Another look down at the scales to see the same goddam number staring straight back up at you.
Another look in the mirror to see the same bulges, the same ungodly shapes and the same unhappy face gawking back at you.
Another day where you struggle to get your jeans past your hips without having to do that weird jumpy dance thing around your bedroom.
‘But why?’ you ask yourself. ‘Why am I subjected to this absurd kind of thunderfuckery!?’
You’ve tried so hard. You’ve been eating healthily, exercising intensely, using all the willpower you’ve got and wishing the fat away like you’ve never wished before.
But why can’t you just seem to lose fat, no matter how hard you try?
Well, here’s why:
1. You’re Eating Too Much
While this list is in no particular order, this explanation undoubtedly sits pretty high on the list of reasons of why you’re not losing fat.
I can already hear you telling me how this doesn’t apply to you. That you’re so conscious of what passes your mouth, that you eat incredibly healthy, that you don’t ‘really’ eat chocolates or sweets, that you’re only consuming 1200 calories a day. But I’ll tell you again –
YOU’RE EATING TOO MUCH.
You’re Not Tracking Your Food – How much Greek Yoghurt did you have for breakfast? Was it 50g, 100g or 150g? How many calories were in that granola bar you had for lunch? Was it 100, 200 or 300? Did you have two drinks with dinner? Or was it 3? Or 4?
A failed appreciation for what food and drinks you’re consuming, and specifically their quantity, and you won’t have a clue how many calories you’re putting away. You’d be surprised what that figure actually is; and more often than not, it’s the reason why you’re eating too much and not losing fat.
The Health Halo Effect – ‘I’m eating so healthily!’ you tell me. But here’s the thing: healthy is not synonymous with calorie free. All those healthy foods you’re devouring have calories.
That healthy breakfast bar you have in the morning? 200 calories. Those scoops of peanut butter with your apple? 300 calories. That handful of fruit and nuts you have post dinner? 400 calories.
Just because something has been advertised as ‘healthy’ doesn’t necessarily mean it has fewer calories.
You’re Not Adjusting Your Calorie Intake – As you start to lose body fat your body requires fewer calories to function. An 80 kilogram you is going to require more energy, and therefore more calories, to keep itself up and running than a 70 kilogram you.
The problem is, the 70 kilogram you is still consuming the same amount of calories you were putting away when you weighed 80 kilograms. Your metabolism has adapted to the lower energy requirements of your new self, yet your consumption of food hasn’t adapted with it.
Sorry (not sorry) but you’re just eating too much.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
2. You’re Not Patient Enough
‘OH MY GOD I’VE BEEN DIETING FOR FIVE DAYS AND I HAVEN’T LOST ANY WEIGHT. I GIVE UP, GET ME THE CHOCOLATE COOKIES NOW.’
Woah. Slow down champ. Let’s break this down.
So you’ve been dieting for five days huh? Let’s say you’ve been consuming, on average, a modest 1600 calories per day on those excellent five days you’ve been dieting.
Not bad at all. But let’s now track back just two days preceding the day you ‘started your diet’.
Oh they were a Saturday and a Sunday? And you consumed, on average, a not-so-modest pizza and alcohol-filled 3300 calories on both those days.
Your average over that WEEK has now shot up to 2100 calories; meaning over the entire seven days you probably weren’t in that coveted calorie deficit you thought you were in.
What happens when you inevitably get so bummed when you realise you haven’t lost any weight? You get impatient, sack off the diet, devour all the pasta, ice cream and cookies you can find, and end up nicely back at square one.
Your lack of patience has got you nowhere.
Noteworthy fat loss doesn’t happen in four days, or even a week. It happens when you are in a calorie deficit over a prolonged period of time.
You can’t get angry when things don’t go right after just days of ‘dieting’, especially as the few days or week beforehand could have been your downfall. Stay patient, stick at it longer than a few days and remember it takes time.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
3. You’re Not Consistent Enough
This follows on closely from point number two, but I’m sure you’ve personally done something similar to this, or at least know somebody who’s done this:
You need to be consistent with your efforts.
