Weight Loss Resistance: Top Causes and How to Overcome It

Have you ever felt like you’re doing everything right on your weight loss journey, yet the scale refuses to budge? You’re not alone.

The diet industry has told us for years that to lose weight, you just need to eat less and move more. But unfortunately, it’s often just not that simple.

Your metabolism is a lot more complex than calories in vs. calories out. Imbalances in your body can cause weight loss resistance, making it feel impossible to get results, no matter how hard you try.

In this post, we’ll delve into the top causes of weight loss resistance and arm you with practical strategies to overcome them.

What is Weight Loss Resistance?

Weight loss resistance is a condition in which losing weight is extremely difficult, despite significant effort. It is typically related to systemic imbalances that cause the body to hang on to excess body fat.

This is different from a weight loss plateau, that may last for a week or two. You are experiencing weight loss resistance if you have been putting in significant effort with your diet and exercise, and achieved very little change in body composition.

Most Common Causes of Weight Loss Resistance

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance tops the list as one of the most common causes of weight loss resistance.

Insulin is a hormone that acts as the gatekeeper of your body’s cells. Its job is to help regulate blood sugar levels by allowing glucose from your bloodstream to enter cells, where it’s used for energy. However, in individuals with insulin resistance, the cells become less responsive to insulin’s signals. As a result, the body has to produce more insulin in order to keep blood sugar levels normal (1)

Insulin is a potent fat-storage hormone, so when insulin levels are high, it signals your body to store excess glucose as fat, particularly around your midsection.

Insulin resistance can also disrupt your hunger hormones, leaving you feeling constantly hungry and prone to cravings, especially for sugary or high-carb foods. This vicious cycle of overeating and weight gain further exacerbates insulin resistance.

Tips to reverse insulin resistance:

  • Balance your blood sugar. Balance your meals with protein, healthy fat, and fiber, which prevent blood sugar spikes and keeps insulin levels in check.
  • Exercise. Movement lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin resistance. Taking a 10 minute walk after meals can prevent a blood sugar spike and strength training makes your body more sensitive to insulin.
  • Choose higher fiber carbs. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar, but fiber in carbs slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which means your body needs to produce less insulin. Choose carbs like sweet potatoes, beans, oats, and fruit as opposed to sugar and white flour.
  • Drink Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which prevents blood sugar spikes and reduces insulin levels. Take 1 tablespoon diluted in 6 ounces of water before meals. (2)

Estrogen Dominance

Estrogen dominance is a condition of excess estrogen in the body, or an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone (​​3).

Estrogen is a hormone that is responsible for optimal functioning of the female reproductive system. When there is too much estrogen, it can cause weight gain, as well as water retention, breast tenderness, and painful periods.

What’s more, fat tissue produces estrogen, so being overweight can keep you in a vicious cycle of estrogen dominance. If you suspect estrogen dominance is a problem for you, a hormone test like the DUTCH test can help identify imbalances and guide a personalized treatment plan.

Here are some general tips to support balanced estrogen levels for weight loss:

  • Increase fiber intake. Fiber can bind to estrogen in your gut and help eliminate excess from the body. Aim for 30 grams of fiber per day from foods like beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals. Xenoestrogens are chemicals found in household and personal care products that mimic the effects of estrogen (4). You can limit your exposure to these hormone disrupting chemicals by limiting your use of plastics and avoiding products that contain phthalates, parabens, or artificial fragrances.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. Excess alcohol can increase estrogen levels. Stick to 2-3 drinks per week to keep hormones in check.

Unmanaged Stress

Stress is another common contributor to weight loss resistance, because of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced by your adrenal glands.

Cortisol helps you feel alert and energized, but an excess of cortisol stimulates your body to store belly fat and resist weight loss (5).

Living in a chronically stressed state causes cortisol dysregulation and makes it difficult to lose weight. While you cannot eliminate stress from your life, you can manage stress and support your body’s stress response.

Here are a few tips:

  • Incorporate a daily stress management routine. Practice deep breathing, meditation, journaling, prayer, or gentle exercise. These activities release stress and lower cortisol.
  • Optimize your circadian rhythm. Get sun exposure in the morning and avoid stimulating blue light from screens in the last hour of the day to optimize your sleep-wake cycle. This also supports healthy cortisol regulation.
  • Balance your blood sugar. Your blood sugar levels also affect cortisol, so eating meals balanced with protein, fat, and fiber can also help regulate your cortisol levels.


Your thyroid is like the thermostat of your metabolism. If your thyroid gland is underactive, it will slow your metabolism, making it difficult to lose weight. 

Signs that your thyroid may be underactive include:

  • Fatigue
  • Commonly feeling cold
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Weight gain

If you suspect that you have hypothyroidism, it’s important to get a FULL thyroid lab panel to evaluate the health of your thyroid. Many physicians will only draw a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), but this does not tell the whole story about what’s going on with your thyroid.

