Why am I not losing weight? One of the most ridiculous answers spouted by some fitness folks is that ‘you`re not eating enough calories to burn fat’…..
You need to increase your calories to burn fat! Could that be why you’re not losing weight? Wait a minute, eat more to lose more? That’s a bit confusing isn’t it?
Such suggestions are not only befuddling but completely untrue, as they defy basic physics.
“A fundamental principle of nutrition and metabolism is that body weight change is associated with an imbalance between the energy content of food eaten and energy expended by the body to maintain life and to perform physical work” ~ Am J Clin Nutr
Thumbs up for science.
The same people often throw out buzz words like “starvation mode” and “metabolic shutdown” without really understanding what they mean.
Let us say right away, we are NOT advocating extreme calorie restriction, far from it. We’re all about sustainability, long-term change and healthy living!
Extreme calorie restriction has not only been shown to be unhealthy, causes muscle loss, it sucks, is unsustainable and not to mention that it often results in greater weight gain when you start eating ‘normally’ again!
What we’re going do in this article is to:
- explain why eating too few calories isn’t the reason you’re not losing weight
- why starvation mode isn’t affecting you
- explore some of the real reasons why you might not be getting leaner
Why It’s NOT Starvation Mode
Before we go any further, we need to understand what a calorie deficit is. In order to lose fat you NEED to create a one.
A calorie deficit is when you consume less calories than your body burns or you burn more calories than you eat.
When a calorie deficit is created, fat loss happens. All weight loss diets from the good, to the bad, to the outright ugly have this core tenant – they induce a calorie deficit in some shape or form.When a calorie deficit is created, fat loss happens. Click To Tweet
One of the most well-known studies to demonstrate this was back in 1945. A dude called Dr Ancel Keys performed the famous Minnesota starvation experiment. He subjected 36 men to a diet of 1570 calories for 6 months. He also made them walk three or more miles a day. Unsurprisingly, the men lost weight each and every week. They lost approximately 25% of their starting body weight and they finished about 5% body fat.
Another extreme example was a study by the University of Dundee. They took a 27 year old male patient and helped him fast for 392 days. No ill effects were recorded, but he started at 206kg and reached 81kg. Did these people eat too few calories to lose weight?
The Calorie Deficit Is Key!
Your body will not hold onto fat if you create a calorie deficit, it will burn it as needed, for fuel until its need for energy is balanced. If you have a calorie requirement of 2000 kcals per day (remember this is always an estimation and a moving target) and eat 2000 kcals per day, you should maintain weight. Consistently ate 3000 kcals, you’d gain weight. If you ate 1500 kcals, you’ll lose weight.
It’s also important to realise that a bigger calorie deficit doesn’t result in faster results. This is where it can get confusing. Eat too little and you’ll suffer. Consuming the right amount of calories is crucial to sustain training performance (more on that later), minimise loss of lean mass, prevent hunger etc. Conservative deficits of around 15-20% seem to be the sweet spot.
To learn more about to work our your calories or how to calculate your macros for fat loss, read this.
What Bear Grylls Can Teach You About Fat Loss
Some real world examples for you. You know the TV programme with Bear Grylls called The Island? The one where people are marooned on a desert island with very little food?
Ever seen the series where they all fail to lose weight because they’re ‘not eating enough’? No, of course not, many finish the show considerably lighter (and often ill-looking) due to the lack of food and increased exercise (calorie deficit at work).
On a more serious note, if the body decided to go into ‘starvation mode’ then the terrible plight of many who experience famine would therefore be unexplained. The idea that someone does not eat enough to lose weight is completely flawed.The idea that someone does not eat enough to lose weight is completely flawed. Click To Tweet
Now some people do eat more food and lose weight.
In fact it’s the case with many of our clients – they’re eating more food than they were before…and losing weight.
Here’s The Deal
‘Food’ is not the same as ‘calories’.
An increase in food doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in calories and vice versa. Our clients usual eat more nutrient dense, high volume foods (veg, more protein, wholegrains etc) but less overall calories than they did before. Oh hiya calorie deficit.
The result? Weight loss. [Note: Here’s how you can become a client]
Struggles with weight loss are common, but the reason why you’re not losing fat isn’t because you’re not eating enough. Here are some other more likely explanations:
1. You’re Not Properly Tracking Your Calories
Once you’ve decided to get on the fat loss bandwagon, tracking your actual calories or macros, using apps like MyFitnessPal, is often quite popular. It’s a great way to see what you’re eating. Studies have shown that simply by keeping a food diary can help you to lose weight.
There are loads of studies that show we’re not great at keeping track and under-reporting our food intake is quite common. You might fall behind, underestimate the calories in the foods you’re logging. One study showed 25% participants thought their meals had 500 fewer calories than they actually had.
Another study in obese people showed some under-reported by up to 2000 calories a day!
“My friend is eating 1000 calories and they’re not losing weight”….
