Episode 113: Factors That Can Prevent Weight Loss

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Thanks for joining us for episode 113 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hello, and thanks for the great show on your approach to weight loss. I found it extremely valuable. On a related note, I was wondering if you could do a show discussing plateaus or problems reaching one’s goals. I have implemented the advice you give, but I’m not seeing any results. I’m going for a similar moderate weight loss as discussed on the weight loss episode, maybe about 15 pounds or so. I’m 5’1” and currently at about 125 pounds. For a few weeks I’ve been eating about 1,850 calories per day and my weight hasn’t changed one way or the other. What would you think are some potential issues that might be causing the problem? I’m okay if weight loss doesn’t happen, but I’m wondering if it’s a sign that there’s something I need to pay attention to just for the sake of my health.”

While we provided a strategy on how to begin working towards healthy weight loss in episode 91, today we go beyond the basics and give you an action plan of what to do when all of your effort to reach your weight loss goal seems futile. Join us for fresh insight as we dig deeper into multiple factors that can be at play when weight is at a standstill.

You’ll learn how to determine if your thyroid health is a concern and hear the significant role your microbiome plays in weight regulation. We also give you insight into often overlooked factors such as consistency in your healthy habits, why you’ll want to resist the common advice to increase intense exercise in your workout routine, and the importance of your mindset around the weight loss process. But sure to tune in to hear even more!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • The importance of a calorie deficit for weight loss
  • How over exercising can stress the body and affect the HPA axis
  • The effect of elevated cortisol on weight and accumulation of abdominal fat
  • The importance of rest and recovery after exercise
  • The connection between a history of yo-yo dieting and HPA axis dysregulation
  • The test we recommend to check HPA axis function and thyroid health
  • How subclinical hypothyroidism can affect weight loss
  • The impact that your microbiome has on your weight regulation
  • The two tests to get to assess gut health
  • The ways that mold exposure can affect weight loss
  • The effect of a constant calorie deficit on your metabolic rate
  • The importance of consistency and time in your diet and workout routine
  • The significance of cultivating good habits that lead to weight loss instead of focusing on the number on the scale
  • How tracking progress in other areas related to the healthy habits you implement can ensure consistency


Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 113 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hey everybody!

Kelsey: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. While you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well! And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health-related question that we can answer an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Today on the show we’re going to discuss what to do if you’re having trouble losing weight despite feeling like you’re doing everything right. But before we get into the question for the today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Kelsey:Welcome back everybody! Here’s our question for today’s show. Hello and thanks for the great show on your approach to weight loss. I found it extremely valuable. On a related note, I was wondering if you could do a show discussing plateaus or problems reaching one’s goals. I have implemented the advice you give, but I’m not seeing any results. I’m going for a similar moderate weight loss as discussed on the weight loss episode, maybe about 15 pounds or so. I’m 5’1” and currently at about 125 pounds. For a few weeks I’ve been eating about 1,850 calories per day and my weight hasn’t changed one way or the other. What would you think are some potential issues that might be causing the problem? I’m okay if weight loss doesn’t happen, but I’m wondering if it’s a sign that there’s something I need to pay attention to just for the sake of my health.”

Kelsey:Great question. If you guys haven’t listened to episode 91, our first podcast about weight loss which this person is referring to, I would definitely recommend checking that out before you pop into this episode because we do discuss sort of the things to start with for weight loss, and then of course we’ll jump into things that might be preventing you from actually losing weight in this podcast.

But the first thing that comes to mind for me, and I think, Laura, this is probably similar to what you would think about this as well is that at 5 ‘ 1” and 125 pounds, that 1,850 calories per day sounds a little bit high to me because in doing calculations I’m not getting 1,850. Granted we don’t know her exercise level, so she could be doing a ton of physical activity in which case she would maybe need 1,800 calories. But if she was trying to be on let’s say a 15% calorie deficit, she would need to be doing like 6 or 7 days of pretty intense exercise for her to need 1,800 calories per day.

Basically if she is doing a normal amount of exercise, like maybe 3 to 5 days a week, moderate intensity, or maybe some days that are a little bit more intense, some days that are less intense, I would calculate that she probably needs more like 1,650 calories or around 1,600-1,700 calories, somewhere between there. That’s the first thing that stands out to me and I would imagine that that is probably why she’s not losing weight.

Now again, if she is exercising a lot, she’s doing that pretty much every day and it’s fairly intense exercise, then yes, she cold need that amount of calories. But that much exercise actually could be preventing her from losing weight, too. I’ll jump into that in a second. But Laura, do you kind of get the same calculations when you’re doing this?

Laura: Yeah, I mean like you said we don’t have specific details about her exercise routine which can definitely affect your calorie needs for weight loss. Obviously if you’re just say walking an hour a day versus if you’re doing Cross Fit 6 days a week, that’s going to affect that. But as you said, generally for most people they’re not going to be doing 6 to 7 days a week hard exercise. If they are, that could be something that’s preventing them from actually losing weight.

