven hours of sleep per night.” Less sleep means an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiation hormone.
  • “A Carnegie Mellon survey published in 2012, found that Americans were roughly 20% more stressed than a quarter of a century before.” This is why I encourage you to give up perfectionism which stresses you out and to relax more.
  • Another factor is increased exposure to “certain kinds of chemicals that affect the endocrine system and metabolic processes—plastic packaging, pesticides and substances known as persistent organic pollutants...impacting how our bodies process food and store fat.”
  • Increased use of anti-depressants and “allergy medications, steroids and pain medications” can also cause weight gain.
  • Our microbiomes, “the brew of tiny organisms that live in our guts…play a role in processing food. Diet changes affect the amount and kinds of microbiomes that live within us due to their affecting “how we extract energy from our diets.”

    Rather than throw up your hands and say that all these factors prove that you’ll never lose weight, why not determine which of them you have some power over? What changes can you make? Most of us can get the requisite seven or eight hours sleep a night if we put our minds to it. Are you able to avoid using, use less of, or wean yourself off medications that might be causing weight gain? Why not stop using plastic packaging? This is probably the easiest change you can make. Try probiotics to alter your gut microbes. Finally, figure out how to reduce stress and relax more. Small environmental and lifestyle changes count.