You’re struggling to lose weight. You’re tired and you feel like crap. And you’re not sleeping well.
Unfortunately, this batch of symptoms is something that many of us have dealt with, myself included. In fact, I often still struggle with these issues at times.
The good news is that I’ve learned quite a bit over the years about how to fix these problems or, at the very least, keep them at bay. Hopefully some of the information I’m about to share – which includes some of my personal experience – can help you too.
So what are some of the things that will destroy your energy and your weight loss and how can you fix them?
The list can be pretty long, but I’ll review a few of the major culprits that are likely playing some role if you’re struggling to lose weight and feeling crummy.
Your Thyroid is Out of Whack
This issue is pretty common, but often missed or even misdiagnosed as something else. When your thyroid and the related hormones it produces are not optimal, the negative effects in your body can be wide ranging – starting often with lethargy and slowed weight loss.
This is what’s known as hypothyroidism and it’s not a place you want to be. While I personally haven’t dealt with full blown hypothyroidism, I have struggled with less than optimal thyroid output, which definitely affected my energy levels, mood, and weight.
When my thyroid and the associated hormones were running along smoothly I found that my energy levels were excellent, it was much easier to get and stay lean, and I noticed I had more mental clarity as well as a more positive outlook.
One of the best ways to start to get your thyroid moving back in the right direction is to change your diet by reducing processed and inflammatory foods. Another key is to increase the amount of key nutrients you’re taking in. Some of these include zinc, selenium, B vitamins, vitamin C, as well as a few others.
In my case I found that taking thyroid hormone (known either as T3, Cytomel, or liothyronine if you’re taking the generic) was helpful for me. I tackled my thyroid dysfunction and inflammation with a moderate dose of the prescription T3 as well as key supplements, which improved hormone levels and functioning as well as gut health.
The other important component for me was to remove the inflammatory or irritating foods that were making my body worse. These included gluten, some dairy, processed foods, simple sugars, as well as alcohol. With most of these items I found that I didn’t actually have to remove them from my diet entirely, but that if I just reduced how much I was taking in, I still saw an improvement.
While I could’ve done better on the diet part, I realized that I was feeling much better overall and now that I’m off the T3, I realize that diet, supplements, and lifestyle factors such as stress reduction techniques and sleep are going to be that much more important.
You’re Not Sleeping and you’re Drinking too Much Alcohol
These two, unfortunately, are big ones that we often overlook. Or, if we do examine them, we quickly decide that it’s really not a big deal and we’ll start to sleep better soon or we’ll cut down on the alcohol in due time.
Why am I presenting sleep issues and alcohol as one problem? The answer is because they are. Or, if we’re being precise, we can at least say they’re often interrelated. They both have a negative impact on your metabolism and make each other worse.
So what’s the general issue with these two things and why are they so bad?
To answer that let’s dig a little deeper into how sleep dysfunction works and how alcohol plays a negative role in your sleep and your metabolism.
If you’re like most people, unless you have a more serious sleep problem, your actual issue as it relates to sleep is that you don’t get enough of it. Whether you stay up late working or partying or taking care of children, you get up early in the morning and find you just haven’t gotten enough shut eye. In the end, unless we’re talking about true insomnia, it often can be just a “discipline” thing.
(Note: if you’re a parent with young kids it’s a different story, but in many cases we are just lazy about putting in the effort to get to bed).
The problems resulting from lack of sleep are myriad, but a few of the bigger health issues that can crop up as a result are those related to blood sugar regulation, as well as the metabolic hormones leptin and ghrelin. Without getting to “sciency”, the end result of these things is a decreased ability to properly metabolize food and burn fat.
Another big issue is how lack of sleep effects hunger and our ability to control against poor eating patterns. To put it simply, not sleep enough causes you to both want to eat more and makes it so that your body is less able to process the poor foods you’re eating effectively.
Not good right?
And the problem with alcohol is that not only does it decrease the quality of sleep (leading to an amplification of the problems listed above) but, in addition, it has an negative impact on your metabolism in a separate way all by itself.
Specifically, alcohol does two things that are very bad when it comes to the potential for weight gain in the form of fat.
First off, when your body metabolizes alcohol it essentially puts the brakes on metabolizing every other type of food in your body. This is because your system views alcohol and the components it initially breaks down into as a poison (yes, a poison) and makes sure all hands are on deck to take care and eliminate this poison before it attends to anything else.
The end result is a slower metabolism and a slower breakdown of whatever foods are in your system in and around the time you consume alcohol.
The other problem with alcohol is that it causes a disinhibition of appetite control. In other words, it makes you want to eat more food in general and less high quality food specifically. Ever notice how you crave high carb and fatty foods like burritos or pizza when you drink?
Yep, you can thank the alcohol for that.
The final problem with booze is that its effects often lead into the next day, whether it’s a hardcore hangover that causes your body to put all its resources towards recovery (and not weight loss), or the moodiness and stress you feel as a result of the temporary damage to your neurochemistry and hormones which can cause those poor eating choices from the night before to continue.
So how have I been able to improve both my sleep and decrease or eliminate the negative effects of alcohol?
First of all, I try to avoid stimulating activities prior to bed and I also try to reduce stimulants like coffee before bedtime. If I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and find myself struggling to make it through the day (and craving a nap), I avoid napping and shoot for an earlier bedtime that evening instead. When it comes to alcohol, when I do drink I try to give myself a few hours between finishing imbibing and actually falling asleep (although this isn’t always possible).
