Top Hacks to Find Your Happy Weight with Autoimmune Disease - Nikki Yelton RD

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Top Hacks to Find Your Happy Weight with Autoimmune Disease

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Many women who suffer from autoimmune conditions also struggle with finding their happy weight. The primary culprit of weight gain or the inability to lose, is inflammation. Read on to learn about the common causes of stubborn weight and hacks to find your happy weight.

Weights, almonds, and a banana, all parts of a healthy lifestyle to find your happy weight

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Many women who suffer from autoimmune conditions also struggle with finding their happy weight. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this tag-team duo more times than I can count. For many reasons, this connection makes sense (more on this below). But that being said, it can also be effectively prevented and managed. 

In a largely digital world, body image and appearance are highly esteemed. However, “healthy” doesn’t always equal “skinny.” And vice versa. Despite popular belief, a happy weight will look different for each woman. So, give yourself the freedom to pursue healing without the social pressures of looking a certain way. After all, you were made in the image of God and we all know He doesn’t make mistakes!  

MAIN REASON FOR STUBBORN WEIGHT GAIN

Typically to lose weight, we hear it’s calorie in, calorie out. Eat less calories than you burn and you’re good to go, right? Not quite. And for a lot of people, experience proves otherwise. Eating a low calorie diet may work for some, but for most people there is a deeper root to their stubborn weight. And a low calorie diet can often be void of nutrients, which can actually be even more detrimental to your metabolism, especially if you have gut issues or autoimmunity.

The primary culprit of weight gain or the inability to lose is.. INFLAMMATION. 

Chronic inflammation throws the body out of homeostasis, which frequently results in dysfunction and disease. This is where the autoimmunity-weight gain connection comes in. Inflammation is the source of all disease and autoimmunity is no exception. 

Fortunately and unfortunately, inflammation can present itself in countless ways, including:
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Poor digestion
  • Aches and pains
  • Arthritis
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Weight gain
  • Food sensitivities
  • Environmental allergies
  • Metabolic disease
  • Infertility
  • PCOS

While most of these symptoms might sound common, they are not normal. They serve as a dead giveaway that inflammation is plaguing the body! In fact, if you are currently suffering from autoimmunity, these symptoms probably sound a little too familiar. 

OTHER COMMON CAUSES OF WEIGHT GAIN FOR THOSE WITH GUT & AUTOIMMUNE IMBALANCES
Common causes of weight gain that are preventing you from finding your happy weight
Toxin Exposure 

Whether it be through the foods we eat, the air we breathe, or the cosmetics and cleaning supplies we use, we are living in a time where toxins are everywhere. Toxins can overcrowd our liver causing us to slow down over time. We might feel fatigued, heavy, and inflamed when we are exposed to so many and aren’t getting rid of them properly. When the liver has an overflow of toxins, we tend to store them in our fat cells. In addition, estrogen dominance is usually a result of toxin accumulation in the liver which is a main driver to weight gain or weight loss resistance. 

Food Intolerances and Sensitivities 

Many individuals experience symptoms from unknown food sensitivities and intolerances. Common food sensitivities include: dairy, soy, MSGs, GMOs, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, gums, and more. When a food sensitivity is present, the immune system reacts to proteins that cause the release of chemicals called mediators (such as histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines) from the white blood cells in the body. This mediator release causes inflammation, which can lead to weight gain. 

Not Eating PFC Balanced Meals 

Balancing each meal with the right amount of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is essential for healthy blood sugar management, metabolism, and energy. When we skip a macronutrient or purposely avoid them, this can lead to weight gain over time. 

Ketogenic and Fad Diets 

Fad diets often lead to more weight gain overtime. They might sound promising and offer quick wins, but the truth is they aren’t sustainable, especially if you have an autoimmune condition. In fact, I have seen a low carbohydrate and keto diet make conditions worse when women follow it for more than 3 months! 

Micronutrient Deficiencies 

The average person is not consuming a nutrient dense diet today due to the lack of nutrients in our soil and food supply (or simply food choices available). In addition, most women with leaky gut and autoimmune conditions are vitamin and mineral deficient. Having micronutrient deficiencies often leads to more inflammation in the body and makes it nearly impossible to lose weight. 

Stress 

Despite common belief, stress affects every aspect of our health, including mental, emotional, and physical. Chronic, unmanaged stress wreaks havoc on our gut and digestive system. Chronic stress that is ongoing for a long period of time can actually FEED harmful microbes and lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. This not only affects the gut but it can also lead to the depletion in essential nutrients, like b-vitamins, that are essential for energy, metabolism, and weight management. 