I think to figure out her calorie needs for a deficit, we would need more information. But like you said, a good guess would probably be closer to that 1,600 to 1,700 for a larger deficit. It could be even lower depending on what her exercise levels are because if she’s not training a lot, she could actually have even lower needs for a deficit. Now that’s not necessarily she’d want to continue on indefinitely, but when you’re trying to lose weight in the short term you do need to be in a deficit.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. That’s my first thought. Definitely if you are doing moderate to intense exercise 3 to 5 days a week at 5’ 1”, 125 pounds, your needs are going to be more in the 1,600 to 1,700 range. I’d give that a shot. I would think that that is what is preventing your body from losing weight provided that you’re doing that amount of exercise.

But if you are actually doing this much exercise, you’re doing 6 to 7 days per week of intense exercise and that’s where you got that 1,800 number from, then I would actually recommend cutting back on your exercise a little bit. Because what can happen with too much exercise, and I think we’ve discussed this a few times on the podcast previously, basically you’re essentially stressing your body out a little bit too much. Your HPA axis can get a bit out of whack when you’re doing that much intense exercise.

So yes, it sounds like you would be fueling it appropriately, but you’d still be in a deficit which could just be a little tough when you’re doing that much exercise because your body is just going to be kind of wiped out and it’s going to have a negative impact on your HPA axis, which is your stress control center.

If your HPA axis is constantly getting activated, let’s say you’re doing this much exercise, maybe you work a full time job that’s fairly stressful, you’ve got other emotional stressors in your life, I mean that’s a lot of stress heaped onto your body. What can happen is that will raise your cortisol levels potentially. For a lot of people, that higher cortisol level can prevent them from losing weight. Sometimes they’ll notice that you get more of that belly fat or fat in the abdominal area that just seems to stick there, it doesn’t really go away. Potentially you may not have ever really had fat accumulation in that area before, but all of a sudden you feel like that’s where you’re fat is going. That’s a sign that you might have too much cortisol hanging around in your blood because your body is overly stressed.

If you’re doing that much exercise, I would definitely recommend reducing it. I know that can sound a little bit counterintuitive to some people because a lot of us think that of course more exercise is better when it comes to weight loss, but sometimes that’s not true. In fact I’d probably say often times that’s not true because you don’t need to be stressing your body out that much by exercising so much. You just need to be consistent with your exercise whether that’s twice a week or 4 times a week. But somewhere between that I’d say 2 to 4 I would say is my ideal in terms of how much intense exercise you’re doing. Walking and that sort of thing, you can do every day. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that exercise. But anything more than that, so if you’re doing a Cross Fit class, or you’re doing powerlifting, or weight lifting, somewhere between 2 and 4 times a week I think is probably a good place to aim for.

Laura: Yeah. I personally have been consistent with honestly like 2 days a week for the last 2 years most of the time. Some days I’ll do 2 days a week and that’s been plenty for me to see pretty sustainable weight loss. I’ve combined that with appropriate nutrition.  We can obviously talk about what appropriate nutrition is, but I feel like that whole idea of exercising more if you’re not losing weight is really prevalent. Like you said, it’s not only maybe not necessary, but can actually cause problems.

Even if somebody’s not holding on to body fat from that, I find that a lot of my clients, and I’ll put myself in this category too, that if I’m over exercising…or I don’t even want to say over exercising. There’s just a balance of how much training you can do before you start seeing the negative impact on cortisol. With cortisol…cortisol is weird because some cortisol in short spurts does help with body fat burning, but if it’s chronically elevated then that’s going to prevent you from burning body fat and it’ll actually induce stored body fat around the midsection particularly.

But the other difficult thing that cortisol does with weight loss is that cortisol does act on the aldosterone receptors in the body. Aldosterone is our body’s primary hormone for controlling blood pressure by affecting fluid balance. If your blood pressure is low, you hold on to more fluid to bring it up. If you’re blood pressure is high, you can excrete fluid by urination to bring it down. That’s one of the main roles of aldosterone.

But cortisol actually has somewhat of an effect on those same receptors and if you have high cortisol, the time can actually cause you to hold onto to more water in general which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on a short term basis. I know for me and a lot of my clients after a hard workout the next day you might be up a couple pounds because you’re holding on to more water if you have some inflammation from the actual breakdown of the muscle or just if the workout was kind of harder, it’s normal to hold on to some water. But the problem is if you’re training 6 days a week, you’re basically going to just be holding onto that water all the time and that can mask any sort of weight loss that you’d be seeing and it also makes you feel a lot bigger than you might be if you weren’t training that hard.


Laura: That was something that I personally experienced in the last couple months with my getting ready for my wedding. I wasn’t necessarily trying to lose weight, but I was like maybe I’ll just like increase my training frequency to 3 to 4 four days a week instead of 2 to 3, just going a little bit more. Honestly, my weight started to go up.  I was like, umm, alright, well that’s obviously not something that I want to be doing. I didn’t need to lose weight necessarily and if I gained some weight it wouldn’t have been the world, but I’m not going to work harder in order to gain weight.


