20 REASONS YOU'RE NOT LOSING WEIGHT, AND HOW TO FIX IT
Have you spent weeks, months, or even years dieting, but never seem to break through and hit your ideal weight or body composition goal? Have you tried this diet and that diet, but, although things start out well, it all goes downhill over time, and you just give up? Are you convinced that dieting sucks, and that you are just destined to be overweight and unhappy … forever?
This post will:
- Help you to understand what constitutes a weight loss plateau.
- Demonstrate the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
- Show you 20 of the most common causes of a stall in weight loss, commonly known as a plateau.
- Give you an action plan for each weight loss plateau cause, to help you break through and reach your goals.
Failing to reach your healthy body weight time and time again is a real drag, it makes you feel low, disheartened, and resentful of all the diet posts and gurus who promise you the earth, but don’t deliver.
I know, I’ve been there. I used to be around 50 pounds heavier than I am today, with constant yo-yo dieting. I’ve fought against many of the reasons for a weight loss plateau that I have brought to you in this post. Now, as a trainer and nutrition coach, I help others to overcome obstacles which are holding them back too.
I’m no guru, but my experience with myself, and others, has allowed me to take a very pragmatic approach to weight loss and stalls. The truth is, no diet is perfect, and weight loss plateaus are common. But unless you have a really serious or long term health issue that is causing weight gain, you CAN break through a weight loss plateau and start progressing again.
And don’t blame yourself. Much of the advice in this post is logical when you think about it, but in the depths of despair, it is so easy to overlook what might be obvious at any other time.
As an example. I have been down as low as 9% body fat, but it took me a long time to get there. I would eat really well all day, then crave cereal and bread at 8pm, even after a large dinner. It took me months to realise that just by moving my evening meal out to 7.30pm from 6pm, this would solve the craving issue. A simple case of changing meal timings solved my problem. I could have kicked myself. But I was directly involved, and my judgement was clouded. Perhaps yours is too?
This post is designed to help you to figure out why you may not be losing weight, and what to do about it. You can refer back to it whenever things are not quite going to plan, and find out what to do to make progress again.
What you need are the tools to help you understand what could be happening with your body, and feel empowered to take the right action. After reading this post you will have more knowledge than most other people. You’ll be able to not only help yourself, but help friends and family who are experiencing difficulties. How awesome would that be?
Who Am I?
My name is Stephen Reed, and, as well as being a trainer and nutrition coach, running a successful face to face and online coaching business. I am also a bestselling author, with a number of popular posts in the health and wellness area. I wrote this post, not to lecture you, but to offer you some simple strategies that can easily be implemented into any busy lifestyle. I have been through many of the trials and tribulations other dieters go through, and with this experience, comes a strong desire to understand, help, educate, and empower, not just myself, but others.
By committing to take control of your life, and your body, you become a self-reliant person who can achieve anything you desire. Making progress in this area of your life will certainly manifest as success in other areas too.
Unlike many dieting posts, which just tell you what to do, but never explain how to react when things go wrong, all my posts provide easy to understand strategies and action plans to get you back on track. This post is no different. I explain the reason, then give you an action plan to overcome it. The post is detailed, but not long-winded.
A note about research and scientific studies.
I am a big fan of research, but many of my readers are far more interested in plain, easy to understand information that makes sense to them, and helps them along the way.
On that basis, I have decided not to fill this post with scientific reviews and study links. If you want more information on my ideas, where they come from, and what influences my thinking, then feel free to email me. If you are looking for a post full of research that validates a single viewpoint, then this is not the post for you.
If you are looking for a post that reflects on common sense, some basics of energy metabolism and human anatomy, and gives you simple actions to help you in your journey, then this could be the post for you.
If you’re still not sure, here is what we will be covering.
What Constitutes A Weight Loss Plateau?
“My weight loss has plateaued!”
It’s a cry of despair that is heard all too often. Someone has been seeing steady, progressive weight loss over a few weeks or months, and then something happens. They have no idea what it is, why the awesome progress they were making has hit a brick wall.
It’s frustrating, it’s depressing, you feel like you’ve wasted all that time, and for what. Are you never going to reach your goal? Is this ‘your lot’ for the rest of your life?
When progress screams to a halt, there are many potential reasons, and remedies, many of which we will discuss in this post. But before we do, let’s focus briefly on the subject matter which encouraged you to buy this post, and see if we can’t make sense of the weight loss plateau.
Weight Loss OR Fat Loss Plateau?
To many, this may appear to be the same thing, but it really isn’t. Weight loss and fat loss are not always the same thing, and understanding this will help you take a much more objective view on what is going on with your body.
A typical definition of a weight loss plateau or stall would be a length of time where your body weight, as recorded on the bathroom scales, stays the same. Over a period of weeks or even months, the scale reading does not change.
Because so many people rely solely on the scale reading as an indicator of success or failure, it is essential to understand this:
Because your weight loss has stalled, it does not always mean that progress has stopped too.
When we use the term weight loss, we are making no differentiation between where that weight comes from. It could be water, fat, muscle, skin, hair, or any other material in the body (yes, yes, even crap).
This is not to say that scale weight loss is not a reasonable proxy for fat loss in the overweight, but it should not be viewed as the ONLY measure.
So when you jump on the scale at the start of the week, and you see a loss of 1 lb, you hope that it is all fat loss, but you can’t really tell. There could be some water loss, some muscle loss too. Fluctuations in water are extremely common, and totally normal.
It is generally agreed that at any time, you could be + - 2 lbs or so from your true weight. That is a 4 pound window, and you could sit anywhere in that window on any day.
As I’ll discuss later on in Reason #12, the weight you see on the scale can only ever be used as a rough guide to where you really are at that precise moment in time. No more, no less.
This is why weighing yourself more than once a week is a super poor idea, and using a set morning as weigh-in day is the better option.
Weight Loss Plateaus Are Common
If you have lost weight in the past, without a single stall, you are in a minority. Plateaus of some description are to be expected. This post is going to illustrate 20 different reasons you may not be losing weight, even though you think you are doing everything right.
Some of the reasons may be something you are just overlooking, like eating too many nuts and snacks. Others will be a bit more deep rooted, and although most, if not all, can be overcome, they may take time and some concerted effort to deal with.
Ok, it’s time to delve into the 20 reasons you might not be losing weight. Take time to read, ponder on it, then move on. You might find that you seem to meet a lot of the criteria, but one thing I do urge is this.
Make one change at a time, and monitor results for two weeks.
I know that might seem a slow approach, but if you decide to change everything up, and progress begins again, you won’t have any idea which change caused the improvement.
GREAT, let’s get on with it.
- 1 20 REASONS YOU'RE NOT LOSING WEIGHT, AND HOW TO FIX IT
- 1.0.1 What Constitutes A Weight Loss Plateau?
- 1.0.2 Reason #1 - You are eating too much
- 1.0.3 Reason #2 - Relying on exercise alone
- 1.0.4 Reason #3 - Hormonal issues
- 1.0.5 Reason #4 - Metabolic slowdown
- 1.0.6 Reason #5 - Not getting enough sleep
- 1.0.7 Reason #6 - Too much stress
- 1.0.8 Reason #7 - You're adding muscle...or not?
