3. You’re experiencing muscle loss
Muscle mass decreases 3 to 8 percent every decade after age 30, and accelerates with age for both men and women, according to research (3). This poses a big problem, as muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, and at a significant margin.
Loss of lean muscle mass results in resting metabolic rate (RMR) reduction of 2 to 4 percent per decade (4). As much as 75% of your energy expenditure comes directly from your body’s RMR, so this means you’ll gradually require fewer and fewer calories to power your metabolism if you’re losing muscle (5).
As a result, someone who doesn’t participate in regular strength-training activities to build or maintain muscle can expect to gain between 5 and 10 pounds of body weight with each decade of life, purely because there’s now less lean muscle and more body fat (4).
Post-menopausal women are also more likely to gain body fat and need fewer calories. This is also due in part to natural changes in fat tissue that prompt the body to gain weight, according to an article published recently in Nature Medicine (6).
Beware the low-calorie diet if you want to maintain lean muscle
Muscle loss also happens during times of calorie restriction (i.e. going on a diet). In fact, as much as 20-30% of weight loss through dieting is from muscle tissue (7).
This is a key reason why the majority of those who successfully lose weight initially manage to gain it all back once coming out of a calorie deficit.
Explore options for weight loss with the help of functional medicine.
How to build muscle while losing weight
According to research, there are 3 main components to keep in mind to lose fat and not muscle: Increase protein intake, don’t drop your calories too low, and strength train.
- For men don’t drop calories lower than 1,500 – 1,800; and women no lower than 1,200 – 1,500 calories.
- Optimize protein intake at about 1.7 and up to 2.4 grams per kg of body weight (8).
- Aim for a 40-minute workout (20 minutes of aerobic activity interspersed with 20 minutes of resistance exercise), 2-3 days per week.
4. Your cortisol levels are too high
Elevated cortisol levels are associated with increased fat around the belly, which is often the one area most people wish to target when trying to lose weight. The biggest factor that ramps up cortisol production is nothing other than our good friend, chronic stress.
Researchers have also identified a stress-related protein known as betatrophin that makes it difficult to break down body fat and lose weight (9).
Other reasons why stress makes it harder to lose weight:
- Stress drives cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension. This soothing effect becomes highly addictive because it feels like it alleviates the stress (it does – but only in the very short term.
- When someone is stressed they generally sleep less. Poor sleep and fatigue cause the hunger hormone, ghrelin, to rise even if you’re not legitimately hungry.
- Stress makes it harder to control impulses and stick to a routine. Stress diminishes executive function in your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain necessary for planning, controlling emotional reactions, and will power (10). With dysfunction in your PFC you might feel erratic, and be more likely to stray from your routine, leading to unhealthy decisions just to get by.
Conditions we treat: Adrenal Fatigue
Prioritize stress relief to decrease cortisol
Non-diet-related weight struggles most often have to do with lifestyle factors and chronic stress. Unresolved stress causes a plethora of downstream effects on hormones, gut function, sleep, and other foundational aspects necessary to get to a healthy weight.
Whether your goal is weight loss or not, a stress relief plan should be a priority as much as going to the gym, or even eating healthy. That means make time for daily mindfulness practices, have a nighttime routine that prepares you for adequate sleep, go to therapy, fit in activities you enjoy, and avoid habits that don’t. This also means learning to manage any stress associated with food and your relationship with your body. So while it’s perfectly fine to want to lose weight, simultaneously work on self-acceptance and stress relief so they’re not dependent on pant size or a number on the scale.
For help designing the right nutrition plan for your individual needs, get started with Nutrition Counseling at CentreSpringMD
Functional medicine for weight loss
Losing weight is hard enough, but when you’re working against your body it can feel impossible. If you’ve been struggling to slim down, it may be time to look at some of the lesser-known barriers to weight loss like gut health, hormone imbalances, or muscle loss. Working with a qualified functional medicine doctor can help you figure out which factors are impacting your metabolic rate and create a plan to address them. Don’t go through this alone – reach out for help from a professional who understands the complex interplay of factors that affect weight loss.