This curse has haunted dieters from across the globe, both male and female, for centuries. Having fully committed to a weight loss diet to then experience no weight loss at all is incredibly disheartening. Most simply give up, with the justification of “I must just be one of those people that cannot lose weight” while slipping back into the old bad habits.
The reason you are not losing weight is because you are not in an energy deficit. I realize that is a pretty horrible, unhelpful answer. But ultimately, that is the cause of this curse. Science has supported that for years.
There are a number of factors involved in you not being in or able to maintain an energy deficit, each of which are covered below.
Unfortunately not knowing what factors are blocking you from losing weight creates anxiety and insecurity. This anxiety and insecurity is preyed upon by the diet and supplement industry. Like rabid wolves they frantically build detox products, blame toxins, push pills and slim teas to you, using heavy marketing and the typical buzzwords like fat burn, free from, organic and more to take your hard earned money, sell you a fraudulent product and run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. It’s sickening, honestly it really is.
I hope that by the end of this article you know exactly why you are not losing weight and more importantly how you can overcome the curse and begin your weight loss journey.
Time of day
Let us begin with the most glaringly obvious mistake that I see here. Body weight changes during the day, naturally and logically as you eat and drink, you take on board more weight. So weighing yourself in the afternoon or evening is not recommended. Similarly, weighing yourself in the gym after an enduring hour-long spin class may fill you with false hope, simply because you lost 2 lbs through sweat.
True body weight can be monitored first thing in the morning, after you empty your bladder, with little to no clothes on and before you eat or drink anything. Commit to monitoring your true body weight more than a couple of times per week (unless you really dislike scales for the sake of protecting your sanity), ideally every other day perhaps, as daily fluctuations are absolutely normal, so you need more than one measure to see actual progress with weight loss.
As an example, salt will increase fluid retention and thus may impact your body weight. So if you have a salty meal one evening, the chances are the following day you will see a spike in body mass. Not because you have gained body weight or fat, but simply because more water is being stored in your body.
Your body composition is changing
This topic will be covered in more detail in another article, but for the sake of this discussion it’s worth mentioning that your body has many different components. You have muscle, fat, bone, organs, the gut and all its bacteria and water, lots of water. Water comprises up to 65% of your body weight at any given time.
As a sports nutritionist I have previously worked with a number of different combat sport athletes, who had to achieve a certain weight to enter competitions. This often meant some radical changes to diet and lifestyle in the days leading up to competition to reduce the amount of water weight. This was achieved through a combination of reducing fluid, carbohydrate, fiber and calorie intake, extensive use of saunas and such like. These practices often led to 5 - 10 lbs of weight loss in 24 hours. But they quickly regained that weight when they went back to their normal diet and lifestyle.
Simply drinking more water will increase body water and thus increase your scale weight. Carbohydrate is stored in the body with water. So a high carbohydrate meal one evening could result in a slight increase in weight the following day. Similarly, sodium or salt can increase fluid retention. So a salty meal or snack may result in a slight increase in body weight, but this is body water. Imagine stepping on the scale with a backpack on.
Eating more protein in combination with resistance training and perhaps protein supplementation is a sure fire way to build more muscle mass. There is a belief that muscle weighs more than fat, so when you gain muscle your weight goes up. This is not necessarily true, but muscle is more dense than fat. So if size is equated, then muscle will weigh more. Much like comparing a handful of feathers to a handful of pebbles. Building muscle and losing fat is key to supporting your long-term health.
It’s important to distinguish between the different body compartments. The objective of any weight loss diet should be to lose body fat, maintain or gain lean muscle mass and maintain body water, bone and other organs. The issue here is that measuring fat loss requires more than a simple scale.
Granted, body weight is a nice proxy measure of your progress in this quest, but be mindful that your body is made up of many different things and fluctuations are normal. Commit to consistency in your efforts, weight loss will happen, but also accept the fact that weight gain may also happen from time to time.
When your body decides to slow down
When you diet your metabolic rate slows down slightly. This is your body’s reaction to it recognizing that less energy is coming in and therefore it makes the executive decision to slow down production in the factory. Fundamentally, as you lose weight there is also less of you to fuel, so energy expenditure drops. These body-driven alterations are scientifically referred to as adaptive thermogenesis. Your body also fights hard to maintain body fat, so it’s a real struggle and this is often the reason that people lose weight when dieting, but then regain that weight back in subsequent months or years.
Similarly as you lose weight and you become deprived of energy, your body communicates clear messages to the brain to slow down movement and general activity, in an effort to further reduce energy expenditure and maintain energy balance. You can quickly become sedentary. The type that takes the elevator rather than stairs, drives rather than walks, sits instead of stands, watches TV instead of playing with friends, kids or grandkids.
This is commonly referred to as ‘starvation mode’ and often signals the end of dieting for most people. But it need not be that way, you simply have to be mindful of these changes and fight back against them.
In the knowledge that body mass is declining it may be that you now need to reduce your energy intake slightly, you also need to fight against the urge to become sedentary and commit to exercise and activity in daily life to keep expenditure high. Then simply be consistent.
One of the most common explanations for not losing weight when following a diet is simply inconsistency. Through the week you may be incredibly determined, following the plan to the letter. But the weekend is then viewed as an opportunity to relax, both with the diet and in general life. This leads to inconsistency with the weekly energy balance and can quickly move you from a negative energy balance to maintenance calories or even a surplus of calories.
Practically speaking that could simply be a couple of glasses of wine with some chips and candy on a Friday evening, followed by a meal in a restaurant on Saturday night and then a family meal on a Sunday evening. The average energy intake can rapidly rise from 1200 kcal during the week to 3400 kcal over the weekend, taking the weekly average up to 2000 kcal, which is enough energy to maintain (but not lose) your current weight for most middle-aged women.