Here are a few tips to support your thyroid for weight loss:

  • Eat enough calories. Extremely low calorie diets slow down your thyroid function. If you have been dieting for a long time or have been following a low calorie diet, you may need to increase your intake to support thyroid function.
  • Eat a mineral rich diet. Your thyroid needs minerals like iodine, selenium, and zinc for optimal function (6).
  • Support your gut health. Your gut bacteria play a role in converting thyroid hormone to its active form. Support your gut by eating a fiber-rich diet of mostly whole foods.(7)

Poor Gut Health 

The bacteria in your gut, known as your microbiome, have a significant effect on your metabolism and your ability to lose weight. Studies have shown that people with lower diversity in gut bacteria have high levels of body fat and inflammation, compared to those with healthy, diverse microbiomes (8).

Your gut bacteria determine how your body uses energy and how it stores fat. They also play a role in your glucose metabolism and blood sugar regulation.

Believe it or not, certain imbalances of bacteria in your gut can actually cause your body to extract more calories from food! 

In my practice, I like to use stool testing to identify imbalances in the gut so I can create a targeted protocol to balance the gut and improve metabolism. 

But there are some things that everyone can do to support gut health: 

  • Eat a high fiber diet. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut.  Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day to support your gut.
  • Go for variety. Your gut loves variety. Aim to get multiple colors of fruits and vegetables in your diet, as well as herbs and spices.
  • Limit inflammatory foods. Highly processed food and foods high in sugar or white flour feed the not-so-favorable bacteria in your gut, and lead to imbalances. Keep these foods to a minimum and focus mostly on whole foods.

Chronic Dieting

A long history of dieting can also be a cause of weight loss resistance. Chronic calorie restriction or yo-yo dieting leads to down-regulation of your metabolism. Your body perceives calorie restriction as a threat, and when you diet over and over again, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy.

If you have been dieting for as long as you can remember, you will likely need to slowly increase your food intake and focus on metabolism repair in order to make progress with weight loss.

This is a process known as reverse dieting, where you intentionally increase your calorie intake slowly, in order to promote metabolic adaptation. Eventually, your metabolism will increase and become more efficient, so you can focus on weight loss.

Testing for Weight Loss Resistance

Since there are several possible contributors to weight loss resistance, lab testing can help you identify your root cause.

Here are the some of the lab tests I recommend getting done if you are struggling to lose weight:

  • Full thyroid panel: TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, Anti-TPO
  • Insulin resistance labs: Fasting insulin, fasting glucose, HgbA1c
  • Vitamin D
  • Inflammation: hs-CRP
  • Gut Health : GI Map stool test
  • Hormones: DUTCH Complete
  • Stress response and metabolic health: HTMA test

Some of these labs, like the thyroid panel, insulin resistance labs, Vitamin D, and inflammation markers can be done by your primary care physician, upon request. The GI MapDUTCH Complete, and HTMA are tests that are only used by functional providers, like myself.

How to Overcome Weight Loss Resistance

Identify the Root Cause

The first step to overcoming weight loss resistance is to first identify the root cause. We have gone over some of the most common causes of weight loss resistance in this article, but likely not all of them apply to you.

It’s important to identify the specific imbalances in your body that are preventing you from losing weight, so that you can develop a plan.

Lab testing is the most effective way to identify your specific weight loss challenges.

Take a Break From Dieting

It may seem counterintuitive, but if your body is resisting weight loss, you may actually need to take a break from dieting. Your body needs to feel safe in order to easily let go of weight. If your body feels threatened by under nourishment, it will try to hang on to body fat.

Taking a break from dieting and focusing on nourishing your body well for a season may actually make it easier to lose weight.

Support Your Metabolism

Your metabolism is like the engine of a car. It keeps things running, and if your metabolism isn’t healthy, it’s going be very difficult to lose weight.

Here are a few tips to support your metabolism:

  • Balance your blood sugar: Keeping blood sugar balanced improves your metabolism and makes you more efficient at burning fat.
  • Eat a high protein diet: Protein supports lean muscle and slightly increases how many calories your body burns.
  • Strength train: More muscle means a faster metabolism. Focus your exercise on building muscle to improve your metabolism.
  • Prioritize sleep: Lack of sleep is a metabolism killer. Prioritize at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Work With a Professional

If you’ve tried eating healthy and exercising and you aren’t making any progress on your weight loss journey, it might be time for some professional help. 

As a Registered Dietitian and functional nutritionist, I can help you get to the root of your weight loss resistance and develop a nutrition plan that optimizes your metabolism and leads to sustainable weight loss.

Book a free, no-obligation strategy call HERE to see if nutrition coaching is the right fit for you.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time, it can feel incredibly frustrating and discouraging.

And just trying harder, or eating less and moving more is likely NOT the answer.

There are several possible reasons that your body is resisting weight loss, including insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, unmanaged stress, and poor gut health.

Getting to the root cause of your weight loss resistance is the most effective way to support your body and finally achieve your weight loss goal.

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