Laura: I was like, okay, let’s go back to what I was doing because that clearly is not working well with my body and I think just the stress of that was too much for me to handle. I dropped back down to 2 a week and then my weight went back down and it has been pretty stable over the last couple months. It’s like that was a very strong signal to me that even 4 days a week doesn’t sound like that much, but it was just too much for my body.

Like you said, that doesn’t count things like walking, or hiking, or low intensity cardio that doesn’t necessarily stress your body out. But any of those more intense activities that would potentially would be a stressor on your body, if you’re doing that too frequently for your particular I guess either needs or I guess…how would we describe it? Physiology I guess. You tend to be someone who is more sensitive to stress or has other stressors going on that could compound the exercise stress, then training a lot actually can be very counterproductive and could prevent actual weight loss from happening.

That might have been a little bit more detail than this person needed, but I think it’s really important to talk about that just because there is so much of this myth out there that if you’re not losing weight, that you need to exercise more. Some people do. I mean obviously if there’s people out there that aren’t training at all or all they’re doing is low level of cardio, then adding some more stressful type activities like weight training or high intensity intervals could be helpful. Because like we said, a little bit of cortisol is helpful for burning fat, but most of the people that we work with are not in that camp of not exercising enough.

Kelsey:Yeah. I would also throw the other way around in here too. Sometimes I have clients that they’re doing 2 to 4 days a week of high intensity exercise, but then the other days or outside of those times where they’re exercising intensely, they’re just sedentary entirely. For those kind of people I think it’s really great to add some of this low level, non stressful activity like walking, hiking, gardening, really anything even just like random household chores where you’re moving around but you’re not doing anything super intense. I think that can a long way to help somebody lose weight too. If that sounds familiar to you as well, you may want to consider adding some of that low level activity if you’re exercising consistently and you’re doing that a few days a week, but outside of that you’re not really active, that could be a great thing to add too.

The other thing I would say to think about with exercise is just that if you are somebody who is exercising a lot like this, or let’s say you have a really physically intense job so it’s hard for you to really cut back on that exercise necessarily, you need to make sure that you are resting like an athlete because you are training like an athlete. We’ve talked about this before in the podcast as well, but I just want to make that clear here too, just that if you are doing that much activity, you really need to take your resting seriously because otherwise you’re really going to over activate that HPA axis, your cortisol is going to shoot up, it’s going to stay there consistently and be problematic at that point. To prevent that from happening, you really need to make sure that you are getting adequate rest depending on how much exercise you’re doing. We just wanted to throw that out there to start with because this person sounds like either they calculated their calories a little bit wrong, or they’re doing probably too much exercise unless they’re resting a ton.

We just want to throw that out there before we kind of dig into the other causes of weight loss plateaus because there are some people out there, and I’m sure there’s some of you listening that this really resonates with you, that you have probably tried a range of caloric intakes, you listened to our first episode, you tried to calculate your calories, maybe you started at one calorie intake that didn’t work for you, so you did another one, maybe you went a little bit lower or a little bit higher. You’ve kind of been all over the place with your caloric intake. Same thing with exercise, you tried exercising less, you’ve tried exercising more and nothing is working. We definitely understand that that can be a frustrating situation. We do want to talk about some of these underlying health issues that might be playing a role because that’s sort of what this person was asking about saying I don’t need to lose weight and I’d be okay if I don’t lose weight, but I do want to make sure that if I’m not losing weight because of some underlying health issue, I want to know what that health issue is so that I can address it. I think that’s really smart way to approach this.

I’d like to talk a little about some of the things that I start to think about when somebody isn’t losing weight.  One of those things of course is the HPA axis like we just discussed. If you are exercising a lot or you’ve got a really stressful life, you maybe you moved recently, I mean that’s a huge stressor. It’s one of the biggest stressors actually for people. You need to keep those things in mind and say okay, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel super stressful for me, I know that it’s really stressful for my body to be exercising this much or to be going through this process of moving or I have a lot of work. Anything like that is going to put a toll on your body and you need to keep that in mind. That may absolutely be part of the reason why at this point in your life or reasons of all these stressors in your life that you’re not losing weight right now.

You need to give your body a break, calm down that stress in your life, give yourself some time to settle in if you just moved, or if you have a really busy season at work, wait for that to die down a little bit before you try to lose weight. Because adding a caloric deficit on top of so many other stressors is just, it’s frustrating first of all because you’re not going to lose weight which is the end goal and it’s just of course another stressor on top of all the other things going on.

You definitely need to make sure that you’ve addressed your HPA axis. One other thing you can kind of think about if you are wondering if HPA axis issues is something that’s going on for you is if you are a historical dieter. If you’ve been yo-yo dieting for a lot of your life, I find, and I’m sure this is true for you too, Laura, that the clients that this history of dieting that they most often have HPA axis issues as well.

