“I exercise five days a week and eat less than 1400 calories but I’m not losing weight?!”
This is something we hear a lot! Common opinions from friends, family members or social media might include, “it’s because you are not eating enough” or “your body has gone into starvation mode”.
Before we go any further, let’s clear one thing up. There is no such thing as ‘starvation mode’. Your body cannot store calories which are not there. If we could then no one would ever starve.
So here are 4 of the more likely reasons you are not losing weight…
- You are eating more calories than you think you are.
Studies often show that people tend to underestimate their calorie intake. Even health professionals have been shown to underreport their calories. So if you are not losing weight you are not consistently sticking to your calories and you are not maintaining a calorie deficit over time.
This may be because you are not keeping a food diary or app such as My Fitness Pal. Now we are not saying that everyone has to track their calories to lose weight, but for a lot of people it can be helpful at the start to establish where they are currently at and to be able to identify areas for improvement.
If you are someone that is already tracking your food and still not seeing the results you want, consider the scenarios below…….
- You are not being entirely honest with yourself and start leaving out the foods you feel guilty about eating.
- You forget to log a snack or the biscuits that were passed around the office because it wasn’t in your plan for the day.
- You are too busy at work or with the kids and when you go to log everything at night you forget what you ate.
- You don’t track every single bite because it seems so insignificant but all those little bites and licks of the spoon add up!
- You eat the kids leftovers.
- You have very milky teas or coffees and lots of them! Even 100mls of semi-skimmed milk in 6 cups of tea or coffee a day is another 300 kcals that you have not accounted for. That’s an extra 2100 kcals a week!
- You don’t track sauces.
- You eat too many ‘healthy’ foods and think that because they are supposedly good for you that you don’t need to track them. You do!
- Perhaps you are not entering the foods correctly on the app and need to adjust the portion size or use the barcode scanner to make sure the food you have entered is correct.
- You take the weekend “off”
Because you have been really “good” all week you decide to relax a little bit too much at the weekend.
Let’s look at an example of 2 people who will lose weight on 1500 calories a day, based on their weight and activity levels.
Note: Anna and Lauren are not actually real clients. But it sounded better than Person A and Person B!
Anna follows such as restrictive diet during the week that her calories start to creep up as the weekend approaches and she ends up overindulging on Saturday and Sunday because she feels so deprived. But because ‘the diet starts again on Monday’ she feels she can get away with it.
Lauren on the other hand decides to take a more gradual approach to weight loss and chooses to have a small treat everyday so she can eat the foods that she likes, only in smaller portions than she used to.
So that means their calorie intake looks like this:
So Anna in her attempts to be super strict during the week actually ate 1500 calories more than Lauren that week. In other words she ate another day’s worth of food compared to Lauren.
- You are not as active as you think.
As we mentioned above it is common to underestimate how many calories we eat. But we also have a tendency to overestimate how many calories we burn during exercise. If you are using an activity tracker or cardio machine in the gym to work out how many calories you have burned these are not accurate and will likely give you a higher figure than reality.
We’ll use another example and please note these figures are in no way accurate. The numbers below are just used as a simple example.
If you skipped your exercise session today between 2-3pm today you might burn 100 kcals. If on the other hand you went and completed the hour of exercise you might burn 300 kcals for arguments sake.
So if you are looking at your activity tracker and thinking “great I just burned 300 kcals so I deserve that bar of chocolate”. In reality you have only burned 200 kcals because you don’t burn 0 calories at rest. So all you have really done is eaten back the calories you burned, if not more, to bring you out of a calorie deficit and into maintenance calories or even a surplus.
Now that’s not an excuse not to do exercise because it has lots of benefits apart from weight loss. But that 30-60 mins of exercise is only a small part of your day. What about the other 23 hours of the day? How do you spend them? It is important to look at how active you are outside of dedicated exercise. In other words try to increase your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Think about the follow….. Do you do your exercise and then come home and sit down for the rest of the day? Are you getting your steps in? Do you even know how may steps you do a day? This is where an activity tracker can come in useful to set yourself a daily and weekly step target to help stay accountable.
- You are too impatient!
Maybe you are actually losing weight, but just not as quickly as you would like. It is very common for the scale not to change for a few days or even weeks. This does not mean that you are not losing fat. Your weight will fluctuate on a daily basis. Consider using other measure of progress such as tape measurements, progress photos and how your clothes fit. Unless you weight stays the same for 2-3 weeks you don’t need to worry too much. Stay focused and keep going.
Take home message
At a very basic level we don’t lose weight when energy intake is equal to or greater than energy output. It doesn’t matter that you have stuck to your calories for 2 or 3 days, it’s the average over time that will make the difference. So if you are struggling to lose weight and can’t understand why, ask yourself these questions first before making any unnecessary changes:
- Are you considering or tracking everything you eat?
- Are you logging your food Monday-Friday but taking a break at the weekend?
- Do you track calories from drinks e.g. alcohol, fizzy drinks, juices and high calorie coffees?
- Are you active outside of your exercise sessions?
- Has your training intensity or frequency slipped?
- Are you being realistic, or are you too impatient?
Make adjustments where you need to and weight loss is inevitable if you’re in a calorie deficit over time.
Please note that if you have a medical condition or are taking certain medications that promote weight gain the above may not apply to you. Discuss this with your GP if you are concerned.
As always, if you want any help or advice please complete the contact form below or click here to get started and we would be happy to help!