Hormone Imbalances (due to leaky gut) 

Hormones play a major role in the functioning of several organ systems throughout the body, including the gut microbiome and the digestive system. For example, the thyroid secretes essential hormones that affect the metabolism. When the thyroid hormones are imbalanced, it can cause what’s known as “hormonal belly.” Stress hormones are also a major factor when it comes to the gut. When stressed, cortisol levels spike and your body goes into survival mode. This is due to the fight or flight response. High cortisol levels can cause dysbiosis in the gut which leads to chronic inflammation and weight gain. Hormonal imbalances are also particularly common in females. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, estrogen dips and then begins to rise and remains high. This affects water retention, which leads to weight gain. 

Dysbiosis 

Dysbiosis is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. In a healthy gut, your microbes are diverse and mostly consist of good, beneficial strains. There will always be bad microbes present, such as yeast, viruses, and bad bacteria. However the key is to have MORE good microbes to fight off the bad. When there are more bad gut bugs than good, this imbalance causes all sorts of dysfunction in our digestive tract. The diversity of microbes in the gut control most functions in the body. If your gut bacteria is out of whack, there’s a good chance you feel it pretty much everywhere— even in the form of weight gain. 

Lack of sleep 

Not getting enough sleep can directly affect your metabolism and energy levels. In addition, we detox as we sleep which is why it plays such an important role in healing. Poor sleep alone can contribute to inflammation and this is why most women have a hard time losing weight if they are not getting enough sleep each night. 

Lack of Movement 

It goes without saying that a lack of movement can result in weight gain overtime. We need to move our body daily in order to reduce stress, detox and get rid of toxins, digest, balance blood sugar, and improve sleep quality. 

THE KEY TO FINDING YOUR HAPPY WEIGHT

So, what’s the key to reducing inflammation, returning balance to the body, and maintaining healthy weight? 

Biohacking your metabolism!

Unlike the message of most weight loss commercials or online health coaches, finding your happy weight doesn’t have to be hard. And it most definitely doesn’t require a quick-fix approach. When the body is able to maintain homeostasis, it can naturally maintain a healthy weight. In functional medicine, we view weight gain or stubborn weight as a symptom, not a root cause.

Biohacking the metabolism really is simpler than it might sound. Follow these tips to effectively and safely support a healthy metabolism and weight, even with autoimmunity:

Top hacks to find your happy weight such as drink more water and heal leaky gut
Drink More Water 

I hate to say it, but most of us are chronically dehydrated. You should be aiming to drink at least ½ your body weight (pounds) in water (ounces) per day. Drink an additional 8 ounces for every cup of coffee or alcohol consumed. Oftentimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually just dehydrated! Your body is craving something and your mind thinks it’s food, but really it’s asking for hydration. Water is also a natural appetite suppressant and helps with healthy digestion and elimination!

Given water makes up almost 60% of our body mass, it plays an incremental role in our health! Proper hydration is needed for gut function and protection against autoimmunity. When dehydration kicks in, the body is more prone to autoimmune flares, digestive issues, and poor gut integrity, which you guessed it– contributes to inflammation and weight gain.

While drinking enough water is so important, it’s also often overlooked to consider how you’re absorbing that water. Absorption is just as important when it comes to hydration! Electrolyte balance is the key to absorbing the water you’re drinking and a few great ways to make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes is to─

  • Incorporate hydrating foods in your diet
  • Add sea salt or trace mineral drops to your water
  • Drink coconut water

You can read more about healthy ways to help your body properly absorb water and stay hydrated here! 

Poop & Sweat

Eliminating toxins regularly is a non-negotiable for a healthy metabolism and body. If you aren’t excreting toxins on a daily basis through sweat and bowel movements, you can bet on gaining weight as the toxins build up in the body. You also may feel a little lighter after a bowel movement, but that’s not necessarily the weight you should be concerned about losing. The most important aspect about being regular in regards to weight loss is that it’s a sign your digestive system is working properly, which is tied to your metabolism. 

Healthy stool should be sausage shaped, easy to pass, and medium brown in color. To help determine if your poop is healthy, I recommend using the Bristol Stool Chart. Type 1 is considered to be a constipated state, while Type 7 is diarrhea. Ideally, bowel movements should be somewhere in the middle— as close to Type 4 as possible. 