Hopping from one diet, or one training programme, or one mentality to another, within the space of a week won’t get you anywhere.
Fat loss happens when you are in a calorie deficit over a prolonged period of time. Constantly changing your approach gives your body absolutely no time to adapt to its new demands, leaving it no room to make the appropriate changes for fat loss to occur.
As I discussed in the Hierarchy of Fat Loss, adherence will trump everything else, every time. You need to find a plan, and nutritional strategies, that work for YOU. Something that you’ll continue to follow for a long time to ensure you experience the essential consistency required for fat loss success.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
4. You’re Exercising
Body pump, body attack, three cardio sessions, yoga, one weights session and a spin class. Killed it this week. Woo. But damn, why am I not losing any fat?!
Exercise is good for you, that we cannot deny. However; exercise can also play a significant part in why we’re not losing body fat, and in the next 465 words I’m going to explain why:
Exercise Stimulates Hunger – You may occasionally find yourself reaching new levels of hunger a couple of hours after an intense bout of exercise (you may have also not; hunger post exercise does vary from person to person).
Exercise has been found to stimulate hunger though; meaning, why we may think an intense hour of cardio is serving us well, it may also be causing us to overeat later on.
While an hour’s gym session may burn 500 calories at best, it can take all but ten minutes to overshoot on that 500 calorie deficit you’ve just created, due to the fervent hunger exercise can create.
Compensation – All that exercise is pretty tiring right? And all you feel like doing after an extreme spin session or ‘leg day’ is collapsing on the sofa. Wait, don’t do that…
Compensation is the addition of a new behaviour (i.e. a training session with your awesome coach) leading to the down-regulation of other another behaviour (i.e. all the movement you usually do throughout the day).
Let’s use the above graph as an example.
This person went to the gym in the morning, crushed a huge full body session, burned loads of calories, took a post-gym Lo-Fi-filtered selfie, and went home.
They were knackered, however, and in the afternoon could barely get up off the sofa, let alone do the required cooking and cleaning. Their usual mid-afternoon activities dramatically decreased (they compensated for their earlier training session) and they failed to burn as many calories as they would do usually in the afternoon.
The ‘Total Energy Expenditure’ columns show that due to the lack of physical activity in the afternoon, as a result of their earlier beastly gym session, their totally energy expenditure for the day was not actually as much as they’d have wished for.
Beware of exercise leading to less movement throughout the day, and therefore less total calories burned. Think of exercise as ‘supplementing’ non-exercise activity and not replacing it.
Over-Estimating Calories Burned – You know that shiny number on the treadmill that shows you how many calories you’ve burned? Yeah, it’s bullshit.
So while you go and reward yourself with that 300-calorie muffin because you supposedly burned 300 calories on the cross-trainer, you’ve probably just eclipsed the calorie deficit you created.
Exercise machines fail to take into account your age, gender, training experience and muscle mass etc. But most importantly, these machines’ calorie counts include your resting metabolic rate.
This means the calorie estimate you see on display is not just how many calories you have burned during the activity, but also the number of calories you burned by simply being alive during that time. This leads to an over inflation of how many calories you actually burned by exercising.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
5. You’re Not Exercising Properly
OK, so we’ve established that sometimes exercise can be detrimental to your fat loss efforts. We also know that on the flip side exercise can be incredibly beneficial to your fat loss efforts – if performed the right way.
Here’s Cardio Claire:
She heads to the gym three times a week and follows this plan every single session:
Cardio Claire is sadly not losing body fat. Here’s why:
She Is Focusing Solely on Cardio – Cardio is good for you. It burns calories, is great for cardiovascular health and is easy to complete. When it comes to fat loss, however, focusing solely on cardio is going to get you about as far as a metre over the start line.
