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Eating less but not losing weight? Find out why.

Eating less but not losing weight? Find out why.

Eating less but not losing weight? Find out why.

We generally understand that eating fewer calories and burning more calories is how we lose weight: calories in versus calories out. However, many people find that although they exercise regularly and eat well-portioned, low-calorie meals, the weight just does not seem to come off. In fact, as we get older, the weight gets increasingly hard to lose.

So, what makes weight difficult to shift when are seemingly doing all the right things? Read on to find out more and how to turbo charge your weight loss.

I’m eating fewer calories and exercising. Why am I not losing weight?

  1. By eating a diet that is too calorie restricted, you may be sending your body signals that there is not enough food available. Your body then tries to hold onto its energy reserves, or your fat stores, as back up. You may need to eat more.
  2. Not all calories are created equal. You can eat too many calories and too few nutrients. You need vitamins and minerals to process empty calories. If you have a poor nutritional status, your metabolism will be functioning poorly also.
  3. Calorie-restricted diets, fad diets and calorie counting can often fail. You may lose the weight but then put it all back on when you eat regularly again. The best way to lose weight and maintain a good weight is to find a healthy, and sustainable, lifestyle.

How do you know if you aren’t eating enough of the right foods to lose weight?

If you eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, you probably aren’t getting the nutrients your body needs and you may be malnourished.

There are some key signs that can indicate that you may not be eating enough or enough of the right foods even though it feels like you are doing all the correct things to lose weight. These include:

  • Not being able to get pregnant – a low calorie diet can lead to missed periods or even cessation of periods and consequently, infertility.
  • Being moody – this can be caused by hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Since the brain requires blood sugar to function optimally, when it starts to drop, one of the first cognitive processes that suffers is self-control. [1]
  • Your hair is falling out – this can be a sign of nutritional deficiency
  • You are constipated – it may be that there isn’t enough waste material or it can also be a sign that you have an underactive thyroid
  • You are cold – you need more calories to create heat and you may have hormonal changes that come from restricting calorie intake

Being unable to shift weight – some underlying causes

If your body is holding onto excess weight, it could indicate something else is going on underneath the surface.

You may have an underactive thyroid

Having an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, can account for unexplained weight gain or the inability to lose weight. The thyroid is responsible for regulating many of your body’s processes, including metabolism. “If your thyroid is underactive, your metabolism slows down and your overall energy production decreases. In addition to an inability to lose weight, hypothyroidism can lead to fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, muscle and joint pain, hair loss, constipation, brain fog, and a low body temperature.” [2]

Other hormonal imbalances

There are several hormones that can impact your weight. These include:

  • Testosterone – When this hormone is too low for men and too high for women, it leads to weight gain.
  • Estrogen – Men and women can have estrogen imbalance. There are three types of estrogen in your body – estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3), and you need the proper ratio between each. Too much can lead to rapid weight gain.
  • Progesterone – This hormone balances the effects of too much estrogen; without it, estrogen can cause more trouble. [3]

Insulin resistance

If you are struggling to lose weight, you may have insulin resistance which can lead to type II diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when insulin is released by the pancreas, but your body doesn’t use it properly causing blood sugar levels to stay high instead of going down into the normal range. This can occur if you consistently eat too many carbohydrates, sweets etc. [4]

Gut microbe imbalances

The gut microbiome contains trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. There are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, and each of them plays a different role in your body. Most of them are extremely important for your health, while others may cause disease. [5]

The bacteria in our gut can have a profound effect on weight and metabolism. This is due to:

  • some bacteria extracting more energy from your food which leads to weight gain
  • some bacteria extracting less energy from your food which leads to weight loss
  • some bacteria cause inflammation which leads to a leaky gut
  • some bacteria are anti-inflammatory which increase insulin resistance and lower your risk of developing diabetes

One of the most beneficial ways to maintain good gut health is to eat whole, unprocessed and unrefined foods, eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet and increase the amount of fibre you eat.

Some tips for a healthy gut include:

  1. East plenty of vegetables and plant-based foods
  2. Eat good fats like omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats (for example, extra-virgin olive oil). This will decrease inflammation and support the growth and maintenance fo good bacteria.
  3. Eat lots of fibre-rich foods. Nuts, seeds, and a special fibre called glucomannan provide prebiotics and feed our healthy bacteria.
  4. Add fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso contain good amounts of probiotics so your healthy gut bugs can be fruitful and multiply. [6]


Weight gain is associated with increased inflammation in the body. Fat cells produce inflammatory molecules that contribute to weight gain, as well as disease. A 2019 study found that levels of a key inflammatory marker in the blood known as C-reactive protein (CRP) increased as weight increased. This inflammation appears to be triggered by hormonal and metabolic changes and remains until excess weight is lost. [7]

Inflammation can be caused by several factors that cause weight gain such as:

Toxins – heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxins that can disrupt on your endocrine system and mimic the activity of hormones such as estrogen. You can find toxins in cosmetics, household products, food and water. This disruption in your natural hormonal cycle can make it difficult to lose weight.

Food sensitivities – can result from a diet that is too strict and create low levels of inflammation throughout the body, especially in your digestive tract.

This low level of sustained inflammation will hinder your metabolism, disrupt your blood sugar and insulin levels, and make it difficult for you to reach your weight loss goals.

Often there is SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), a latent viral infection, or an underlying autoimmune condition that has caused your food sensitivity. [8]

Leptin resistance – Research shows that leptin, the hormone that tells your brain when to eat, stop eating and when to speed up or slow down metabolism, is impacted with weight gain and inflammation. When the brain doesn’t get proper feedback, leptin levels stay low. Appetite then increases and metabolism slows down.

Stress can make it difficult to lose weight

When you’re stressed, you may be more likely to eat more or eat unhealthy food but stress also causes your body to release cortisol, the hormone that controls your fight or flight response. It also causes you to hold onto your fat reserves, and if you are chronically stressed, it can mean that you may put on weight steadily over a longer period of time.

Addressing your stress levels and trying to manage them with meditation, relaxation techniques or even reconsidering your lifestyle can work towards reducing the amount of cortisol you produce. This, in turn, will assist in maintaining a healthy weight in the longer term.

Sleep can impact weight

Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to metabolic dysregulation. Poor sleep is associated with increased oxidative stress, glucose intolerance (a precursor to diabetes), and insulin resistance. Extra time spent awake may increase the opportunities to eat, and sleeping less may disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to weight gain.

It’s a good idea to look at your sleep hygiene and ensure at the end of the day you are doing all you can to get the recommended seven to eight hours sleep.

How we can help

As you can see, there are multiple factors that go beyond just monitoring calories in and calories out in the effort to lose weight. Inflammation, hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, poor diet, lack of exercise, a lack of sleep and gut microbe imbalance can all contribute to weight loss.

At Advanced Functional Medicine, our experts will investigate all these factors to look for the root problems of your weight issues.

Contact us to find out more.


The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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