We’ve covered several big concepts so far in the past few posts on stubborn fat loss. You might not think they’re big, but assessing the kinds of food you eat and how much, addressing nutrient insufficiencies, optimizing thyroid function, and getting out of your comfort zone and into your discomfort zone can go a long way toward getting your body to finally start releasing some of the excess adipose tissue it’s so desperately clinging to.
But what happens when you’ve already done all that, and the weight still won’t budge? You’re at the point where you honestly don’t know what else to do. Your diet’s better than ever. You’re pushing yourself hard, physically. You’re getting many hours of deep, restorative sleep every night. Your bloodwork looks great. You’re off most of—or maybe even all of—your meds, and your doctor is thrilled. Everything’s peachy! Except, that is, for your belly, your chin, your upper arms, your hips, your thighs, or your backside, all of which are exactly the same size as when you started putting things into high gear.
Well, when it seems like there’s really nothing left to do, there are, in fact, a few more things to try. We’ve gotten all of the big things out of the way, so now, let’s look at the little things. To be honest, I don’t think these are huge roadblocks for weight loss, but who can really say? If you’re really, truly, doing everything else and the weight still isn’t moving, then it’s worth looking into these issues to see if they’re standing in your way. Again, I don’t think these are anyone’s primary obstacles to fat loss, but when you have well and truly exhausted all other possibilities, and you’re still struggling, then quizás, quizás, quizás…
Barring digestive issues with lactose or casein, most people do just fine on dairy. Cheese, butter, heavy cream, sour cream, cream cheese, and other high-fat dairy products are pretty standard on LCHF diets, and some people can’t imagine their diet without them. But that doesn’t mean they work well for everyone. Even if you have no known sensitivity or intolerance to dairy, for some people, dairy can hold up fat loss. If you consume large (or even not-so-large) amounts of dairy, and you’re struggling with fat loss, it’s worth cutting it out for a few weeks and seeing what happens. I suspect the products that are almost all fat—specifically, butter, ghee, and heavy cream—are less problematic than cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc. So if you don’t want to give it up completely, I’d ditch everything but those three things and give it a go.
I won’t bore you with the details on why dairy gets in the way for some people. To be honest, I don’t understand it 100%, myself, but I suspect it has at least something to do with IGF-1 and other factors that make dairy somewhat insulinogenic and stimulating of tissue growth (anabolism). Again, some people do just fine on dairy, some don’t. And if you’re at your wit’s end with weight loss, maybe you’re one of the latter.
If you don’t experience any symptoms of digestive distress from dairy, there are other things that can tip you off that dairy might not be your BFF. They include acne; sinus/bronchial congestion (wetness, mucus) [in fact, there may be a link between dairy sensitivity and asthma]; and the interesting one that seems to affect me: a general feeling of “pudginess.” I can eat some dairy, but I notice that if I overdo it, I feel sort of “squishy.” Bigger than usual. I’m not sure why this is. It’s not a gain of body fat; really, it’s more a subjective feeling of being…well, again, “pudgy” is the best word I can find to describe it. I have no digestive issues from dairy. Just that weird feeling of “largeness.”
Plus, let’s not forget that dairy (well, milk, to be specific) is the only food we know for certain is intended to make mammals grow larger. It turns newborn, small mammals into larger mammals, and does so rather quickly. I am not suggesting this is a reason for all adult humans to avoid dairy. (And I won’t even bother with the silly vegan notion that humans are the only animals who continue to consume dairy after weaning. Given the opportunity, other animals consume it plenty. Believe me, I’ve worked on farms. Plus, there’s all those other things humans do that no other animals do. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like books, and clothing, and chocolate.) I am only suggesting that, for people who are specifically struggling with fat loss, kicking dairy—and its inherent tissue growth signals—to the curb for a while might be a good experiment.
