I have had the pleasure of working with a young mother of two in her late 20’s who came to me looking to lose her baby weight from her last pregnancy. Out of respect for her privacy, rather than use her real name I will refer to her as Jennifer.
Jennifer is a relatively short, endomorphic young lady; she has larger joints and more natural mass than what many women would genetically prefer. One of the first questions I asked her was what she ate on a regular basis. Turns out she was only consuming about 900 calories a day and was not losing weight, which immediately told me we were dealing with a very slow metabolism. It was nothing new, and I explained to her that maintaining a calorie deficit for long durations will gradually reduce one’s natural metabolic rate because it forces the body to conserve energy so it doesn’t deplete all of it’s vital energy stores (body fat).
At first, Jennifer was barely able to run a mile without having to pause for breaks, which told me her aerobic (oxygen) efficiency was low, which slows fat metabolism as well. In addition to pushing her cardiovascular conditioning during our initial stability-oriented workouts twice a week, I asked her to work on her aerobic endurance 2-4 times a week as possible, trying to work her way up to being able to jog 2-3 miles without stopping.
I also asked Jennifer to bring her calorie intake up to around 1,700 calories a day, almost double what she had been eating. I explained to her that she may not lose weight for a week or two because it takes time for her metabolism to adapt to the influx of energy, but that investing those weeks towards the long road ahead of us would ultimately speed up the process. It was hard for her at first to eat that much food because she had been eating so little for so long. She lost several pounds in those first few weeks because her activity level was significantly more than what it had been previously, but a few weeks in she was able to start eating closer to that 1,700 calorie mark and things stalled as I had expected.
Unexpectedly, however, over the next couple of months we struggled to see much weight loss at all. We’d stall at a number for 2 or 3 weeks, all of a sudden see 1 or even 2lbs drop, then stall again for another 2-3 weeks. She was doing everything right, working hard every day of the week, eating anywhere from 900-1,700 calories a day which was plenty low enough to see weight loss. Something wasn’t right. The only thing left I could get her to try was stop stepping on the scale every day. She was getting very frustrated every time she saw her weight, so every day was starting off on the wrong foot. I explained how stress can cause the body to want to retain both water and body fat as a response to survival and starvation, and asked her to try to avoid stepping on a scale except for one day of the week. Well, that was not OK with her. She wanted that progress so badly she couldn’t bring herself to postpone knowing whether or not her hard work was paying off yet, day after day, so we had exhausted everything I could ask her to try.
It was then that I suggested going to a medical weight-loss clinic and getting some blood work done. Luckily she had no reservations about going, and it was a good thing she went. We learned that her testosterone levels were too low and she was hypothyroid because she was not converting T3 to T4 efficiently. The options given to her by the medical weight-loss clinic were of course all prescriptions, and she was told that if she decided to try them she would need to take them for the rest of her life. Fortunately, Jennifer is not as willing to jump into a pill diet as fast as some others, so she decided to think about it first.
After talking it over with her personal doctor, she decided to avoid a prescription testosterone treatment, but did try a prescription Synthroid to see if it would elevate her thyroid levels. She shared this with me and I explained to her that we could naturally increase her testosterone levels through strategic resistance training as much as 20%. She was willing to try anything, so we started doing less conditioning work and focused on stimulating as much muscular hypertrophy as we could in the 2 days a week that we were meeting.
Things didn’t speed up immediately, but after a couple weeks, the scale started moving again! We didn’t always see progress on the same day of the week, but on average we were starting to see 1lb per week falling off. Then we starting seeing close to 2lbs a week! After a few weeks, we realized that despite all the weeks of little-to-no progress on the scale, we had all of a sudden caught up to our initial projection of achieving a minimum of 1lb/week in weight loss! I couldn’t be more proud of her. She wanted to give up a couple months into our training because the scale wasn’t budging, but I promised her things would pay off. Now she’s just a few weeks away from the anniversary vacation to Hawaii with her husband that she’s been preparing for and she’s almost to her goal weight.
What’s especially neat is that she went back to the doctor after 30 days of taking the Synthroid and her blood panel should that it made zero difference in her thyroid levels! So she’s no longer taking the Synthroid but she’s continuing to lose weight every week! She hasn’t had her testosterone level re-checked, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a natural boost in testosterone was largely responsible for the difference in progress. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what one or more things contributed to her success, what matters is that she succeeded!