4 hidden causes of unsuccessful weight loss & exercise plateau

It can be extremely frustrating to feel like you’re doing everything right in terms of exercise & nutrition, yet you still don’t see the weight loss or progressing in your fitness.


In my functional medicine practice, I routinely see 4 main causes in those who can’t seem to drop the weight or those who’ve hit a plateau in their exercise regime.



Hidden root cause 1: Leptin Resistance


Leptin is a master metabolism hormone. It is produced in your fat cells and regulates metabolic rate, appetite, and plays a role in both mood and libido.


Leptin when acting appropriately will cause satiety, however leptin resistance is due to insensitivity of leptin in the hypothalamus.


3 identified causes of leptin resistance are

1. Elevated fatty acids in the blood (high triglycerides on lipid laboratory panel)


2. Inflammatory signaling in the hypothalamus (disease associated inflammatory markers and reactive oxygen species from food),


3. Having excess leptin production (aka having higher body fat)


A few ways  to decrease Leptin Resistance:

  • Improve circadian rhythm and get adequate sleep (if your sleep is disturbed and you’re not getting enough, work with a professional to identify the cause and correct these issues such as blood sugar imbalance and adrenal dysfunction)


  • Eat a low carbohydrate/low sugar diet.




Hidden root cause 2: Microbiome imbalances


There are bacteria that have been identified in greater quantities in those who are overweight and obese such as blautia, dorea, ruminococcus in the Lachnospiraceae family, and SHA98.


5 identified causes of microbiome imbalances are:

  • Standard American Diet high in processed prepackaged carbohydrates.


  • Insufficient intake of dietary fiber. Recommendation is 25 grams per day for women and 35 grams for men.


  • Insufficient beneficial bacteria.


  • Impaired digestion, meaning insufficiencies with stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and/or bile salts as well as impaired mucosal lining.


  • An impairment in the gut-brain axis, the nervous system tone that governs the speed at which digestion occurs.


A few ways to balance the microbiome:

  • Decrease intake of prepackaged processed food, namely wheat, corn, soy, dairy, and refined sugar.


  • Increase your vegetable intake.


  • Take a professional grade, multi-strain, high potency probiotic.


  • Work with a functional medicine specialist to analyze your need for digestive supports and advanced laboratory testing to analyze stool for infection, abundance, diversity, and balance.


Hidden root cause 3: Thyroid dysfunction


There are thyroid hormone receptor sites throughout the body, and many things influence thyroid function, such as the hormones leptin and cortisol, and micronutrients such as selenium, iodine, B12, iron, zinc, and vitamin D.


3 identified causes of thyroid dysfunction are:


1. T3 and T4 have a special role in your metabolism. As you diet longer and get leaner, leptin levels drop and this then decreases T3 and T4, which potentially can lead to slowed metabolism should the adequate micronutrients for thyroid hormone production not be present.


2. Due to molecular mimicry food items when broken down can resemble thyroid hormone and bind to thyroid hormone receptor site. Common culprits include: wheat, dairy, soy, & corn in the susceptible individual.


3. Impaired digestion (inadequate stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, dysmotility) or suboptimal nutrient intake (standard american diet) may result in impaired thyroid function.


A few ways to balance thyroid function:

  • Avoid molecular mimicry foods such as wheat, dairy, soy, & corn to improve the function of your thyroid.



  • Work with a functional medicine specialist who can test and analyze you for any micronutrient deficiencies and provide accurate recommended supplementation to correct these issues.   


4. Sex and stress hormone imbalances


The production of our sex hormones relies on the production of cholesterol (80% made in the liver and the intestine, 20% is from the foods we eat). The cholesterol is then converted into the master hormone pregnenolone.


Pregnenolone can then either be used to create the stress hormone, cortisol or be used to produce your sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. When a need for cortisol is elevated for a long period of time you can develop imbalances in the quantities and ratios of sex hormones. You can also develop abnormalities in the production of cortisol over the course of a day.


2 identified causes of sex & stress hormone imbalances are:

1. Pregnenolone, aka cortisol steal. This happens when the body is under stress for an extended period of time, and thus shunts the precursor hormone pregnenolone down the pathway to make more cortisol rather than to make sex hormones.


2. Estrogen dominance, This happens both from xenoestrogens or relative dominance as compared to progesterone and or testosterone.


A few ways to balance sex & stress hormones:

  • Laboratory testing can easily identify imbalances in cortisol (stress hormone), melatonin (sleep hormone), sex hormones (estrogen(s), progesterone, testosterone),  and precursor hormones (DHEA-s). Treatments are directed at the stage of adrenal dysfunction and imbalances seen on test results.



  • A safe intervention for anyone is to incorporate restorative practices into your everyday life, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, implementing a daily practice of gratitude, restorative yoga or Kundalini yoga, or utilizing tech such as a heart rate coherence app, heart math, or wearable tech and apps such as the Oura ring that tracks heart rate variability and sleep.

As always, I suggest that you work with a certified functional medicine practitioner to find and address these hidden root causes. By simply guessing and trying to “treat” yourself through different diets, exercise regimes, and supplementation, you’ll often become very frustrated by the lack of results.


If you’re curious to see what working with a functional medicine practitioner looks like, I want to invite you to schedule a free 15 minute call with me.

Lacey ChittleComment