- 1.0.9 Reason #8 - Medications
- 1.0.10 Reason #9 - Sitting at a desk all day
- 1.0.11 Reason #10 - Your numbers are off
- 1.0.12 Reason #11 - Not monitoring food intake
- 1.0.13 Reason #12 - Relying on scale weight alone
- 1.0.14 reason #13 - eating too many carbs
- 1.0.15 reason #14 - not eating enough carbs
- 1.0.16 reason #15 - you cheat too often
- 1.0.17 reason #16 - you snack too much
- 1.0.18 reason #17 - you eat too many nuts
- 1.0.19 reason #18 - you've been dieting too long
- 1.0.20 reason #19 - you do too much cardio
- 1.0.21 reason #20 - you are close to your ideal weight
- 1.0.22 why you are not losing weight conclusion
- 1.0.23 You Might Like These Articles Too!:
Reason #1 - You are eating too much
It’s a generally agreed fact that there is at the least, some correlation between calorie intake and shifts in body weight. The calories you take in, compared to the calories you burn, will directly influence your weight. This is called the energy equation, and it looks something like this:
Calorie Intake > Calorie Expenditure - Result: Weight Gain
Calorie Intake < Calorie Expenditure - Result: Weight Loss
Calorie Intake = Calorie Expenditure - Result: No Change
Now the calories in vs calories out paradigm is far from perfect. No-one is exactly the same, the source of the calories can play a role in whether those calories are stored as fat or utilised immediately for fuel, so we should not make blanket statements about calories.
That said, whether you want to use the term ‘calories’ or make up some other name for the units of energy you intake and expend, if you take in more than you use, fat storage is going to be the result.
In order to lose weight, you have to be eating and drinking, fewer calories (or your chosen unit name) than you are expending. Many people, particularly those who aren’t monitoring their food intake in some way, are really poor at assessing, and recalling the food they have eaten, even from as recently as a day ago. There have been a number of studies to demonstrate the appalling lack of dietary recall people have, with women being just a little worse than men at recalling.
If you’d like to take a look at the dietary recall study, you can source it here:
It’s not just calorie numbers that people struggle with, it’s portion sizes too. Most people are really bad at assessing the calories in food they eat, particularly when eating out. Modern foods are partly to blame. When you are eating something that you have little idea of the ingredients, how on earth are you supposed to make anything resembling an educated guess.
The advent of web-based and phone apps like My Fitness Pal and My Net Diary have gone a long way to helping people to manage target food intake, but it’s not ideal as a long term solution, and we all need to find a more sustainable approach. In addition, much of the data added to the databases is input by users, which causes some wildly inaccurate numbers, so be super careful.
Start by moving away from the processed and pre-made foodstuffs whenever you can, and try to make more of your own food. Use whole ingredients, and if it helps, make a small list of the most often used foods, aim to focus more on the protein, fat and carbohydrate numbers rather than calories if you can.
You can work out your required food intake for weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance by reading this post on the website. Remember, these numbers are but a starting point. Work with them for two weeks, then assess progress and make adjustments if required.
I spend a lot of time helping my coaching clients to move away from stringent calorie counting, but it does have it’s place, certainly at the start of a weight loss plan. It helps you to understand the differences between processed and un-processed foods, in particular, the calorie density of differing foods.
Moving through a number of phases, from calorie counting, to macro counting, to an eyeballing and intuitive eating approach is a really useful way to understand the effects off differing foodstuffs on our body composition. Throwing in some occasional intermittent fasting can be a good addition to your plan.
Reason #2 - Relying on exercise alone
Most people think that exercise is just awesome for weight loss, and although exercising is something that should be positively encouraged for a whole variety of reasons, using exercise as a sole strategy for weight loss just isn’t one of them. I hate to be the one who bursts the bubble of conventional thinking, but the calorie expenditure from exercise is just so insignificant, that if you are focusing on it to lose weight, you are likely to be disappointed.
As an example, running for 1 hour could result in a calorie expenditure of 500-700 calories, that is running for a whole hour, solidly, and at a moderate pace. To use running to shed a single pound of fat, you would likely need to run for an hour, EVERY DAY of the week. In a case like this, a much more beneficial option can be walking to lose weight, less calories burned per hour, but you can do it for long periods without over stressing your body.
It takes something in the region of a 3500 calorie deficit, below the calorie intake you would need to maintain weight, to shed a single pound of fat. If you can run for an hour every day, then good for you, but for most people, it’s just not fun, or even possible. Take into account the ferocious hunger, and the risk of overtraining or injury, and you’d be mad to consider it.
And you also have to be aware that you are burning calories all the time, just being alive. This is called basal metabolic rate, and for an average woman, you are probably burning 1500-1800 calories a day before you even move, let alone exercise.
So, for someone taking a 30 minute run, and potentially using up 250-300 calories, you’d have burned perhaps 70-80 just laying in bed, how soul destroying is that? So your net burn of calories from exercise is much less than you might have thought.
Here is a small table showing the gross calories burned from a variety of exercise modes.
If you want some fun, try dividing each of those numbers by 3500 to see how many hours of each exercise you would need to do to lose a single pound of fat. Er, perhaps don’t, you might just throw your kindle around the room in an ungovernable rage as you realise how few calories you have been burning.
It is MUCH easier to manipulate calories through a combination of exercise and dietary change, to see steady progress towards your fat loss goal. In fact, many people I have worked with, who were just too overweight to take part in any significant levels of exercise, have lost huge amounts of body fat with dietary change alone.
If you are very overweight, changing your dietary habits will have a profound affect on you weight AND health, but as you lose the pounds, strive to build some activity into your daily routine. It has many positive affects, both physical and mental. We move far less than even our recent ancestors did, and this, alongside poor food choices, is making us, fat, ill, demotivated, and fed up.
So, the takeaway here is, manipulate dietary calorie intake, it’s easy and brings most of the weight loss results anyway. Don’t factor in exercise induced calorie burn, and don’t eat back exercise calories, it’s a recipe for disaster. Just try to make you exercise progressive over time.
Only if you start to see overly rapid fat loss, do you need to either, increase food consumption, and/or decrease activity.
Monitor, assess, adapt and you WILL make progress.
Reason #3 - Hormonal issues
There are a range of metabolic issues that could be slowing, or preventing weight loss. Some of these may be induced by prolonged dieting, whilst others may be as a result of an underlying health issue which, if addressed, may get you back on track.
Hormonal imbalances can play havoc with a person’s ability to lose weight, and an under-active thyroid is one of the more common causes. Lots of folks will cite ‘slow metabolism’ or a sluggish thyroid as their reason for a weight loss plateau, but the reality is that for many people, they just use it as a convenient excuse, without looking at some of the other possibilities first. Of course, it’s a genuine issue for some dieters, along with a number of other possibilities.
If you have looked at other possibilities (perhaps from this post) and have discounted every other reason, then hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) may be contributing to your weight loss woes. An under active thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone, which aids the burning of stored fat. The result is a slow down in metabolism and less fat mobilisation.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Apparently, up to 5 million women in the United States are affected by this condition, which results in hormonal imbalances. Weight gain without excessive eating is a common symptom of the condition, but there are many more, including acne, excess facial hair, thinning hair, and irregular menstruation.
Hormonal Changes In Women
Weight gain, and in many respects, weight loss, can be a more difficult issue for women rather than men, due to the profound effects of hormones on the female population. Puberty, pregnancy, and of course, at menopause, a woman’s hormones are subject to change which will affect fat storage, and fat loss.
Cushing’s Syndrome is concerned with the adrenal glands, and cortisol in particular. This condition results in excessive cortisol production, which can result in excess body fat, particularly around the face, lower back, and abdominal area. Cortisol at high levels is a serious issue, but this syndrome is not the only reason for cortisol elevation. Stress affects cortisol too.
I’ll be discussing the impact of stress on weight loss in it’s own section a little later, but it is worth noting now, that with chronic stress comes hormonal imbalances, with the hormone cortisol, often being produced to excess. Chronically high cortisol levels tend to manifest as excessive fat storage around the mid-section, which is well know to be correlated with many health problems.
Metabolic Syndrome, a.k.a Syndrome X
If you haven’t heard of Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X, you might have heard of insulin resistance or hyper-insulinemia, which is higher than desired levels of insulin in the body. Syndrome X and weight gain are inextricably linked, and the condition is essentially, a cluster of health risk factors, including, hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high triglycerides (free fatty acids in the blood stream), low HDL cholesterol, and belly fat.