Whilst steady-state cardio does in fact burn more calories during the workout, it provides little benefit in helping us to burn calories afterwards, and throughout the rest of the day. Furthermore, any weight lost could be that of muscle, ultimately resulting in an unwelcome, inefficient metabolism.
Claire simply isn’t burning enough calories, nor sufficiently improving her metabolism, to warrant her current cardio plan.
She’s Not Lifting Weights – Cardio Claire needs to get lifting weights to help lose body fat. The premise of strength training for fat loss is to ‘build and preserve as much muscle mass as possible’.
This will help sustain and improve her resting metabolism, improve nutrient partitioning (whether the majority of your food gets stored as muscle or as opposed to fat) and give her that ‘lean, defined’ look she desperately wants.
She’s Actually Doing Too Little Cardio During Her Session – Cardio Claire isn’t alone in her ’10 minutes here, 10 minutes there’ approach to cardio. Unless people are tremendously aerobically fit, it can be difficult to burn a huge number of calories unless the duration of each workout is just ridiculous; 10 minutes on each piece of equipment isn’t going to quite cut it.
To gain any real benefits from performing steady state cardio (when performed at the right time), it’s vital it’s performed over a prolonged period of time. Having said that, when performing over an hour of cardio you might expect to only burn 300-600 calories. While this can certainly add up if done daily, it’s still only a fairly small expenditure.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
6. Your Body’s Devious Thermostat
For fear of getting all Sciencey and stuff, I’m going to try and break this down as simply as possible.
Ever wondered why when you always lose a little bit of weight those scales automatically always shoot back up again and you’re all like ‘jeez, this whole losing fat thing is like really hard’. Well there’s a reason.
As humans we possess a fat-regulating system called The Lipostat; a mechanism that inhibits eating behaviour and increases energy consumption whenever our body weight exceeds a certain value. It’s a bit like your thermostat at home; when it gets too cold the heating comes on, and when it gets too hot, it turns off.
Now maintaining your adiposity (fat levels) is great for stuff like survival and reproduction; keeping your energy balance sheet in the black is all your body really cares about.
The problem is, you couldn’t give a flying monkey’s ass about survival and reproduction; all you really care about is looking good naked.
And so when someone puts on weight, their body assumes that this newfound set point is actually the norm. Your body, therefore, will do everything in its power to keep itself at that new standard.
When you now try to lose fat, your body now makes you even hungrier than before, sends crazy signals to increase your desire for highly-rewarding foods, and slows down your metabolic rate. All just to keep your weight the same.
Another reason why you’re not losing fat.
Appeasing Your Body’s Devious Thermostat – Now it’s not all doom and gloom. Remember, your body is just doing everything in its power to make sure you’re eating more so it can return to its seemingly rightful weight.
In order to appease your body’s devious thermostat it’s sometimes as simple as restricting reward. As Stephan Guyenet says in his book ‘The Hungry Brain’:
‘High-reward foods tend to increase food intake and adiposity, while lower-reward foods tend to have the opposite effect. This suggest a weight management ‘secret’ you’ll rarely find in a diet book: eat simple food.
A diet that’s lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity more effectively than one that’s high reward in value. The trick, as with all diets, is sticking with it, because just as the set point can go down, if can go right back up if you return to your former eating habits.’
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
7. You’re Stressed and Not Sleeping Enough
I wasn’t going to include a section on stress and sleep; people perceive it as an excuse for their lack of fat loss as opposed to a reason to combat. ‘Ah well, my life is constantly one big ball of stress which I’ll never conquer, so sod it I’m never going to lose fat’.
I’m then supposed to offer long-winded bullshit solutions in the form of meditation, long hot baths and sex, which you look at, nod thinking ‘yeah alright mate’ and get on with your daily lives.
However; given the profound effects stress and sleep can have on our bodies it’d be unwise to gloss over it as reason to why you’re potentially not losing fat.
