Natural, Permanent Weight Loss Is Possible — Here’s How To Do It

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If you’ve ever tried and failed to lose weight, you’re not alone. The weight loss industry is a multi-billion-dollar juggernaut for a reason, promising quick fixes to get skinny quick with the next magic plan, pill, or product.

Those quick fixes may work short-term, but they’ll likely bounce you right back to where you came from when you return to your regular habits. Long-term solutions to permanent weight loss are tougher and go beyond what you eat and how often you move.

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If you’re dealing with mental blocks around losing weight or underlying conditions affecting your hormones, gut health, or metabolism, weight loss can be even harder.

Here’s the good news: A holistic approach to your health can give you the answers you need for how to lose weight naturally and permanently. I’ve seen it with my patients. Hope is out there! You may just need to learn more about your body first.

Your Weight Is Intricately Tied To The Health Of Your Gut

As a functional medicine practitioner, I look for the underlying causes of chronic issues like weight gain and weight loss resistance. What I know from years of experience with patients is that there is no one reason for it, and no one solution, either.

There is one component that I see in play again and again, though: your gut.

The gut is home to trillions of bacteria known as the microbiome. We acquire the seeds of our unique microbiomes during our trip down the birth canal. (1) From that moment on, our guts depend on us.

The composition of your microbiome has a distinct effect on how much you weigh, and you influence that composition of bacteria every time you eat. Standard American diets are filled with sugar and food additives that can lead to gut inflammation and problems like leaky gut syndrome.

This increased gut permeability allows endotoxins from bacteria to escape the protective gut lining and circulate through the body, causing systemic inflammation. (2)

So remember this: Being overweight does not cause poor health. Poor health causes weight loss resistance. Get healthy to lose weight, rather than losing weight to get healthy.

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Why You Still Aren't Losing Weight (Despite All Your Efforts)

Everyone has different reasons for their weight loss resistance, but I’ve found some common threads in my patients when it comes to failure to lose weight:

  • You set unrealistic goals. Focus on small, attainable goals that push you just a little bit out of your comfort zone rather than losing large amounts of weight in the short term.
  • Food is a coping mechanism. If you’re an emotional eater, dealing with the underlying emotions that fuel compulsive overeating is essential to break the cycle. (3)
  • You engage in negative self-talk. You can’t heal a body you hate. Studies prove it. (4) Get wise to your mind’s tricks and address those false beliefs head-on.
  • Malnutrition is at play. It takes energy to make energy. By chronically restricting food, you tell your body that it’s in starvation survival mode. Teach it how to burn fat instead.
  • You seek out quick fixes. There is no magic pill for weight loss. Make positive changes to your health and find strategies that work for you, then stick with them. (5)
  • You have a fear of success. Some people aren’t ready to get healthy because they’ve found their identity in their health condition. I promise your true self will always be there.
  • You’re in denial. I see many patients compare themselves to others worse off than they are to deflect from their health issues. This is keeping you from a fuller, healthier life.
  • You prioritize weight loss over wellness. I consult with many thin people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Seek whole-body health to look and feel better.
  • You have underlying physiological issues. If you’re doing all of the right things, there may be other issues at play.

An underlying hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, or toxicity issues can all contribute to causes of weight loss resistance. A functional doctor can take a holistic approach to your health with broad gut diagnostics and recommend long-term solutions.

That can include incorporating microbiome-friendly foods and natural medicines to rebalance your gut and boost your metabolism.

Unlike “quick fix” weight loss programs, The Metabolic Recharge is about sustainable change. Identify roadblocks. Heal your body. Maintain weight loss for good. Join now.

Fast ≠ Permanent

Whenever I start working with new patients concerned about their weight, I start with this: Even if you find a way to lose weight faster, that’s probably only a short-term fix. Fad diets don’t address any underlying issues behind weight loss resistance.

Long-term weight management is about committing to your health. We have to get healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to get healthy.

How that happens depends on your unique situation. For some, it means taking a look at daily food choices and making changes to calorie intake, portion sizes, or snack habits. For others, it may mean being more consistent with lifestyle changes. (6)

For most of my patients, mental health and underlying conditions factor into meeting long-term weight loss goals in a big way. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food or your body, no diet will result in healthy weight loss.

The same can be said of hidden conditions affecting areas like your immune system, metabolism, or hormonal health. Any good weight loss plan should take a holistic approach to removing obstacles to losing weight the healthy way.

Weight Loss Methods That Actually Work

Losing weight is easier said than done. Weight struggles are more complex than just overeating and under-exercising. That said, there are some areas I focus on with all of my patients to take a whole-body approach to health.

