I recognize that weight is just one measure of overall health, but it is one that many of my clients are concerned with. If this describes you, then this article is for you. Overweight and obesity are so common today that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children experience these in the United States right now. That’s hundreds of millions of people, so if that “label” has been applied to you, please don’t feel alone. Overweight and obesity can increase the risk of many health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Achieving a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, and being physically active can help improve your health and reduce your risks.

But as you know, there is so much more to the old adage: eat less, move more.

Weight loss is very challenging for many reasons:

  • There is an abundance of food available around most of us 24/7

  • Eating isn’t just something we do for sustenance; it’s gratification, a social activity, and sometimes even a reward

  • Computers, phones, television, cars, etc. have contributed to a much more sedentary lifestyle—we don’t all need to be physically active farmers to survive anymore

  • Reducing calories voluntarily is really, really hard; it’s a huge challenge to change habits, and even when many of us do this, we often restrict too much or just have the wrong balance of macros (protein, fat, and carbs for our unique genes and lifestyles)

  • Many diets work in the short term, but fail later on because they’re simply unsustainable

  • After losing weight, maintaining weight loss is extremely difficult (and this is particularly true for women after menopause)


Today, let’s go over some strategies to overcome the challenges of weight loss.

What is metabolism and how can I lose weight, and is exercise essential?

Your weight is based on several factors, some are controllable and others are not. For example, your genetics, family history, and hormones can impact your weight, but there’s not too much you can do to significantly change the first two. On the other hand, how much and what you eat, the medications you’re taking, the amount of stress you’re under, and how much sleep and physical activity you get also contribute to weight, and are a bit more controllable (albeit not completely controllable).

Here’s where metabolism fits with weight. There are so many things that your body does at rest: breathing, pumping blood, adjusting hormone levels, maintaining your body temperature, and growing and repairing cells. The amount of energy (calories) your body uses to perform these essential functions is called your “basal metabolic rate.” Overall, your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism, accounts for about two-thirds of the calories your body burns each and every day.

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Your metabolism is influenced mostly by your body size and composition. This means that people who are bigger and/or have heavier bones and more muscle mass burn more calories at rest. Because men tend to be bigger and have more muscle, they naturally tend to have a higher metabolism than women. This also goes for younger people. Because bone and muscle mass naturally tend to decrease (and fat mass naturally tends to increase) with age, if you don’t take steps to maintain bone and muscle mass, your metabolism likely will decrease which results in increased weight.

Certain medical conditions can also affect your metabolism. For example the hormonal conditions of Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can slow your metabolism down, as can a general cortisol imbalance, and menopause. These conditions often come with a range of other symptoms beyond just weight gain. If you suspect that you have an underlying medical condition, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor, functional medicine provider, or healthcare professional about tests to confirm these diagnoses.

A slow metabolism may be one factor that influences your weight, but it’s not the only one. How your body processes what you eat or drink and how active you are also play roles in your weight. The process of digesting food burns calories. About 10 percent of the calories in carbohydrates and protein are used to digest them. Plus, the amount of physical activity you do also accounts for some of the calories you burn every day.  And the types of physical activities factor in as well: Are you building muscle? Are you doing only cardio?


While some people may gain or lose weight easier than others, in general, the balance of your “energy equation” counts for your weight, as part of the equation at least. That is, the amount of energy (calories) you take in minus the amount of energy (calories) you burn can play a part in whether you gain or lose weight.   However, there is research to show that exercise is not as importance in weight loss as we previously thought, but it is important in the maintenance of weight loss.   Keep in mind though that movement, not being sedentary, are a necessary part of that above equation.  The bottom line for weight loss and exercise? If you are sedentary, try to add movement in daily, even in small amounts throughout the day, to help in your weight loss efforts but a formalized exercise plan might not be as key as we believe it was in the past.

Weight loss/maintenance strategies

Before you start a weight-loss program, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. Many weight-loss products or programs can be harmful depending on your current state of health and goals. Be particularly wary of products or programs that promise quick, long-lasting, or effortless weight loss.

Your behaviors and habits have a huge influence on your weight and you are empowered to adjust them as you see fit. It’s recommended that if you experience overweight or obesity and want to lose weight, try cutting 500 calories per day from what you eat. If this does not help, focus more on your macros (protein, fat, carbs).  Track them using an app like My Fitness Pal or CarbManager.  Then, play around with adjusting your macros (there is no perfect macro breakdown that works for everyone)- you could try, for example, 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs, or flip the carbs and the fat in that ratio.  And, if you can add in some of these other strategies (including adding physical movement) you may be able to reach your weight-loss goals even faster.

Here are my top six strategies for weight loss/maintenance:

1 – Set specific, realistic, forgiving goals

  • Instead of a goal to “lose weight,” try smaller and more specific goals that you can attain.

  • Daily or weekly goals can be, for example, to cook a vegetable-rich meal on the weekend, decrease food cues (hiding cookies out of sight or disregarding food ads), or move at a moderate pace at least a total 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week.

  • Try to stick with a new habit for at least a week or two to start making it routine. Then when one habit becomes consistent, add another one.

