Not Losing Weight. Why?

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If you’ve been dieting and haven’t lost weight for a number of weeks it can be very dispiriting and frustrating.

I’ve written this post in response to a comment from Anette, who is encountering this problem, and essentially asking, “Why am I not losing weight?”

What follows started out as a normal reply but as the word count grew I realised that it might be of value to some other readers.

Although this is addressed to Anette’s situation, much of the information relates to my ‘The Scale is a Liar’ theme.

If I ever wrote a dedicated post about that I can’t find it, but a comment from Mark a few days ago reminded me that I really should write that post, but in the meantime this is a good place to start.

Here’s my reply:

Hi Anette,

Other than the diet stuff, I hope everything is well with you. It’s great that you came back to let us know what’s going on.

I can’t blame you for feeling frustrated. You’ve put in two weeks of hard work and you feel you have nothing to show for it.

Whatever you do, don’t quit at this stage. Hang in there. You’re already in a great position because you’ve decided to do something about your situation and I can tell you have a determination to make it work.

I note you’ve tried other diets and they haven’t worked out for you because they’ve been too restrictive in the food types you get to eat. I get that completely. This business of cutting out food groups seems crazy to me. Carbs are not the enemy and neither is fat.

Nothing that I’ve so far seen, heard or read has convinced me that dieting isn’t a whole lot more than the fundamentals. Most diets provide a structure to reduce the overall calorie intake and increase energy expenditure to produce a net caloric deficit.

There is nothing special about eating one meal a day. It is simply a means to reduce calorie intake by limiting the amount, and to some extent, the type of food eaten throughout the day and saving most of the calories for the evening meal, at which point I eat what I want to eat.

One peculiar thing I noticed about my own behaviour was that the earlier in the day I started eating, the more I would tend to eat. Conversely, the later in the day I started eating, the less I tended to eat.

The other problem I wanted to solve, was that I didn’t want to radically change the foods I ate. Whatever my family eats for dinner is what I eat for dinner, and this tends to include a greater proportion of carbs than the diet industry might suggest, and maybe more fat too.

The truth is that for most people, calorie deficit or maybe more accurately energy deficit is key to weight loss. We could argue about this until the cows come home, and many in the fitness industry do, but at some point we have to pick a road and travel down it.

The point I really wanted to make is not to get too hung up on the structure of the diet. If it doesn’t suit you to eat at a particular time, that’s fine, eat at whatever time is right for you. If it suits you better to eat two meals a day, then that can be a great option. In fact that’s exactly how I started out. Better yet you might respond better to a longer eating window in the evening and spread your food out over a four hour timeframe.

As to your apparent lack of progress there are several factors to consider.

One of the biggest is the tendency to use scale weight as the only measurement of progress. I’ve written a number of times about the scale being a liar, and I’ll try to find a link. But it is important to look for other evidence of progress such as using a tape measure, taking progress pictures or using clothes to gauge ‘tightness of fit’.

Was your start weight your true start weight, or for whatever reason, did you just happen to find yourself at your most depleted on the day you weighed? Perhaps you were dehydrated or your body had flushed a few pounds of water weight just prior to weighing in, thereby giving you an artificially low reading?

Water weight facts

[Text: Livestrong]

Water weight is a major issue and this particular issue can be much worse for women. Hormonal changes can cause massive water retention, as can stress and certain medications designed to deal with either or both.

Diet can also cause water retention. If you eat enough salty food the body takes on more water and hangs onto it long enough to deal with the sodium.

Exercise can also play its part in creating water balance issues. Depending on how vigorously you exercise, glycogen depletion and subsequent replenishment can cause shifts in body weight of 2 to 3 lbs.

Let’s not forget that a certain amount of weight is retained in dealing with the waste from the digestive process. There have been times when I haven’t had a significant bowel movement for 2 or 3 days!

Sleep or lack of it can also cause issues, especially with diet adherence. It can lead to making poor decisions, which in turn can dent our motivation and enthusiasm. This stuff also plays into the stress thing too.

And for those who’ve got all of those things going on at the same time, it can look a little grim to say the least.

Activity or lack of it is also a consideration. It only takes around four days of calorie restriction for the body to kick in some mechanisms to offset the calorie deficit. We can expend a lot of energy through ‘non exercise activity’ like fidgeting without us even being aware that it’s happening, but when we’re dieting the body tries to conserve energy and reduces this kind of activity, again without our awareness.

Then there’s diet adherence. How honest are we about how much we eat or how often we eat? I don’t think we set out to be dishonest, but when we’re not being watched or monitored we’re prone to cheating. I know that I am definitely prone to cheating. Not in a big way, just a little bit here and there. But it’s enough to tip the balance and slow or stall fat loss.

Part of dealing with cheating is eliminating or at least managing the triggers. Now that I eat my dinner much later in the evening I am massively motivated to cheat around 4 or 5 pm. I’ll convince myself it’s OK to have a cookie or two or three (then I want four and five) because I rationalise that I’ll eat a little less dessert, but I never do. Using the diet adherence tracker that I’ve been mentioning in recent posts helps me a lot. Keeping a food diary can also help if used in a non-judgemental way.

I note that you don’t like eating late either, and your response to that is perfect. I promise you that the timing of the meal is not an issue. Keep doing what suits you and make the diet your own. Maybe you could alternate between eating one meal a day and skipping one meal a day? If you’re getting the shakes after eating your meal, perhaps try having an appetiser or entre half an hour before you eat or maybe eat slower so that the effect isn’t so dramatic.

One more option you could try is to significantly reduce the calories for a few days. Mostly I advocate creating a moderate calorie deficit over a long period of time, but the more I read and learn the more I’m inclined to believe there’s benefit in taking a short term aggressive approach to fat loss and spending more time on weight maintenance than weight loss.

My advice to you would be to stick with it, but only if you’re happy. If this way of eating makes you miserable it’s just not worth it so be open to trying even more approaches until you find one that works for you.

Remember that just because we can’t see the fat loss, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We can lose fat without losing weight. Lots of things may be masking your weight loss, the only way to find out is to stick with it and treat it as an interesting experiment.

We all struggle with weight loss, me included. Over the last few years there have been so many twists and turns in my personal and professional life, I’ve barely been able to do more than maintain my weight within a 5 to 10 lb range, let alone lose a significant amount. I’ve only just been able to pull it together and start again.

Anette, I hope this helps. I’d be more than happy to continue the conversation here in the comments or via email if it suits you better.

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I had to stop writing at this point otherwise I’d have written a book. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed let me know in the comments.

As with every piece of fitness or health advice you read on the internet, it’s worth subjecting it to some critical thinking and seeking advice from your own medical practitioner. I would encourage everyone to read my disclaimer, it’s pretty good and I’m proud of it.

After that, catch up with all my posts in my Six Week Diet series, or start from the first post in the series.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

mark July 30, 2016 at 9:59 am

very wise words David, you know how to put over your ideas with encouragement and good sense. I too did not lose too much weight but I went to buy trousers yesterday for work and the normal ones 40 waist fell off me, so I decided not to buy trousers yet as my shape is changing. I have lost weight but the scales are very mean when it comes to celebrating it. But you are right I feel much lighter and my clothes are all looser, that makes me feel good and decades of relying on weighing scales to judge success need to be reconditioned. I buy 40 waist trousers, if I can buy 38 or 36 then that is success not how much I weigh.

Yesterday I woke up hungry so had two bits of wholemeal toast and banana, which set me up for the whole day. If I had not eater something I would have found myself in central London surrounded by food and would have ended up troughing my way through a 1500 calories pizza I am sure, so a little food when needed is a good way for me to moderate hunger. When I am busy I am less likely to snack. Your post for Anette was really good. Mark

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David July 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm

“Troughing.” Love that word. It made me laugh.

I had the same issue with clothes. I spent months in clothes that were too big because I wanted to wait until I got to my target weight / shape / composition.

And actually it encouraged me to keep going. I liked it that my trousers were loose.

Eventually I had to buy new jeans because of the ever present risk of builders’ bum.

Your approach to eating when you feel your body needs it is great. Failing to eat when we are genuinely hungry, as opposed to bored hungry or emotional hungry, is potentially diet damaging as you quite rightly point out.

Thanks for being supportive and positive. It helps to know that there is some value in doing this. I hope it helps Anette.

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Adam August 2, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Day 2 for me. Already lost 2 pounds pretty easily. I eat a plate of tuna salad and I walk/run on the treadmil for an hour. I just wanted to ask if this is healthy for a 16 year old? (BTW… I feel more energetic and I can taste flavours from my meals better than before… I love this diet!)

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David August 2, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Hi Adam, It’s great that you left a message.

I think the answer depends on your circumstances. For example, how much you weigh, how tall you are, how many calories you’re taking in each day and the quality of the food you’re eating. Plus other stuff about health in general etc.

Most people lose weight quite quickly in the early stages of a diet as food is heavily restricted, exercise is ramped up, all the waste is expelled and glycogen stores are depleted. The shock most people have is the first decent meal they eat will put most of the weight back on.

Not to discourage you at all, and just to put it into perspective, 2 lbs of fat is roughly 7000 calories. It’s a simplistic way to look at it but let’s just go with t.

So let’s say just to maintain your weight your body requires 2000 cals a day, 4000 for two days, assuming you eat nothing at all, not one single bite, that leaves you needing to burn 3000 additional calories over two days.

You will have lost some fat for sure, but probably not 2 lbs of fat.

So firstly, just understand that losing weight is not the same as losing fat. Losing fat takes a while, and going at it too aggressively will be counter productive.

At 16 your body is still growing and developing, so I would say don’t go for massive calorie restriction. Find out what your maintenance calories are and eat at or around that.

In your place I would aim to be doing resistance exercise, ideally weight training. Muscle is good for weight loss because it requires more calories than fat (pound for pound) to maintain it. The process of exercising and building a little muscle also produces a calorie burn, so you win there as well. No one s saying you need to become a muscle bound freak, aim for strong and athletic and you’ll do fine. If you’re not into the weights then start withsme body weight exercises and see how you feel after that.

If all you’ve eaten is a tuna salad or two, I would suggest that you can and should eat a whole lot more and you will still lose weight.

For a short period of time your body will tolerate a severe calorie restriction, over an extended period it will adjust the production of hormones, and at your age, that might not be a good thing.

I’m delighted that you reached out. If I can help I will, but I’m just some guy on the internet and maybe the best I can do is steer you in the right direction.

If it helps you to know this… I’ve got a 15 year old son and I would give him the same advice.

I know it’s a minefield out there when you’re trying to find good information from people you can trust, but do try and read up and don’t be lulled into quick fixes. Some people out there would sell their own granny to make a quick buck.

Give me a shout and I’ll do my best to help.

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