The real reasons you’re in a calorie deficit but not losing weight

Most of us, with the best of intentions, feel like we’re doing everything right and not losing weight. We feel like we are in a calorie deficit. So what gives? Though we may feel like the world is against us. I’m here to show you some things, that may help smoothen your journey and get you back on track.

The biggest culprits for most people are:

  • Lack of patience
  • Eating more than we think
  • Burning fewer calories than we think
  • Being too rigid
  • Forgetting weekends
  • Irregular weigh-ins
  • Metabolic adaptation
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Comparing progress to others

Lack of patience

It’s cliche, but we didn’t gain all our weight in two weeks. So don’t go thinking you’ll lose it in two weeks. I wish it did happen faster, but it doesn’t.

Calorie deficit but not losing weight? Dont forget weight loss isn't linear
If you're not losing weight calorie deficit, it's because you need to be more patient.

Anything good in life takes patience. Be patient stick with the plan and the weight will come off. Good things take time. It takes about 6 months, to get skilled at something.

Think about how long it takes to learn to drive a car for example. It took me 6 months to lose 4 stone and keep it off. That’s not including the 10 years of mistakes I made beforehand.

One week isn’t enough time to see a difference. Two weeks isn’t enough. A month isn’t enough. To see real changes, you’re looking at 6 months at least.

So if you’re genuinely in a calorie deficit but not losing weight, it means you need a bit more time. Stick with it and I promise it will happen.

You probably eat more than you think

Most of us have a habit, of eating more than we think we do. You, me and registered Dietitian’s. (1) That’s the one thing we all have in common. We all suck at knowing how much food we eat. We all underestimate. If Dietitian’s suck at knowing how many calories they’ve eaten. What hope do we have? People underestimate what they eat a lot. Some around 50%. (2)

So instead of only eating 1200 calories a day, it may be 1800.

Why you eat more than you think:

  • Not tracking the sugar and milk in your coffee – Some of my clients have lost over 2lbs a week. From cutting sugar out of their coffee
  • Thinking you can eat as many healthy foods as you want – Nuts, Avocados and Olive oil. They all jammed with amazing nutrients. But they are so calorie-dense. So enjoy them. But enjoy them mindfully.
  • Measuring with cups and spoons – If you want to be as accurate as possible, scales are a great investment. When measuring with cups and spoons, you’re going to underestimate. Scales never lie to you.
  • Liquids count – Fruit juice, soft drinks and booze. They all count. Fruit juices have the same sugar and calories as Coke.
  • Eating straight from the packet – We all do it. Just because it wasn’t eaten off a plate, doesn’t mean the calories don’t count.

You’re burning fewer calories than you think

We’re also generous about the number of calories we burn. I love fitness trackers. But I don’t love their ability to measure your calories burnt. They give a good guide, but aren’t completely accurate. (3)

So you burn less than you think. It’s not a case of you being in a calorie deficit but not losing weight.

Instead, stop tracking the calories you burnt in a workout.

Use my calorie calculator. Estimate your daily calorie burn with it. Then, consistently eat less calories than that.

Treat any extra workouts you do as a bonus.

But for weight loss, exercise doesn’t do much for calories.

You’re too rigid, you’re either off or on

“I have fallen off the wagon”

Let me tell you a little secret. There is no wagon, it’s imaginary. This imaginary wagon is making you miserable. So many studies show, having a flexible approach yields superior results. Losing weight is not binary. You can have days when you don’t hit your calories.

Why is this important?

When you’re off or on, this leads to extreme actions. Or as I like to say, pushing of the f*ck it button. If you miss a workout, you quit. If you don’t hit 10000 steps a day, you don’t bother for the rest of the week.

If you eat one piece of cake. Instead of enjoying it and moving on. You feel guilty and eat the rest of it.

