Here is a list of the obvious and not-so-obvious foods and lifestyle habits that can pack on the pounds. Let’s break it down.
1. Gluten. I write so much about gluten that linking to each post would be excessive, but click here for a recent post about how gluten contributes to weight gain and prevents weight loss. The main issue is that food allergies and sensitivities are on the rise, and gluten intolerance is becoming more common: at least 1 in 30 people reacts to gluten, and most are probably unaware. Gluten intolerance can cause a constellation of symptoms from digestive issues to hormonal problems to acne/eczema, headaches, anxiety/depression, and fatigue, to name a few. Whether or not you have a sensitivity to gluten, everyone benefits from removing it because it forces us to focus on a more plant-based diet with veggies and good sources of protein and fat. There is no nutritive value in gluten, and the inflammation it causes makes it hard to lose weight. Avoid. You’ll feel better, too.
2. Grain-based breakfasts (bran muffins, granola, cereal and milk, pastries, toast with jam, pancakes, waffles, etc). I just explained how gluten can make you fat. Starting off your day with grains can do the same thing. Grains lack protein (you need protein & good fat to keep you feeling full and to stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels); they’re hard to digest; and they can cause a blood sugar crash and fatigue. Are you prone to the 3pm slump? Ditch your cereal for breakfast in favor of an egg/veggie scramble (with a side of raw kraut for probiotics and enzymes for digestion). Grains also contribute to the inflammation that prevents weight gain. Read more here.
3. Chemicals. It’s no secret that our environment is becoming increasingly toxic. But did you know that these toxins can make you fat? Bisphenol A (the toxic compound found in aluminum can liners), dioxins (found in plastic water bottles), phthalates & parabens (found in body care products), and pesticides are not recognizable to the body and cannot be processed, so they are stored in fat cells, disrupting the endocrine system. This means they have the ability to cause major hormonal imbalance and even infertility. These chemicals also interfere with gene signaling, inducing new fat cells to form and simultaneously increasing inflammation (source: http://bit.ly/ei9c7Q). Inflammation prevents weight loss, and toxins stored in fat cells turn off your body’s fat burning mechanism. The body doesn’t want to burn fat that is housing toxins, causing the toxins to be released in the system. Avoid exposure to chemicals in shampoos, cosmetics, perfumes and lotions/body care products (use all natural products or make your own shampoo with apple cider vinegar and baking soda!); buy organic to avoid pesticides; avoid plastics and plastic water bottles (buy stainless steel); and use natural cleaning products in your home.
4. Sugar. This may seem obvious, but back in my teens when I was strictly avoiding fat, I thought it was fat that made you fat, and “low fat” candy was ok. Low fat and fat free foods are often loaded with sugar. Turns out it’s the opposite: sugar makes you fat and (good) fat actually helps weight loss! Sugar raises insulin, a fat storage hormone, and when you consume too much in relation to what you body needs for fuel, it is converted to fatty acids by the liver and stored. Too much sugar also raises cortisol, the stress hormone, which puts your body into fat storage mode. I’m not just talking about refined white sugar, but any simple, refined carb like white bread, juice, soda, bagels, cereal, pretzels, anything containing white flour, etc. “Whole grains” break down into sugars eventually too, which is why grain-based diets can also make you fat. Sugar also disrupts your blood glucose levels, causing energy spikes and dips, leading to cravings and also interfering with fat burning. Avoid white sugar like the plague, and if you must have something sweet, stick to natural sources like raw honey, dates, molasses, or try xyltiol or stevia. 70 percent or higher dark chocolate helps kill cravings, too.
5. Processed/refined foods. Processed foods (anything in a box or with chemical additive/preservatives you can’t pronounce) contain compounds and chemicals your body cannot process, and most are made with white flour and refined grains that break down quickly into sugars. That means you’ll be hungry soon after and likely craving more sugar. Processed foods have addictive qualities because they contain MSG and other additives that stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, causing binges. Avoid. Eat real food!
6. Eating any food to which you are sensitive. As I mentioned earlier, food sensitivities/allergies are on the rise, and the inflammation caused by consuming these foods can prevent weight loss. The most common food sensitivities are eggs, milk, wheat/gluten, soy, citrus, shellfish, nuts, and even beef. Removing at least gluten, dairy, and soy from your diet can clear up a host of symptoms, make you feel better, and increase productivity and restful sleep. Read my post on food sensitivities and how to determine which foods you may be reacting to here.
7. Lack of sleep. This is one of the most common lifestyle factors people overlook: getting restful sleep. It is so important, because your body perceives lack of sleep as a stressor, raising cortisol levels, which raises blood sugar levels, causing sugar/carb cravings. You need a good 8-9 hours each night. Click here to read about good sleep hygiene: tips on how to get restful sleep.