They`re not eating 1000 calories.'My friend is eating 1000 calories and they’re not losing weight'….they`re not eating 1000 calories. Click To Tweet
Their daily activities, their metabolic rate, the energy their body uses to digest food, the calories they burn in exercise, their NEAT levels, all added together are not so low that a healthy adult could maintain their weight on 1000 calories per day!
99x out of 100 it’s due to miscalculating or under-reporting, either intentionally or unintentionally.
We’re all just really bad at tracking. Don’t take it personally, even dieticians have been found to under-report their intake!
Weekend ‘Cheat Meals’
Ok ok, so someone genuinely might be logging a silly low calorie count Monday to Friday, but…what happens at the weekend:
MyFitnessPal is cast away, they’ve been extremely restrictive all week so they’re dying for a huge pizza, a couple of beers and a tub of Ben & Jerrys.
There goes the weekly calorie deficit, wiped out in one meal…with an extra whack of calories on top.
Just to clarify, we’re not against downtime, free meals, refeeds, ‘cheat meals’ or whatever you want to call them. However, complete no-holds-barred-binges are rarely a good idea!
If you’re using MyFitnessPal to track your intake that’s probably a good start, but you need to be accurate and honest with yourself. Log your breakfast, snacks, protein shakes, fancy coffees, fruit, everything you eat, in order to get the most from it if you actually want to make real progress. Don`t skip meals and don`t lie to yourself.
2. Your Not Losing Weight Because Your NEAT Has Slumped
Aside from exercise, short bursts of low intensity activity such as walking the dog or going by foot to the shop can have substantial health benefits.
This effect is known as NEAT. It stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and can account for an average of 330 calories burned per day in healthy individuals.
When you make a change to your diet or drop your calories, it is very common to see NEAT dropping too (as a result of your body making some metabolic adaptions).
If your NEAT drops, this can cause the initially calculated calorie deficit to be reduced if not removed entirely!
What you need to do is to try and get your NEAT back up again! Think about going for some walks and stand at your desk for a while. You could park a little further from work, take the dog an extra loop round the block or perform some other light activity.
3. Your Workout Intensity Has Dropped
You probably already know that training with weights is fantastic for helping people lose weight and maintain muscle when in eating to get lean.
Following a structured, all-round programme training encompassing some resistance training and cardio is often a great option. A problem arises when you’ve been dieting for a while as workout intensity tends to drop.
You’ll likely know the feeling – you’ve probably experienced some workouts when you were pumped, energetic, loving life and smashed the workout out of the park.
Other times…not so much: tired, bored, just going through the movements, itching to get home? Guess which workout was likely to burn the most energy?
This now means your original calculations you used to work out how many calories you burn per day are likely skewed which means you could be overestimating your activity level.
How Can We Fix This?
Second might be to change your workout time so you feel a bit more lively. Always train after work? Try going in at lunchtime or first thing.
Third idea might be to change your training programme so you find it more exciting.
Fourth, take a de-load week where you still train but drop the weights. Only lift about 60% of what you would usually do. It might be a good idea to take a de-load week every 8-12 weeks.
4. You’re Experiencing Water Fluctuations
When you’re losing weight, you’ve likely experienced some ‘interesting’ weight fluctuations. One day you’re down a pound, next day you’re up two and it can be very frustrating.
Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. Weight fluctuations can occur due to a host of factors including: stomach content, how hydrated you are, how much carbohydrate you’ve eaten, hormonal balance etc.
In reality you could be losing body fat but the scales might not reflect this immediately due to the changes in water weight.
To get round this, don’t just use scale weight. Your bodyweight is an indicator of fat loss progress, but it isn’t the ONLY indicator, and is far from the best one.Your bodyweight is an indicator of fat loss progress, but it isn’t the ONLY indicator. Click To Tweet
You MAY lose weight as you lose fat and improve your physique, but it’s not a given.
If you’re new to training, then you can put on muscle while you’re losing fa. This means your weight stays the same, or even goes up, despite you looking better. Likewise, on a day-to-day basis, weight can fluctuate a lot, due to water retention, and what types of food you’ve eaten, but this is NOT fat gain.
If you’re stressing out over how much you weigh, then give the scales a miss for a while. Just take progress photos and measurements of your waist, hips, chest, shoulders and thighs to gauge how you’re getting on.
Why You’re Not Losing Weight: The Take-Home
The idea that someone doesn’t eat enough calories to lose weight isn’t true! It defies the rules governing our metabolism. People may eat more food and lose weight. Increased food volume isn’t the same as increasing calories.
It always boils down to this: no calorie deficit = no fat loss.
If you’re struggling to lose weight and you’re tracking your intake on MFP are you being accurate with your logging? Do you track Monday to Friday but skip the weekends? Has NEAT slumped, if so, what can you do to boost it up again? If workout intensity has dropped look at what you’re eating beforehand, when you’re training and what you’re doing in the gym.