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THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS OFTEN THE MOST DIFFICULT TIME OF THE YEAR TO STAY SLIM WHILE SWEET AND SAVORY INDULGENCE FOODS SEEM TO SURROUND US EVERYWHERE. And if you haven't shed the pounds you resolved you would last time this year, you're probably feeling even more frustrated. The truth is, you're being sabotaged by hidden factors that are weighing you down. Read on for what they are—and how to fight back and win the losing battle.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: A Tired, Toxic Liver The most versatile organ in your body, researchers now estimate that the liver performs nearly 500 different jobs. It functions as a living filter to cleanse the system of toxins, metabolize proteins, control hormonal balance, and produce immune boosting factors. Many of these functions not only are essential to your overall health but have a direct bearing on your weight loss efforts. When the liver lacks essential nutrients or when it is overwhelmed by toxins, it no longer performs as it should. It becomes sluggish, affecting every organ in your body, and blocking your weight loss efforts.

Among the signs of "toxic liver" are:
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
  • Cellulite
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Indigestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Skin rashes

Probably nothing you do to control your weight is as important as keeping your liver healthy. This means avoiding as many of the damaging elements (like alcohol) as possible while embracing liver boosters—including grass-fed and/or pasture-raised protein, non-GMO pea and rice protein powder, beans, legumes, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onion, milk thistle, dandelion root, and Oregon grape root. Among the lesser-known compromisers of liver function are sugar, trans fats, caffeine, medications, and inadequate fiber.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: False Fat
On a "good" day, your body is 60 to 70 percent water by weight. About two-thirds of the water is in your cells; the rest is in blood, body fluids, and spaces between cells. This water is essential. It flushes toxins, moistens your respiratory system, and is part of every metabolic process. Cells take the water they need from capillaries, which in turn carry waste products and excess water to the kidneys.

However, many individuals carry an extra 10 to 15 pounds of water trapped in their tissues. This water contributes to abdominal bloating, cellulite, and face and eye puffiness. It is what my esteemed colleague Elson Haas, MD, calls "false fat"—or when fat is really not fat. That is, the weight is not the result of additional adipose tissue, or true body fat, but of excess water. Waterlogged tissues result from various causes, including:

  • Consumption of too little water and protein
  • Food sensitivities
  • Certain medications

Determine your food allergies. Begin by eliminating the most reactive food groups—grains and dairy. Replace these foods with fiber-rich delights, including flaxseeds, artichokes, peas, avocados, and blackberries. It's also critical that you consume 8-ounces of water or cran-water (one part unsweetened, pure, organic cranberry juice to seven parts water) daily.

If you are currently taking any medications—including birth control pills, ERT, and HRT—do not stop taking them. However, if you suspect that they are causing weight gain, I recommend consulting with your physician to explore potential alternatives.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: Fear of Eating Fat
You're not alone in your fear of eating fat. Many Americans have an unhealthy fat intake, not because they eat too much fat, but because they eat too much of the wrong types of fat, like trans fats, and too little of the right types, like essential fatty acids (EFAs), particularly omega-3s. Well intentioned, but misinformed, dieters especially tend to avoid fat altogether, good and bad. This is unfortunate, because our bodies cannot make EFAs. Yet, as precursors to hormone like prostaglandins, EFAs regulate every body function at the cellular level. This includes water retention, sodium balance, and fat metabolism.

In your efforts at weight control, fat also:

  • Carries fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream
  • Activates the flow of bile (Hidden Factor #7)
  • Helps your body conserve protein
  • Slows the absorption of carbohydrates to balance blood sugar levels
  • Is a building block for production of estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones
  • Is a precursor for serotonin, which controls cravings and elevates your mood

Enjoy the right fats in your diet—and the great news is that they're delicious! Swap vegetable oils like canola for avocado and coconut oil, enjoy an avocado daily (as a snack or in foods), include only grass-fed and/or pasture-raised protein in the diet, and get plenty of those yummy Omegas—3, 6, and 7—on your plate. I also recommend including fat-blasting GLA and CLA supplements in your daily routine.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: Insulin Resistance and Inflammation
When you eat carbohydrates or food high in sugar, glucose is released into your bloodstream. This signals the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin takes some of the glucose to cells for immediate energy; it converts more glucose to a starchy version, glycogen. Glycogen is transported to the liver and muscle tissue for short-term storage, ready to be used quickly as blood sugar levels start to fall again. Short-term storage capacity is limited, however, so any remaining glucose is converted, again with the help of insulin, into triglycerides (body fat) for long-term storage. In short, insulin uses all the blood sugar it needs and stores the rest as fat.

