In post #2 of Hidden Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight series, I am going to explore protein:  one of the most common nutritional deficiencies I see among dieters.

Full disclosure:  I am a dedicated omnivore.  My first course of study was anthropology.  For that reason, I tend to look at things from both an anthropological and a physiological perspective.  All of that firmly points me to the assertion that we are protein driven creatures – that is why we have the brains we currently have.  That is why we have mixed dentition, and our current collection of digestive acids and enzymes.  That is why we have one stomach and 23 feet of small intestine and 6 feet of large intestine.  If you are a dedicated vegetarian, you are not going to like what I have to say.  I don’t have the inclination or the time to argue with you, so just take this as a forewarning that you might want to skip this post!  We will have to agree to disagree. 


When you think of protein, you might think of juicy steaks and succulent chicken thighs.  You probably don’t really give it much thought.  You certainly don’t think it is something that you could be deficient in.  If you are a habitual dieter, or if you have unsuccessfully been trying to lose weight, you may be completely wrong.  One of the key deficiencies that I identify when I am doing my ‘Plateau Buster’ consultations, is an overwhelming need for increased protein intake.

Protein is an essential macronutrient.  It is comprised of varying combinations of amino acids and those amino acids make up every tissue and substance in our body.  They truly are the building blocks of life.  There are two key types of protein:  complete, and incompleteComplete proteins contain the full complement of essential amino acids and they are associated with animal sources.  Incomplete proteins, contain a partial array of essential amino acids and are typically associated with plant sources.  You need to have ALL of the essential amino acids for optimal health, and that means consuming adequate supplies of complete protein.   When you consume foods, whether plant or animal in origin, your body breaks those foods down into those amino acid building blocks.  Now, it can’t store amino acids for a rainy day — it is a ‘use it’ or ‘lose it’ system.  Complete proteins must be consumed on a very regular basis to fulfill your body’s daily requirements.  If you do not intake enough protein, your body pays the price!

So, could you be protein deficient? 

If you are a current or former dieter, if you don’t eat high quality meat sources 4+ times a week, if you are a vegetarian, if you are over 55 year old, if you have had recent surgeries, or if you tend to consume a considerable amount of processed foods – chances are good that you are protein deficient.  If you have been dieting and your weight has hit a  plateau – then it is most definitely one of the factors that you need to consider.




·         craving sweets and carbohydrates ·         fatigue, especially after activity
·         joint pain, muscle pain ·         get sick frequently
·         feeling hungry soon after you eat ·         slow wound healing
·         brain fogginess ·         various scents make you nauseous
·         hair shedding ·         edema
·         fragile hair: breakage, split ends ·         depression/ anxiety
·         ridges on fingernails and/or toenails ·         tendency towards constipation
·         dry skin or frequent rashes, flaky patches ·         poor muscle tone
·         headaches ·         sleep issues


Let’s have a look at some of the larger signs and symptoms:

1) Chronic muscle and/or joint pain.  As a chiropractor, we see this musculoskeletal sign frequently.  This is partly to blame on the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is heavy in junk.  We can also see a huge shift in our diet since World War II.  Prior to that, most parts of an animal were utilized.  We ate organ meat on a regular basis.  We made soups with the bones and joints of the animal carcass – and this rich bone broth supplied us with an incredibly supply of protein, gelatin, glycine,  proline, and amino acids that supplied our own muscles and joints with premium building blocks so they could maintain optimal function.  Families used to cook more meat on the bone, and people would fight over who got the gristle!  Now, our diets are ‘sanitized’.  Our kids have not grown up helping us prepare anything.  To them, meat consists of hotdogs and hamburgers (often the worst cuts of meat on the animal).   Our soups are completely processed and come in convenient red and white striped cans.  We find eating with our fingers distasteful, so if you can’t eat it with a knife and fork – we don’t bother.  Many of us don’t consume any meat that is not processed or prepackaged, and then we wonder why we hurt all of the time.  We hurt because we are putting hollow building bricks into our bodies.  You can’t build your temple with wet cardboard!  I would also like to add that your daily protein requirements increase significantly after surgery or during periods of elevated stress, so if either of those things affect you — adjust your diet accordingly.  Also, as we pass 40 years of age, our ability to produce stomach acid and digestive enzymes decrease (it declines much faster after age 55), so your ability to assimilate protein decreases as the years tick by.

2) Constant Cravings.  Not all cravings are caused by protein deficiency, but many are.  If you have a tendency to crave sweets and carbohydrates, then you could very well be protein deficient.  If you feel hungry frequently, or if you feel hungry shortly after you eat ( see Satiety Index), then you are probably not getting in enough protein.  Instabilities in blood sugar lead the body to want to correct itself, this means that one of the first things the body does in response to blood sugar instability or fluctuations is to cause you to crave sweets or carbohydrates (for you bread lovers).  This is a stop-gap or a band-aid approach, but your body senses an issue and  aims to correct it with as little effort as possible.  If you have a secret stash of candy, if you are someone that has to snack between meals, if you are vegetarian (or just don’t eat much meat), and if you get absolutely ravenous if you skip a meal —  you have strong indications that you don’t consume enough high quality complete protein.