If you don’t drink, then obviously, alcohol isn’t messing with your fat loss. But if you do imbibe—particularly if you do so on a regular basis—you might consider abstaining for a while. I don’t think a glass of wine or a scotch & soda once a week is going to hold up progress too much—especially if we’re talking about a significant amount of weight to lose—but again, you just never know. If tossing one back is a regular habit for you, then yes, see what happens if you become a teetotaler for a month or three.
When clients ask me about alcohol, I explain that hard liquor (rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.) is actually very low in carbohydrates; it’s the juice and sweet mixers the liquor is added to that are problematic. Wine (both red and white) and light beer have only a few grams of carbs per serving, so they’re not so bad. I’m guessing that if you’re struggling with fat loss on a LCHF diet, you are not habitually combining alcohol with juice or sugary mixers. But even if you’re just drinking it straight-up, maybe it’s just not helping you get where you want to go.
Remember: if alcohol is inside the body, that’s the fuel the body will use first. When you consume alcohol, alcohol takes precedence over fat and carbs as fuel. (The body will still use some fat and carbs; remember, there’s nothing binary about this.) BUT: generally speaking, alcohol puts the oxidation of fatty acids (“burning fat”) on hold. Of course, as soon as the alcohol has been metabolized, you’ll go right back to running on fat, like a good little LCHF-er. Alcohol “kicks you out of ketosis” only temporarily. It’s not like it takes five days to get back to your fat-burning beast-ness. That being said, if you think alcohol might be getting in the way of your fat loss, take it out of the equation for a while. (BTW: I have a rant planned on the “it kicked me out of ketosis” thing. People, please, please, stop saying this.)
Mark Sisson, who is generally a fan of enjoying life and indulging strategically, gave up his beloved red wine not long ago. Obviously, he doesn’t have a lick of fat on him, but he experienced some other positive outcomes after adjusting to his alcohol-free existence. Maybe you’ve got some nagging, unresolved symptoms (aside from the stubborn body fat) that you don’t even realize are connected to alcohol consumption. If you really, really want that fat to go bye-bye, it’s worth ditching the booze for a bit.
Omega-6-heavy Vegetable Oils
It’s hard for me to come down very hard on vegetable oils. On one hand, I know that the methods by which they’re produced are awfully funky, and since it’s darn near impossible to wrench gallons and gallons of oil out of foods that aren’t all that fatty, such as corn and soybeans, we, as a species, are probably not well-equipped to handle large amounts of these in our diet. But on the other hand, way back before I knew much about the differences between specific types of fatty acids—back when I focused on carbs, and only carbs, I ate lots of vegetable oil, and I lost weight just fine. I wasn’t cooking with soy, corn, or canola oils, but I used regular ol’ store-bought salad dressings, mayonnaise, tuna in soy oil, etc. Back then, I wasn’t concerned with the type of oil I was eating: if it was fat, it was fine; if it was starchy carbs, not so fine.
Now, however, I understand the pro-inflammatory and just plain bad effects of consuming too much n-6 in relation to n-3. Plenty of people do just great on a LCHF diet eating the cheapest, most bargain-basement low-carb foods they can find – most of which include soy, corn, cottonseed, and other “vegetable” oils. (Since when is cotton a vegetable, anyway?) But just like with dairy, and just like with alcohol, maybe you’re not one of them. Maybe your body just doesn’t do so well with them.
And maybe things change, depending on other circumstances. For example, back when I was doing great with plenty of cheap-o veg oils in my diet, there were a lot of other things in my life that were pretty frikkin’ awesome. My lifestyle, schedule, sense of purpose and fulfillment were completely different from what they are now, so perhaps, things that suit us in certain situations don’t suit us as well in other situations. Oh, that kooky human body…gets me every time! ;-)
I wrote a while back about overdosing on mayonnaise. And not fancy-schmancy Primal avocado oil mayo, but regular ol’ soy oil-laden Hellmann’s. My body—as determined by looking and/or feeling heavier—does not like this. Unfortunately, there is a confounding factor here. I love mayonnaise. So much so, that I don’t keep it in the house anymore, because, well, I can’t be trusted with it. I generally don’t stick to a 1-Tbsp serving of mayo and put the jar back in the fridge. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. I buy a one-way ticket on the express train to mayo-town. So I can’t say whether it’s the n-6, itself, that makes me feel pudgy, or if it’s the overdose on it. I guess I could experiment with olive oil or butter: eat a ton of it on a regular basis for a while, and see how I feel. But I don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. And the fact is, the “gross” feeling came after I overindulged in the Primal mayo, too. So it probably wasn’t the n-6, but rather, the glut of that amount of any type of fat, too much, too often. (There is, however, research suggesting there is something uniquely fattening and metabolically damaging about soybean oil…at least, in mice.)
