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Why Can't I Lose Weight?

Why Can't I Lose Weight?
Feature Article

Why Can't I Lose Weight?
An Article by Atkins Center writer Sheila Buff.

Experts at The Atkins Center Offer 12 Secrets to Help You Get Off a Plateau:

You've done everything right and lost weight steadily following the Atkins Nutritional Approach... But now the scale won't budge. Or perhaps your progress has slowed to a crawl. What gives? You've reached a plateau when weight loss slows or even comes to a stop. Or maybe you've faithfully followed the Induction phase, but can't get off home base. Many of the reasons that people hit a plateau explain why others can't even begin to lose weight.

Before you get discouraged and lose your commitment to long-term weight loss, understand that plateaus occur in any slimming-down process. Stick with the program and your weight loss will kick in again. "You may stay at one weight for a month, then suddenly drop three pounds," says Colette Heimowitz, M.S., director of education and research at Atkins Health & Medical Information Services. But it is also important to ascertain whether there is another reason.

First, says Jacqueline Eberstein, R.N., director of medical education at The Atkins Center, figure out if you really are on a plateau. "The scale is the least reliable reflection of fat loss," she points out. "Look at other markers. Are you feeling better? Do your clothes feel looser? If you're losing inches but not pounds, your fat cells are still shrinking. Also, check whether you are in still in lipolysis/ketosis by using
ketone test strips. You're only on a plateau if there's no change at all for more than four weeks."

Hitting at least one plateau is normal and to be expected. It's most likely to happen, and most difficult to break through, if you've come to Atkins after years of yo-yo dieting. "We often find that a patient will plateau at the same points he or she always used to reach on previous diets," says Eberstein. "These are the weights at which you naturally start to resist weight loss."

For many people, even those resistant to weight loss, breaking through a plateau is often a matter of making simple dietary changes. In other cases, an outside cause may be the culprit. You may need to modify your lifestyle and consult with your health-care practitioner. Here are 12 items to consider:

1:  Look for Hidden Carbs:
The first step is to examine your diet more closely. As Heimowitz explains, "Hidden carbohydrates are everywhere, and you can end up eating them without realizing it." Be especially careful when it comes to foods marketed as low-fat. Manufacturers often make up for flavor in the missing fat by adding high-carb fillers and sugar. Also avoid candies and cookies labeled sugar-free. The products may not have any cane sugar in them, but they may still have at least 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Sugar, thickeners such as cornstarch and fillers such as milk solids are found in all sorts of processed foods, including many canned and dried soups, salad dressings, sauces, gravies and frozen vegetables in sauces.

Watch out for condiments, too. Barbecue sauce, ketchup, and sandwich spreads often have added sugar. For example, there are nearly 3 grams of carbohydrates in a tablespoon of teriyaki sauce. Try a sugar free or lowcarb version of your favorite condiments.When you're food shopping, read labels carefully to find hidden carbs, and stay away from them. Remember that other seemingly innocuous foods also contain carbs that should be included in your daily tally. For example, a tablespoon of lemon juice includes a gram of carbs, as does a tablespoon of skim milk or balsamic vinegar. And even a tiny sweet gherkin pickle packs a whole gram. While seemingly insignificant on their own, these can add up fast.

To determine if you're being sandbagged by hidden carbs, Heimowitz suggests keeping a food diary for a few weeks. That way you can easily judge if your carb intake is higher than you realized.

2:  Stop Consuming Aspartame:
If you're sure you're not eating any hidden carbs, take a closer look at other aspects of your diet. An observation at The Atkins Center has been that when certain people discontinue their use of aspartame, their weight loss resumes. The artificial sweetener is marketed under the brand names of NutraSweet® and Equal®. To eliminate aspartame from your life, give up most diet sodas, especially colas (many of which also contain caffeine). Instead, use sweeteners such as sucralose, marketed as Splenda®, or saccharin, marketed as Sugar Twin®. Don't be afraid to explore all the new sweeteners that are now available.Again, you also need to examine the labels of all beverages, particularly sugar-free ones, to make sure that aspartame is not an ingredient.

3:  Don't Skip Supplements:

Dr. Atkins recommends everyone supplement his diet with vitamins and minerals to make up for deficiencies in food resulting from overprocessing, depleted soil and other environmental assaults. Taking Life Extension Two Per Day Vitamin, Super Omega-3 EPA/DHA with Sesame Lignans & Olive Fruit Extract , and All-In-One Weight Loss Formula in combination ensures adequate intake of all essential nutrients. The trio also includes certain nutrients that aid in weight loss, including chromium, pantethine, selenium, vanadium and biotin to help stabilize blood sugar and metabolize fat. Once you are on a balanced nutrient-supplementation program, you should experience a decrease in appetite and your metabolism will likely operate more effectively. The result will be renewed weight loss.

4:  Overweight or Overgrowth?

After years of eating a high-sugar diet, it's quite possible that your digestive tract has an overgrowth of an organism known as Candida albicans. When that happens, the beneficial bacteria in your intestines get crowded out. Candida (also known as yeast) overgrowth also provokes food intolerances, headaches and immune-system weakness, and keeps you from losing weight by causing unstable blood sugar and major carbohydrate cravings. Once your practitioner has diagnosed a yeast overgrowth, you'll need to eliminate some foods from your diet until it clears up. Typically, the first food to go is sugar. Candida thrives on sugar, so a sugar-free, controlled carb approach will starve it out. It's also important to eliminate yeast and fermented foods such as sourdough breads, pickles, beer, wine, vinegar and many cheeses. Also omit nuts, which can contain mold.

