The first week of any beginner’s fitness journey is tough. You’re consumed by thoughts of cheese. You have to high-five sweaty strangers. You’re not a size six within six days, and you threaten to give up … a lot. But there comes a point when something changes. You start to see results and suddenly, it becomes a lot easier. That is, until you hit the wall. You plateau. No matter how much you exercise or how little you consume, you can’t seem to shake those last, unwelcome kilograms.
For many people, losing that last bit can seem next to impossible. And according to nutritionist and personal trainer, Nik Toth, it can be—that is, if you fail to address the underlying causes of weight retention.
“The problem is that most weight loss programs don’t address the underlying causes of excess weight,” says Toth. “Some of the culprits include poor digestive function, lack of essential nutrients, toxic overload and hormonal chaos. Not to mention, one of the biggest contributors of all is emotional eating or excessive sugar intake.”
According to Toth, we’re simply “clogged up” (*cue cringe*). We consume far too many refined carbohydrates and processed foods, even if we don’t mean to. This results in a toxic overload where our bodies have to work in overdrive to eliminate unwanted substances thereby inhibiting weight loss.
“I used to spend countless hours at the gym and spent a fortune on weight loss supplements that didn’t seem to work. I reached for low-fat products wrongly thinking they were good for me and ate weight loss bars and other foods that were heavily processed, all of which contributed to a toxic overload,” says Toth. “What I failed to acknowledge was that my food choices were negatively affecting my body and the way I was feeling.”
But it’s not only the chemicals in food she says we should be concerned about. Our overexposure to toxins in the environment can also play a role. “Eating and drinking from plastic containers—not to mention the cleaning products you use and the cosmetics that you put on your hair and skin—can negatively affect hormone levels.” In turn, Toth says this can cause weight loss to stagnate.
While over-eating won’t do your waistline any wonders, under-eating won’t either. Obsessive dieting is one of the key reasons that many people struggle to lose those final few kilos—and keep them off.
“[Fad diets] disrupt your metabolism as many require you to eat a structured amount of food on a strict schedule that may not be suitable for your body’s needs. Also, they are often too restrictive…[which can] lead to nutritional deficiencies and they’re rarely sustainable so when you stop following them, you may find that you actually put on more weight,” says Toth.
Ever been told that you can sleep yourself slim? Well, apparently it’s true. Quality shut-eye is essential for sustained weight loss as it is during this time that our body restores itself.
“Sleeping chemically rebalances your brain and your hunger hormones, allowing them to carry the message to burn fat as opposed to storing it. A restful night of sleep facilitates lean muscle growth, improves energy levels, decreases stress levels and reduces cravings.”
If you’ve really tried everything and still can’t seem to shake that unwanted cushioning, sugar may be to blame.
“When it is not used for immediate energy, sugar gets stored in the body as fat. From there, it contributes to obesity, abnormal lipid profiles and chronic illnesses such as diabetes,” says Toth. “It is highly addictive so over time, it wears out your insulin stores, damages your arteries and raises cholesterol levels.”
“While there are different types of sugar in food, fructose has the biggest impact on our waistline and health because our bodies can’t metabolise it well. When we eat fructose, it goes straight to our liver, which immediately stores it as body fat. It may also increase our triglycerides and bad cholesterol.”
But before you go swapping your sugar for the artificial version, think again. Toth says that the chemical compounds found in artificial sweeteners can stimulate your appetite and actually promote the storage of fat.
Related article: should you be trying to make your body more alkaline?
Instead, try increasing your consumption of vegetables (especially leafy greens), alkalising nutrients and fermented, probiotic foods that change the pH balance of your gut. This will shift the balance of your gut flora from bad to good and your cravings will disappear in no time.