1 = Separate hard lumps that are hard to pass 

2 = Sausage-shaped, lumpy, somewhat difficult to pass

3 = Sausage-shaped with cracks

4 = Snake-shaped, smooth and soft

5 = Soft blobs with clear cut edges, easily passes

6 = Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, mushy

7 = Watery without any solid pieces

Constipation prevents the body from detoxing as it should. As a result, toxins are reabsorbed and recirculated into the bloodstream, leading to a host of symptoms including weight gain. Diarrhea is indicative of your body trying to expel something from your digestive system at a faster rate. Frequent diarrhea can be quickly dehydrating and can serve as a sign of a deeper issue like an infection.

Learn more about what your poop says about your health here! 

Heal Leaky Gut 

Health begins in the gut. Once the gut is healthy, you will start to see improvements and changes throughout the rest of the body, including maintaining your happy weight! Our gut microbes control the release of hormones that regulate appetite and energy balance, such as leptin, GLP-1 (Glucagen like peptide 1) and peptide YY. When the gut is off, so is the rest of the body! 

I specialize in gut health because I’m on a mission to help men and women reverse autoimmunity. The best way we can do that is to heal the gut the right way. Every client I’ve worked with who has an autoimmune condition also has a leaky gut. This is in no way a coincidence.

Healing the gut can seem like a daunting task, but the truth is, it’s actually very simple when you have the right system and a step by step process to heal the gut the right way. 

I unfortunately see so many clients that come to me trying all the things all at once— but their symptoms persist. They’re taking supplements like probiotics and glutamine, drinking bone broth, and even eating a healthy and anti-inflammatory diet. And as great as this is (I recommend those same things as well), we cannot skip addressing what caused the microbiome to become imbalanced in the first place. For most people, this means they’re missing key root causes like gut infections, food sensitivities, and even reduced stomach acid or malabsorption. If these aren’t addressed first, it can lead to spinning your wheels for years. 

This was my story over a decade ago and the reason why I got into the functional medicine space in the first place. I struggled with multiple autoimmune conditions and tried everything to no prevail. That is, until I healed my gut and actually got my life back. This is why I decided to specialize in gut health and autoimmunity. It’s been amazing to see what happens when we heal the gut the right way. I’ve seen lives transform and so many get their life back. It is pretty incredible and inspiring! 

Choose the Right Probiotic 

Not all probiotics are created equal. In fact, there are a lot of “spoof” probiotics on the market today. I recommend working with a functional practitioner to make sure you’re consuming the correct strain of probiotics. You want to be populating your gut with the good bacteria that you need specifically! Ideally, you should test your gut to figure out the unique strains you’re in need of. And, always, opt for a multi-strain probiotic. You can read and learn more about probiotics, here. 

If you aren’t sure where to start and need a good multi-strain probiotic that works fantastic for most individuals who don’t know their unique bacteria balance, I highly suggest and recommend Seed probiotics. 

Correct Your Nutrient Deficiencies 

Simply put, nutrient deficiencies lead to weight loss resistance. Without adequate nutrients, many functions and processes in the body suffer. Weight gain is a quick result. This is why simply following a low calorie diet doesn’t always cut it. You need your nutrients! Be sure to check all vitamin and minerals levels, including ferritin, iron, vitamin D, and essential fatty acids.

Eat More Fat 

Fat might have gained a bad rap over the last couple decades, but the truth is finally being revealed. Fat is a necessary macronutrient! Without it, your body won’t produce enough hormones (or in the appropriate balance) and metabolic function will slow down! Unsaturated fats promote healthier gut bacteria, lower inflammation levels, and actually increase weight loss. 

Essentially, fat burns fat.

To bump up your healthy fats, aim for 1-2 servings of healthy fat PER meal. 1 serving of healthy fat looks like: 
  • 1/8 avocado 
  • 8-10 olives
  • 1 TBSP olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, or avocado oil
  • 1oz raw cheese
  • ¼ cup coconut milk 
  • 2 TBSP full fat raw heavy cream 
  • 1 TBSP nut butter 
  • ¼ cup nuts or seeds such as walnuts or pumpkin seeds 
  • 1 TBSP hemp, flax, or chia seeds
Spice It Up 

Include potent spices and fresh herbs in your cooking to spice up the flavor and boost the metabolism. Specifically, try turmeric, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and black pepper to reap the benefits. These spices are warming spices, which ramp up your metabolism and help to burn fat. Talk about flavorful powerhouses! 

Ramp Up the Protein 

Protein helps build and form muscle in the body. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. AKA your metabolic rate increases. Plus protein can help heal the gut lining and reduce inflammation. So, don’t skimp on the protein. Include a source of protein at every meal and snack. And if you’re adding protein powder, make sure it’s a quality option! 

