We’ve all hit that point. Our diet went well the first couple weeks, workouts were on point. Weight was dropping steadily.
Then it slows down from a couple pounds, to a pound…
...then it feels like you aren’t losing any weight. In fact, you feel like you look weaker and softer. What gives?
Top 7 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight1. Not Tracking Your Snacking (aka too MANY calories)
Let me hit you with some honesty. There’s a VERY good chance (especially if you aren’t tracking), that there are a couple hundred calories that go “missing” each day. You know, a handful of nuts here, a couple bites there. Seems harmless right? Except in the scope of dieting, it isn’t. Above all else (from an aesthetic standpoint), you need to be in a caloric deficit; that is, expending more calories than you are taking in. I don’t care what fancy keto, paleo, vegan diet you go on, if you are in a SURPLUS of calories you will NOT lose weight.
Solution: Track your food for the week (if you haven’t already). And yes, track those handful of almonds you ate. If we know we need to be in a deficit, then we need to see how much of a deficit we are actually in (not in your optimistic mind). It may sound meticulous, but if you can’t figure out why your progress has stalled, it’s time to realize what gets measured gets improved.
2. Doing Too Much Volume In the Gym
As a personal trainer, this has been one of the most common issues I get with clients stuck at a plateau. They swear they’re doing everything right, and then I break it down.
4 days of Crossfit or Orange Theory, 3 days of lifting, 2 more days of 60 minutes of cardio in the gym, cause they think they need to create that deficit more. Oh and they’re only eating 800 calories. Sounds like it should work right? Wrong. Your body is built for one thing - survival. It think it’s in the Sahara Desert. It doesn’t know you want to look like a Baywatch model (damn I just dated myself there). Your body wants to keep you in homeostasis.
Your body is going “Whoa whoa whoa! All this expended energy being wasted! Nothing coming in! Let's prioritize! And guess what? Muscle is calorically expensive to hold onto and fat isn’t. So in this case, your body is going to burn through muscle and hold onto fat (because again, survival - fat will keep you alive longer than muscle).
Solution: Focus on weight training over cardio! By progressively overloading the body with weights, you’re giving it a reason to keep that calorically expensive muscle onboard. Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest (and isn’t that what you want?)
3. Too LITTLE calories
Calories are nutrients broken down to replenish your muscles, bones, etc. If you are in a deficit (using the 800 calorie example above), then that is nowhere NEAR enough sustenance for your body to rebuild off of. Sure, the first couple weeks it works because its a shock to the system. Over time though, your body adjusts.
Solution: You aren’t going to like my answer. Tone down the cardio, slowly bring the calories back up, and focus on the weight training. We need to get you back to a normalized point where you aren’t starving for calories, or overworked. Only once we get everything back to normal, can we think about dieting down again.
4. Emotional Eating
The psychological component is often underlooked. We have trouble letting go of certain foods because we think we “deserve” it, or had a tough day. Sometimes, the foods just remind us of a better time. The hardest part about this is these are all totally justifiable reasons.
Solution: Take a moment to think about why you feel you need to keep including that food in your diet (if it’s unhealthy). What triggers reaching for that product? Why not try switching it out for a healthier alternative? Or realizing, you are in control. You have the ability to eat that food without being tied down to always having it every single night.
Also realize most boxed, processed foods are designed in a lab, to make SURE you eat more and crave more after each bite. They’re high in carbs and fats (which our bodies love) yet that combination for a food doesn’t exist anywhere in the whole food world. I hate to sound cliche, but cut down on the processed foods and incorporate more whole foods.
Example: It’s going to suck, but if you don’t believe me, try eating a plain ass chicken and white potato for your meals. Seriously, try it. Guarantee you will get full and satiated pretty damn quick. An hour later, you probably won’t be craving eating it again like you would with a bag of chips. That’s how true hunger and fullness really works. Now, enjoy the weight drop easily.
5. Taking the Weekends Off
Oh boy. Another common one. “I played basketball all weekend so I earned the calories back!”
No you didn’t. You just helped give yourself a bigger deficit….and then you ate that hard earned deficit away.
“I was with the BOYS! I can’t NOT rage with them. It was just a couple drinks bro!”
Re-read reason 1 please and thank you.
“It was a cheat day dude!”
Did you stall losing weight? Have you been implementing cheat days before you even needed them? Then it wasn’t a cheat day. Now, a cheat day can actually be super useful as a re-feed day. But more often than not, I have found clients overextending their invitation to eat versus deserving it.
Solution: Diligence! I’m not going to say TRACK FOREVER and NEVER VEER OFF YOUR PLAN. But you need to be disciplined. Know you’re going to binge that night? Eat less in the first half of the day so you have more calories saved up for the binge. Then the overspill won’t be as bad. Hell, you might even stay within your macros.
6. Not Pushing It In the Gym
Contrary to number 2, some people aren’t pushing it enough in the gym. They cut their workouts short, but go home and eat the same thing. They think walking on the treadmill while texting was equal to the guy getting after it in the weight room.
Solution: Push harder. You should actually feel like your exerting effort when you’re at the gym.
7. Unrealistic Goals
“I want to lose 30lbs in one month.” or “I have spring break in two weeks, can I get to 7% bodyfat by then?” says the guy who's never even dieted before and is floating at 20% bodyfat.
Solution: Make behavior based outcomes versus short terml goals. Success is due to building a collection of habits that EVENTUALLY lead to an outcome versus just trying to jump to the goal.
Example: “I will go to the gym 3 times every week” or “I will improve my squat technique” are way better goals than what’s said above. Why? They take away things you can’t control and make the focus on what you can. The end result? Build up enough of these habits and you’ll hit your target weight as a bonus.
In the end...
6 months from now, can you still keep up with these habits? If the answer is no, make the habit easier on yourself. You can’t outtrain a bad diet. Fitness and nutrition are like being in a relationship. You can’t cheat on it and expect it to work. You can approach your progress the fast way, or the right way. Trust the process.