Weight Loss: More than Calorie Cutting!

Every day, we are bombarded with advertisements for new weight loss diets,  supplements, and exercise routines. The vast majority of us spend our entire lives struggling to maintain a weight that is healthy or desirable. There are certainly many people that are over-eating or under-exercising for their caloric requirements, and this contributes to obesity and a plethora of other disease states, such as diabetes. However, for some individuals, it doesn’t matter how little we eat, or how much we exercise, be- cause the weighing  scale doesn’t seem to be budge!

Weight loss can be quite complex with many contributing factors, and the simple reality is that cutting calories is not a clear solution for losing weight. Here’s why:

Calorie Counting is Good…

In theory, when  we eat food,  we are consuming energy. When we exercise or create movement,  we  are  burning  energy.  When attempting to lose weight, the simplest goal is to eat less energy relative to the amount of energy that your body uses. In fact, it is often stated that an energy deficit of 3500 kcal will lead to fat loss of exactly one pound. But this simple equation does not take into account the type of macronutrients or micronutrients that you are actually consuming, nor does it consider the strong influence of hormones.

A Calorie is Not Just a Calorie

Most people that have done their own dietary research know that the human body does  not respond to refined carbohydrates (i.e. added sugars) the same way that it does to protein, fats, or even complex carbohydrates. When we eat natural sugars found in fruit paired with high fiber content, we have a blunted rise in blood glucose and insulin. If you eat the same number of calories from a donut, your sugar spikes and excess sugars become converted and deposited into fat. Similarly, low-carbohydrate diets have consistently  shown   greater  weight loss when compared to low-fat diets with equal caloric intake.

Physiologically, the body treats fats, proteins, and carbohydrates differently.

What About Hormones?

The thyroid is largely responsible for maintaining the body’s metabolic rate,  through the release of thyroid hormones. These hormones dictate how  fast or slow the cells in our body burn energy. This explains why individuals with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) often present with weight gain or the inability to lose weight. Other hormones that are integral in the maintenance of a healthy weight include: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin and cortisol. Factors such as stress, poor liver function, and nutritional deficiencies can all imbalance these crucial hormones, resulting in difficulty in losing weight!

The Importance of Stress

When we are stressed, our body needs energy to deal with the stressful event. During stress, the hormone cortisol is released, which prompts gluconeogenesis (glucose production). However, when cortisol is elevated for  prolonged  periods  of time, high glucose levels leads to insulin resistance, which can cause type 2 diabetes. Despite high glucose levels, the glucose cannot be taken up by the cells, which consequently  become  starved  for  energy. Hunger signals are sent to the brain,  and the result is increased food consumption. Furthermore, cortisol levels can  promote fat deposition, and sugar cravings! Some researchers have found stress-management programs with  no dietary  changes to be more effective for weight loss than dietary changes alone, highlighting the importance of stress management.

Sleep and its Role in Weight Management

In 2010, Hairston and colleageus conducted   a lar ge-scale study examining sleep habits in over 86,000 postmenopausal women.  The group found a strong association between abnormal sleep patterns both lack of sleep and excess sleep) and obesity risk. Other studies have also found shorter and longer sleep durations to be associated with greater body mass and greater  abdominal fat measurements. The association between sleep deprivation and obesity appears to be not only linked with behavioural changes (such as exercising less when you’re tired), but also to hormonal dysregulation. Sleeping less than six hours per night results in blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance and, ultimately, widespread inflammation in the body.

Environmental Toxins

There is now a mountain of evidence to show that toxins in our environment can play a great role in body size. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to chemicals such as hexachlorobenzene, polybrominated biphenyl, and phthalates can disrupt normal endocrine  functionleading to weight gain. This is one reason why it is advised to eliminate plastic containers and opt for glass instead, and to avoid unnecessary pesticides and chemical laden cleaners.


Weight loss is a complex process and there is much more to consider than just counting your calories. Eating the right type of food, getting restful sleep, avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals, and minimizing stressors in your life will all  help  to normalize your hormones and endocrine system, and promote healthy weight in the long-run.


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2. Krebs NF et al. Efficacy and safety of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss in severely obese adolescents. J. Pediatrics. 2010;157(2):252-258.

3. Diana Fernandez et al. Images of a Healthy Worksite: A Group-Randomized Trial for Worksite Weight Gain Prevention with Employee Participation in Intervention Design. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;e1.

4. Patel SR et al. The association between sleep duration and obesity in older adults. Int. J. Obes. (Lond.) 2008;32(12):1825-1834.

5. Hairston KG et al. Sleep duration and five-year abdominal fat accumulation in a minority cohort: the IRAS family study. Sleep. 2010;33:289-295.

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