If you aren’t sure where to start with your protein intake, start by keeping a food journal to calculate your intake. There are many free platforms, such as MyFitnessPal, that you can use to estimate your current intake. Most individuals do best with consuming 30% of their calories as protein. If you are having a hard time adding protein into your diet, try a protein smoothie for breakfast! This is one of the easiest ways to incorporate more quality protein to your diet to help facilitate weight loss. Smoothies keep you full and satisfied for hours! You can learn my Flawless Smoothie Formula here and find the right protein powder for you based on your unique goals here! 

Sleep More 

Sleep is highly underrated. It’s necessary for proper detoxification and energy restoration. Your body produces the hormones ghrelin and leptin while you sleep. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin and more ghrelin. Without adequate sleep, you eat more AND your metabolism isn’t as efficient. Let’s just say, if you’re not consistently sleeping 7-8 hours (or more) per night, you’re at a much higher risk of weight gain. 

It is worth creating and establishing a sleep routine that can work best for you. Here are a few of my top tips to help you get more sleep: 
Keep a Consistent Sleep and Wake Cycle 

To regulate sleep, it’s important to maintain consistent sleep and wake times, even over the weekend. To encourage a consistent cycle, get exposure to natural sunlight midday, or use a sunlamp to increase levels of serotonin and melatonin. In addition, always limit blue light several hours before bed time, so that you can experience quality REM sleep. 

For most individuals, going to bed at 10pm is like getting an extra 2 hours of sleep each night. For an optimal sleep/wake cycle that can support your weight loss goals, I suggest aiming for a bedtime around 10pm and a waking time around 6am. 

Find Your Caffeine Cut-Off Time

We are all affected by caffeine differently. So, I recommend finding your “cut-off” time. I suggest not consuming caffeine after noon to limit its impact on sleep. Also, pay attention to your liquid consumption before bed. It’s best to avoid liquids after 8 pm, as well as sugars, heavy meals, and alcohol, as all of these negatively impact sleep quality and quantity.

If you are going to do coffee in the morning, quality matters! Most coffee (even organic) is heavily treated with chemicals and contains molds, mycotoxins, and heavy metals which can contribute to toxin accumulation–and thus, weight gain. My favorite is Purity Coffee! You can use code NyeltonRD5 at checkout to save on your order! 

Limit Distractions Before Bed

One of the worst things you can do for sleep health is engage in conversations or activities that increase your brain activity. This means avoiding any kind of disagreement, confrontation, stressful conversations, or arguments before going to bed. It’s also wise to avoid the news, work emails, or financial apps. 

Find the Right Sleep Aids For You 

There are many vitamins,  tools, and practices that naturally support healthy sleep. A few of my favorites, include:

  • Magnesium supplementation 
  • Herbal tea support 
  • Ingesting CBD oil 
  • Diffusing essential oils
  • Taking an Epsom salt bath before bed 
  • Using a noise maker 
  • Sleeping with a weighted blanket
  • Cleaning your bedding, air, and environment often 
  • Working with a practitioner to find a personalized natural herbal supplement to support your stress and sleep 
Create a Sleep Haven 

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, your sleep environment should be cool, dark, quiet, peaceful, comfortable, and clean. These recommendations are known to improve sleep quality and quantity when implemented consistently. You’d be surprised how much your sleep is affected when just one of these factors is off. 

Stress Less

As I mentioned above, stress and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Both physical and mental stress work against the body by robbing nutrients, depleting energy, and more. When stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol. This puts you into fight or flight mode. When cortisol spikes too often, it can affect your metabolism and lead to inflammation. Stress wreaks havoc! This is why managing stress is key to reducing inflammation and melting excess weight. 

I suggest finding a stress management routine that works for you and stick to it! A few things to try might be: 

  • Yoga
  • Meditation or deep breathing. I love the Calm app, Breathe+, and Headspace for guided exercises. 
  • Grounding in nature 
  • Reading 
  • Walking 
  • Taking an Espom salt bath (I love these bath salts + save 10% with code NY10) 
  • Use essential oils. You can add a diffuser in room or inhale oils from the bottle
Reset the Gut

Resetting the gut at the start of each season allows for a period of rest and renewal. During this time, eliminate all inflammatory food, as well as food triggers and sensitivities. Even if just for a few days, your renewed gut will thank you!  When your gut gets a jumpstart, so does your metabolism. You can expect natural fat loss and balanced blood sugar and hormones. Plus, resetting may be just what you need to tap into hunger cues more efficiently and kick those sugar cravings. 

