please please please stop crash dieting

Why am I not losing weight?
Grow Like Oak

Why am I not losing weight? 

Ok, so this question is broad, and there is absolutely no one size fits all answer.  BUT if you’re here, you’re obviously wondering, and your probably frustrated. 

There are many factors as to why you might not be losing the weight you’d hoped.  Let’s get into the big ticket reasons and how you can apply action for big change. 


1) You’re not in a calorie deficit

Fundamental thermodynamics. If you’re not losing weight, it’s very likely you’re not creating the calorie deficit that you thought. Either your calorie output (daily activity and workouts) are overestimated and/or your calorie intake is underestimated. This is very common, and occurs in many ways:

– Inaccurate measurement of foods. 

– Fitness apps are general and calorie counters can be inaccurate.

– Often we’re not training as hard as we think (not burning what apps or machines say).

– Food labels often have hidden calories or are misleading in their wording.

– Sauces, oils & other condiments go unrecorded and bump up total calorie intake.

A Calorie deficit is the key factor in losing weight. Hands down.You’ll learn more about how many calories to eat in the Q&A – “How many calories should I eat to lose weight”.

2) You’re metabolically adapted

This links us back to our first point. Wile you think you’re in a caloric deficit, metabolic adaptation will put you in a calorie surplus without knowing it. When we restrict calories, we’re moving away from what’s NORMAl for the body. The body knows this and very quickly adapts by slowing down metabolism.

If you were once consuming 2500 calories per day and maintaining your weight, this is what we call your maintenance calories. Then if you were to drop your intake to 1500 calories for a quick weight loss result,  you’re now in a 1000 calorie deficit. Over a period of weeks (the time varies for everyone) your body will slow down it’s metabolic rate to adapt to this 1000 calorie deficit. Logically if your body is used to receiving 2500 calories, it’s going to be a bit concerned if it’s suddenly receiving less than 2/3 of that.  It doesn’t care if you’re trying to get in shape for summer, all it cares about is not starving to death. So, in an attempt to recover the calorie difference metabolism is down regulated.

After metabolic adaptation, your once 2500 maintenance calories is now 1800. Technically if you’re still consuming 1500 calories, you’re in a calorie deficit, but it’s nowhere near what you thought.  It’s a 300 calorie deficit as opposed to 1000. Now let’s say you have days where you eat 2500 calories. This wouldn’t be a big deal if it was your actual maintenance level.  You wouldn’t gain weight or lose weight. You’ll just maintain. BUT your new maintenance, after metabolic adaptation is 1800, so technically you’ve over eaten 700 calories.  What’s amazing about metabolic adaptation is that, what you over consume is much more likely to be stored as fat because your body wants to capture this excess and secure it as much as possible to prepare for any potential starvation in the future.

Metabolic adaptation is the most common reason people plateau or regain weight.  The instinctive response to this would be to reduce calories even more, but this is a very dangerous cycle to get into. This is why weight loss should be done slowly and sustainably. The greater the calorie deficit, and the longer it’s maintained – the greater the metabolic adaptation will be.

You can learn more about metabolic adaptation in this article – Please stop crash dieting.

2) You’re not eating the right foods, despite the calorie deficit

There have been studies that have shown people to lose weight just eating twinkies. They had a calorie deficit. Simple… but… QUALITY matters too in the long run.A calorie deficit with poor nutrient quality will eventually result in decreased fat burning efficiency and increased fat storage.It will also encourage muscle breakdown and a drop in overall metabolism.

While any diet can work with a calorie restriction for a while, it’s common to see weight loss stop in it’s tracks, creating need for further calorie restriction. I don’t encourage this, and in fact, most people tend to abandon the given diet before taking that step. Hence, gaining weight back, and experiencing failure once again.