These risk factors increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. It can be improved by lifestyle changes such as dietary interventions and exercise, but also with medications when really necessary.
There is no doubt that some of the hormonal imbalances that are discussed above are profoundly affected by lifestyle, in positive and negative ways. Stress, metabolic syndrome, and even PCOS, are prone to improvement with lifestyle interventions. My advice as always would be, if in doubt, visit your health care practitioner or a functional medicine doctor.
But, empower yourself, learn about your condition, take advice from your doctor of course, but don’t just outsource your health. Food choices and exercise can be extremely therapeutic for nearly all conditions.
Reason #4 - Metabolic slowdown
Metabolic slowdown is often a product of severe calorie restriction due to prolonged low calorie dieting. Many people eat really low calories every day, with the hope that they will experience faster weight loss.
While weight loss may seem fast for a period of time, prolonged calorie restriction can result in the body recognising the lack of food, and slowing your metabolism to prevent detrimental effects on health.
This movement into something akin to a ‘preservation mode’ results in slowed and often, stalled weight loss. The dieter will often reduce calories even further in a vain attempt to kickstart fat loss again. Apart from the sheer misery of this approach, rebound weight gain often takes place, with the dieter even gaining weight on the same low calories that was previously effecting weight loss.
Metabolism also slows naturally as we lose weight, but this is a normal reaction to weight loss. The 130 lb body does not require the same energy to conduct normal, everyday functions, than say, a 250 lb body on would. So as you lose weight, expect your daily calorie requirements to go down.
If you have been chronically dieting for some time, and are eating really low calories, and weight loss has stalled, you will likely need to increase calories slowly over time, to a maintenance calorie level, to fix your deranged metabolism.
To avoid this sort of slowdown, take your dieting journey slowly, and don’t drastically reduce calories. If you do stall, then re-assess your calories, and if there is still some scope for a small reduction in daily intake, decrease and monitor over a period of two weeks or so.
If you are already eating in a large calorie deficit, make a determined effort to increase calories for a few weeks, sometimes called a diet break. This does not need to be a free for all gorging fest, It might mean adding 10 grams of carbohydrate to your daily intake every week or two, and meticulously logging food and weight. You are aiming to increase calories slowly, whilst maintaining your current weight.
When you have reached a point where you maintenance calorie intake is higher, then you are probably in a position to decrease calories again, and hopefully, weight loss will restart.
With regard to the normal metabolic slowing as weight reduces, it’s important to be mindful of your food intake as you shed fat, you will need to re-assess calories or quantities on a semi regular basis, to make sure that you slowly reduce intake as your weight decreases, to keep your fat loss sure and steady.
Reason #5 - Not getting enough sleep
Sleep … it’s a lovely thing, and far more important to health and wellbeing than many of us think. And, if you are trying to shed a few pounds of fat, inadequate sleep could be scuppering your progress.
Some research has been done into the correlation between sleep and body composition, and although much of this work is done on an epidemiological basis, using surveys rather than hard science to produce conclusions, some of the numbers that have been produced seem to indicate that sleep and obesity are linked.
- A study of 635,000 people found that those who didn’t get enough sleep were 50% more likely to be obese than those who slept well. In children, a lack of sleep saw those obesity numbers rising to 90%.
- People who slept for 7 hours or more per night were found to be 33% more likely to succeed in losing weight.
- Sleep deprivation can cause a range of hormonal effects that can see you holding onto body fat. Increased cortisol levels have been measured in the sleep deprived, and other studies on emergency service shift workers ,have seen people coming off a night shift with blood markers typically seen in diabetics.
- A lack of sleep stimulates appetite, and I know, as a person who worked night shifts for many years, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of people with weight problems in my workplaces. Trying to stay awake all night definitely stimulates appetite and eating. This could be caused by an increase in the ‘hunger hormone’ Ghrelin, and decreases in Leptin levels, a hormone produced by fat cells to signal to the brain that there are adequate fuel supplies.
It’s important to note that, although studies show an association between sleep and body composition, there are likely some other things going on here. Taking shift workers out of the equation, they really suffer with health and weight problems in many cases, it’s worth considering that people who sleep poorly, or don’t go to bed early enough, may have a range of other lifestyle related issues which could be affecting their body weight. They may suffer from illnesses, depression, a lot of stress due to late evening and early morning work.
My point is that, although studies show a strong association between weight and sleep, they are often other related issues that the study fails to consider.
I have little doubt adequate sleep is vital to good health, and with good health, and hormonal profiles that are not negatively affected by lack of sleep, weight loss becomes a whole lot easier. There seems to be a golden number of 8-9 hours sleep per night being the best for most people, and hitting the sack at 10-11pm, and waking at 6-7 am is preferable to going to be at 3 am and rising at midday. Our programming is to sleep when it gets dark, and to rise with the light.
Make sleep a priority. You’ll feel a lot more refreshed and ready to face the world with adequate sleep. Stress levels are lower when you sleep well, life just seems easier. And without stress and tiredness, it becomes much easier to make healthier food choices. Here are a few suggestions to increase your sleep time and quality.
- Aim to bring bed time forward just 15 minutes each week, until you are in the magical 8-9 hour ballpark.
- Avoid caffeine after 3pm and eat no later than 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
- Don’t watch TV in bed, or play on your phone or tablet. The lights in such devices stimulate you and make sleeping harder.
- Do something that makes you sleepy. Read a post, take a soothing bath, I’ll leave any other options to your imagination 🙂
- Set a consistent bed time and wake up time. Forming solid sleep habits will make a massive difference.
If you struggle to sleep, Dr Sarah Ballantyne (AKA The Paleo Mom) has produced an excellent sleep program that is specifically designed for people who struggle to sleep effectively.
Reason #6 - Too much stress
Stress is a strange thing. Too little of it and we’re dead, too much, and ultimately, the same result. Acute stress is likely to be less bad for you than long term, chronic stress. When something stressful happens, or when one works in a sometimes stressful environment, the body has some very useful mechanisms to get us through.
It is people who suffer from more consistent, everyday stress that seem to suffer the most. From a personal perspective, I spent 17 years in the UK fire service, and you would expect front-line firefighters to suffer from some serious stress issues relating to the type of work they do. Death, injury, danger, seeing things that no-one should see in peace time, but, other than the potentially stress of working shifts, I hardly ever saw any frontline firefighter off work with stress.
It was the officers who seemed to habitually be off work with stress, due to workload and expectations from those above them.
I went off on a slight tangent there, but I want to make the point that stress does not necessarily come from extreme situations, but more often than not, situations that don’t, on the surface, appear to be particularly stressful.
When one suffers from stress, particularly chronic stress, the hormone Cortisol is raised.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, we need it, it’s useful, but when chronically elevated, it can have some profound effects on fat loss. It appears that short, pulsing elevations in cortisol levels are not bad for us, they may actually be good. To put this into context, one can imagine how sudden cortisol pulses would be useful in our long evolution, to help our bodies deal with moments of extreme stress, like being hunted, chased, fighting etc.
We don’t tend to get chased by wild animals these days, but for many, cortisol levels are high due to poor sleep, daily stress, over-exercising etc.
It is important to remember that dieting for weight loss is a stress in itself, so combining that with all sorts of other stress factors, you can end up in a bad place, certainly for your health and fat loss mission.
Out of all the online and face to face clients I have worked with, I see a distinct correlation between stress, obsessing over food and calories, poor sleeping habits, and a lack of progress in fat loss. The stressier you are, the harder it is to shed fat.
Here are 5 stress busting strategies to help you feel calmer, more in control, and happier with your life. Not surprisingly, some of them cross over into the other areas we are covering in this post. It is no surprise that they are all inextricably linked.