Laura: Especially the majority of the yo-yo dieters that I work with are kind of in the chronic calorie deficit. They just never take a break from dieting. When we say yo-yo dieting, there might be some periods of time where they stop caring and they’ll just eat whatever and a lot of times that’s when they gain a lot of the weight back. But then they’ll start dieting again and maybe not seeing results they’ve seen before. It’s rare for me to work with someone who has a history of weight cycling that isn’t under eating at the moment.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. If you have a history of dieting, or just chronic caloric deprivation I guess, you’ve got a stressful life, or you’re doing lots of exercise and you’re potentially not recovering like an athlete, and you’re having trouble losing weight because despite trying a lot of different ranges of calories, you should definitely consider that your HPA axis might be dysfunctioning.

What we do both in our practice and in our Paleo Rehab program is we recommend a test called the DUTCH test which is a urine test that looks at how your HPA axis is functioning. You can also add sex hormones on top of that if you think there might be some hormonal issues that are playing a role into this as well. That would be something to just check on. Do a DUTCH test, see how your HPA axis is functioning, and then you can at least rule that out or know that it’s an issue and start to work on that.

Another thing that I tend to think about when weight loss plateaus is hypothyroidism. This is honestly probably the first thing that I think of if somebody’s having trouble losing weight because it’s such an easy thing rule out most of the time that I just want to make sure that it’s not playing a role in everything that’s going on.

If you have trouble losing weight, seemingly no matter what you do, that would honestly be the first thing I would recommend checking. That’s really easy. You can just ask your doctor for a full thyroid panel. That includes TSH, T3, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. Sometimes you may see on some of your older blood work that maybe your doctor’s only testing TSH. That’s okay, it’s not ideal because we can get other information from those other levels so I do like to see everything. But if your doctor is only testing TSH, that can at least give you a sense of whether things might be going okay or not.

With TSH, the normal lab value that you’ll see on most lab reference ranges, it usually goes up to 4.5 or 5. But actually the latest research shows that anything over 2.5 or even 2 in some of the studies I’ve seen should probably be considered subclinical hypothyroidism. That means that while you may not necessarily have super high levels of TSH, meaning that you’re quite hypothyroid and everything like that, it’s not in the really functional range, it’s not in the ideal range that you want TSH to be in.

If you’re somebody who only has maybe 15 pounds to lose and you’re still potentially in a healthy weight range, your doctor’s, if they see something that’s still within the normal range, usually it’s your thyroid is fine, your body just wants to stay at this weight, nothing’s going on, you’re fine. While yes, you’re probably overall fine and you’re probably healthier than a lot of people, your thyroid is not doing super great. It’s not in the ideal range. You want to see that below 2.5 or potentially 2.

If you see it over that and your doctor is telling you that there’s nothing going on, honestly I would recommend seeking out a second opinion, somebody who is maybe more in the functional medicine world who keeps up on the research with TSH and with all these functional ranges because you can definitely have trouble losing weight if you’re at 2.5 or higher. If that’s you, if you’re looking back on your old TSH ranges and you’re seeing that your consistently above 2.5, I would definitely seek out somebody to work with on that.

Laura: The other thing to keep in mind is that the TSH can also be normal in the functional range and that doesn’t mean your thyroid function is optimal. I recently had a patient who her TSH was 1.6 something, and if she had just tested TSH her thyroid would have looked perfectly fine even from a functional range perspective. But she had the full thyroid panel done and her free T3 was low, like clinically low, and her reverse T3 was clinically high. She had other symptoms of hypothyroidism like high cholesterol, she was having a hard time losing weight, she had fatigue. There’s just a lot of symptoms of the hypothyroidism that again, if they had just looked at TSH they would have said it’s not your thyroid. But getting that full thyroid panel done showed that it clearly was at least partially involved, maybe not the whole story, but definitely something to address.

It was interesting because she wanted to know if she should kind of pursue medication for that. I told her that actually if the TSH is normal, and the free T3 is low, and the reverse T3 is high, then taking medication can actually make that worse potentially because the problem is not that she’s not producing enough T4 hormone, it’s that the T4 hormone is getting converted into reverse T3 instead of the normal T3. Taking extra T4 hormone and even extra T3 hormone wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem and could potentially make it worse.


Laura: That was a good example of a case where the thyroid we believe is involved for sure, but the treatment for that isn’t necessarily thyroid hormone. There’s a lot that can go on with thyroid dysfunction that can affect weight loss and getting a full thyroid panel done will help identify is it that I’m not producing enough hormone? Is it that my conversion is low? Am I over converting to reverse T3? All of those different labs will guide the way that you approach that. Because for her if she took medication, it could make things worse and we’re really attacking it from more of a chronic dieting/gut infection perspective with her which is why we believe her reverse T3 production is high.