On the flip side, a diet rich protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals promote consistent weight loss until reaching a healthy, stable weight.  Sufficient protein intake at around 1.6-2.2g per kg of lean body mass will help maintain muscle mass in a calorie deficit. This way fat burning will be prioritised over muscle.  Fibre is very satiating and has a high thermic effect, meaning it requires more energy to digest. Fibre also feeds the gut bacteria, keeping them healthy, which in tern encourages them to keep you healthy.  Fruit and vegetables are rich in nutrients which help to promote healthy metabolic function, control inflammation caused by general life stressors (exercise being one of them). Being nutrient deficient could also lead to poor hormone dysregulation, including hunger hormones, which control result in over eating, cravings and constant hunger.

3) Patience & Consistency

The BIGGEST reason people don’t lose weight is not staying the course.  We all know, more or less, what we need to do.  A calorie deficit with a heavy emphasis on quality whole foods.  Whatever diet or form of exercise you choose, STICK WITH IT! I think it’s quite encouraging really, because we don’t need to keep hoping for the next magic formula to arrive.

To achieve this, your expectations have to  be in check.  Like anything that’s worth achieving, it’ll be hard, it’ll take time, you’ll stray off the path, but ultimately you WILL succeed.  Whether it’s low carb or low fat, go with what is going to be the most sustainable FOREVER. Be honest with yourself about what will allow you to maintain a healthy calorie deficit long term. 

Do your best not to put yourself up against other people. Each person is so different it’s not funny.  We lose weight at different rates. Our hormone profiles are all unique. The lifestyles we lead that impact our hormones, are all very different.  We metabolise food very differently. Some will thrive on Keto, others need more carbs. Our gut bacteria are as unique as a finger print. Recent research is showing us how much of an impact it has on our behaviour, metabolism and ability to lose weight.

Learn what’s right for you by listening to your own body. Adjust slightly where needed, and stay on track. Ignore all the bells and whistles in the health and fitness space or the new diet that your neighbour just started.

4) Your sleep and/or stress is blocking fat metabolism & encouraging fat storage

Lack of sleep, poor quality sleep and stress all have one thing in common. It creates consistently elevated cortisol levels throughout your system. This is a hormone that can wreak havoc on your health and weight loss goals. It reduces the ability to burn fat and build/maintain muscle. It affects mood, brain function and memory. It also triggers your immune system to go into hyperdrive, resulting in chronic inflammation (the leading cause of all disease). Inflammation can also influence weight gain by driving up insulin, the fat storage hormone.

When our sleep-wake cycle is out of whack, the hunger hormone, Ghrelin is elevated and Leptin, the “i’m full” hormone, is suppressed. Therefore, our brain starts to scream for energy dense foods like sugar and fat, which makes it very hard to stick to healthy food choices.

Sleep and stress are 2 of the 5 pillars of weight loss and health. The others being Nutrition, Exercise and Emotion.  Here are a couple of articles to dive deeper into how sleep and stress impact your weight loss goals.
Sleep is more important for weight loss than Diet & Exercise
Stress is sabotaging your weight loss

5) Your gut bacteria doesn’t like you much:

Our gut bacteria are more numerous than the cells that make up our whole being. By 10 to 1! Safe to say they’re pretty important. Amongst many functions, our gut bacteria are responsible for turning genes on and off, which then play out in other functions throughout our body (and mind). Some of the gene switches they control are the fat metabolism and fat storage genes. So if you pi** them off by feeding them garbage, the’ll take their revenge by making weight loss a nightmare. To keep them happy and healthy, consume lots and lots of fibre. What’s the only food to contain fibre? Plants!

I discuss this in more detail in the Q&A: “What are the best foods for weight loss?”

Your weight loss journey is exactly that. A journey. A lifestyle. You’re changing your habits to eat less and better quality food. You’re moving more and finding ways to enjoy it every day.Make the minor adjustments as you go along, keeping the 5 points above in mind and it’s a sure thing you’ll lose the weight and keep it off forever.

The full “Top 10 questions about weight loss” is now available as a free PDF download. It’s a must read if you want to optimise your weight loss results.

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