Even speaking as someone who’s written about the gnarly effects of an n-6/n-3 imbalance, I think n-6 gets a bad rap. I’ve come across people who are genuinely scared of the 6/3 ratio in pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts—never mind that these are all predominantly mono-unsaturated, so even if they do have a high 6-to-3 ratio, the total amount of n-6 is actually small. And I encourage people to do the best they can. If someone’s not about to make all their condiments from scratch, but they want to give LCHF a go, I’d rather they use regular ol’ supermarket ranch dressing (1-2g carb/serving) than, say, raspberry vinaigrette, (8-11g carbs). And remember: omega-6 linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid. We do need some in order to survive and be healthy. The thing is, thanks to the modern food supply, we don’t have to intentionally seek it out. It’s already everywhere. (Even in our beloved grassfed meat, because it belongs there. [Along with a little bit of 3, of course.]) Most of us would do well to be aware of how much of it we’re eating, but we don’t need to drive ourselves crazy to rid ourselves of it completely.
Aaaaand, all that being said—that “most people” don’t need to avoid vegetable oils like the plague—maybe you, dear reader, are not “most people,” and the unique and special snowflake that you are does not do so well on vegetable oils. If you are currently using a lot of n-6-heavy food items, consider cutting way back for a while and see how things go. It is ridiculously easy to make homemade dressings and sauces. (Or get yourself a copy of this book.) If you’re looking for olive oils you can trust to really be olive oil, and not cut with cheaper oils—i.e., the exact ones you’re trying to avoid—check out Villa Capelli or Kasandrinos. (I have no affiliate relationship with either company, but people whose work I like do. If you want to buy good olive oil, why not throw them a couple cents in the process? Use checkout code “Vinnie” [no quotes] for 10% off your order from Villa Capelli. They're sold out of most of the smaller bottles, but I'm told more will be coming soon, if you don't want to order the huge 3L tin.)
Organic / Grass-fed /
I have made it clear time and again on this blog that I am not a food purist. I believe in people doing the best they can, within what is realistic for their budget and logistics. Not everyone can afford to eat the best-of-the-best 100% of the time. Not everyone has the space for a second freezer to hold a whole hog or quarter beef, and some people really do have to choose between paying the rent and either getting a grass-fed sirloin steak or sticking with the 80/20 ground beef on sale at the supermarket for $2.99/pound. (Even though great food from small, local farms isn’t as expensive as we usually think.)
Back when I was eating lots of vegetable oil-laden foods, I was also consuming 100% cheap-o other foods. There was a stretch of time in there when I was unemployed. I got all of my food from either the regular supermarket or a local ethnic market that had insanely low prices on meat, eggs, and produce. At that time, I could get a dozen eggs for 99 cents, and pretty nice looking steaks, pork chops, and chicken for not much more than that. Not a grass-fed thing in sight. Nothing organic, nothing pastured, nothing free-range. Conventional all the way. And you know what? I looked and felt great, and bloodwork showed that the inside was doing just as well as the outside.
I don’t like to scare people away from regular ol’ supermarket food. Again, if someone’s doing low-carb, if the choice is between a bowl of spaghetti or a conventional pork chop, for the love of all that’s holy, eat the pork chop! I work at a local farm every week, and I absolutely trumpet the importance of supporting local producers who are raising food a certain way. Even so, I don’t believe in “food shaming” and having a holier-than-thou attitude toward people who source their food differently. (FYI, that actually turns a lot of people off from trying Paleo, because they think they have to eat exclusively grass-fed, organic, etc., and various bloggers and “gurus” give them the impression it’s not even worth trying if they don’t do that. I am pretty much the opposite of those people.)