To learn more about a gut reset and how to do one, check out my 7 Day Gut & Autoimmune Reset 7 Reboot

Sip Green Tea

Green tea is known for its high antioxidant properties, as well as its ability to increase metabolic function. Green tea is abundant with antioxidants, contains essential amino acids like L-theanine, and is high in beneficial polyphenols! One of the antioxidants it contains is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a substance that can boost metabolism. It’s quite a superfood (or drink) and a great alternative to coffee! 

I prefer to drink Pique green tea, as I know the quality can be trusted and it has been thoroughly tested for molds, mycotoxins, and heavy metals!

Do a Metabolic-Boosting Workout

Sometimes women are doing too much exercise that can increase inflammation in the body. This is common with gut and autoimmune issues because the body is also in a compromised state trying to heal. During this time, doing too much activity can actually contribute to unhealthy levels of inflammation, resulting in weight loss resistance. This is why it is best to let the body recover with gentler movement.

My 3-2-1 metabolic-booster workout routine is just what you’re looking for. It does just what the title suggests, boosts the metabolism! These are great for those with autoimmune conditions because we don’t want to stress the body too much with high intensity, but they still get the heart rate up. Here’s how it works:

  • 3 resistance training workouts (with weights) per week 
  • 2 yoga or gentle movements per week 
  • 1 walk per day (or around 10,000 steps) 
Cut Back on Alcohol 

Don’t hate the messenger, but fundamentally, alcohol is a toxin. Meaning, in no way does it serve the body. It’s best to limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per week (or less) to ensure healthy detoxification, proper calorie intake, and adequate nutrient levels. 

Remove your Unique Food Sensitivities 

You might be eating healthy and anti-inflammatory foods, but if some of those foods are reacting in your body, it will create an inflammatory response leading to possible weight gain. Women typically can expect to lose weight easily once they’ve identified their unique food sensitivities. To learn more about how to use a food sensitivity test to help you heal and the only one I recommend for best results, check out this post here! 

Consider a bedtime snack 

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Enjoying a quality snack before bed can actually boost your health! It promotes more restful sleep, which in turn helps you heal your gut and even lose weight. If you struggle with insomnia or sleep deprivation and have trouble losing weight, a bedtime snack consisting of carbs and fat specifically may be a helpful addition to your nighttime routine. 

 A bedtime snack regulates your circadian rhythm, which helps regulate your gut.

Carbs improve the transport of the amino acid tryptophan, which can be converted into neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep. Adding fat helps keep you full through the night allowing for better quality rest (study)

Plus, your basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy (or calories) you burn to perform basic, life-sustaining functions, averages the same at night as during the day (study). Your body still needs plenty of energy while sleeping! Calories don’t count any more before bedtime than they do during the day. A snack with complex carbs provides you with a steady source of energy as you fall asleep and keeps your metabolism active. Including good fat in your late night snack can also keep your blood sugar stable. 

A few delicious snack options with important carb and fat balance include:

  • A banana with 1 tbsp of SunButter
  • A ½ cup full fat organic raw or coconut milk yogurt with ½ cup berries
  • 1 cup broiled pineapple with 2 tsp coconut oil and cinnamon
Balanced snack options for bedtime, which can help you get restful sleep and boost your metabolism

If you still have a hard time losing weight, consider addressing these areas that can cause further imbalance in the body:

  • Hormones 
  • Thyroid levels 
  • Medications 
  • Unhealthy relationship with food 
UPGRADE YOUR WEIGHT LOSS PLAN

To take your weight loss journey a step further, consider working with a functional medicine practitioner- especially if you have an autoimmune condition. When weight loss does not come naturally, there’s a solid chance underlying imbalances are at play, making it difficult for you to lose weight. Ask your practitioner to dig deeper with functional medicine labs, like nutrient levels, thyroid and inflammation markers, food sensitivities, and more.

As an Integrative Nutritionist, I’ve worked with countless clients on discovering their happy weight on their autoimmune journeys. My 7-step system has helped men and women address their imbalances, reverse autoimmunity, and heal the body. We always test, instead of guess, which is why this program works. 

Ultimately, a struggle with weight (and autoimmunity) is a struggle with inflammation. It’s time to address inflammation once and for all to help restore balance, lose unhealthy weight, and reverse autoimmune disease. Are you ready?

How to find your happy weight and reasons for stubborn weight gain
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  1. Lindsey says:

    This is so awesome and so thorough! Thank you, Nikki!!!

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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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