Learn where your carbs come from. Different sources of carbohydrates have different impacts on blood sugar levels. Carbs from low-sugar, unprocessed, plant-based sources, like vegetables and beans, take longer for the body to process, so they can provide all the good nutrients that carbs have to offer while not causing dramatic changes in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, high-sugar, refined (processed) carbohydrates (think those foods in which grain has been processed into flour) are processed quickly by the body, creating erratic changes in blood sugar levels. It is those drastic changes in blood sugar— the spikes and the drops—that destabilize your hormones, including insulin, leading to weight gain and insulin resistance. Aim for your diet to be about 30 percent highly colorful vegetables and fruits, 30 percent protein, and 40 percent high-quality anti-inflammatory fats—especially flaxseed oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, and avocados.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: Stress
Stress is at the root of almost every disease. It impacts every part of the body, and especially the brain. Stress can disrupt our ability to think and feel clearly, even shrinking the brain with prolonged exposure to stressful experiences. This means the primary organ responsible for keeping you balanced and at a healthy weight cannot do its job properly.

Stress has a close relationship with food and weight because they are influenced by the same part of the brain. When stressed, the hypothalamus sends out a particularly important hormone when it comes to weight loss: cortisol. Cortisol's job is to release glucose and fatty acids so that muscles have energy. However, after the stress moment has passed, the cortisol level remains high, stimulating your appetite to replenish fuel your body has burned. A high consumption of sugary foods prompts more cortisol production and causes the body to store more fat than needed, usually in the abdominal area.

Stay away from dangerous distractions we often turn to in times of stress, including smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol in excess, and consuming caffeine. Make time for daily exercise and even though it may be difficult at first—make sure you're in bed at an adequate hour. The healthy fats you'll be incorporating in your diet have also been tied to decreased aggression and hostility.

Sneaky weight loss roadblock: Poor quality bile
Bile is brilliant! No conversation about stubborn weight loss is complete without discussing this yellowish-green liquid that the liver produces about a quart of every day. Bile is stored in the gallbladder, where it waits until it is transported to the intestines during digestion. Made from lecithin, cholesterol, and bilirubin, your bile has two jobs. First, it emulsifies and digests fat, breaking it down into small particles so that your intestines can absorb them. Second, it helps escort toxins that your liver has removed out of the body.

It also plays a critical role in fat digestion. Even if you're eating all of the right healthy fats, it will backfire if you're lacking quality bile. Without sufficient amounts to break it down, your body has little use for fat, and so it stores it. When bad bile keeps your body from digesting fats, not only does it make you gain weight, but it also leaves you without the nutritional benefits packed inside fat.

Incorporate bitters into the diet—a potent way to trigger the release of bile from the gallbladder. And if you no longer have your gallbladder, bitters will assist in fat digestion as well. Do note that many vegans can use digestive bitters instead of ox bile. These bitters include greens like arugula, radicchio, watercress, and escarole. Dandelion root tea is also considered a "bitter" and is legendary for assisting in bile thinning and decongestion, as are gentian and angelica.

Start your day with hot water and lemon daily—a drink that cleanses bile while purifying the palate. Daily lecithin in the Fat Flush Smoothies is also a great daily insurance for free-flowing bile. Last but not least, I also recommend a high quality bile supplement. Look for one that contains the six key nutrients—choline, taurine, beet root, pancreatic lipase, ox bile, and collinsonia root.

Take charge of your health this holiday season with a healthy diet of slimming, healthy fats, grass-fed protein, and a beautiful array of fruits and veggies that will sparkle at any holiday party.

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Visionary health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, has always been a trendsetter. With millions of followers nationwide, she has the uncanny ability to pinpoint major health concerns and provide solutions years ahead of anybody else.

Highly respected as the grande dame of alternative health and award-winning author of 30 books, she single-handedly launched the weight loss/detox revolution in her New York Times bestseller The Fat Flush Plan. A Connecticut College and Teachers College, Columbia University graduate, Dr. Ann Louise was recognized as one of the top ten nutritionists in the country by Self magazine and was the recipient of the American Medical Writers Association award for excellence. She has been a popular columnist for First magazine since 2003.