3) Your hair, skin, or nails are a wreck.  This is a trickier sign, because you might do a bunch of things to abuse your hair, skin, or nails – like flat iron your hair three times a day, or slather yourself in  the latest & greatest skin acid lotion in the hopes of warding off wrinkles.  As a general rule though, if you find yourself shedding hair often or if your hair grows slowly, or is fragile – it breaks or splits easily, then that is a clear indication that you need more protein.  Similarly, if your skin is thin or dry, if you get frequent skin irritations or blemishes, and if you take a long time to heal – then you certainly need more protein.  You will notice that people with protein-poor diets tend to get premature aging, their skin thins in places, and they get lines and creases on their face before they probably should.  Their nails are thin, or they contain ridges, and they tend to peel or break.  Again — all of these things are signs that your body has run out of building blocks.  Think of it this way: when you don’t consume enough of the complete protein your body needs, it has to break down YOU to get the necessary building blocks to support life.  It doesn’t target your love handles, it goes after your muscles, your energy reserves, you hair, skin, and immune system.

4) The inability to lose weight.  Is protein deficiency the main reason why people stop losing weight?  No, but it is in the top 10, and it is one of the most common nutritional  deficiencies I see among dieters. As part of what I do when I put on my “Plateau Buster’ hat when I work with someone to figure out why they are having such a hard time losing weight — I have them complete a multiple-day food journal.  More times than not, I see people starting off the day with fruit and dairy products, they might have a sandwich at lunch, and maybe a burger or nachos for supper.  They usually snack on more fruit or granola bars.  They are eating meal after meal that spikes their blood glucose and they are not getting in near enough protein!   This results in maintaining elevated insulin, and leads to insulin resistance — which we know is associated with weight gain.  In fact, some healthcare practitioners believe that as few as 5 extra pounds is a sign of insulin resistance.  There are several different ways to calculate protein need, but for otherwise healthy individuals looking to lose weight, I use the formula :

IDEAL WEIGHT  divided by 2 = # of grams of protein you should consume daily

So, if you currently weight 200 lbs, but your ideal weight is 160, you take the 160, divide that by two to get 80, and use that as your guideline for protein intake.  I have seen many people move out of their weight loss plateau simply by adding 20 more grams of protein to their daily intake.  Sometimes it is the simple fixes that work the best!  Following this, I am a HUGE advocate of starting your day off with protein.  I have other blog posts which go into considerable on the science behind WHY I find this necessary, but suffice to say – I believe that a protein rich breakfast starts you out on the best footing to have the protein requirements you have to initiate fat loss, it minimizes the cravings that can sabotage your diet, and it helps you to maintain steady blood glucose levels that are necessary for burning fat.

You can consider your body as being lazy, or as a highly tuned machine:  either way, it attempts to maintain a steady state – or equilibrium, at all times.  It wants to get the most work done for the least amount of effort, and it likes to prepare for those inevitable rainy days.  If your body is in a deficiency state, it goes into self-preservation mode, or ‘conservation mode’.  It realizes it doesn’t have everything it needs and so it saves itself for later.  This is why it is so darn hard to lose weight sometimes.  This is why you can be eating like a bird but the scale refuses to budge.

So, how do you correct protein deficiency?   Quite simply, you need to consume more protein.  Let me correct that, more high quality complete protein!  Beans, legume, lentils, etc are fine for some of your protein needs, but they are incomplete, and they contain fiber – which binds to the protein, making it less available to you.  You should be adding fresh, high quality meat to your diet, at the least – every other day.  Organ meats and bone broths are one of the best things you can do for your health.  A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that soup eaters tended to weigh less and have smaller waists than non-soup eaters1.  Compared to muscle meat,  organ meat is much more densely packed in just about every nutrient, especially B12, B6, B1, B1, folic acid, and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Grass-fed animals provide an even better source of these nutrients over their commercially raised counterparts.  Now I am not suggesting that you need to eat an 18-oz porterhouse steak every day, but it behooves you to keep a food journal and use one of the popular fitness apps to track your dietary intake.  You may be shocked to see what you actually consume.  I will add a caveat here – many of the fitness apps I have seen grossly underestimate the amount of calories you consume, so please don’t go by that alone.  This is partly due to user input errors; people guestimate their portion size to the lesser degree, and completely omit certain food items, like the cheese on their sandwich, or the three packets of mayo they used.  I advise my clients that aim to lose weight that they need to consume  at least 20 g of protein with every meal.  Eggs, fish, nuts, aged cheese, etc. are all great sources of protein as well.

The cornerstone of my Plateau Buster program is achieving balance, because when your body is out of balance – health issues result.  Where weight loss is concerned, there are several key factors I look at:

What does the diet look like?

How much physical activity is occurring? (you can’t out exercise a bad diet)

Does the person have a gallbladder or not?

Is there evidence of thyroid dysfunction?

Is there evidence of adrenal dysfunction?

How is their digestive system working?

Is there evidence of gross nutritional deficiencies?

Are they on medications know to inhibit weight loss?

Do they have other health conditions associated with weight gain?

What diets have worked well for them in the past, and which ones haven’t?

What emotional factors are weighting them down?

In essence, there can be so many different factors that cause excess weight, and you are not restricted to only having one issue on the list.  Many of these things, including protein deficiency, are things you can trouble shoot yourself.  If you are sitting there reading this, thinking, “meat irritates my stomach” – then you need to read my blog post on gallbladder dysfunction, and look into digestive enzymes.  For more information, please join my community on facebook – Weight Loss Resources with Dr. Miranda.