- Eat a sensible, well constructed diet - Although alcohol can have a calming effect, keeping your intake low is probably going to be better for your long term health. Eat plenty of vegetables, and avoid processed foods and food with added sugars. If caffeine makes you jittery, eliminate it, or reduce to a couple of cups a day.
- Get enough sleep - Reason #5 went into some detail on this, but sleep is worth highlighting again. 8 hours is ideal, and with a little dedication, anyone should be able to achieve that. Many people watch TV in bed, play on their phones and tablets, which can get you super stimulated. Turn off appliances 30-60 minutes before you plan to sleep, and have some winding down time. A good post, some easy listening music, or a warm soak in the bath can work wonders to get you into that sleepy state.
- Regular exercise is an incredible stress buster - It does not have to be high intensity exercise, even a good walk can help. If you can lift some weights, or go for a swim, or even have a game of tennis with a friend, you can really relieve some of the stresses in your life.
- Have FUN - Fun in life is a powerful stress buster, but far to few people make the time for it. People are busy, work is a stress, money is tight, family commitments get in the way of ‘you time’. If you have a craft, hobby or sport you enjoy, make some time to do more of it. Learn a new and exciting skill, or just hit the coffee shop (decaf if you climb the walls on caffeine) with a friend and laugh till you fall in a heap … stress BUSTED.
- Learn to meditate - Yeah, I know, everyone says meditation is the key to all things, but for many people, just learning how to control your breathing and become present is a very powerful tool. It can lower your blood pressure, and leave you feeling refreshed and re-invigorated. Definitely worth a try. There are some really short meditations you can learn, so no need to commit hours to it.
Reason #7 - You're adding muscle...or not?
I’ve lost count of the times that I have heard massively overweight people, who are doing a little walking on a treadmill, and moving insignificant weights on the resistance machines at the local gym, state they are not losing weight on the scales because they must be replacing it with muscle.
Yes, muscle weighs more than fat, and yes, if you perform resistance based exercises, you can build muscle.
The issue is, that, for most people, the ability to gain muscle as fast, over even faster than one could lose fat is highly unlikely. Those new to strength training, who are lifting heavy weights, weights heavy enough to cause an adaptation effect (not the majority of your casual gym goers), can see reasonable amounts of muscle gain over time. But even building 1/2 lb of lean muscle per week would be quite a feat for most. Considering that losing a pound or 2 of fat is very achievable for the obese, building muscle at the same rate as fat loss is highly unlikely.
This assumption that no weight loss must be caused by building muscle is at best, misguided, and at worst, a lack of desire to face the truth. The truth is often that your dietary intake is not in check.
This reason of adding muscle can be appropriate though, but only for those who are relatively lean, and aiming for very small amounts of fat loss per week.
When a person gets to very low body fat levels, and is really aiming to shed perhaps just 1/4 lb of fat a week, then the ability to offset fat loss with muscle gain is a real one. Men approaching sub 10% body fat, or women in the 15-18% range, will not be able to lose fat as quickly as an obese person, so Reason #7 could be correct.
If you are overweight, then it’s probably NOT the reason you are not losing weight.
Building muscle, and indeed, preserving muscle mass whilst dieting is one if the best things you can possibly do. Not only will your body end up looking a lot more athletic and sculpted once the fat has gone, but there has been a lot of research showing strong correlations between levels of lean muscle mass and longevity.
For many conventional dieters, who pay no attention to their protein intake, or to adding some strength training to their exercise routine, muscle loss is an unfortunate, but expected side affect of weight loss.
A lot of low calorie dieters see as much as 20% of their weight loss being attributed to lost muscle, a shocking waste of the most metabolically active tissue in your body.
- To sum up, you should always focus on maintaining muscle mass, and adding some with resistance training. Eat adequate protein, somewhere in the .82 - 1 gram per pound of bodyweight is ideal.
- If you have a lot of fat to lose, you are just not going to match fat loss with muscle gain, but if you are a strength training male approaching single figure body fat levels, and aiming for 1/4 lb per week fat loss, it is very likely that you will lose fat without seeing changes in scale weight.
- Females, it can be the same for you, although you naturally carry higher fat percentages than males, so perhaps, when you are in the 15-18% body fat range, and cutting fat slowly. If the scales don’t change, take circumference measurements and consider some accurate form of fat measuring, from skin fold callipers to Bodpod or underwater hydrostatic body fat testing.
Reason #8 - Medications
If you are have been taking certain medications, particularly for the long term, they could be impeding your weight loss progress.
Living in a prescription society as we do, many people are taking drugs that have weight gain as a side effect. These side effects are often not considered by doctors when they prescribe, and many users fail to check out the possible side effects of the drugs they take.
Here are some of the commonly used drugs that have side effects associated with weight gain:
- Antidepressants - there are many different antidepressants on the market, but some of the most widely prescribed belong to a family called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRI’s. Serotonin plays an important role in mood and is also known to suppress appetite. One would think drugs like this would enhance weight loss, but they have the opposite effect. Long term data suggests that taking these drugs can have a weight gain effect when taken for the long term.
- Prednisone - Although this drug has some useful effects for the treatment of arthritis, asthma, and a range of other autoimmune diseases, side effects can be water retention and increased appetite. The catabolic effects of this hormone, which should help in the break down of fats, is offset by the severe appetite stimulation that can occur for some users. When corticosteroid levels are high (as they are with prednisone use), there is a tendency for fat to be deposited around the midsection, where many of the health risks are associated.
- Insulin And Diabetes Related Drugs - Surprisingly, many of the drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetics, people for whom weight loss is often central to their future health and wellbeing, can cause significant weight gain. When insulin or an insulin releasing agent is taken, with the intention of removing excess sugar from the blood stream, this sugar is often stored directly as fat. Many users of diabetes drugs see an increase of 10 lbs or more of fat when they start using such medications.
- Beta Blockers - Often used as a treatment for high blood pressure, beta blocker users often see a dramatic fall in resting heart rate, as the drug appears to slow the body down. The often seen rise in body weight by those prescribed beta blockers may well be a result of a slowing of metabolism. Beta blocker users, with their slowed heart rate, often experience a decrease in exercise capacity, further decreasing calorie expenditure. Put these issues together, and it becomes clearer how weight gain can ensue.
- Benadryl - An antihistamine, often used for the treatment of allergies like hay fever, and as a sleep aid, Benadryl has long been associated with weight gain. Histamine is a chemical that is involved in appetite suppression, and the receptor blocking actions of anti-histamine drugs can block the appetite suppression qualities of histamine. Increased food intake, higher body weight, and larger waist measurements are the result, and have been highlighted in a variety of studies like this one:
There are a variety of other drugs that can cause weight gain, and discussing possible side effects with your doctor is essential. If weight issues are a problem for you, ask about the side effects of the prescription, and perhaps, whether there is an alternative that would be equally effective without the potential for weight gain.
If you have been struggling to lose weight, after apparently doing ‘everything’ right, then consider any prescription, or other long term medication you have been using. The manufacturers website should provide information on common side effects, but will not report many of the issues highlighted by users. There are also a number of independent websites that list side effects of many of the most used drugs.
Check out this one for information on a huge range of drugs.
Reason #9 - Sitting at a desk all day
We are in an ever more sedentary society, with an ever growing number of people sitting at desks all day, and coming home to sit in front of the television at night.
75 years ago, people didn’t tend to sit in offices so much. Of course there were office workers, but life used to be a lot more active. Not exercise based activity, but just a lifestyle that involved movement.
People were involved in much more manual type work like farming, people walked a lot more as cars were less affordable. Go back 150 years, and the majority of people were not even employed, their lives revolved around growing their own food and making money throughout local barter and small scale production. Activity levels in the developed world have changed beyond all recognition.
As I have alluded to in Reason #2, exercise for weight loss is a pretty poor strategy, you just need to do too much of it to make it a central tenet of your weight loss plan.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT for short, is used to describe all activity that you participate in which is not planned exercise. This can include going shopping, walking, fidgeting, mowing the lawn, gardening, you get the gist.