BUT: just like dairy, alcohol, and excessive n-6, maybe you, my dears, are more sensitive than others to the added hormones, the antibiotics, the pesticides, and whatever else they use to mess with animals and plants these days. It would be worth sourcing your food differently for a few months, to see if that has any effect. If your budget is especially tight and you have to prioritize where you spend the extra dollars (or euros, pounds, pesos, or whatever), I would spend it on the animal foods: meat, fat, dairy (if you’re still eating dairy) more than on the produce. If you have a little extra for organic vegetables, go for it. But if you’re limited, get the best beef, pork, poultry, seafood, and dairy you can afford and don’t stress over your conventional broccoli and mushrooms.
Cosmetics, Beauty &
Now we come to an interesting one:
“In a 2010 report on environmental cancer risks, the President’s Cancer Panel (an expert committee that monitors the country’s cancer program) wrote: ‘The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals. … Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.’ Endocrine disruptors can block or mimic the action of hormones, even at low doses. ‘Endocrine effects aren’t sufficiently factored into the EPA pesticide-tolerance levels,’ Crupain says. ‘And there’s concern they could cause reproductive disorders; birth defects; and breast, prostate, and other hormone-related cancers.’” (Source. Emphasis added.)
This excerpt refers to agricultural chemicals, but I suspect the same is applicable to endocrine-disrupting ingredients in personal care products, such as lotions, makeup, perfume/cologne, shampoo, laundry detergent, cleaning sprays, and more. I wrote in a previous post about the potential thyroid-disrupting effects of fluoride. I explained that I’m not all that concerned about fluoride toothpaste, since we brush our teeth and then spit it out. I feel the same way about soap, shampoo, and conditioner. These are things we use on our skin and hair, but which we typically wash away quickly. (Even if you leave conditioner on your hair for a few minutes before rinsing it off, you do rinse it off.)
What I am concerned about are the products we spread or spray on our skin, with the goal of either having them be absorbed (like lotion), or remain in place, in contact with our skin, but which will eventually be absorbed anyway (like perfume, foundation, lipstick, concealer/cover-up, aftershave, etc.). People who are real sticklers for all-natural skincare products say to “never put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat.” I used to think this was pushing things a little far, but when you really think about it, there may be something to it. After all, our skin does eat. We do absorb things through our skin. (If we didn’t, there would be no nicotine patches, birth-control patches, or transdermal testosterone and progesterone creams.) I wrote about this a while back. Give that post a read. I promise, it’s way shorter than my usual. Bottom line: if a cosmetic product specifically says that it’s not a food, and that you should not eat it, why would it be perfectly safe to have it enter your body via your skin? It’s just another way to get it inside you. Give that some thought the next time you look at the long list of unpronounceable ingredients in your favorite flowery-smelling lotion and slather it all over your arms and legs, which many of you probably do on a daily basis.
You can check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to see how they rate your favorite brand-name products and some of the weird ingredients they contain.
I’m not a huge stickler about this stuff, but over the years, I have moved away from using a lot of beauty products. I used to be a Bath & Body Works junkie. Now, I can’t imagine spending tons of money on all that stuff. I mostly use coconut oil on my skin, and a couple of other products, whose ingredients I can identify and understand. (I especially like the lip balms and ointments for hardworking, chapped hands from Sap Bush Hollow Farm [owned by fantastic writer Shannon Hayes and family] – made with lard, tallow, beeswax, and essential oils. That’s it! Nothing wacky. Badger is another brand I like very much. Again, absolutely no affiliate relationships here. I make zero dollars if you buy anything from these places.)
