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Excess Weight is a Symptom. What’s the Cause?

Updated: Jan 23

If you’re anything like many of the new clients joining me in clinic, one of the top three items on your set of health goals will be to ‘lose weight’. If it is then keep reading. If it’s not, then this article isn’t for you. I’m writing this article to challenge and broaden the thoughts that exist around excess and/or stagnant body fat to help you get closer to your health goals.

You see, excess body fat is the symptom of a deeper health problem. For long term, healthy and sustainable fat loss to take place then your focus should be on treating the root cause rather than band aiding or toiling over the symptom.

Consider this real-life example:

  • A person wants to feel better in their clothes after noticing that in the last six months everything seems to feel a bit tighter.

  • This person makes a conscious effort to cut back on how much energy they’re consuming by no longer adding healthy fats to their meals, and they start to exercise more.

  • One month later this individual hasn’t noticed any changes in how their clothes feel so they get frustrated and give up on the changes they’ve made OR (worse) they decide to start exercising more and/or eating even less.

What’s happened in this scenario is that the person has assumed their weight gain was purely a result of eating too much energy when the reality is that the causes of their weight gain could have been due to a myriad of reasons. For this person to start to feel comfortable in their clothes again, they need to identify and target the driver.

Common drivers include:

  • Blood glucose (sugar) imbalances: the warning signs include cravings for sweet or starchy foods, feeling hunger within a few hours of eating a meal, feelings of anger when meals are delayed or skipped (hanger), energy ups and downs, mood swings, adult acne, premature wrinkles, feelings of inflammation, waking with night sweats and stagnant weight.

  • Insulin resistance: this a condition of excess insulin which can only be diagnosed by testing fasting serum insulin levels. Anything above 8 – 10 mU/L indicates that excess insulin is making it hard for your body to effectively access your fat stores for energy. This needs to be addressed with specific diet, exercise and nutritional supplementation. A low calorie, high carbohydrate diet will only exacerbate insulin resistance.

  • Sub-clinical hypothyroid: this is a condition of less-than-optimal thyroid hormone output. It’s commonly ruled out via serum TSH testing where in a conventional medical setting anything above about 5mIU/L would warrant further investigation. In the case of functional health however, TSH would ideally be between 1 – 2.5mIU/L and actual thyroid hormones T3 and T4 would always be tested. In cases where a full thyroid panel can’t be done, I often recommend conducting Basal Body Temperature (BBT) assessment as a means for assessing thyroid function. Suboptimal thyroid function needs to be addressed with thyroid specific nutrition in mind. In many cases, a very low carbohydrate and/or low calorie diet will exacerbate thyroid dysfunction.

  • Excess stress: psychological stress and pressure will instigate the fight of flight response, leading to high blood glucose levels and the scenario in which the body holds onto fat stores. This can’t accurately be diagnosed via blood testing though a good look at lifestyle and mindset as well as where excess body fat is being stored can help to pick this out from the crowd. Typically, prolonged fasting and excessive exercise will exacerbate excess stress.

  • Nutritional deficiency: for hormones to be produced, cells to function optimally, fat to be utilised and for metabolism to be working efficiently the body needs nutrients. Some common nutritional deficiencies leading to challenges burning fat include iron, vitamin D, zinc, iodine, B12, CoQ10, L-carnitine, magnesium and more.

  • Inflammation: chronic low-grade inflammation can be detected via blood testing looking at CRP, ESR, liver function test and homocysteine or it can be felt in the form of joint soreness, water retention, muscle ache, bloating and/ or fatigue. Chronic low-grade inflammation can often stem from food reactivity and / or gut microbiota imbalances so creating a healthy gut microbiota and prioritising food quality are often what’s needed to overcome inflammation. Specific nutritional supplementation can also be very helpful.

  • Eating at the wrong times: this is very much a Goldilocks scenario – eat too frequently and it will lead to excess intake and excess insulin however don’t eat enough and/or at the right times and it could exacerbate thyroid, stress or nutritional deficiency. Typically, it’s the issue of eating too frequently driving stagnant body fat.

Now of course, this doesn’t mean that in the pursuit of losing and burning body fat excessive calories can be consumed and movement doesn’t need to be factored in. This is to highlight that in addition to being conscious of energy imbalances, other drivers for fat storage need to be assessed. In my clinical experience there’s often not just one driver but multiple that need to addressed.

Remember it go both ways, so it is possible that excess body fat becomes the cause of further health complications. However, I still believe there will be a cause for the excess body fat that needs to be identified.

If you have found this insightful then you will love my Masterclass: Burn Fat For Fuel. Incorporating my undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and Nutrition, 14 years industry experience and 6 years clinical experience, I’ve written this Masterclass to help you understand how to lose and burn body fat safely, healthily and from a sound base of evidence. I share lots more detail on eating to support stress, inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and nutritional status. We’ll also look at the testing required to help you uncover the blind spots around your fat burning ability.

You can purchase the masterclass here.

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