Stress – This is Stressed Sarah:
Stressed Sarah has been stuck in a traffic jam all morning, is late for an important meeting with her boss, is in the middle of a raging argument with her husband, is late on two of her credit card bills and can’t find her purse. Blimey, even I feel sorry for her and I made her up.
Sarah’s brain has learned to develop a threat response system; a collection of processes that help her manage stressful situations.
While this threat response system has been developed to protect us, from shit like fighting a wild boar for example, in the modern world it can undermine our quality of life and best intentions to eat the right foods.
Sarah’s stressful morning has caused her cortisol levels to hit the roof, which in turn caused her hypothalamus (a part of the brain that controls our essential hormones) to become less sensitive to the appetite-restraining effects of leptin (the satiety hormone).
Once home and free from her traumatic morning, her appetite hits the roof. Sound familiar? Not only did she eat more throughout the day, she also turned to ‘junk food’; simply to make her feel better emotionally.
When we want to self-medicate our stress, bland food, like broccoli and plain fish doesn’t quite cut it; highly-rewarding, highly palatable, and most importantly, calorific foods seem to be the way to go.
This is Sleepless Suzie:
Sleepless Suzie has put the kids to bed, caught up on some last minute work, watched the news, and had a cup of tea all before 11pm. She slumps into bed and glares at her phone while alternatively scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, for fear of missing out on a cute cat picture.
She attempts to sleep at 12, doesn’t actually sleep till 12.30, gets up at 2 to go to the toilet, wakes up at 5, can’t get back to sleep, so reluctantly rises and starts her day all over again.
Suzie’s considerable sleep deprivation has increased her reward system’s responsiveness to food cues meaning she begins craving those highly-rewarding, highly palatable, and most importantly, calorific foods.
Her lack of sleep also promotes an ‘optimism bias’ that makes her think more about the current benefits of devouring a pizza for lunch than the future costs, and her weary-eyed brain prods her to become less faithful to her rational, constructive daily goals such as eating a healthy salad for lunch.
Make sleep a priority. Seriously.
It’s important to conclude this section by saying that psychological stress and sleep deprivation won’t directly make it harder to lose fat. It simply indirectly causes us to eat more; which can, as we know, be eventually controlled.
YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
Concluding Thoughts –
Yeah you guessed it. THE REASON YOU’RE NOT LOSING FAT IS BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT IN A CALORIE DEFICIT.
We can muster up all the explanations, reasons, justifications, and most of the time excuses, we want, but all it boils down to is simply not expending more energy than you’re bringing in.
Some factors may not appear as obvious as others, a lack of movement, overwhelming stress and sleep deprivation for example, but you can continue to question why you’re still the same shape and weight you were six months ago or finally admit you’re not actually in a calorie deficit.
The good news is it’s possible to do something about it and I’ve just given you seven pretty great reasons why you can combat it.
THIS ARTICLE WAS TOO LONG AND I DIDN’T READ IT – CAN YOU SUMMARISE IT PLEASE
You’re not losing fat because:
You’re Eating Too Much – You are. You’re not tracking your food intake, you’re confusing ‘healthy’ with calorie-free and you’re not adjusting your calorie intake along the way
You’re Not Patient Enough – You don’t see results, you get impatient and constantly end up back at square one
You’re Not Consistent Enough – You’re constantly starting something new; a new diet or training programme. A lack of consistency means you aren’t progressing
You’re Exercising – Exercise can stimulate hunger, can cause you to move less throughout the rest of the day and you’re overestimating how many calories you actually burn throughout exercise
You’re Not Exercising Properly – You’re completing too much cardio, you’re not lifting weights, and when you do perform cardio it’s not for long enough
Your Body’s Devious Thermostat – Your body always wants to return to its bodyweight set point; it does everything in it’s power to make sure you eat to get it back there
You’re Stressed and Not Sleeping Enough – Not enough sleep and constant stress causes you to seek out those highly-rewarding, highly palatable, and most importantly, calorific food.
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