Eat Better To Feel Better

I won’t belabor how important a balanced gut microbiome is to overall health, but I do have to emphasize that when it comes to long-term weight loss, you really are what you eat.

Making adjustments to your diet plan isn’t about going all low-fat or following the latest high-protein diet. It’s about finding ways to nourish your body with healthy eating to feel better and keep metabolic, hormonal, and gut conditions at bay.

Here are some ideas for true healthy foods:

  • Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir are linked to improved metabolic function and immune responses. (7)
  • Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil and omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish are more beneficial to long-term weight management than eating fewer calories alone. (8)
  • When in doubt, go natural. Fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality lean meats, and whole grains will always beat out processed carbs and sugary cereals.
  • Don’t forget about drinking water. It’s a zero-calorie replacement for sugary sodas and fruit juices and is essential to kidney and metabolic function. (9)

Find The Best Diet For You

I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting, or when you go without food for a predetermined amount of time. Studies show it reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, benefits metabolic health, and improves long-term weight management. (10)

Enjoying the health benefits of fasting is less about willpower and more about what meets your needs best. I feel best when I skip breakfast, so my own morning is typically a cup of Earl Grey tea until lunch.

That said, it’s not ideal for everyone. Fasting isn’t appropriate for pregnant women, anyone wishing to build significant muscle mass, or people with a history of eating disorders.

It’s also just one type of diet. Some might feel better monitoring their intake of high-carb foods like white rice and pasta. Others may find they have food intolerances to common triggers like dairy, gluten, or FODMAP foods. I’ve also seen many patients thrive on a plant-first keto diet.

That’s why it’s so important to take an individualized approach to weight loss. It’s okay if what worked for your cousin or best friend simply doesn’t work for you.

Embrace Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the practice of paying full attention to the sensory experience of eating. (11) By being present in the moment, you develop awareness of your hunger cues and food choices, which could lead to healthier habits in the long term.

I like to think of mindful eating as practicing gratitude. You can add a layer of reflection to the practice to address negative thought processes around eating. This can help you start healing from years of punishing your body into submission or restricting foods. Make food your friend!

Improve Your Sleep Habits

A lack of sleep can result in leptin resistance, which affects your body’s ability to recognize satiety and burn fat cells. (12) If you’re always hungry and battling cravings, it won’t matter that you’re eating off of smaller plates or doing more cardio.

Chronic sleep deprivation can mess with your cortisol levels, too. Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone. Studies show that when cortisol is up, belly fat, blood sugar, and insulin production all follow. (13)

Try to follow a consistent sleep schedule as best you can. Keep a bedtime ritual that prioritizes relaxation and decompressing over screen time and worrying over the day.

Identify Your Stress Triggers

Much like a lack of sleep, chronic stress can cause cortisol to go into overdrive. Stress can also affect your energy levels, which makes it harder to motivate yourself to exercise, and cause overeating if you’re an emotional eater.

This is one of the most challenging aspects of weight loss to manage. Combat stress with mindfulness tools like meditation, deep breathing, and gentle stretching.

Find Exercises You Enjoy

Physical activity is a lot easier to incorporate into your daily routine when it’s something you enjoy. If you’re fairly sedentary at the moment, try walks or yoga which are easier on the joints.

If you love being outside, scope out your new favorite neighborhood green space or local hiking trail. Enjoyable workouts mean consistency, boost motivation, and are less likely to feel like “work” if you don’t already like exercise.

Try Supplements (Not Diet Pills)

I’m not talking about weight loss medications like Ozempic or fad diet pills with lofty promises here. Natural supplements that tackle symptoms of underlying conditions causing your weight loss resistance can be beneficial on your journey toward a healthy lifestyle.

I love berberine for its positive effects on cholesterol, blood sugar, and metabolic function. Supplements like vitamin D and omega-3s that address nutritional deficits can have the added benefit of improving skin and hair health, too.

Consider Your Toxin Exposure

We come in contact with toxins on a daily basis, predisposing us to autoimmune, digestive, and hormonal problems that can contribute to weight-loss resistance. (14)

People like hair stylists and farm workers have an even greater toxic burden due to workplace exposure. If you aren’t sure about your exposure, ask your doctor about tests for toxin levels. Reduce exposure when possible by using natural personal care and cleaning products.

Read Next: How Air Pollution Is Bad For Your Health (And What To Do) 

Address Underlying Health Problems

“Eat less, move more,” is one of those common weight loss tips given to people struggling to lose weight. Food intake and exercise are a piece of long-term weight management, but if you have conditions causing things like inflammation or hormonal imbalances, those should be a top priority.