I know we could do a whole show on thyroid and we probably should at some point, but I think it’s just important to remember that even the functional TSH doesn’t necessarily tell you the whole story.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. Another thing to consider if you’re having trouble losing weight is your gut health because your gut health is a really important factor when it comes to weight regulation. It specifically comes down to your microbiome in your large intestine because that plays a really big role in how your body stores fat. If you guys haven’t seen one of my recent blog posts, I would really recommend that you check it out. It’s called “Can Your Gut Bacteria Help You Lose Weight?” We’ll link to that in the show notes. But I go over the impact that your microbiome has on your weight regulation in a lot more detail than I’ll talk about today.

But to simplify it a lot for the sake of the podcast, basically what happens is that when you have dysbiotic or imbalanced bacteria in your gut, you end up with a lot of inflammation because when you’ve got those bad gut bugs hanging around in your gut, it leads to a high level of a toxin called lipopolysaccharide, or LPS. If you’ve got a lot of LPS in your gut, that’s going to cause a lot of inflammation in the gut itself which leads to leaky gut. And then once your gut is leaky, that LPS, and other antigens, and potentially problematic things kind of slip through those spaces between the gut cells that really should be a lot smaller than they are right now. That LPS goes through the blood stream, gets to other places in the body, and causes a lot of inflammation. Essentially you end up with body wide inflammation and that high level of body wide inflammation is highly associated with a lot of metabolic conditions. That includes obesity, it includes insulin resistance, all those things that kind of go in the same category and are grouped together like that, highly, highly associated with high levels of LPS.

If you’ve been doing everything right, you’ve maybe ruled out hypothyroidism or just any sort of thyroid dysfunction, you’ve checked on your HPA axis and it’s at least doing okay and hopefully doing fine, and you’re still having trouble, I would definitely consider looking into your gut health and testing your gut bacteria. You do not need to have digestive problems to have imbalanced flora. I want to make that really clear because this is something that you can very easily overlook if you’re somebody who doesn’t have any sort of digestive issues, like you have totally regular bowel movements, you don’t get bloated, you never have abdominal pain or anything like that, you just really never even think about your digestive health because it’s perfect, you can absolutely still have imbalanced bacteria. Just because you are the picture of perfect gut health, or digestive health I suppose I should say, does not mean that your gut bacteria is also perfect.

This is something that you can only really determine by testing. What would I recommend doing is getting both a SIBO test probably and a stool test. A SIBO test is going to look at the bacteria in your small intestine and check for something called SIBO which is small intestine bacterial overgrowth. It’s essentially just looking to see if you’ve got too much bacteria growing in your small intestine, which again can cause that body wide inflammation to happen. A stool test is going to look in your large intestine, which is where your microbiome is housed. That’s going to look at more of the balance of good and bad bacteria in your microbiome, make sure you don’t have any parasites or pathogens, anything like that.

But I definitely have seen this to hold people back from weight loss. It’s those people that have been through everything. They’re like what the heck is going on? I can’t lose weight. I actually really need to lose weight. I’d say this is probably more for people who are significantly overweight, however I think it can still happen if maybe you’re still within a normal BMI range but it’s higher than you’ve historically been in your life for whatever and you can’t figure out why. I think gut health can play a role there too. But I will say that I think it’s definitely more correlated with significant amounts of weight. If you’re obese or you have maybe pre diabetes or some degree of metabolic dysfunction, really, really common to have gut issues.

You definitely want to check these things, get tested for this stuff. You can do that with a practitioner. I do also offer both of these tests actually in my Build Your Biome program. If you haven’t checked that out yet, definitely get on the waitlist for next time we open that up because you’ll be able to do that testing and then obviously I kind of walk you through what to do if things go wrong in those tests. Either work with somebody or do a program that can walk you through this stuff. But it’s absolutely just so important to just check on not only for metabolic health of course, but your gut health plays a role in pretty much every other part of your health as well. It’s really good to just make sure things are going okay in your gut.

Laura: Yes! Nothing to add from me about the gut side of things.

Kelsey:Alright, cool. The last thing I’ll mention here is that I start to think about with trouble losing weight is mold exposure. I’ll admit that I’m possibly a little bit biased on this one because I’ve gone through this myself and I think it’s a lot more common than people think. We don’t know exactly why mold exposure causes people to have difficulty losing weight, but I have to think that it has something to do with the fact that it’s a really big stressor. If you’re living in a place that’s got a lot of mold, your body is not going to be happy about that. It’s going to be a stressor on the HPA axis. And of course we just talked about when you’re consistently chronically stressed or you’re HPA axis is being consistently chronically activated, that’s going to cause a lot of problems.

The other piece of this is that being exposed to mold is going to cause a lot of inflammation. We can think about it kind of like what we just talked about with the gut health where if you’ve got this body wide inflammation going on, that really messes with the way that your body regulates your weight and the way your body regulates fat accumulation, and fat storage, and fat breakdown. All of those things get affected when your body is hugely inflamed which definitely happens when you’re chronically exposed to mold.