Surprisingly, being active and moving about all day WILL burn a remarkable number of calories, but of course, if you are sitting at a desk, that just isn’t going to happen.
As an example, walking at a modest pace might result in 200 calories used in an hour. Imagine being up and walking, or gardening, or just moving about for 8 hours a day, as our ancestors did? You could be looking at 1000-1200 calories or more used during an average day.
Of course, you’ll eat more, but this type of activity, at a low intensity, is something your could do almost every day, not risk of overtraining or injury. Times have changed though, and now, we have to make a determination to move more. There are a few useful strategies you could use though.
Although you might work in an office, and have little opportunity to be super active whilst at work, here are a few ideas you could use. Some obvious, others might be new to you.
- Walk at every opportunity. Leave the car a couple of streets further from your work, take the stairs not the lift. Get off the bus a stop or two early.
- Stand up rather than sitting down all the time, even at your desk.
- Tap your toes or wiggle your feet whenever you can.
- Fidget more.
- Use a standing desk or even a treadmill desk to add more movement into your day. Even if you don’t work, you can use a cheap treadmill at home, to walk whilst watching television.
- Wash the dishes by hand.
- Do some gardening whenever you can.
- Take the dog for a second walk each day.
- Play with your kids and pets more.
- Dance around the house whilst you do some housework.
- Do 50 star jumps every day.
- If you have to drive to the mall, park at the furthest parking point.
- Don’t use the TV remote, get up to turn the television on or off, or to change channels.
These simple steps might seem really obvious, and in isolation, they may not make a huge difference, but if you can build lots of small activities into your day, you’ll be surprised how many calories you could burn.
Reason #10 - Your numbers are off
This reason assumes that you have used some sort of equation or calculation to try to assess your total daily energy expenditure, and have then attempted to add an appropriate calorie deficit to allow for weight loss over the week.
It is really important to remember that it is impossible to KNOW for sure how many calories you burn a day, without some serious testing. We are all different, our bodies react differently to diet, calorie restriction, exercise etc. That is why any calorie target you set should be considered no more than an arbitrary starting point, a point from which to gather some data over a couple of weeks, to allow you to build a more personalised plan.
Of course, if you say, “I’m going to eat 5000 calories per week and see what happens”, then you are pretty likely to gain some weight, unless you are an athlete of course. But choosing a more realistic number to start with is not too tricky. Sorry to be super repetitive, but that starting number is just somewhere to start, nothing more, nothing less.
Many people will head onto a calorie calculator site online, type in their stats, and live by the number that the calculator regurgitates for them. So many fail to monitor and record progress, and then make adjustments. It’s just a succeed/fail deal for them.
THE single most important thing you can do when trying to lose weight, is to take responsibility for your success or otherwise. No-one else can offer you the holy grail of weight loss, because it just does not exist. You just have to make a start, assess, and be prepared to change.
But don’t change too soon though. Any adjustments you make to your eating plan and/or exercise volume, need a couple of weeks of good compliance to allow things to settle down, and to produce some useful data.
If you are calorie counting, use these numbers to set a simple ballpark starting point.
Setting Calories Based On Your Physique Goals
Multiply your bodyweight in pounds by:
10-12 > For Weight Loss / Cutting
12-15 > For Weight Maintenance / Body Recomposition
15 - 18 > For Weight Gain / Bulking
You might notice that the numbers overlap between the differing goals, but it is important to realise that this is a sliding scale, fat loss does not stop at 12 and maintenance begin at 13 x bodyweight.
So, if weight loss is your goal, then you might start at 10 x your bodyweight in pounds, record and monitor for a couple of weeks, then reassess. If you are sedentary, then 10 x BW might be appropriate, if you workout a couple of times a week, then 11 x BW might be better.
If you are training 3-5 times a week, but still want weight loss, then you may choose 12 x BW
I hope this is making sense? The start number is just that, a starting point on which to build data to allow you to make more accurate assumptions over time. If you started at 11 x BW and are losing 1/2 a pound a week, and want to speed up the process, then drop to 10 x BW, monitor for 2 weeks, and see how things are going.
There may be people who actually need to drop as low as 8-9 x BW to lose weight at an appropriate speed, but you should always begin in the ranges provided here, we are not looking for super low calorie diets that are going to result in substantial muscle loss and metabolic slowing, not cool at all!
Note For The Obese - Sorry to target you folks who are very overweight, but this is highly relevant. You may need to use your target bodyweight, or somewhere in between that and where you are now, as your start point to use with the multiplication factors above. Another option is to use your lean body mass, but for this, you’ll need to have a pretty accurate estimation of your current body fat percentage.
There are always naysayers who say that the formula is too simplistic, but the reality is, that whatever number you choose, in 2 weeks time you’l be changing it for something more appropriate. Not because some online calculator has told you to, but based on ACTUAL data you have acquired from your own experiment on your own body over time. What could be more relevant and useful than that?
Reason #11 - Not monitoring food intake
Phew, having spent the last 30 minutes getting Reason #10 together, this one is for those who haven’t just got their numbers wrong, but they haven’t even got a number.
No idea, whatsoever, how much they should eat, or how much they do eat. In an ideal world, a parallel universe, set perhaps a few hundred years ago, but with modern medicine, television and the internet, food awareness would not be an issue. You would not have slick marketing telling you how wonderful and healthy their breakfast cereal is, it’s got ‘whole grains in it’ after all 🙂
In an age when whole, unprocessed food was literally all there was, and activity levels were much higher, no-one cared about counting calories or estimating portion sizes. They just ate what they had, feasted when they could, got a little hungry when food was scarce.
We live in a different world now, and if you have weight to lose, you might just have to do some monitoring, at least in the short term.
This approach helps you to get great early results, which provide a stack of motivation, but move you rapidly away from calorie counting over a 3 month period. I believe that this approach is the best for those who are struggling to lose weight. Strict at first, and becoming freer and less restrictive as you make progress and learn along the way.
Commit to at least 4 weeks of sustained monitoring. Set yourself up with a counting app like My Fitness Pal or My Net Diary, and use it to keep a track of your food intake. Once you get to grips with it, it will only take a few minutes per day.
To start with, count EVERYTHING, including veggies, salad etc. This is a good idea to build some structure into your eating, but once you have gained some control of your eating, you will be able to relax, and just count the main foods you eat. Green vegetables and salads, onions etc, are extremely low in calories, and omitting them from your counting is a great next step. Sure, you’ll be eating some extra calories, but a person would need to make a serious effort to screw up a good eating plan with vegetables. You’d need to eat some large volumes of these, so best just enjoy them.
Check out my post, mentioned above, and you can spend 12 weeks learning when and what to monitor, and how to build a program towards intuitive eating, which really is the best way to eat in the long term.
Reason #12 - Relying on scale weight alone
I wrote a long post on my blog some time ago about why the scales lie, and what to do about it. The gist of the post was that many people seem to ‘live or die’ by their daily weigh-in, and most have no idea about the ‘weight’ fluctuations that can occur on a daily basis.
If more people were aware of all the possible issues that could be causing those fluctuations, and relax more when the scale reading was not what they hoped for, their lives would be much happier, and they could focus more on taking the appropriate actions to realise genuine weight loss.
Lean mass is everything in your body that is NOT fat mass, and this includes bone, skin, muscle AND water weight, not to mention waste products. Water fluctuates a lot over the day, and often over a month for females. You could see a + - 2 lb range above or below your true weight, so treating any day’s weigh-in as a definitive guide to where you actually are in your journey is pure folly.
