The Functional Medicine Approach to Weight Loss: Finding the Root Cause
“Why can’t I lose weight?”
Many of us ask ourselves this question. For years we’ve been told that being overweight or obese is due to laziness or lack of willpower. It’s our own fault. If only we would exercise more, avoid dietary fat, and eat more “healthy whole grains” like the food pyramid recommended, weight loss would be effortless, right?
How is that working for us?
In 2022, 41.9 % of adult Americans were obese. One out of three American children are overweight or obese. Closer to home, Texas has the 12th highest obesity rate in the nation.1 More than ⅔ of Texas adults and ⅓ of Texas children are overweight or obese.2 Clearly there is more to the story than blaming the victim.
The truth is that weight gain has many underlying causes that have nothing to do with laziness and gluttony, and much of it is rooted in science. Here are some of the top medical reasons for obesity that we are not talking about:
1. Insulin resistance. This is due to the prevalence of processed, fried, and fast foods that are high in sugar, carbohydrates, and inflammatory seed oils– and the ubiquitous marketing that promotes consumption of these foods as self-care. (“Treat yourself!” they say. Really? No thanks! I’m going to Saving Face for THAT )
2. Hormonal imbalance/loss of hormones in perimenopause, menopause, and andropause (link to BAM/Katie Vesta, NP BHRT info)
3. Low or sub-optimal thyroid function
4. Chronic stress/inflammation
5. Underlying infections
6. Nutrient deficiencies
7. Toxic exposures (plastics, xenoestrogens, mold, chemicals, polypharmacy, etc)
8. Gut dysbiosis/poor absorption (food sensitivities, overuse of NSAIDs, medication side effects, etc.)
9. Poor sleep
10. Emotional eating/food addiction. Sugar is an addictive substance, and it is added to over 60% of the food in our grocery stores because it is cheap, profitable, and keeps us buying more. Studies show that rats will choose sugar over cocaine, heroin, or meth.3 No wonder we can’t stay away! It can feel almost impossible to admit that we use food to comfort ourselves, but let’s take the shame away from this right now so we can work together to retake control of our physical and mental health. You are not alone!
Right now I want to explain obesity reason #1: insulin resistance. In future blog posts, I will take a deeper dive into reasons 2 – 10. So hang with me as we go into a little bit of Science 101—the more we understand how our bodies function, the more we can work together to be our healthiest selves. So come on!
At the top of the list of culprits when it comes to weight gain is insulin resistance. A shocking 88% of Americans fall into this category.4 And many of us do not know it, or even what it is.
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. It is critical for Type 1 diabetics (who cannot make insulin), but for most of the rest of us in the U.S., the problem is that we have too much. Insulin is our fat-storage hormone, telling our bodies to create and store body fat, rather than burn it. And insulin is secreted every time we eat (snacking/meal frequency), especially when we eat carbohydrates (sugar, bread, grains, pasta, crackers, chips, waffles, pancakes, popcorn, bagels, rice, cookies, tortillas, oatmeal, cereal, etc.).
Insulin is not stimulated by dietary fat and is less stimulated by protein (fun fact: protein requires more calories to digest than carbs, so a 500 calorie grass-fed steak results in fewer net calories to our bodies than a 500 calorie bagel– and the steak is more nutrient dense.)
So, if we have been following the U.S. government guidelines, eating a high-carbohydrate diet, avoiding dietary fat, and eating every hour “to stoke our metabolisms” as many nutritionists taught in the 1980s, we have unwittingly been bathing our bodies in the very hormone whose job it is to tell our bodies to gain weight. 5
After years of eating this way, the pancreas is forced to release increasingly higher levels of insulin to get the same amount of glucose out of the bloodstream and into our cells. Eventually it can’t keep up. Insulin resistance develops and weight loss slows to a crawl.
The good news is, insulin resistance can be reversed by changing what we eat and when we eat, not how much we eat. You don’t have to go hungry! And with the help of new medications like Semaglutide that help reduce cravings for disease-promoting carbs, we have an even better chance of making these new lifestyle changes stick long-term.
It took us years to get here. I’m recovering from Type 2 Diabetes myself, so trust me, I understand the struggle. Reclaiming our wellbeing and reaching a healthy weight won’t happen overnight, but it can happen, especially if you enlist the expertise of a trusted medical provider, along with functional coaching support. With some one-to-one encouragement and education, we can make these changes together.
Want more support on your weight loss or health journey? We’re here for you! Give us a call at Saving Face - Body & Mind to set up a free consultation.
**Functional health coaching does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your primary
care provider before making changes to medications, supplements, diet, or lifestyle**
5 See Dr. Jason Fung’s books: “The Obesity Code,” “The Diabetes Code.” and “The Complete Guide to