8. Stress. Stress is the first cause of imbalance and disease. Stress raises cortisol & blood sugar, causing inflammation and putting your body into fat storage mode. Stress also prevents good sleep! It’s all connected. Stress shuts down digestion, meaning you’re not breaking down and absorbing nutrients from what you’re eating, leading to deficiencies and cravings. Address your stress level by avoiding sugar and refined foods, getting the right exercise, engaging in whatever works for you to unwind from the pressures of the world: journalling, meditation, yoga, therapy, or just plain not working yourself to death! Having meaningful relationships and a strong social network reduces stress, too.
9. Coffee Drinks, Diet Soda, and Juice. Watch your beverages. Coffee drinks can pack as many as 600-800 calories (with all the sugar and topping junk they put on it), and fruit juice is just plain sugar. Sure, it may have some vitamins, but eat the whole fruit to get the fiber that slows the release of sugar directly into your system. That’s what spikes blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to cravings/hunger and fat storage. And did you know that diet soda can actually cause weight gain? Click here to read more. Drink water, green tea, and herbal teas. Use herbal coffee substitutes like Teeccino or Dandy Blend. Mix with coconut milk. So delicious and actually good for you!
10. Soy. I write a lot about soy. Read my personal experience with soy and fake meat products in the “About Me” section of this site. Most of the processed foods in our food supply contain processed soy isolates or binding/emulsifying agents that can cause hormone and thyroid disruption. If your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, weight gain (and a host of other problems) occurs. Soy also causes estrogen dominance, which can make weight loss difficult and adversely affect menstrual cycles. Soy also blocks absorption of other nutrients and is very difficult to digest. Avoid soy in all forms (it’s in everything; so once again, eat real food). Exception: Fermented soy, like miso or natto, is ok occasionally.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
Are things like sourdough bread and beer less problematic (from a gluten sensitivity perspective) due to the processes they undergo?
Good question. Fermented and/or sprouted grains are easier to digest, but they still contain gluten. The fermentation process makes the overall end product easier the digest because it breaks down the lectins and the anti-nutrients that prevent absorption of other nutrients, but in gluten sensitive individuals, it’s not enough to prevent an inflammatory reaction. If you’re trying to avoid gluten in general but aren’t gluten sensitive, you could probably enjoy these products in moderation, but again, it also depends on your health status/goals. A good way to gauge how they affect you is to eliminate all gluten-containing products for 2-4 weeks, then begin reintroducing them to see if they make you bloated/tired/gassy (indications you don’t tolerate them).
Why is it that some of my vegetarian-gluten-eating friends are some of the most slender/healthy I know? According to everything I read about gluten, one would think they’d all be pumpkins by now.I was vegetarian for a long time (currently paleo), and I still can’t seem to understand how some people can just just seem to eat whatever and be fine, while others of us react to everything? Gluten intolerance for me was triggered during/after pregnancy.
the short answer is: there is never a one size fits all approach. a particular food can offer benefits in one body and do harm to another. it depends on your physiology and underlying imbalance or food intolerances, etc. it’s not uncommon to develop food intolerances during or after pregnancy when your hormones are fluctuating and your immune system is going crazy. if one has a tendency toward weight gain, or is trying to lose weight, eliminating gluten can help due to its potential to cause inflammation. the people i work with typically have health issues they’re trying to resolve, and eliminating foods that exacerbate those problems helps. I’m sure there are people who eat junk their entire lives and live to be 100. but maybe they are grumpy or don’t sleep well or have swollen joints and arthritis. or maybe vegetarians feel great for 10 years and then start to crash. it’s all about what works for your body and how you feel your best.
I am so much worried about my lower abdominal fat. I eat nothing that can give excessive fat but still i wonder why?
I do job 9-5pm and throughout the day i mainly have to sit but still i feel hunger during lunch hours …
I have a kid of years with cesearean….was ok after his birth but this started happen by jan13
I used to be slim … but now lower abdomin and back is getting worst day by day … dont know how to stop
That can be caused by high or low cortisol, which contributes to body fat storage, especially in the abdominal region. you can test cortisol levels. abnormal cortisol is associated with adrenal fatigue. more on that here: https://www.maryvancenc.com/2013/08/adrenal-fatigue-healing-a-hormone-imbalance/
Will going on a gluten free foods drop Kgs
Going gluten free can result in weight loss, yes. I do not recommend using a lot of gluten free foods (like the breads, etc). Focus on whole foods.