5:  Move Your Bod:
Exercise is another way to help break through a plateau. Increasing your activity level burns off fat and restores muscle mass. But don't overdo it and don't expect to see results immediately, cautions Eberstein. "If you're just beginning, start with some easy aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking for 20 minutes or so. If you have not been active, check with your health-care practitioner about what your cardiovascular system can tolerate. The effect of exercise is cumulative. It could take several weeks before you start to get off your plateau." If you already engage in an exercise program, increase your frequency or level of activity.

6:  Review Your Medication:
Weight-loss plateaus are often caused not by what you eat but by prescription drugs. Drugs for high blood pressure, especially diuretics and the drugs known as beta-blockers, can make your body extremely resistant to weight loss. A lot of cardiology patients who come to The Atkins Center are taking these drugs. They can't lose weight while they're on them, but being overweight is a big reason for their high blood pressure.

Natural substitutes for SSRI drugs include the herbs St. John's wort and kava kava or inositol hexanicotinate, a B vitamin. Warning: Never stop antidepressants on your own; you need to taper off these drugs slowly and that there can be interactions with alternative remedies. Don't forget to consult your doctor. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs also keep you from losing weight and they're potentially dangerous as well. At The Atkins Center, we stop statin drugs immediately. Our low-carbohydrate eating plan alone will improve blood lipids.

7:  Forget the Java:
Excessive caffeine has the same weight-loss-inhibiting effect as aspartame because it can cause low blood sugar, making you crave carbs. Caffeine is found not just in coffee and tea but also in chocolate and many soft drinks. Switch to decaffeinated coffee and tea, experiment with flavorful herbal teas or stick to plain, pure water. You may miss caffeine or even experience withdrawal symptoms at first, but, as Eberstein points out, "We often see weight loss start up again as soon as patients remove caffeine and aspartame from their diet."

8:  Are You a Diabetic?
The most fattening of all the hormones is insulin. Diabetics who have to inject insulin find it almost impossible to lose weight. Oral drugs are almost as bad. According to Dr. Atkins, "The majority of oral medications for diabetes have a weight-gain effect. Even drugs that don't stimulate insulin have this effect. The one drug that does help diabetics control their blood sugar and lose weight is metformin, marketed under the brand name Glucophage®. At The Atkins Center, physicians often prescribe this for diabetic patients when they start the Atkins program. Once they've been following it for a while, their need for the drug almost invariably disappears."

9:  Get Back to Basics:

If simple dietary changes and some exercise don't get you off your plateau, it's time to go back to basics. As Dr. Atkins explains, "Because people lose weight so easily on the program, they tend to start sneaking in some extra carbohydrates. That makes weight loss slower, but you still keep losing. Add just a few more carbs, though, and you've exceeded your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing [CCLL]. That's what has happened when you hit a plateau. To get off it, go back to the Induction phase for three or four days. You should start losing again. Then slowly add back a few carbs, being sure to stop just below your earlier CCLL. That will establish your new CCLL." Stick with it, he adds, and you have an excellent chance of avoiding more plateaus as your weight loss continues.

10:  Is Your Food Fighting Back?
Unsuspected food intolerances can be a major roadblock to weight loss. Many patients at The Center, for example, turn out to be allergic to wheat and wheat products. Other common allergens include soy, milk, cheese and eggs. People with food intolerances often have gastrointestinal problems, along with joint pain, anxiety or depression, and other symptoms. Your practitioner will use a process of elimination to uncover any food allergies. It takes time, but it will be worth it when your weight loss picks up and your overall health improves.

11:  Check Out Your Thyroid:

Whenever a patient at The Atkins Center has real trouble losing weight, the physicians always check for other medical problems. The one that comes up most often is a sluggish thyroid gland. As you age, it's not unusual for your thyroid to stop producing enough of the hormones that control the speed of your metabolism. When that happens, your whole body slows down; you gain weight and can't get it off. Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is easy to diagnose, even though it doesn't always show up on standard lab tests. Working with your doctor, keep track of your temperature, taking it orally four times a day over several days. If your average temperature is lower than 98° F, a sluggish thyroid is probably the cause of your plateau. Other symptoms of subclinical hypothyroidism are dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss, sleep disturbances, depression and lethargy. The treatment for hypothyroidism is straightforward. As Dr. Atkins explains, "I use the therapeutic trial for thyroid. After examining blood-test results, I start patients with a very low dose of a prescription thyroid hormone replacement and build up gradually and very carefully. In most cases, when we reach the right dose patients start to feel dramatically better. They have a much better sense of overall well-being, with much more energy and vitality. Best of all, they start to lose weight again."

12:  Reconsider HRT:
After insulin, Dr. Atkins believes that (HRT) is a leading offender in terms of inhibited weight loss. Menopausal women who take estrogen or an estrogen-progesterone combo have a lot of trouble shedding pounds. In fact, weight gain, water retention and skyrocketing triglyceride levels are well-known side effects of HRT. "There are better, more natural ways to treat menopause symptoms," Dr. Atkins says. "Folic acid in prescription-strength doses, for example, helps minimize many symptoms, as do other nutrients, such as boron, soy isoflavones and herbs such as agnus cactus and dong quai." Also, consume moderate amounts of soy products.

NutraSweet and Equal are registered trademarks of the NutraSweet Company. Splenda is a trademark of McNeill PPC, Inc. Sweet'n Low is a registered trademark of Cumberland Packing. Prozac is a registered trademark of Eli Lilly & Co. Glucophage is a registered trademark of Bristol-Meyers Squibb.