Another thing I try to do in general with alcohol is twofold. I try to drink the minimum amount needed to feel relaxed or just enjoy the taste and almost never drink with the aim of getting really drunk. The difference in how much fun you’ll have or how much you can relax from having enough alcohol to calm you down vs drinking so much that you’ll be hungover the next day is simply not worth the trouble. I also try to deliberately eat less on the days I know I will be drinking – particularly by reducing my carbohydrate intake. If you want to learn more about the strategy I use to drink and still keep my metabolism health check out How to Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight. (blog post link)
You’re not Addressing Food Sensitivities or Avoiding Inflammatory Foods
Food sensitivities may or may not be as common as you think, but they’re often a problem for some. And if they’re a problem for you, they could be wreaking havoc on your body. So this is definitely something you want to address.
From my experience, there are two ways to determine if you have a food sensitivity: the first is to keep a journal or at the very least a solid mental record of how you feel after eating certain meals. If you suspect a food is causing you issues, pay attention to how you feel right after consuming it and for the next day or so.
This is a great general approach, but it isn’t 100% full proof.
The second (and more precise) way to determine if you have a sensitivity or even an allergy is to get a blood test. The idea behind going this route is that you’ll be able to detect antibodies your system could be producing in response to one or more foods. This will prove one way or another if your body could be reacting in a negative way to anything you’re eating.
Personally, I have had times where my body was reacting to foods in my diet even though I wasn’t actually allergic to them. This could have been caused by preexisting inflammation, gastrointestinal problems – or even stress.
Your symptoms may not always be caused by one particular food. Your body could be reacting poorly to things even if it’s not really sensitive to them. This sometimes happens when your system is overly stressed. This is why managing your overall health is so important – because it controls how you react to things that are both unhealthy as well as “benign”.
In general though, if you suspect something in your diet could be causing you problems, then try eliminating it – at least for a couple weeks. You can go back to trying to eat it again after that and see if you’re still having symptoms.
Keep in mind that foods can affect our entire bodies – so if you’re experiencing anything from mental symptoms to gastrointestinal problems – your diet could definitely be a contributing factor.
And if you have any symptoms that are caused by food sensitivities then there is a very good chance your metabolism and your energy levels are being affected as well.
Stress and Inactivity (Lack of relaxation practices and self care)
One of the things I’ve realized over the years is that all of the things we do whether good or bad add up.
And bad patterns tend to create more bad patterns.
To add to this, once you get into a bad way of being I’ve found it’s often that much harder to start to feel better. You have to “climb out of the hole” so to speak, and you don’t have the energy or motivation to do the work that it takes just to get back to baseline.
For many individuals, when you get stressed you want to minimize output and retreat into yourself. This normally means doing less activity and less of the physical things that could make us feel better.
The ironic thing is that despite your aversion to doing anything physical, full on exercise or even light activity such as walking can help reduce your stress levels. What’s more, some activity can ward off anxiety and depression and help you build back up to doing more exercise – or even some activity more regularly.
Once you start to do more physically, your body and mind actually shift. They change from being in a helpless or defensive state to being more able and feeling more capable. Studies actually show that sometimes you have to trick yourself into feeling better by changing your patterns BEFORE you actually FEEL motivated to do so.
For me personally, I’ve found that when I don’t have the energy or drive to work out and I feel overly stressed, the best bet is to keep myself moving a little bit but back off big time on hard workouts.
I allow myself to maintain some momentum, but I don’t do anything that physically stresses my system out even more. This is because, in some cases, the way you push yourself in the gym could be contributing to your overall stress levels and the way your body reacts to it.
On top of backing off on activity – or adding in a little bit of activity if I’ve backed off too much already – I try to implement practices designed to help me relax and reset.
These include getting better quality sleep at night, napping if I feel the need, meditation and reflection, as well as self care practices such as massage or even getting a haircut – as funny as that may sound.
You’re Falling into the “Calorie Trap”
So what’s the calorie trap?
The calorie trap is something I’ve come up with from my own personal experience as well as that gained through working with many personal training clients over the years.
It refers to the idea that, as cliché as it may sound, calories can get away from you. But it goes a little deeper than that.
For me, the reason I call it the “Calorie Trap” is because it’s really two main problems that work together against you and your weight loss goals.
The first problem is, you guessed it, eating too many calories than you should. For most of us, we have no idea how many calories we’re taking in even if we’re looking at labels. This is because unless you actually record what you’re eating you will generally underestimate your calorie intake.
Most clients as well as myself personally continue to make that mistake. It happens to the best of us.
So what’s the second problem? For many of you there’s another issue that often rears its ugly head. That is the idea of additional or hidden calories. These are the calories that you might miss if you’re not precisely recording what you’re eating.
These may include the calories found in condiments, salad dressings, coffee creamers, and other items you may be consuming that may not be actually increasing your caloric intake but could still be affecting your system in a negative way. (Think soy or MSG as another type of “nutrient” that could potentially be having a hurtful impact on your weight loss or energy levels).
The solution to both of these problems, fortunately, is pretty simple: start to actually write down what you’re eating.
Yes, this sounds redundantly easy, right? And the truth is that it is – sort of…
But there’s a caveat here: you need to write down everything you’re consuming. Do you need to do this forever? No, but if you’re having trouble with weight loss or energy levels it’s definitely worth trying.
The benefit of recording everything you put into your body is actually twofold: first of all you’ll know what and how much you’re eating so you can decide if you need to cut back on food, increase exercise, or both.
Secondly, and almost more importantly, there’s a psychological phenomenon that happens when you have to write everything down: you’ll often think twice about consuming a particular food, because you know you’ll have to go through the effort of adding it to the tally.
And this can actually have a powerful effect on how much you actually end up eating, thus improving your energy levels, weight loss, or hopefully both.