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Obstacles to Weight Loss

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in weight loss, originally published in issue 77 - June 2002


In my work as a nutritional therapist, people come to see me for a whole range of health problems. But, with few exceptions, most of my clients also want to lose weight. The desire to be thinner has become an obsession in our society. A recent survey[1] confirmed that dieting has reached epidemic proportions. Out of approximately 100,000 adults, 64% of men and 78% of women were restricting food intake in order to lose excess weight or maintain their current weight. In the last ten years, the slimming business has increased its turnover fourfold and it is estimated to be worth over £60 million a year, yet the statistics show we are getting fatter and fatter! So what is going wrong?

Case Example

Take my client Barbara. Her preoccupation with her weight began as a teenager. Now aged 30 she had spent half her life on an endless round of diets. Her weight would fluctuate wildly as each period of dieting was followed by comfort eating. Her self-esteem was now at an all time low and she desperately wanted to sort out her eating patterns. She was very sceptical about whether a nutritional therapist could help her because she believed she knew a lot about healthy eating and felt that her problem was more to do with lack of willpower. I agreed that the psychological element was an important part, but explained that there was also a physiological basis for the problem. Barbara was showing many symptoms of low blood sugar, such as cravings for sweet foods, a tendency to feeling low, fatigue, irritability, feeling 'spaced out' and poor concentration. All these symptoms were exacerbated around the time of her period.

Barbara had already had a glucose tolerance test done at her local GP surgery and the results had been normal. However, the conventional blood sugar test is not a very sensitive means of assessing blood sugar levels. It does not take into account that, although a person's blood sugar levels may fall within the established 'normal' parameters, they may be lower than and fall more rapidly than is usual for that person, which will then cause symptoms such as cravings, particularly for sugary foods. When Barbara realized that her cravings for ice cream and biscuits were based on a biochemical imbalance, it produced a tremendous sense of relief and took away all the guilt and self-criticism she had been heaping upon herself.

Out of Control?

Symptoms of low blood sugar are extremely easily and quickly treated with the right foods and supplements. The first change Barbara made to her diet was to eat much more frequently, starting the day with a substantial breakfast instead of a piece of fruit which left her feeling starving and irritable by mid-morning. Often when people want to lose weight they make the mistake of trying to go for long periods between meals without eating anything. Barbara was amazed at the amount of food I was suggesting she should eat in a day! But I explained that the type of food was important. She needed to combine complex carbohydrates such as rye bread, Ryevita, brown rice or quinoa with a little bit of protein, for example from fish, meat, tofu or pulses. Breakfast consisted of egg and toast or sugar-free muesli (which contains a good mix of carbohydrate and protein). This is the opposite of the food combining principle where you keep the two food groups separate. Adding some protein helps to maintain blood sugar levels for longer.

High protein diets have become very fashionable recently as a fast route to weight loss. While they work in the short term, ultimately this sort of eating plan will cause health problems. Any nutrition student knows that 'fat burns in the flame of carbohydrate'. In other words, we need carbohydrate for fat to be efficiently metabolized. If fat and protein are used as the prime energy source, a build-up of toxic substances called ketones occurs which can cause health complications. Reducing total carbohydrate intake rather than eliminating it altogether can help weight loss. Some people find that it helps to do a carbohydrate 'curfew' after 6 pm at night. This simply means eating meat, fish or other protein with vegetables for the evening meal without any rice, potatoes or pasta.

Barbara stopped eating all refined carbohydrates, such as foods made with white flour and sugar, because these foods cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels followed by a drop, leaving her feeling drained of energy and susceptible to cravings. She also stopped eating dairy products, which not only cut down the saturated fat content of her diet to help with the weight loss but also helped to clear her sinuses. I gave her a strong mineral formula containing plenty of B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and trace minerals such as chromium, which are all needed for sugar metabolism.

Barbara lost a stone in weight over a period of two months. This was a slower rate of loss than she had been used to, but she was delighted because she felt that this time she could maintain it. She no longer had any cravings for sweet foods and didn't feel deprived.

She enjoyed her new way of eating and therefore did not see it as a 'diet'. This meant she was quite happy to continue with it. Another key to success was a subtle shift in perspective. On the occasions that she did indulge, she was able to enjoy the food without feeling guilty because she was more in tune with her body's needs. She did not feel an uncontrollable desire to overeat and she was happy with the foods that made up the bulk of her healthy day-to-day diet.

Food Intolerances

Apart from poor blood sugar control, food intolerance can be an obstacle to weight loss. A common symptom of food intolerance is water retention, particularly in the abdomen, ankles and joints. There can be a general feeling of being swollen, heavy and uncomfortable. Wheat-based foods are often the culprit here. Sometimes all that is required is to omit the offending food. But often there is a need to combine this with a nutritional programme that supports the organs of detoxification such as the kidneys and the liver. One of my clients, Jackie, lost half a stone within two weeks of starting her nutritional programme. She spent a great deal of time in the loo, expelling all the excess water that had accumulated in her system!


There are many Barbaras and Jackies out there and I find it sad that a large proportion of them will never break the diet and binge cycle mainly through a lack of information. Unfortunately conventional doctors and dieticians focus on controlling calorie intake and exercising as the only means to weight loss. This is not only unhelpful but it can be very demoralizing for people whose inability to lose weight is related to other factors. Being overweight tends to lower confidence anyway, and to be made to feel it is your own fault when it may not be can make self-esteem drop even further. Yet another example of how nutritionists and dieticians need to work together and pool their knowledge.


1. Serdula MK, Mokdad AH, Williamson DF, Galuska DA, Mendlein JM and Heath GW. Prevalence of Attempting Weight Loss and Strategies for Controlling Weight. JAMA. 282(14): 1353-58. 13 October 1999.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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