Consistency in following recipes is also relevant here. Following recipes ad hoc, without accurate measurements can quickly allow additional calories to stack up, for instance 50 grams of pasta is roughly 200 kcal, while 100 grams is 400 kcal. Being cognizant of this fact and following recipes as they are laid out for you in the ReverseHealth app is incredibly important, especially in the beginning.
This is the reason we have CONSISTENCY as the third of three C’s within our simple ReverseHealth nutrition philosophy. Consistency across the week is incredibly challenging, trust me, I know. But consistency is what will provide you with the results you desire and deserve.
Some simple tips to becoming more consistent with your diet include being less restrictive with the foods, fluids and snacks in your diet. Operating with food freedom, banish the list of bad or banned foods. Focus on foods that will positively contribute to your progress, eg. higher protein, higher fiber, low energy density whole foods, but also allow for your favorite foods too. That may mean you have to reinvent a healthier version of a 1600 kcal large pizza using wholemeal flatbreads and lower fat cheese, but this small sacrifice is well worth it.
Another potential explanation for you not being in an energy deficit is something I would call stealth calories. Those energy dense items that slip into your daily diet without you even noticing, wreaking havoc on your weight loss progress. While counting calories is not absolutely necessary, being aware of the energy density of foods is critically important and a huge part of the education course with ReverseHealth.
Sauces and condiments are common stealth calories. As an example a 2 oz serving of tomato ketchup will provide 80 kcal, mayo 360 kcal, aioli 400 kcal and ranch dressing 240 kcal. Some quick math and you just added 1080 kcal to your daily diet, moving you from the 1400 kcal diet you thought you were consuming, to a 2480 kcal diet that will have you maintain, if not gaining weight.
Eating out at restaurants regularly is another way to add stealth calories. Even good choices at restaurants often pack more calories than the home cooked versions of the same meal. The objective of a restaurant is to prepare food that you love so much you want to go back the following week, that is easily achieved by adding in extra fat, salt and sugar (i.e. more calories). Take mashed potatoes for example, in a restaurant a chef may prepare his mashed potato with whipped cream and butter, to provide 500 kcal, while at home you could use a small amount of Greek yogurt and low fat milk to provide 230 kcal. That simple saving adds up over time, especially if eating out regularly.
Simply adding milk and a couple of teaspoons of sugar in your tea or coffee could also layer in additional calories. A black coffee could contribute around 40 kcal, while additional sugars and milk could bump that figure closer to 100 kcal, three or four cups a day contributing around 400 kcal per day. Tea and coffee with milk and a sweetener certainly improves the taste, so I am not suggesting you stop that, just be mindful. But on the topic of coffee, a quick pit stop in Starbucks could quite easily add a further 500 kcal.
Other surprisingly energy dense foods that I would categorize as being stealth calories include nut butters, nuts, avocado, olives and olive oil. These foods undoubtedly have numerous health benefits, most are packed with micronutrients, fiber and healthy fat and therefore you can be lured into a false sense of security, “don’t worry, it’s healthy”. Yes, these foods contribute valuable nutrients, but they also contribute large calories in a stealth-like manner. A typical 2 oz serving of peanut butter packs a punch with 250 kcal, while half an avocado is roughly 240 kcal. The lesson here is to always be mindful of serving sizes.
Finally, failing to follow recipes accurately is a way to add stealth calories. A tablespoon of olive oil is 119 kcal, so when you decide to pour the olive oil straight from the bottle rather than measuring a tablespoon serving as stated in the recipe is a sure fire way to add an additional 400 kcal.
Be mindful and aware of everything that you are consuming to avoid layering in those stealth calories that can quickly turn weight loss into weight gain.
Uncontrolled, unconscious eating or more commonly snacking is another issue. Sitting at your desk with a packet of salted nuts or on the sofa for the evening Netflix and chill session accompanied by a tub of ice cream can quickly become uncontrollable.
Selecting pre-portioned snacks such as 30 gram packs of cashew nuts or 200 ml tubs of ice cream is a progressive step. But the best bet is to go back and address those bad habits head-on, by setting boundaries, shape your environment in such a way that healthy, low calorie foods are easy to access (think full fruit bowls) and unhealthy foods are not available or difficult to access (eg. in the cold garage), redirecting emotional eating, avoid food rewards and practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is a topic we discuss in our ReverseHealth video course, so make sure to watch those videos for a deep dive into the importance of mindset.
To lose weight you need to create and maintain a negative energy balance. This is certainly easier said than done, the body and your environment do their best to prevent this from happening for the simple reason of survival.
If you find yourself in a position where you have been following a plan for a period of time, that you believe to be sufficient to produce weight loss, but have not experienced any weight loss then consider the following possible roadblocks:
· Time of day: measure true body weight first thing in the morning.
· Changing body composition: remember the multiple compartments within your body and that you should be targeting fat loss.
· Adaptive thermogenesis: be aware that your body will fight back when you diet; you need to make the necessary adjustments to win this battle.
· Inconsistency: commit to being consistent with your diet and lifestyle changes, setting realistic and achievable goals, including foods you love makes this much easier.
· Stealth calories: be mindful of those foods that are incredibly nutritious but equally calorific and control the quantity of such foods.
· Mindless snacking: avoid this completely, be mindful and present whenever you eat.
Here at ReverseHealth we teach our members how to overcome these potential road blocks with a simple and sustainable 3C philosophy that allows for long-term, forever fat loss. Take the quiz today to start your journey at reverse.health.