Here are a number of reasons your scales my be leading you on a false path:
- You’ve eaten a carb heavy meal the night before your weigh-in. Every gram of carbohydrate that is stored in your body as glycogen (stored glucose) also stores around 3 grams of water. So if you eat 500 grams of carbohydrate (easy to do with modern processed food) and replenish 300 grams of glycogen, you’ll be storing almost a kilograms (over 2 lbs) of water at the same time. No wonder people can gain 2-3 lbs from one day to the next.
- You’re not weighing yourself consistently. Same time of day, same type of clothing, similar meals the days before, ideally after bladder and bowel evacuations, before morning cup of tea or coffee. Without this sort of consistent practice, the scale weight is useless as any sort of guide.
- Salt, whilst essential for health, does affect fluid retention. This is why many diets for high blood pressure advise cutting salt, due the the reduction in blood plasma volume on a low salt diet.
- Using scales on differing floor types or on uneven surfaces.
- You may have gained some muscle. I covered this in Reason #7, but it is only really relevant for those who are quite lean, and trying to lose a small amount of fat/weight per week. If you ares obese, you could afford to lose 2-3 lbs per week, but could never gain muscle at that rate. If you are lean, and have 1/4 lb loss per week planned, you could certainly gain 1/4 lb of muscle, showing no change in scale weight.
As you can see, weighing yourself on bathroom scales is fraught with the potential for a false reading. Try these ideas to make sure your weekly assessment is as accurate as possible.
Recommended Weighing In Practices
Consistency is key. Here are a few points to ensure (as much as is possible) that the scale weight you record is meaningful.
- Weigh in at the same time, on the same day, once a week (Monday after waking is good).
- Empty your bladder (and bowels if possible) before hitting the scales.
- Weigh in naked or in the same type of clothing each week (underwear?).
- Weigh in with the scales on an even surface, ideally in the same position each week.
- Back up scale weight with body measurements for a realistic view on your progress.
- If you eat consistent carbohydrate quantities each day, all well and good, but if you perhaps, cycle carbs, then having 2 days of low carb before weighing in, will produce a differing result than eating a pizza the day before your weigh in. Be consistent and you’ll feel happier that your results are accurate.
So, to sum up. Don’t be depressed if you weigh 2 lbs more than you did yesterday. Unless you genuinely did eat to bursting point yesterday, it is unlikely that you ate an additional 7000 calories than you should have, so you can be pretty sure that your weight will stabilise over a day or two.
reason #13 - eating too many carbs
Sorry to repeat myself, but Reason #12 did cover a little about carbs, but I think it is important to add a little flesh to the bones of this one.
As I mentioned, if you see daily fluctuations in scale weight, then carbs may be playing a role, due to the water retention that occurs when carbs are stored in the body. This is not a big issue, but it is worth being aware of.
The recent fad of low carb diets has created something of a carb-averse section of the dieting community, terrified to eat carbohydrates for fear of gaining weight. I’d like to put that fear to rest, by telling you that carbs don’t automatically make you fat.
They can, and for a sub-section of the population, keeping them at moderate levels is a good idea. But you can sure as hell get lean eating carbs.
Here is a picture of me from January 2014, after eating close on 200 grams of carbohydrate from white rice per day, and training for no more than 40 minutes 3 times per week. The training sessions were not full on, hard sessions, just lifting weights and trying to progress each session.
I was just under 10% body fat, down from 15% some 8 weeks earlier. The fat fell off, and with plenty of potatoes and white rice, and the occasional pizza too.
When do carbs get stored as fat?
The human body has a number of storage mechanisms for it’s various fuel sources. The largest storage system is fat storage, with an average person storing anywhere between 20000-40000 calories as fat.
Another storage system, one designed to store glucose (sugar) for use in high intensity emergencies, or to stabilise blood sugar levels if they fall too low, is the glycogen storage system. The average human can store around 500 grams of glucose in the muscles and liver combined, resulting in about 2000 calories of usable energy.
Let’s assume you are a typical person living on a standard western diet of plenty of processed food, bread, pasta, pastries, cake and cookies. The average American eats in excess of 400 grams of carbohydrate a day. While some gets used for fuelling the brain, heart muscle, and other nervous tissues, but most is destined to be stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver.
What happens then those glycogen stores are full, due to the sedentary nature the person? Well, if more carbs are eaten, the body has to put that glucose somewhere. If it didn’t, blood sugar levels in the blood would rise to dangerous levels, resulting in coma and potentially, death.
So the body, through millions of years of evolution, is able to turn that glucose into fat, and shuttle it off for storage in the fat cells. That is why carbs can make you fat, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to understand what carbs are for, and how many you should be eating for your lifestyle and exercise regime.
Take an honest look at your lifestyle. Are you sedentary, are you an athlete, do you take part in the type of exercise that would use stored glucose from your muscles? Some of these exercise modes would include:
- Heavy resistance training with weights, bodyweight, kettlebells etc.
- High intensity interval training like sprinting, cycling sprints.
- Metabolically demanding exercise like Crossfit, and other met-con systems (metabolic conditioning).
- Martial arts or MMA trainees.
- Anything else that is short duration but very high intensity.
If you train like this, then eating some carbs to fuel your workout, and post workout, to replenish stored muscle glycogen is a good idea. If you only walk or jog for exercise, then you really do not have the need for carbohydrate to fuel your activity, as the primary source of fuel will be fat. For endurance athletes, carbs are somewhat dependent on workout duration and intensity.
It is hard to make any hard and fast rules for carb intake, but here are a couple of suggestions.
- Sedentary - 100 grams of carbohydrate a day, to support brain glucose needs, and some other physiological functions where carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source.
- Diabetic and insulin resistant people - You may need to eat at a much lower carbohydrate level for some time, if not permanently. Insulin resistant people with excess abdominal fat can see good fat loss results, and improved insulin sensitivity with either a ketogenic diet, or one in the 50 - 100 grams of carbohydrate per day range.
- Glycogen depleting exercisers - Min of 1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, titrate up or down depending on needs and/or cutting fat / building mass.
reason #14 - not eating enough carbs
This is super relevant for those who are already lean, and also active. The low carb diet craze has seen a lot of dieters with great success, and plenty who have tried a low carb approach, and had minimal results.
The problem is, that low carb dieting is not suited to everyone. There are definitely folks out there who would really suffer on a low carb diet.
There is no doubt that a very low carb, ketogenic diet can be useful if you are:
- Overweight, particularly with central obesity (fat around the mid section)
- Suffer from insulin resistance to some degree
- Have poor metabolic functioning
- Have biomarkers of systemic inflammation
This demonstrates that there is another section of the population who are somewhere else on the spectrum in these key areas, for whom moderate, or even relatively high carbohydrate diets will prove to be appropriate.
So, if you head towards the other end of the spectrum, where lean people, athletes, weight trainees, and those with regular workout sessions reside, a higher carb intake may be preferable. This does not need to be higher carbs EVERY day, you can get some great results from carbohydrate cycling, eat more carbs on workout days, less on non-training days.
Essentially, we are looking to eat enough carbs to replenish those finite glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. For people involved in particularly glycolitically demanding training, starchy, rapidly absorbed carbs are really useful. Things like white potato, white rice are ideal for this.
Many people worry about getting fat from eating those types of carb sources, but a mechanism called non-insulin mediated glucose uptake occurs when high intensity training has occurred, particularly training where intense muscle contractions have taken place. In these circumstances, GLUT 4 receptors pick up the glucose and shuttle it into the storage cells without the need for insulin as a signalling hormone.
If that sounds complicated, it does not need to be. Just know that there are circumstances when a lot of starchy carbs are ideal, but if you are sedentary, they might be best avoided.
There are a number of additional reasons why carbohydrate restriction might not suit some people. These include, the risk of reduced thyroid hormone which will lower the body temperature and reduce metabolism, reducing the amount of calories needed at rest. If you are lean, and this happens, you could end up gaining fat. If you are overweight, it might just halt your fat loss in it’s tracks.