If this is something maybe you’ve never heard about or never even considered, you do want to start to think about it. Like problems with gut health, being exposed to mold can be silent in many ways. You don’t have to see mold in your house, or smell mold, or anything and it can still be there. I can tell you that that was the case for me. I had no idea that there was mold in the house that I was living in, but it was there. You can do some of these tests. Nothing is perfect, there’s no really great way to figure out 100% if your house has mold other than if somebody rips your wall open and finds it.

The testing can be kind of a screening thing in combination with some symptoms that may also lead you to believe that you are being exposed to mold. Some of those symptoms include things like fatigue, brain fog, concentration issues, lightheadedness or dizziness, headaches, skin problems, lots of static shocks, shortness of breath, light sensitivity, and night sweats.  I mean that’s first of all just a small clip of how many symptoms can go along with this, and of course these symptoms can go along with a lot of other conditions as well. Don’t assume that if you have fatigue and brain fog that you definitely are being exposed to mold. You certainly want to look at other things in your life that could be causing those kinds of symptoms. But if that sounds like you, and you’re having trouble losing weight, and you really addressed all these other things, then it’s definitely worth looking into if that’s you.

If you’re exposed to mold and you know that it’s in your house, you’re going to have to have someone either remediate it or move. Because both of these things can be really stressful and expensive, I do kind of like to wait to address this stuff as the last piece. Which I know even in my mind it doesn’t make total sense because I think about it like well, if I’m exposed to mold, I need to get out of there asap, which is absolutely true. But because the testing isn’t perfect, it’s really hard to know 100% if you are being exposed to mold unless like I said somebody rips through your wall and finds it, which that’s going to typically be fairly expensive and kind of a nuance obviously if somebody is ripping through your house, I like to leave that as one of the later things that I start to address with somebody.

I want to make sure their HPA axis is doing well, that their thyroid is doing well, that their gut is doing well. And then if we’re still having trouble, we’ve tried a bunch of different calorie ranges, we’ve tried a bunch of different amounts of exercise and everything and we’re still just not seeing any progress, that’s when I’m going to recommend that we start to go down the mold road.

Laura: I think the mold issue, like you said, it’s a lot more common than people might think and it’s easy to miss. Like you said, it’s kind of very general symptoms that don’t necessarily point exactly to the mold thing. Fatigue and brain fog obviously could be related to anything so it tends to be a little harder to find in the beginning. But as you’ve experienced, it makes a big difference if that is a trigger or a root cause that once that’s dealt with, things definitely improve significantly.

Kelsey:Yeah. I would say this might be more your scenario if you have a lot of other health issues going on. For me, I gained weight during that process. I think we talked about it on previous episodes that I had gained probably like 15 pounds in a year or two and really randomly and didn’t really know why but I felt horrible otherwise too. There was a lot of other health issues going on that I couldn’t really figure out. It ended up being related to both mold and I think gut issues possibly related to the mold too, like fungal issues potentially. I do think that with mold it’s not going to be just that you can’t lose weight.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey:Keep that in mind. You’re going to have a lot of other kind of weird symptoms going on if mold is an issue. Don’t just assume because you’re having trouble losing weight that mold is something you should absolutely pay attention to.

Laura: Definitely.

Kelsey:Anything else to add here, Laura?

Laura: Yeah. I think this was something we were chatting a little bit about before we got on the call today. Weight loss is really hard for a lot of people. There’s some people that they do these tricks and tips that we talked about in the first episode and everything works, and it’s fine, and it’s great, and all they need is to just keep doing that and it is successful. And then there’s a lot of other people and a lot of times people that end up in our one on one consulting that these kind of tips don’t work for.

It can be really hard because like we were saying across this entire episode, there’s a lot of different things that can affect weight. One of the hardest things I would say is to find the right balance between exercising enough, but not too much, and then also being enough of a deficit, but not too much of a deficit that it causes problems. Sometimes finding that spot for your body can take a long time.

And then there’s also the concept of with weight loss you don’t always want to be working toward weight loss because if that’s the case, you’re going to be causing your body to make metabolic changes to hold on to calories more efficiently. If you’re always in a chronic calorie deficit, your overall metabolic rate is going to drop and then you’re just going to maintain your weight at a lower calorie intake. That’s often times what makes weight loss so hard for people is that as the more they try to lose weight, the more their body will fight to keep the weight the same.


Laura: There’s two things that I think are really important for weight loss that when you’re struggling I think can get kind of hard. One is consistency. Consistency is I’d say one of the most important factors for weight loss for the average person. Sometimes it really just takes a while for your body to respond to the changes that you’ve made in your diet and exercise routine. If you’re not seeing progress after a couple of weeks, like I think this person said they’ve been doing it for three weeks, right? Or they said a few weeks, I’m sorry. I don’t know what a few is. I don’t know if it’s two, or four, or whatever, but I’m assuming it hasn’t been months. We already established that 1,850 calories might just be a little high for them and that cutting it down a little bit might start to see more progress there. But I also think that sometimes it really just does take some time of consistency in your workout and your diet routine to actually see progress.

Just using myself as an example, I was working on training and eating to support my training for I want to say like seven or eight months before I even saw any significant weight loss from that. That weight loss came from a period of reduced calorie intake, so essentially I had been building this six to eight month process of building muscle, working on my strength, all that stuff. Weight was pretty much staying the same, maybe a three to five variance across that time. And then when I was in a calorie deficit for a couple months, that’s when I lost 10 to 15 pounds total. The consistency over that time and even just continued consistency over the last two years in my case, that has allowed my weight to settle at an amount that is normal for me. It doesn’t take a lot of thought, it doesn’t respond extremely to any sort of variance. If I go out to eat and have some alcohol on the weekend, yeah, maybe I’ll go up a couple pounds, but it comes right back and it’s not stuck like a lot of people will experience.

The consistency piece is huge and I think sometimes we live in this Biggest Loser culture where people expect, like if I’m not seeing a pound of weight loss a week, then something’s not right. It doesn’t always work that way, so we need to definitely give a couple of weeks at the specific calorie intake and the exercise frequency that you’re doing before you assume it’s not right for you.

With this person, definitely drop down a little bit because again, we’re fairly confident your calorie intake is too high for weight loss. But once you go down to that 1,600 to 1,700, give it a month and don’t look at it after a week or two and say my weight’s not changing, so this obviously isn’t right.


Laura: Consistency over time is super important. And then the other thing that we were discussing before we got on the call was the mindset piece, which again could be its own podcast definitely. But we find in our clients that a lot of times the people who are the most stressed about their weight and the most, I don’t even know how to describe it. I hate to use the word negative, but it’s almost this kind of mindset where any change in the wrong direction will totally tank their mood for the day. Or they have so much anxiety around picking food, or the workouts that their doing, they hate and they don’t want to do it. Those kind of negative thoughts around the weight loss process is I think something that really does stall progress for people because if you’re so stressed about your weight and you gain a pound over the weekend and you flip out about it because you’re like oh my gosh, it’s took me two weeks to lose that and I just gained it back in a day! That kind of really all over the place mindset around weight loss – and it kind of plays into the consistency piece to – but I feel like that tends to affect success for whatever reason.

We were saying we don’t know if it’s a chicken or the egg thing where it’s like maybe the people who have a harder time losing weight are the ones that tend to get more upset about it. But I really do find that the people who I work with that are the most successful are the ones that don’t let these little blips in the radar totally derail their mood and their positivity about the process. They don’t take it as seriously, which I know sounds a little counterintuitive to say relaxing about it is going to make you gain weight because I’ll just eat whatever what I want. I actually feel like the relaxation around the weight loss process helps because you don’t swing back and forth between super restrictive eating a perfectly “clean” diet and then the minute something goes wrong, you’re just like screw this, I don’t want to do this anymore.

The consistency comes from a little bit more stability as far as the emotions are concerned and not letting a little bit of weight regain or a little bit of slowed progress totally derail how you feel about the process. Because for whatever reason, I don’t know if it’s stress or that anxiety tells your body that something’s wrong and holding on to weight is a safe thing for it to do, or it’s just that the emotional swings around the weight loss process affect the actual behavior around diet and exercise. I honestly don’t know, but I really do feel like keeping weight loss as enough of a priority that you’re being consistent with your food and exercise, but not so important that like I said your whole day, the mood of the whole day is affected by if your weight has gone down or not. I feel like that’s something that is another somewhat challenging balance to strike. But if you’re able to strike that balance, the weight loss process is a lot easier over the course of 6-12+ months.

Kelsey:I absolutely agree and I think I have a little bit of a theory on why that might be. I think what I tend to see and what I have personally experienced myself as well is that when you’re less tied to that weight, like the actual number on the scale, you tend to be more tied to the consistency of your habits. Really putting most of your effort into making sure that you’re cultivating the right sort of habits that will eventually lead to weight loss and you know that that’s true, so you’re not as worried about the weight right now, today, in this moment because you know that the habits that you’re putting in on a regular basis are going to get you there eventually and that’s more of your focus.

I have definitely seen that to be way more helpful for people because then of course you’re more focused on the habits so you are more likely to do them consistently. Whereas somebody who is more focused on the number on the scale, they’re going to potentially, at least what I see a lot of the times, they are like, everything I’m doing is not working. Nothing’s working, so why am I even bothering? They tend to go through these phases of being really perfect with their diet like you were saying before, and then being really not great with their diet. That sort of swinging all around the place I think is not very helpful because again, it’s not very consistent.

I think the key here is to of course make sure that there’s no other health issues going on that are preventing you from losing weight. But if everything looks good and you’re having a little bit of trouble, try to focus more on the habits that you’re trying to cultivate that will eventually lead to weight loss rather than focusing on that ultimate goal of weight loss. Because sometimes just focusing on that can make it very elusive and it’s not going to actually work out a lot of the times because you’re not putting the effort and the focus on the habits.

