Having a better diet is often at the forefront of many peoples minds, however, with so many different types of diets, it can be overwhelming to know the right way to achieve your nutrition goals. Nutrition expert Lauryn Lax at BreakingMuscle.com outlines the main reasons why your diet isn’t working and how to fix them.
Your gut isn’t healed
Beyond diet and stress, one essential factor most people don’t consider when it comes to body fat loss is what’s going on in their gut. Underlying gut issues like fungal or bacterial overgrowth, imbalanced gut bacteria, chronic bloating or constipation, or low stomach acid, can lead to nutrient deficiency and malabsorption issues.
The result? Your body is going to fight against you, no matter how clean you eat or how much you work out. One study on the effectiveness of a gut-healing protocol in people on a fat loss program found those who focused on healing their gut lost an average of about 11 pounds of body fat, with only three of those pounds related to diet alone. Other research has shown that individuals with a healthier gut (less bacterial overgrowth) and better digestion respond better to intermittent fasting, versus those who have an unhealthy gut microbiome.
In short, you are only as healthy as the trillions of bacteria in your gut. You can think of your gut as the gateway to all other systems in your body. If it is unable to absorb and digest your nutrients appropriately, or it is rotting and fermenting bacteria inside, then your other body systems won’t get what they need. When that happens, health declines. Your hormones get out of whack, you experience increased anxiety, feel the need to binge, and gain body fat.
When you get rid of unwanted bacteria or undigested food hiding out in your gut, inflammation lessens, your metabolism, cortisol levels, and thyroid are supported, and your body is free to stop holding onto unwanted body fat.
The best way to find out if you have a gut issue? Test, don’t guess. Consult with a practitioner, skilled in digging deeper into gut health for a personalized approach. Testing may include SIBO, stool, hormone level, and food intolerance screenings.
You’re not eating enough fat
Diets that exclude or severely limit fat tend to replace all those calories with carbohydrates, which sets you up to ride the blood sugar roller coaster. Your body is constantly chasing balance between blood sugar and insulin levels, which can in turn impact your cortisol (stress hormone) production. Cortisol signals your body to store body fat, rather than burn it, and can also lead to increased intake of high-carbohydrate foods.
Dietary fat can help keep energy levels more even, and hunger at bay. Reach for healthy fats with each meal, and in place of carbohydrate-based snacks, reach for a snack with healthy fat or protein as the base. Look for things like raw nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, avocado, olives, ghee, grass-fed butter, full-fat fermented yogurt, fatty cuts of organic meats, pastured eggs, or avocado oil.
You’re not including carbs
Just because you should eat fats doesn’t mean that carbs are the enemy, either. When we go too low on carbs, particularly from veggies, we risk also eliminating fibre, which is essential to digestion, your gut biome, and metabolic balance. Extreme diets at either end of the fat vs. carbs spectrum can negatively impact your metabolism.
Researchers and dieters everywhere are asking, which is better, low fat or low carb? But there isn’t a single correct answer. Some people do better with more carbs, and some do better with more fat. Every body is different. For example, some women who have issues with their blood sugar or insulin resistance have found ketogenic diets beneficial as a short-term dietary approach. However, women who have their blood sugar under control, but have some adrenal fatigue or hormone imbalances, have found a ketogenic diet more harmful in the long run.
You’re counting numbers when you should be counting colours
Our bodies don’t see food in terms of macros and calories. They see nutrients and need lots of nutrient-dense foods to thrive. The problem many people run into with macro or calorie-based plans is that they fixate on numbers, scales and measurements, without acknowledging the nutrient density in foods, and how your metabolism responds to that.
For instance, a half cup of gummy bears may supply your body with a punch of “quick digesting carbs” after a workout, but the nutrient composition and health benefit it provides is completely different than a half cup of berries or a small, sweet potato. Your body responds to the real food with increased satiety and a better metabolic result.
Diet staples like chicken, olive oil, and rice do give your body some protein, fat, and carbs, but what about their nutrient density and variety? Put another way, how many colours are in that meal? Generally speaking, less colour means fewer nutrients, and less satisfaction from eating them. You might have hit your macro goals, but your body is still craving the rest of the many nutrients it needs to function at its best.
When we consume lots of colourful veggies, body-boosting healthy fats, and essential proteins, our metabolism comes alive, extracting various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep your body revving. My top picks include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Colorful veggies (aim for 2-3 different veggie colors at each meal)
- Citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit)
- Organic herbs (parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, sage)
- Organ meats
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut
- Pastured eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fatty fish
- Coconut oil, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter
- Raw brazil nuts, walnuts, and macadamia nuts
While you’re at it, make sure you are eating enough. Under-eating is just as detrimental as overeating.
You’re too stressed about your diet
Stress is the number one driver of all disease, including stubborn body fat. Stress is inevitable in our society, but it is often overlooked in areas beyond mental health. Even if you don’t think you’re stressed out, minor daily stressors can threaten metabolic balance.
Biologically, your cortisol level needs to be in a state of balance in order to shed body fat. If your body constantly feels threatened, cortisol levels become chronically high. The last thing your body wants to do when it thinks it’s fighting for survival is comply with your fat loss protocol.
You can’t improve your body when your mind is freaked out. Stress reduction has been shown to help alleviate an otherwise broken metabolism. Incorporating a practice of deep breathing, meditation or prayer, meditative movement (stretching, yoga, dance), and reading or listening to positive truth (podcasts, books, speakers, etc.) are all tactics for mindfully reducing stress.
You’re not paying attention to your meals
Speaking of mindfulness, research tells us that practicing it during meals can help reduce cortisol and abdominal fat. Incorporate these techniques into your own mealtimes:
- Chew your food (fully)
- De-screen: turn off the TV, phone, computer and even books
- Assess your level of hunger and fullness. You don’t have to always finish your plate, and sometimes, you may need seconds.
- Be aware of how food makes you feel. Are you bloated, constipated, breaking out, anxious, have an allergic reaction? Something may be in your food that is not sitting well with you.
- Don’t eat the same things every day. Incorporate a variety of nutrients from real foods.
You haven’t fixed your mindset
These essential strategies could be the game changers you’ve been looking for to get your fat loss efforts on track. But the biggest of all comes from a gut-check of a different kind: not making your goal solely about fat loss.
Fat loss is only the means to get something else you really want. Identify that feeling that you think your fat loss will bring you and begin feeding into goals and pursuits outside fat measurements or the scale itself to attain what it is you truly want.
The biggest game changer in getting the body you want will come when you stop focusing so much on scale and size and instead make goals and set intentions around other more important things in your life. It’s not bad to want to improve your body composition, but when our sole drive and focus is aimed at body fat loss alone, that dangling carrot will never be fully attained. There will always be someone better, fitter, prettier, or leaner than us.
Instead, set primary goals for personal development, peace with yourself and food, healing your gut or hormones, stressing less, improving relationships.
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