Many people who go super low carb suffer from elevated cortisol levels, carbs can help to keep cortisol within a healthy range. If you are eating low carb cortisol is released to help the mobilisation of stored energy, but also to free glucose to keep you functioning.
All sounds fine and dandy, but increased cortisol over the long term can result in adrenal fatigue and systemic inflammation, which is definitely NOT what you want.
I also want to mention my experience with low carb eating. Although I felt great in many ways, mood was fab, almost euphoric, I found sleeping a real problem, and night time urges to urinate exacerbated the sleep problem. When I re-introduced carbs into my diet, particularly in the evening meal, all those issues resolved themselves.
If you a not in the bulleted list at the top of this page, you might want to consider the following:
- Eat carbohydrate in the 100 - 150 grams per day range, unless you are very active or strength train, when you can probably tolerate more.
- Get most of your carbs from starchy vegetables, roots, tubers etc, save the high glycemic rice and white potato for the post workout eating window.
- Try carb cycling, higher carb intake on training days, lower on rest days.
All these things need playing with, there is no definitive dietary setting for every demographic. It always needs some personalising.
Use these simple pointers to make an honest assessment of yourself, and strategise your nutrition.
reason #15 - you cheat too often
Ah, the dreaded cheat meal. It’s amazing how popular this has become, and although the principals behind a ‘free meal’ are solid, the idea of cheat meals and even cheat DAYS has become a little skewed.
There are definitely some psychological benefits to having a meal or two a week when you eat some of the foods you have been excluding on your diet, and even eat a little more than usual, but as a someone who has been able to eat a lot of food all their lives, I know how easy it is to sabotage a whole week of restrained eating with one day of dietary mayhem.
The idea of a cheat DAY sounds fab, something to look forward to, something to keep the motivation high, but from personal experience, those type of free-for-all days can result in negative results including:
- Eating away the calorie deficit you have built throughout the week. I am VERY capable of eating 4-5000 calories on a evening alone if I choose to go to town. Imagine the damage you could do in a whole day.
- Cheat days tend to be high carb days with pizza, chocolate, cake, cereal, cookies, and all that delicious stuff. Although great at the time, there is a real risk that this type of eating will lead to a self perpetrating cycle of binge eating, which can go on for days, or even weeks.
I’m not suggesting you never have a free meal or two, and the amount of weight you have to lose will dictate how many free meals you can accommodate. But a free meal should be just that. Perhaps on the weekend, or on a night out, eat a main course, and a desert that you wouldn’t normally eat during the week. Just keep things sensible, and start at say, 7pm, and end at 9pm, not a minute later.
Build a free meal, or even two, into your diet plan from the start. Make it part of the plan. This way, an indulgence is not a failure, but something that is accounted for and expected. Do away with the guilt, it won’t help you. You know how sometimes you eat a couple of cookies when you weren’t supposed to, and then think, “what the hell, I’ve screwed up, might as well eat the whole bag”.
If you had planned for the cookies, or ice cream, or whatever, you are more likely to have your allotted amount, then put the bag or tub away. No guilt, no reactive binge eating, and you’re ready to crack on with your eating plan.
So, to recap:
- Build a free meal or two into your weekly eating plan.
- Limit the free time to 1-2 hours max.
- Avoid cheat days, they will be your downfall.
- You can have more free meals the leaner you get, to help reset Leptin hormone levels.
- Modern foods make it very easy to blow a week’s calorie deficit in a few hours.
reason #16 - you snack too much
Everyone snacks from time to time, some people do it every single day. They feel that without snacks, they could pass out, have a hypo-glycemic event, never make it through to lunchtime or the evening meal.
Snacking can help people to stick to a diet. It can, but it usually doesn’t. Many people disassociate the snacks they eat during the day from their actual daily food intake, and this is where the issue often lies when fat loss is stalled or weight is actually increasing.
Snacking is really not necessary for most people during a day, it is often a habit rather than a physiological need.
I don’t say everyone because there are obviously some folks with underlying health conditions who many need to snack or graze during the day. If you are one of those people, you probably already know it. For everyone else, here are a few ideas to help you eliminate, or at least reduce your snacking, and the potential damage it can do to your waistline.
As I alluded to in a previous section, eating a protein rich breakfast such as eggs, fish, chicken, or even, some form of dairy, will go a long way to helping you cut out those morning snacks. You’ll find that you are full until lunchtime, when another moderate meal with a protein component will keep you going easily until the evening.
I DO think it is important to have some idea about how much protein you should be eating a day, even if you just follow this guide and eyeball portion sizes. The single act of monitoring protein intake will moderate your intake of fat and carbohydrate, you just aren’t going to want to gorge on cakes and pastries with a good whack of protein inside you.
How about these options:
- Eat protein with every meal, you’ll want to snack a whole lot less.
- If you have to snack, snack on hard boiled eggs, they are filling, but you are not going to want to eat more than a couple of them for sure. They are also cheap and totally portable. I love them!!!
- Don’t snack on nuts. The damage they will do to your daily calorie intake is huge.
- An apple or banana is an ok option if you have overdosed on hard boiled eggs for the last week.
reason #17 - you eat too many nuts
NUTS!! We all love them, but there is a growing trend for a lot of folks trying to lose weight, to have nuts as their go to snack food. The problem is, although nuts are a lot better health wise, than perhaps, eating candy and pastries as snacks, they are remarkably high in calories. Eat too many, and you’ll end up cutting into your daily calorie needs in a big way.
Here are the top 10 nuts by calories per 100 grams.
Unfortunately, almonds and the like don’t fare much better, at around 600 calories per 100 grams.
This is what 100 calories of almonds looks like, who can just eat this small quantity?
A mere handful of almonds can be over 700 calories, perhaps 1/2 of the daily calorie allowance for a female trying to lose some fat, and over 1/3 of that of a moderate sized man. Terrifying, because although nuts taste fab, a handful would do little to satisfy my daily hunger. I can think of far less calorie dense, far more nutritious snacks to eat.
If you are seriously trying to lose weight, and are not making much progress, eliminating nuts from your diet, at least for a while, might pay dividends. Yes you love them, yes, they are portable, yes, they don’t spoil. All good, but they are easy to overeat.
Keeping some of these snack foods in the fridge or close at hand might be a better idea, unless of course, you really can limit your nut intake. I which case, carry on eating them.
- Hard boiled eggs
- Chicken breast slices
- Cold beef
- Beef jerky
- Roasted sweet potato wedges
- Cold jacket potatoes
- Dips and crudités
This is just a small selection of possibilities, I am sure you could think of more.
Importantly, try to eat a good whack of protein with each meal, including breakfast. Protein stifles hunger remarkably well, you might not even want to reach for the nut store with a good protein meal inside you. Try it! Instead of your normal breakfast of cereal or toast, have a 3 egg omelette with mushrooms, and a little grated cheese tomorrow morning. See how hungry you are come snack time.
reason #18 - you've been dieting too long
There is no doubt that long term dieting, when not treated with the respect it deserves, can have some profound effects on your metabolism. So many people see great results at first, and then, after a few months, the results dry up and they are left disheartened.
When someone eats a very low calorie diet for any length of time, the body, in all it’s evolutionary prowess, will slow down your metabolic speed, to minimise energy usage. This can also involve making you feel lethargic, not want to hit the gym or exercise, anything to try to minimise the one way flow of calories out of your system.
Metabolic slowdown is a very real concern, but there are a few simple steps you can take to move things in the right direction.
Of course, it is also important to realise that as you lose weight, and there is less of you to move around, your calorie requirements will also diminish. I mentioned this earlier, but a 300 lb version of you is going to require a lot more calories to move around than a 150 lb version of you.
It is always a good idea to take a diet break every 3 months or so, even if you have made good progress so far. If you have stalled in your weight loss, then a couple of weeks eating at a maintenance intake level might be all that is needed to reset Leptin levels, and get the fat loss train moving again.
Diet breaks should not be considered a ‘free-for-all, where you just pig out and gain a shed load of weight. They should be organised, planned, and monitored to insure minimal fat gain over the break duration.
The leaner you are, the more a diet break is going to help you. The hormone Leptin, which provides signalling to the brain regarding fat storage levels, is produced in fat cells. When you have very low body fat levels, Leptin levels are much lower too.
For the seriously overweight, the need for diet breaks are not so essential, but they do offer a psychological benefit. Long term dieting is hard to sustain, and a couple of weeks break every now and then is often all that is needed to create a new found vigour and motivation.
An alternative to diet breaks, although I do think they are very useful, is calorie cycling. This is different to carb cycling, which has gained popularity recently. Carb cycling can involve calorie cycling too, but here are the basics of cycling calories to reduce metabolic slowdown and keep hormone levels optimal for weight loss.
- Set your weekly calorie target. Example: 2000 calories per day x 7 = 14000 calories per week.
- Rather than eating 2000 calories every day, have high days and low days. You might decide to eat 1500 calories one day, and then 2500 calories the next day, alternating high and low days.
- Calorie cycling can work for anyone, but if you are strength training or doing high intensity exercise, try to align high calorie days with exercise days.
The cycling of calories is incredibly powerful. The body will not slow metabolism when the odd day of low calorie eating occurs. Humans have eaten that way for millions of years. Days with little food, followed by days with a feast, following a kill.
The high calorie day tricks the body into thinking that food is plentiful, reducing the chance of the brakes being put on fat loss.
Additionally, most people struggle like hell with consistent low calorie eating, but most find they can handle a day with slightly lower food intake, when they know that they can eat BIG the following day. Another useful psychological trick that will make your life a lot happier, and your weight loss results a lot more certain.
reason #19 - you do too much cardio
More and more evidence is emerging, and just plain arithmetic will tell you that cardio is pretty useless when it comes to weight loss. In fact, it sucks! It just doesn’t burn enough calories, and the more cardio you do, the more your body adapts, and is able to do the same volume and intensity of exercise for a lot less calorie burn. Sure, you might get fitter, but if weight loss is your goal, and you are doing a lot of cardio, perhaps it is time to think again.
I’ve done all the calculations for you, and addressed most of the issues relating to cardio for weight loss in my post, Cardio EXPOSED. I’m not going to regurgitate the whole post here, but it you zip back and take a look at Reason #2, and pay particular attention to the calories burned for a variety of exercise modes, it becomes clear that you need to do A LOT of boring, tiring, injury promoting cardio to lose just a single pound of fat.
I mean, if you are overweight (or perhaps even quite lean), how do you fancy having to run for 6-8 hours to lose one pound of body fat. An hour a day for a whole week. And that is not forgetting that cardio is well known for making you ravenous. If you can keep you appetite under control, you are still going to dedicate a huge amount of time for little gain.
Cardio can be useful in moderation for people who have very little fat to lose, and use a little cardio for just a few hundred extra calories burned per week. You could just walk and get similar effect. But there is an alternative to long duration cardio that will save you time and still burn some fat.
Most people are aware of interval training these days, commonly known as HIIT training. Essentially, you rotate between short bursts of maximal intensity exercise, such as sprints, and longer recovery periods.
You can use running, rowing, cycling or any other exercise mode that allows you to get your heart rate right up, and aim for a target of 6-8 high intensity intervals and the same number of recovery periods.
HIIT is good for getting fit …quick, but it also has some good effects for fat loss. A session or two a week is all you need, but the reality is, unless you combine exercise with some form of dietary manipulation, you are unlikely to get to your body goals anytime soon.
What To Do?
- Understand that body composition results are skewed 80% from your nutritional approach, and 20% from exercise. The more sedentary you are, the closer to 100% your diet will influence fat loss.
- Approach your weight loss in those ratios, concentrate 80% of you efforts on what you eat.
- Avoid long duration cardio as a fat loss strategy.
- Use HIIT to maximise your results and minimise your time commitment.
- Use cardio sparingly, and reserve it for when you are VERY lean. It can certainly help under those circumstances.
reason #20 - you are close to your ideal weight
When I talk about ideal weight, I’m not talking about body mass index (BMI). BMI has been ridiculed in recent times, and it is true, that there are certain demographics who shouldn’t pay too much notice of BMI, muscular, athletic individuals are the common examples cited.
That said, for the general, sedentary population, those who don’t strength train or work to build muscle, BMI is a reasonable proxy to place someone on the body weight vs health continuum.
So, if you have no real desire or interest in getting a six pack, building a beach or bikini body, and just don’t want to be overweight, then BMI could be your friend. Just use it as a guide, not a definitive measure.
I prefer to use the term ‘body composition’ when talking about ideal body stats. Muscle is a good thing, fat, in excess, is shown to be correlated with all sorts of nasty lifestyle diseases. Your aim should always be to improve your body composition through fat loss, and build lean muscle mass through resistance training of some sort. As you shed body fat, and get very lean, a couple of things happen, one of which I have already discussed a little.
- As you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate goes down, to reflect your reduced use of energy. A smaller version of the former you will use less energy.
- As you get lean, your body will fight to maintain a set weight, and do it’s utmost not to go below it. The idea of a set point is somewhat controversial, but many dieters reach a point that they just seem to hang at, and don’t drop below without some clever tricks and tactics.
Hitting this point in your journey is awesome, you are really close to where you want, or need to be, but also frustrating, as things get really slow. So, what to do?
- Focus on body composition rather than weight per se. Get some body fat measurements carried out by someone skilled in skinfold calliper testing, or go for Bodpod or hydrostatic testing. Know where you REALLY are.
- Understand that as you get lean ,with low body fat levels, things do, and should slow down. You can’t go losing 2 pounds every week, from obese to six pack ripped. It just won’t happen like that.
- Use circumference measurements to keep track of progress, rather than stressing over the scales.
- Adjust calories from time to time, as you lose weight. Every month or two is probably enough, depending on your starting point and accumulated losses.
- Try calorie cycling. Maintain appropriate calories over a week, but have high and low days. This can often keep things from stagnating.
why you are not losing weight conclusion
If you are anything like me, you’ll have tried many times to change your body composition, lose weight and get into the best shape of your life. In my case, it has not been through a lack of knowledge, or how to do it, but more a lack of ability to keep on keeping on, long enough to reach my goals.
I still suffer in this respect, probably always will. I feel that the key here is not to try to just change yourself overnight, with the hope of waking up as a new person who succeeds and never falters. The chances of doing that are negligible
The better option, in my opinion, is to spend some time learning, experimenting, practicing if you will. The art of practicing a skill results in you getting more skilful. Dieting is no different. It is a skill you can learn, by taking time and developing good habits.
Remember, you may have the perception that you have failed to lose weight for years, that you are a failure. You are not!!! All that past experience, however heart-breaking and upsetting brought you to this point in time. It does not need to reflect your tomorrow.
Learning, educating yourself, empowering yourself to take total responsibility for your situation is essential to taking control of the habits and emotions that have kept your from success, perhaps in many areas of your life.
I wrote this short guide to help with that empowerment. I’m just a normal guy, with the same fears, woes, and concerns as you have. Sure, I’ve managed, after many years, to get a body that I like when I look in the mirror. But the mirror image should not be a determiner of your self worth, your happiness. You are uniquely special in the world, no-one is like you, or ever will be. Cherish that, be authentic, and take control of YOU. No-one else will do it for you.
I really hope that just one section of this post will create one of those ‘lightbulb’ moment. If not, try to honestly consider which points are most relevant, and then try to fix one of them. Wait it out, see what happens. If nothing, then move on to another one.
You will get there, but it takes persistence, as does everything in life.
I wish you all the best. You can do this!! Just let me know how you get on.