Do I think the endocrine-disrupting effects of common ingredients, such as parabens, phthalates, and others, are the main cause of someone struggling to lose stubborn body fat on a LCHF diet? No. I honestly don’t. BUT, again, if you’ve tried everything else—and I do mean everything—then what have you got to lose by chucking some of your beauty & skincare products for a while?
When we hear about BPA, parabens, and other endocrine disruptors, we usually think about sexual function. Specifically, we tend to hear that these compounds might have estrogen-mimicking effects. But we have no reason to assume they don’t also affect thyroid function, or the function of any other gland or hormone that could potentially affect weight loss, for that matter. Bottom line: most of us don’t “need” anywhere near as much of this stuff as we typically use on a daily basis. Maybe you use absolutely none, in which case, no problem! But if you’re at your wit’s end about fat loss, assess how much of this stuff you use. Are you a woman whose bathroom sink or dresser is overflowing with a zillion bottles of lotions, creams, serums, perfumes, and other things your skin eats every day? Let your body breathe for a couple months.
If you honestly feel you must wear makeup, seek out brands that contain ingredients you can identify. Yes, they’ll cost you four times as much as the drugstore stuff, but instead of asking why they’re so expensive, ask yourself why the drugstore stuff is so cheap. As for skin, like I said, the coconut oil you probably already have in your house is one of the best things for dry skin. Olive oil works great too, as does lard! (It’ll be greasy for a minute or two, but it’ll sink in pretty quickly.) Add a drop or two of your favorite essential oil if you want a nice aroma. (Also, if you think you “need” makeup, why? Is it because of acne? Redness? Rosacea? I understand if you want to use makeup as a quick-fix, and maybe even to boost your self-confidence in public. But ultimately, the better solution is to find the underlying cause of the acne, redness, and skin conditions, and fix that.)
Yes, I know: millions (billions?) of people use tons of cheap cosmetics every day, and their bodies are dynamite. Not a stitch of excess fat anywhere. Billions of people also consume dairy (and gluten!!) with no problem. Billions of people don’t sleep well, yet remain slim. Billions of people don’t follow low-carb diets and are not overweight. So what? That’s them. We’re not talking about them; we’re talking about you. (And me.) If we could do what everyone else does and not be overweight, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it.
I'm out, yo!
Okay. I’m about out of steam now. I wish I had something profound to say to wrap up this post—and this series. The truth is, I’m ready to move on. I didn’t expect any of these posts to be as long as they turned out to be. I’m tired of talking about stubborn weight loss and am happy to get back to things I can write about with far more passion. There are lots of other things that can hold up fat loss, but I recommend working with a practitioner to find out what they might be, in your unique situation. Heavy metal burden? Clogged liver detox pathways? Unresolved inflammation? A need for probiotics? I’m not even going to touch those. I’m sorry. I’m just not feelin’ it.
I’ll sum up as best I can:
For most people, most of the time, honestly and objectively assessing the biggest and most impactful factors—carb intake, sleep, thyroid (and estrogen), micronutrient status, insulin levels, and muscle mass—will probably reveal the reasons for significant amounts of body fat that just won’t budge. If, after those have been addressed, the weight still won’t move, then you might want to explore some of the smaller things we covered here. (And now that I think about it, dairy really isn’t that small. It’s pretty common for dairy to stall people, actually.)
If you’ve done everything you can think of—and not just for a few days here and there, but really given things enough time to see if they have an effect or not, and you still want to rip your hair out in frustration, another thing to think about is working with a practitioner who can order some of the more advanced organic acid tests, hair tissue mineral analysis, hormone panels, etc.—but be sure you work with someone who knows how to interpret them. Without someone who understand what they mean, numbers are just numbers. You might have to shell out some serious cash for these types of tests. They’re not always covered by insurance. But if you finally, finally get to the bottom of your own personal mystery, it will be worth every penny. In fact, if you are in the fortunate financial situation that money is no object, I would encourage you to do those tests sooner, rather than later. Might as well see as soon as possible if something odd is going on under your hood before spending time and money chasing other windmills.
Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.