Treating weekends like they don’t matter

A lot of people are super strict during the week. When the weekend comes, they can’t contain that kind of pressure. So when the weekend comes, you can’t take it anymore and of course, you’re going to want to eat all the stuff you restricted.

not losing weight calorie deficit? maybe its your weekends

Do this instead:

  • Work out a weekly calorie total
  • Make weekends higher days & weekdays lower
  • If you go higher than planned one day. Relax. Go lower some other time in the week and you’ll be fine
  • If calories are too low, and you’re too hungry all the time, bring them up higher
  • If you have a big meal out planned on the weekend. Have a protein shake and veggies before in the day

Irregular weigh ins

This is my gripe with slimming clubs. The weekly weigh in culture. There’s so many different factors that occur when weighing yourself.

There’s water weight, food volume, even your clothing, can affect your weight.

For instance the difference between weight loss and fat loss plays a big role in weigh ins.

But, I also think saying: “throw out the scales”, without any context, is dumb. Those who weigh themselves more frequently do tend to lose more weight and keep it off. (4)

Scales track your relationship to the ground. That is all. They don’t measure your character, self worth or identity.

Why I’m not a fan of weekly weigh ins:

  • They dont take into account daily fluctuations – Water weight, food volume, body waste. All these things will affect what the scale reads.
  • Different clothing – Some clothing is heavier than others, if you lost 1lb. But your clothing weighs 2lb. It looks like youve gained 1lb. For some this leads them to press the f*ck it button and undo that progress.
  • They dont take into account the menstrual cycle – The cycle comes in four parts. Each part means you will hold a different amount of water. The scale doesn’t know the difference between fat and water. This can mentally ruin your progress.

A more sensible approach to reading the scales when losing weight:

  • Accept daily fluctuations – Weight loss isn’t linear. Bladder/bowel movements, water weight, food volume, etc. These all make the scales go up and down. It will happen, accept it. Program one weigh-in per day, after emptying your system instead. Take a weekly average and compare it week to week.
  • Use an app – There are plenty apps, which allow you to log your daily weight. These will then sort the fluctuations and show a trend.
  • Get wifi scales – If you don’t want to read the number. Get scales that will send the data straight to your phone, so you don’t need to see the number every-day.
  • Take measurements and photos – When one client started her weight went up in the first week. But her waist and hips and other areas all went down by a few centimeters. When the scale isn’t moving focus on other positive improvements.

Metabolic adaptation

First I want to make it clear. This is not starvation mode. That does not exist.

You’ve heard well-meaning people say: “Don’t eat too little because your body will hold onto your fat to survive”.

That is false.

Your accountant wouldnt say: “Dont save too much money. otherwise your bank will spend it for you”.

But your body will find ways to fight against you.

This is why diet breaks are a good idea.

Whats causing metabolic adaptation:

  • Neat levels decrease – If you eat less, your body will try and move less, to match the amount you eat. (5)
  • Hormone levels change – Hunger hormones (Leptin) increase. Fullness hormones (Ghrelin) decrease. So you end up less full and more hungry. (5)
  • You weigh less so burn less – If you lost some weight already, you will burn fewer calories. The heavier a person is, the faster their metabolism.(5)

Menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle comes in four different weekly stages.

Each stage can see some pounds change due to changes in water weight. This means you may lose a pound of fat one week, but gain 4lbs of water, showing a scale weight gain of 3lbs. (6)

Does this mean I get women clients to throw out the scales? NO.

Instead, I get them to take daily weigh-ins. Split the weeks into week 1, week 2, week 3 and week 4. Instead of comparing week to week, which will give odd results. I get them to compare this week, week 1, with last months week 1 and the same with week 2 and so on.

This takes longer. But if this months week 1, is lower than last months week 1. We know we are going in the right direction. Same with this months week 2 compared to the last.

Comparing your progress to others

Comparing your progress to others is not helpful. All of our bodies are different and we change at different rates. For instance, if you’re a woman and you and your husband are trying to lose weight. He’s going to lose it faster as he’ll burn more than you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing good.

Stop comparing yourself to them, you’re wasting your time.

You don’t compare yourself to Elon Musk, because he has more money than you.

No, because it’s unrealistic.

Stop the comparisons and focus on yourself and yourself only.

Final thoughts

As you can see, the only way to lose weight is by eating less calories.

It may be simple, but it’s not easy.

Be 100% honest with yourself. If you’re not losing weight, something in your system is not running properly.

Everyone is guilty of it, myself included.

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