Losing weight can seem like such a daunting task. We try every diet we can find, do countless hours of cardio, starve ourselves, and more. Yet so many people still fail to lose weight. Today I’d like to go over some common reasons most people fail to lose weight.
Underestimating Your Caloric Intake
This is the hardest pill for clients to swallow yet usually the most common reason people aren’t losing weight. From a strictly weight loss perspective calories matter. You NEED to be in a deficit to lose weight. No one OVERCONSUMED calories and still lost weight that defies the laws of thermodynamics. Where I think people get confused is when they hear people say
“I went on such and such diet and could eat as much as I wanted and still lost weight!”
This is MORE likely due to the fact that the diet itself was naturally restrictive. Think about every diet out there - keto, vegan, carnivore, you name it. The one thing they ALL have in common is they restrict major food groups that you were most likely eating in excess, and now have eliminated. Whether that person was tracking their food or not they absolutely were in a deficit, they just did not see it that way.
We live in a culture that overeats carbohydrates probably more than any other food group. Again, look at all the top diets right now. They all hugely restrict the consumption of carbohydrates. On TOP of that, they have you focus on either low calorie foods with high volume (veggies) or higher protein foods that are less likely to store as fat because our body is constantly using protein to replenish our muscle and enzymatic processes in the body. Those two huge shifts will bring your calories down.
I don’t expect you to track your calories for life. That is unrealistic, and unsustainable. Having said that, I do believe strongly that even just having my clients track what they eat for 3-5 days can be useful for bringing a ton of insight as to what types of food you are eating, and showing any discrepancies (undereating protein, overeating carbs or fat relative to what your body needs). I’ve had clients track their food completely shocked at how much food they ended up realizing they were actually eating. In most cases it was up to 500 calories MORE than what they claimed. That right there is enough to take you out of a deficit and back to maintenance or worse, weight gain.
Not Eating Enough Protein
It’s not just about getting a certain amount of calories in. What constitutes those calories is even more important. If I take two of the same people eating let’s say 2,000 calories, and one ONLY had a higher carb and fat diet, and barely ate protein, while the other did the reverse, I guarantee you the latter individual would have a better looking physique. Why? Because they are providing their body with a higher protein intake to replenish their muscle breakdown and help them put on muscle, while the other individual isn’t providing enough.
Protein is satiating and actually burns 20-30% of its calories just to break down within the body! No other macronutrient has that kind of thermic effect. Carbohydrates follow in second but only using 7-10%, and fat falls way last at 2-3%. These are significant differences. This is why I stress the importance of spending just a little time tracking to see how what you are eating is dictating where you are headed.
Relying on Nutrition Labels
Just because something says organic doesn’t mean it's less calories or more advantageous from a fat loss standpoint. Of course from a gut microbiome and overall health standpoint I will always recommend sticking to whole foods, and staying away from minimally processed foods. Minimally processed foods are fine to eat in moderation, but their biggest issue (aside from the additives, etc), is they’re designed to make you overeat. Remember when I said clients ended up reporting eating 500 calories more than they thought? This is where it comes from. It’s VERY easy to eat 500 calories worth of chips or fries, versus eating 500 calories of just a baked potato. The crazy part is you will get fuller off the baked potato, and still be hungry after the chips or fries, EVEN THOUGH they’re both 500 calories. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Stick to the perimeter of the grocery. I hate to break it to you but organic orange juice from a calorie standpoint isn’t any different than regular orange juice. Organic Oreos aren’t any healthier than regular Oreos. It’s still all processed. Use that time spent tracking your calories to see where the culprits are. Maybe that healthy salad you ate isn’t so healthy because the dressing that comes with it you find out is 600 calories. Instead replace it with some balsamic vinegar. I’ve had too many clients think just because they buy all organic, that it should equate to losing weight but there is just no merit to it.
Ignoring Our Behaviors
The final most important point is being realistic about who we are as individuals. Know your strengths and weaknesses and plan for it. If you KNOW during the weekend you are going to be drinking a lot, and eating out with friends (and most likely eating way more calories than during the week), then plan for it! Use those as the days you make SURE to go to the gym to get that extra calorie burn in to make up for the excess you will be eating later that day. Better yet, eat less earlier in the day to save some calories for the big meal you are going to have when you go out. You can easily stay within your caloric requirement by choosing to save your calories for later, and still enjoy having the foods you want (even if they’re not whole foods).
Another common mistake I see is clients will be in a 500 calorie deficit Monday-Friday keeping them on track to lose 1-2lbs that week. That’s a 2500 calorie deficit leading into the weekend. Then they go out and overeat Saturday and Sunday causing them to undo their work and surpass the 2,500 calories they just spent all week starving themselves from eating. This is a worst case scenario because now you are going through all the troubles of dieting and caloric restriction, without ANY benefit because you didn’t plan accordingly for the weekend.
Think of your calories as managing your money. You know it wouldn’t be smart to spend your entire paycheck and THEN some every weekend, so why do we justify it as being okay to do so with food?
Not Moving Enough
Some people do check all the boxes above and still find themselves struggling. This happened to me during lockdowns and I couldn’t understand why I was gaining weight even though I was eating way less than usual (which I knew through my usual tracking). It turned out because of lockdowns, I was not moving as much. I was getting up to 10-12,000 steps a DAY when I was at work and moving around throughout my day. Being stuck at home I had realized looking at my step count that it had dropped to 3,000 steps! That alone took away 300-500 calories worth of extra burn that I didn’t even realize I did naturally!
It’s easy for our day to get ahead of us and not be active. The less active you are, the less calories you need and this can make it very hard to lose weight when your budget has gone significantly down. Find ways to get 10,000 steps a day and get that caloric deficit up. Go for 10 minute walks after every meal, or find ways to add extra walking throughout your day to get that step count up. It’s an easier and more sustainable method of getting those calories out without having to go to the gym and be on the hamster wheel all day.
If you want more help check out my article on Calorie Cycling for Bulking and for Fat Loss and When Implementing Cardio is a Good Idea for Fat Loss.