Experts tell you that weight loss simply comes down to calories in versus calories out. But this really hasn’t rung true for many people who could break a weight loss plateau after increasing their calorie intake—swapping processed “diet” food for whole, nutrient-rich clean foods and changing up their meal balance and timing.
In fact, some stressed-out, sleep-deprived people have a more difficult time losing weight, which has been backed by numerous studies. And now, research shows that a number of other lifestyle and environmental factors also play roles in influencing metabolism and weight control.
Here are four on radar, and tips for combating them.
Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that people who work the night shift burn fewer calories during a 24-hour period than those who work a normal schedule. The difference can lead to weight gain, even without an increase in calories. In other words, when you throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, your normal diet can suddenly become excessive due to a metabolic slowdown.
Combat it: If you work when most people are sleeping, or you travel through different time zones, seek out nutrient-rich foods that help boost satiety, increase metabolic rate, and regulate hunger, including fresh veggies and fruit, beans and lentils, nuts, ginger, hot peppers, and good old water.
University College London researchers found that over a four-year period, people who experienced weight discrimination or “fat shaming” gained weight, while those who did not shed pounds. Another study from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo found that over five months, women with loved ones who were critical of their weight put on even more pounds.
Combat it: You may not be able to control the type or amount of support you receive from others, but there are effective techniques for improving your personal mindset. For example, practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to help reduce stress, lower hunger hormones, and prevent weight gain.
It may seem odd for a nutrition professor to study flame retardants. But one such professional at the University of New Hampshire found that these substances—which are found in everything from furniture to carpet padding and electronics—trigger metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, a major cause of obesity. According to the researcher, the average person has about 300 chemicals in his or her body that are man-made, and we’re only beginning to understand the possible effects.
Combat it: You can’t eliminate your exposure to synthetic substances, but you can limit it. You can now find natural products in nearly every shopping category, including cosmetics, cleaning supplies, toys, and household goods.
It’s no surprise that we take after our parents when it comes to body type, but new research shows that the type of bacteria that live in our digestive systems are also influenced by genetics. That’s an important finding, because more and more research indicates that gut bacteria are strongly connected to weight control.
Combat it: You can’t change your genetics, but there’s a great deal of research now about how you can transform your good gut bacteria. The top strategy: avoid artificial and processed foods, and load up on a variety of whole, plant-based foods, including vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils.