Sometimes, no matter what you’re doing, the scale won’t budge. I’m eating clean you’ll say, I’m watching what I eat you might add, but nothing is happening.
Unfortunately there are a plethora of reasons why you can’t seem to lose weight and none of the top ones might encapsulate your story either. I know one client where it’s almost an exercise of scratching the skin off my head to confusion to figure out how we can create weight or fat loss. But let’s go over a few.
This one is a novel concept and elementally simple. You’re likely eating too much and simply not moving enough. I know the media often berates the narrative of move more, eat less as the way to fixing North America’s obesity epidemic and from an over simplistic view, it’s true.
The way to create weight loss, not just fat loss, is quite simple and has been proven over and over again. Get into a caloric deficit through either eating less, moving more or both. I’m not kidding, it’s that easy. Assuming all things normal, if you’re eating to satiety before and you simply reduce the quantity of your foods and start exercising a little bit more, you can start to see some drastic movement on the scale and in the mirror. It’s why there’s been an explosion in the fitness industry over the last decade.
Sometimes you might actually have to do both, meaning that improving the way you eat might not be enough to get things moving in the right direction without increasing your NEAT (more on that later) on a daily basis.
2. You aren’t going the hell to bed.
Get your sleep. It’s not a myth, sleeping, when it comes to weight loss and vitality, actually matters. A lot.
You might not realize it but sleep is actually hugely important when it comes to losing weight and getting the body of your dreams (pun intended). In general, children and adults who get little sleep have larger waistlines, high body fat percentages and have higher numbers on the scale. It’s also been shown that just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to a significant reduction in insulin sensitivity which means that your body isn’t metabolizing carbohydrates as efficiently. This means you could be adding fat unexpectedly through just not being able to handle your carbs.
What happens when you don’t sleep is that you generally increase your levels of cortisol. Cortisol, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is our body’s stress hormone released when we are stressed and aids in the metabolism of fat, protein and carbs. It’s the body’s built in alarm system. The only problem is if we are constantly secreting more and more cortisol, we can’t sleep and our body holds onto any ounce of body fat it can get.
Evolutionarily, if our body was stressed out (either from running away from a Sabre-tooth tiger, not having enough food or struggling to make a fire) our body held onto fat as a way of survival because we simply didn’t know when we would be able to eat again. Your body has changed since then, but a lot of the same principles apply today.
Simply put, increase the stress and you’re going to have a very hard time reducing the fat.
3. Increase your NEAT
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, the cute and scientific way of saying all the exercise that isn’t actual exercise. Fidgeting, walking around, breathing, cooking, literally anything that involves moving around and burning calories is important to burning fat. Yes more important than you probably even can comprehend and realize.
While basal metabolic rate accounts for most of the total daily calorie expenditure, with exercise coming in closely after that, NEAT can account for between 10-50 percent of total daily energy expenditure. That can make a significant impact when it comes to how many calories you’re burning per day and then how much fat you’re able to burn on the scale.
It should be noted that increasing your NEAT does not mean exercising more. A mountain bike where your heart rate is relatively low (180-age) would be considered NEAT but you telling me you just like to run so you run an extra 20 km per week, does not count as NEAT. That’s exercise. Don’t fool yourself.
When you look at a variety of people who are “naturally lean,” there’s a good chance that their NEAT is higher than average. How do you do this?
Simple, get out and get your 10,000 steps a day. Walk with your dog, walk with a friend. Get out and get moving.
4. Hormonal imbalance
As we alluded to in the sleep deprivation point, hormones can play a significant role in whether or not you’re seeing any success on your weight loss journey. Testosterone and estrogen (male and female sex hormones) can play a significant role in burning fat and gaining muscle which can be hindered in a variety of ways depending on the foods you’re eating and the products you’re using.
For more than 20 years, testosterone levels have been declining in general populations and no, it’s not because people are just getting older. Sure, age plays a role in testosterone decline, but diet, muscle mass, activity, chronic stress (which we seem to be getting more of) and toxic chemicals around us are playing an even larger role than we’re willing to acknowledge.
Don’t sleep, hormones are affected. Don’t workout, hormones affected. Eat the wrong foods for your digestive system and body….see where I’m going here?
There are hundreds of hormones giving your body signals every single minute of every single day. They tell you to eat, they tell you when to stop eating and tell you when you’re craving something. Basically anything you think you’re deciding to do, your body is getting a signal from one of your hormones. Get your hormones off kilter and it’s like a set of dominos, one goes and they all fall and next thing you know, your hormones are giving you incorrect signals, you’re overeating while crying in front of the TV watching Netflix and just can’t figure out why the scale won’t move (been there).
5. You’re not eating enough
Given the answer for number one, this one might seem bizarre but it’s true. Despite society telling you to move more and eat less, some people have damaged their metabolism to the point where there is no lower. This is because of the principle of metabolic flexibility or adaptation.
What this means is that your metabolism can adjust based on the amount of food you’re taking in. I’ll use the analogy of a budget, like the episode of the Office when Oscar explains it to Michael. Your mommy and daddy give you $5 to run a lemonade stand but you find out it only costs you $4 to run the stand. Now, you can give the $1 back to mom and dad but then they’ll know next time it only costs $4 to run the stand.
In this example, mom and dad are your body and you running the stand is your metabolism. If you start out by eating 2,200 calories per day but drop down to 1,800 to say lose weight in a caloric deficit, sure you’re going to get some weight loss but eventually your body will realize what’s going on and adjust its daily expenditure so that you’re no longer burning 2,200 calories a day, you’re burning 1,800 and thus weight loss stops. You reduce calories again, repeat the cycle a few times and next thing you know you’re eating half a chicken breast, one stalk of broccoli per day and can’t see the scale move.
Believe me, this is way more common than you think.
What needs to happen instead is begging a reverse diet. Gradually, you start adding more and more calories to stimulate the metabolism into burning more calories so you can burn fat. In a short example, I was once 213 pounds eating 1,600 calories per day. Over two years, I doubled my caloric intake, kept my exercise levels the same and dropped more than 20 pounds. No deficit, just feeding my body to help stimulate the metabolism.
Sometimes you have to go up in order to go down. It doesn’t always work as simple as that, but in that situation you have two options.
Seems like an easy solution to me.
What is a diet?
Somewhere along the line, we lost complete control over what the meaning of a diet is.
We’ve bastardized it even.
Google it, just the word diet. Unlike most singular words you may search for, you won’t even get a definition of the word--believe me I tried. Instead, you have to actually search “Diet definition.”
Then you’ll get to the heart of the word: “the kinds of foods that a person, animal or community habitually eats.”
Hmm, that’s a little weird?
Isn’t it supposed to say things like ketogenic, high-carb, low-carb, caloric restriction, caloric surplus, starvation, cleansing etc? Where are those words?
The unfortunate reality is that none of the above terms actually encapsulates what a diet is. Sure, they are types of diets, but that’s of little actual relevance.
The issue I bring forth here is when someone watches what you happen to be putting into your mouth and make the statement, “oh you’re on a diet are you?”
Well, yeah, I am. So are you. Educate yourself.
We’re all on diet and we have been since the day we entered this world and that’s a good thing. The guy who’s sitting on his couch watching Sportscentre all day drinking Mountain Dew and eating Doritos is also on a diet.
The reason this is important is that it’s crucial we develop an understanding and empathy for the way people eat throughout society. As you are probably aware, some people are able to eat certain foods and others are not. A ketogenic diet works for some but may be the worst possible strategy for others. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different reality.
We need to start looking at diets for the benefits they provide to the person who’s using them. Are some dieting strategies better than others?
Sure, only insofar as a certain diet works better for that individual person. Where someone might work better through a high-fat diet, a competitive CrossFitter likely wouldn’t perform and feel as good on said diet. That doesn’t make it a bad thing though.
With all food decisions, it’s crucial we start removing judgement whether that be internal on yourself or external on those around you. If you eat a donut, eat the donut and no that doesn’t mean you’re, “going off your diet.” It’s in your diet. The problem becomes when we look at dieting and eating in these binary terms where it’s all or nothing and you end up falling off the wagon because the “diet” got ruined from one decision.
What you eat, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, is the diet. The goal is always making the best decisions for your lifestyle and activities. What’s best doesn’t always mean eating broccoli and kale.
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.