Laura: Right. It’s also important to remember that scale weight is just one way to measure progress. Sometimes your scale weight isn’t changing at all, or could even be going up, and you’re still technically making fat loss progress. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but I feel like that’s an area where people can get really discouraged because all they’re looking at is their actual scale weight and that’s either staying the same or going up even. That’s enough to like we said, kind of derail somebody’s consistency because they’re like well screw it, this isn’t working, I’m just going to do something different.

Tracking other things can also help. It doesn’t necessarily only have to be physique related. I mean certainly you can do something like a DEXA scan or body calipers to estimate your body fat percentage and retest over time to see if that’s changing. Or if you’re clothes are fitting differently, that can indicate progress.

I think it’s good to track other things are affected by these habits. I really like seeing progress in the weight that I can lift at the gym. That’s something that I think does drive a level of consistency for me at least that doesn’t have anything to do with my weight. Being able to see progress there even if my weight is staying the same, it’s not like the only reason I’m working out is to lose weight and if I’m not losing weight, I say screw it. Having a reason to work out beyond the weight loss or body composition changes is always a good thing as well.

But like I said, it’s possible that you can have some changes in your body composition without that being tracked on the scale. I think that’s something else I’ve been noticing in my own fitness journey or whatever we want to call it because I honestly haven’t been trying to lose weight so I wasn’t intending on seeing weight loss progress. I was trying to keep my weight stable because with my dress for my wedding and all the fittings and stuff, I really didn’t want to significantly change size in any way. I was like, alright, let’s just stay constant. But ironically even though my weight’s been pretty much the same for the last three to six months or something, my dress still seems to be getting a little bit loose on me. And then people keep asking me if I’m losing weight. I’m like, no, I’m not. I’m not doing anything…I’m like I said training twice a week, eating pretty consistently, not dieting or anything. I have dessert, I have alcohol sometimes. It’s like I’m not doing any sort of crazy restrictive dieting. But I honestly feel like it’s that consistency over the last two years,  I mean it’s really been that long of a process to get to the point where I’m at with my physical fitness.

With the weight loss, it’s like as far as I’m aware, I’m not losing any weight. But the dress fitting differently and people asking me if I’m losing weight, I think indicates that I’m probably am actually still having body composition changes that I’m not aware of or tracking. That’s not to say that my goal is to lose body fat, but I think it just goes to show that that consistency and kind of more laid back approach can really work well for people.

It doesn’t have to be this white knuckle, oh my gosh, I’m always dieting and I never get to have anything that I enjoy eating! I feel like everyone thinks weight loss has to be horrible. And for a lot of my clients and myself included, the process was not that exhausting or awful. It just was a matter of being patient, and being consistent with habits, and not using food as an emotional…I guess crutch is the way to describe it.Weight loss is a fun topic.


Laura: I know. Everyone is different. Obviously I’m only 30, so I’m sure when I’m in my 40s my weight won’t respond as quickly to the changes that I make. I’m sure once I have babies, that’ll probably affect my ability to be as fit as I am right now. There’s a lot of things that will play into that. But I think it’s just really important to remember that the consistency piece and the stable emotions around it is something that is super important and I don’t think people appreciate how important that is because they’re so used to everything being “eat 1,000 calories a day, and work out seven days a week, and dieting should be hard, and blah, blah, blah. It’s just like I don’t think that’s really helpful for most people.

Kelsey:Yeah. And the patience piece I feel like is just super important especially if you do have something else going on, some of these underlying health issues that are playing a role too. Those things do not go away overnight. Sometimes especially with something HPA axis dysfunction, once you have that, yes, you can get better, but there’s always going to be some degree of a propensity towards HPA axis dysregulation. There will be periods of your life where you’ll notice that stressors start to creep back in and then maybe it becomes harder to lose weight at that point.

You do really have to keep that in mind too that if you’ve ever had any of these underlying health issues, they’re to a degree going to…I don’t want to say stick with you, but it’s something you’re always going to have to keep in mind at the very least. That patience piece is really key because if you just are beating your body up trying to lose weight when there’s other health issues going on or other health issues that you’ve dealt with in your past, your body is not going to be happy with you and then you’re not going to be happy with your body because it’s not doing what you think it should be doing.

You just have to be patient, you have to be kind, and you have to just trust the process and just be consistent with everything. Eventually you’re going to see the results that you want. Sometimes the results aren’t what you think you want. You might realize that those results are down the road as you are patient and consistent with everything. I just want to make that really clear and drive that point home that the patience piece of this is really, really key if you’ve got any other sort of health conditions going on as well.

Laura: Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap up the conversation about this. Obviously we can talk about it for probably another five episodes and still have things to say. But we appreciate this person asking because again, the original podcast covers the basics, but there are obviously a lot of different factor that can affect weight loss for individuals. We’ll see everybody here next week!

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I'm a women's health expert and a registered dietitian (RD) with a passion for helping goal-oriented people fuel their purpose.

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