  • Remember, it’s not uncommon to take 6 months to lose 5% of your body weight, so that may be a more realistic goal to aim for. But when the weight loss is slow like this, albeit emotionally grueling at times, it tends to be lasting.

2 – Ditch the “diet” mentality and focus on making lasting improvements for sustainable health

  • Focus on improving your food choices for overall health, rather than “dieting” for weight loss. Nourish, don’t restrict.  Add the following, don’t think of what you are taking away.

  • Enjoy lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

  • Focus on fiber and aim for 35 grams/day (this is where those tracking apps come in really handy!)

  • Replace saturated and trans fats with healthier choices such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, nut butters, and avocadoes.


3 – Try eating a different way and see what works for you

  • Ideally, each meal should take at least 20 minutes to eat, so eat slower. Enjoy your food more and listen for fullness cues that subtly signal when you’re getting satisfied and it’s time to stop eating.

  • Eat more mindfully by focusing on and enjoying what you’re eating while you’re eating it. Pay attention to your food’s smell, taste, and texture as you’re eating it.

  • Try putting your fork down or sipping water between bites and thoroughly chewing before swallowing.

  • If you have a habit of snacking in front of the TV or computer screen, try getting used to replacing that with a glass of water or unsweetened beverage instead.


4 – You don’t have to do exercise to be more physically active (but you can, and it definitely helps with weight loss maintenance)

  • Boost your activity; move for at least 30 minutes per day (even three 10 minute sessions can help); more movement can bring greater benefits.

  • Aerobic activity (e.g., walking, bicycling, etc.) is the most efficient way to burn calories.

  • Weight training (e.g., using weights or pushing your body against gravity) builds your muscles which increases your metabolic rate; ideally you’d include at least two weight training sessions per week, preferably  20-40 minutes in length.

  • Don’t forget you don’t have to do “exercise” to be physically active, you can take the stairs more often, park further away, walk a bit faster, or do housework or gardening—they all count toward your physical activity.

  • Fidgeting counts, too. Your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), like shaking a leg, tapping a foot, or even twirling a pen, also burns some calories.

  • Remember that any physical activity is better for your health (and weight loss goals) than none.


5 – Reward your successes

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, “frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.”

  • Each time you reach a goal, however small, reward your success with a non-food activity or item.

  • For example, you may want to buy yourself that book, go to a new movie, enjoy some new music, or get a manicure or massage.

  • Perhaps you can put a small amount of money away to save up for a larger reward.

  • Rewards don’t have to be monetary. You can take some time for yourself like have a bath, do your nails, or enjoy a craft or hobby you love (or try a new one).

  • Maybe you’d prefer some time to watch a new show or series- and while you do it incorporate some gentle movement or exercise so this can take you further toward your goal.


6 – Persevere

  • Losing weight is very hard and most people have to keep trying before they find a way that works for them.

  • Every day is a new day. If you go off track, get back on track and try again.

  • Don’t give up. A study published in September 2020 found that trying to lose weight over and over again (also known as “weight cycling”) can significantly reduce your risk of dying. According to the National Institutes of Health, “repeatedly losing and regaining weight was better than giving up after one or two attempts or, worse still, never trying to lose weight at all.”


Check out my ebook on nutrition and metabolism to learn more!

While weight is but one measure of health, it is a big concern for many people. Losing weight is not easy. Your metabolism is influenced by many different factors—some you can’t control (e.g., your genes) and others you can (e.g., what and how you eat).


The fundamentals of weight loss include enjoying healthier, nutritious foods more often and being more physically active, but there are so many approaches that help you make this happen for you. The way you approach dieting and eating, the way you set your goals and reward yourself, and the way you persevere are all totally customizable so you can try and see what works for you.  If you find something is not working, change it up.  


For a nutritious, sustainable, and individualized approach to metabolism and your weight, consult a Registered Dietitian/Nutrition professional or coach, or a Functional Medicine Professional, who can work with your concerns and dietary restrictions.  You can check out my functional medicine practice or my online resources via my website or YouTube channel.


Harvard Health. (2018, May). Burning calories without exercise. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/burning-calories-without-exercise

Harvard Health. (2018, July). Small tricks to help you shed pounds and keep them off. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/small-tricks-to-help-you-shed-pounds-and-keep-them-off

Harvard Health. (2019, March 19). The lowdown on thyroid slowdown. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-lowdown-on-thyroid-slowdown

Harvard Health. (2019, November 20). Building simple habits for healthy weight loss. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/building-simple-habits-for-healthy-weight-loss

Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle. (2019, February 21). Is a slow metabolism the reason I’m overweight? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/slow-metabolism/faq-20058480

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Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle. (2020, November 10). Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508

NIH Intramural Research Program. (2020, Dec 8). Attempting Weight Loss Linked to Reduced Risk of Death. Retrieved from https://irp.nih.gov/blog/post/2020/12/attempting-weight-loss-linked-to-reduced-risk-of-death

NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Healthy. (2017, September). Weight Control. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/weight-control

NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Aim for a healthy weight. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/index.htm

NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Guide to Behavior Change. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/behavior.htm