Here are a few areas to target:

  • Hormones: Imbalances in cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, or progesterone can all contribute to weight gain. Adrenal function is important, too.
  • Thyroid: Hypothyroidism can mimic rapid weight gain, but it also causes bloating and water retention. (15)
  • Mental health: Depression and anxiety can cause chronic inflammation, but mental health also plays a part in motivation and self-regulation. (16)
  • Women’s health: Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) make weight loss particularly hard for women. (17)
  • Microbiome: Less microbiome diversity and conditions like leaky gut can lead to metabolic syndrome and chronic inflammation, two predictors for weight gain.

FAQs

The most effective exercises for weight loss depend on your unique needs and any pre-existing conditions. Strength training can reduce insulin resistance and your type 2 diabetes risk, for example. (18)

Swimming and cycling are easier on the joints. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be highly effective for women with hormonal conditions, but may be dangerous if you have a history of heart disease.

Diets that are high in protein and low in refined carbs can be effective for weight loss, but they may not work for your lifestyle long-term. Any restrictive diet can be hard to stick to, especially if there are underlying conditions at play making weight loss more challenging. If you can, work with a functional provider to understand what will be best for your body and lifestyle.

Losing 20 pounds in a month requires drastic lifestyle changes to diet and physical activity. This kind of rapid weight loss is likely not sustainable, though. It strains your body and potentially sets you up for nutrition deficiencies.

If you really want to know how to lose weight and keep it off long-term, you’ll need to address potential barriers to health and chronic conditions on top of considering diet and exercise.

There Is Hope!

You could actually be exacerbating your weight loss resistance, not solving it, if you don’t tackle underlying health concerns first. When health is your priority, weight loss will follow as a natural result of healing your body from within.

Functional medicine and weight loss work together as part of a holistic approach to health. If you’re not sure where to start, look into my Metabolic Recharge to find not only help, but community along the way. I can help you devise a plan for not only lasting, healthy weight loss but also long-term wellness.

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  1. Coelho, G.D.P., Ayres, L.F.A., Barreto, D.S., et al. (2021). Acquisition of microbiota according to the type of birth: an integrative review. Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem, 29, e3446. 
  2. Aleman, R.S., Moncada, M., & Aryana, K.J. (2023). Leaky gut and the ingredients that help treat it: a review. Molecules, 28(2), 619. 
  3. Henderson, K.A., Obeid, N., Buchholz, A., et al. (2022). Coping in adolescents: A mediator between stress and disordered eating. Eating Behaviors, 47, 101626.
  4. Duarte, C., Stubbs, J., Pinto-Gouveia, J., et al. (2017). The impact of self-criticism and self-reassurance on weight-related affect and well-being in participants of a commercial weight management programme. Obesity Facts, 10(2), 65-75. 
  5. Hall, K.D. & Kahan, S. (2018). Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. Medical Clinics of North America, 102(1), 183-197. 
  6. Wing, R.R. & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(1 Suppl), 222S-225S. 
  7. Jalili, M., Nazari, M., & Magkos, F. (2023). Fermented foods in the management of obesity: mechanisms of action and future challenges. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(3), 2665. 
  8. Beulen, Y., Martínez-González, M.A., van de Rest, O., et al. (2018). Quality of dietary fat intake and body weight and obesity in a mediterranean population: secondary analyses within the PREDIMED trial. Nutrients, 10(12), 2011. 
  9. Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., et al. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019. 
  10. Vasim, I., Majeed, C.N., & DeBoer, M.D. (2022). Intermittent fasting and metabolic health. Nutrients, 4(3), 631. 
  11. Mosavat, M., Mirsanjari, M., Arabiat, D., et al. (2021). The role of sleep curtailment on Leptin levels in obesity and diabetes mellitus. Obesity Facts, 14(2), 214-221. 
  12. Fuentes Artiles, R., Staub, K., Aldakak, L., et al. (2019). Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 20(11), 1619-1627.
  13. Hewagalamulage, S.D., Lee, T.K., Clarke, I.J., et al. (2016). Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domestic Animal Endocrinology, 56 Suppl, S112-120. 
  14. van der Meer, T.P., Thio, C.H.L., van Faassen, M., et al. (2020). Endocrine disrupting chemicals during diet-induced weight loss - A post-hoc analysis of the LOWER study. Environmental Research, 192, 110262. 
  15. Ebert, E.C. (2010). The thyroid and the gut. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 44(6), 402-406. 
  16. Konttinen, H. (2020). Emotional eating and obesity in adults: the role of depression, sleep and genes. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 79(3), 283-289. 
  17. Barber, T.M. & Franks, S. (2021). Obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome. Clinical Endocrinology, 95(4), 531-541. 
  18. Niemann, M.J., Tucker, L.A., Bailey, B.W., et al. (2020). Strength training and insulin resistance: the mediating role of body composition. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2020, 7694825. 

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel