Hitting a wall: why you're not losing weight
You’ve changed up your diet. You’ve started going to the gym a few times a week. You’re making better choices when you can, but you’re still not losing weight. It feels like your body is working against you, but turns out, you may be working against your body.
There are a variety of things that determine our body’s ability to drop weight and the majority are entirely in our control. It’s easy to look at our body type and blame our genetics, but you have more power than you think. It may feel like you are doing all the right things, but with a closer look, you may be missing a critical part of the equation. Before you give up on your weight loss goals, evaluate these essential factors.
This is the primary piece of the weight loss puzzle. For your body to burn stored fat, you have to be consuming less than your body needs to sustain itself. This is called a caloric deficit. For example, if your body maintains your current weight with about 2000 calories a day, you need to be eating at least 200-500 calories less than that to stimulate weight loss. It all comes down to this simple equation.
The problem starts when we don’t completely grasp how many calories are actually in the food we are eating. There are tons of food items that are advertised as “healthy”, but the nutrition label may tell a different story.
For example, fruit is good for us right? Absolutely, it’s full of natural vitamins and minerals that we need to keep a healthy immune system. But fruit is predominantly carbs and it can lead to weight gain just like any other carb. A banana is 30 grams of carbs and if you are following a low-carb diet, that can be a good chunk of your daily limit. That’s why it’s important to focus on the numbers. If you track your food and count up the calories every day, you’ll know exactly what you are putting in your body and no stone will go unturned.
If you’re new to the healthy lifestyle, figuring out your maintenance calories can be a challenge. You’ve been eating the same way your whole life and never considered how much food your body actually needed. You just ate. That’s where apps like MyFitnessPal come in. They breakdown all your personal information and give you an estimation of your daily calories. It’s a really helpful starting point and an almost guaranteed path to success. But before you can get your final number, you have to put in your activity level.
Your activity level is how many hours a day you spend on your feet, moving and exerting energy. It gives you the option of sedentary, light, moderate and active. No matter how embarrassing it may be, it’s vital that you are honest. The app wants to know how much extra food it can afford to give you while still promoting weight loss. If you say you are active when you are actually more sedentary, your calories will be too high and positive change won’t be able to happen.
There’s all kinds of physical activity that can be classified as exercise. There’s cardio, weight lifting, crossfit, dance, powerlifting, etc. But no two are created equal. They stimulate different kinds of muscle growth, fat-burn, heart rate and intensity. It’s important to know which exercises serve your purpose the best.
For example, weight lifting is a great way to tone up your physique. Not only are you shedding fat, but your building shape underneath that may give you a more full look. But if you have quite a bit of weight to lose, lifting weights may not be enough to get you there. A typical weight lifting workout will burn about 200 calories. But if you supplement cardio, which can burn substantially more, you may see more results.
After a dedicated work week of healthy eating and solid workouts, it’s easy to feel like you’ve earned a little relaxation. You’ve been craving junk food for days and now you feel like you’ve earned it. There’s nothing wrong with a cheat meal here and there, as long as you keep your calories balanced overall.
For example, If you’ve maintained about 1400 calories a day Monday-Friday, but then you splurge and eat over 2500 Saturday-Sunday, you’ve eaten nearly your whole week’s worth of calories in just two days. The Monday-Friday diet may have burned off a pound, but Saturday-Sunday made you gain .5 back. If you don’t keep a certain level of control over your cheat days, you may be taking two steps forward and one step back in your weight loss. Find a way to limit it to a few cheat “snacks” instead of all out cheat days.
It seems counterintuitive, but you may not be losing weight because you aren’t eating enough. Our metabolism is like a furnace, it constantly needs to be fed to maintain its speed and efficiency. But if you are barely eating and not giving your body the proper nutrients, the flame boils down to a tiny smolder.
At low calories, your body is trying to make the most of the food it is getting and isn’t going to let go of it without a fight. This is the “starvation mode” or “weight loss plateau” you may have heard of. Your body is literally stretching itself thin to help you survive. Your trying to burn fat, but your body is trying to hoard fat.
To lose weight, you have to eat. You have to give your body the tools to rebuild your figure. Otherwise, you’ll not only struggle to lose weight, but you’ll also damage other aspects of your health. Crash dieting and cutting down to scarce numbers of calories can seem like the “get-rich-quick” scheme of fitness, but it doesn’t work that way. Eat your food and don’t try to cut corners.
Sleep & recovery
It may seem like the best time to build muscle and burn fat is in the gym, but there is so much going on in our bodies when we are at rest. Being well rested not only allows you to be alert and focused all day, but it also keeps all your physical processes pumping the way they’re supposed to. Sleep is a time for certain brain chemicals to flow, hormones to rejuvenate, food to be burned and muscle damage to be healed.
Sleep can also be a fasting period if you’re trying to lose weight. If you go to bed on a light meal, the next chunk of hours you spend unconscious, your body can chip away at fat. If you’re not getting adequate sleep, all the food you’ve eaten can’t be properly used up and you carry unnecessary leftovers into the next day. Sleep is the body’s vital reset button.
Yes, hydration is important for, ya know, survival and stuff, but it goes a lot deeper than that. Without our kidneys and liver, we wouldn’t be able to burn any weight at all and water keeps these organs healthy. Water also plays a role in our metabolism and vitamin absorption. If you have problems with bloating or water retention, chugging some water could be exactly what you need. If your body knows that it is getting proper hydration, it won’t feel the need to hold on to water in other tissues.
Stress can drive us crazy mentally, but it ravages our bodies in the same way. The stress hormone cortisol is pumped into our body and mind like a virus, leaving our biological systems feeling sluggish and limited. Stress works against things like testosterone, human growth hormone and blood pressure, factors that play a huge role in our weight. Stress also fuels all our junk food cravings and can lead us to poor eating choices. Getting fit isn’t just a physical journey, it’s an emotional one as well. Finding ways to prioritize your mental health may be the key to promoting real weight loss.
Genetic factors: illnesses, hormones & food irritants
Of all the factors involved in weight loss, your body’s natural preferences are the one thing you might not have any control over. If you have any kind of medical conditions, hormone imbalances or food allergies, it’s important to keep those in mind.
If you don’t know much about your genetic makeup, you can go to your local doctor’s office and get an array of tests that will tell you more about what’s going on inside. You can learn about your body composition, food allergies, hormone panel, and predisposition to certain illnesses.
Even with the most severe conditions, determined people all over the world have found ways to overcome their circumstances and chase their goals. Maybe you have to do things a little differently than other people or try a little harder in certain areas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same things. Don’t let your body’s little quirks stop you.
Here’s the kicker. The difference between the person who successfully loses weight and the one who doesn’t, isn’t motivation. It’s discipline. No one feels like going to the gym every single time. No one is super passionate about their new diet day in and day out. It’s not about what you’re in the mood for, it’s about what’s necessary.
You can’t try it for a few weeks and give up. You can’t be upset at the person who has accomplished more than you when they try harder. You are responsible for your own progress. There’s no class, no coach, no pill and no diet that will guarantee your success. It comes down to you and what you are willing to settle for.
You have to want it. You have to want the weight loss more than your cravings. You have to want it more than your exhaustion. It’s not about what you have time for, it’s about what you make time for. Is there more you could be doing? Than do it. Your the only person that will suffer from your own regret. Don’t sell yourself short. Get to work.