You are struggling. You tried everything and you just can't seem to be able to lose any weight.
Are you doing something wrong? Or are you just doomed to have a little bit too much goodness on your body?
Rest assured, you are not doomed. Losing weight is very possible, if done correctly. But a lot of people, you probably included, don't have a clear picture about nutrition and how to eat in order to lose weight.
That's why I want to give you the 15 most likely reasons why you are not losing as much weight as you want to.
This will be a long one, so let's get into it!
1. You are eating too many calories
Hold your horses. I know what you think - "Duh. Of course I'm eating too many calories, tell me WHY and WHAT I should eat for crying out loud".
I hear you. But to make this article complete, I have to include this point - I even have to include it as the first point! Because that's what it all boils down to. So let me be crystal clear with this:
You have to eat less calories, than you burn. Period. There's no magic in any diet, there's no magic pill, no magic exercise, no magic tea, smoothie or gadget. If any diet promises otherwise, it's a lie.
Still with me? Good. Before we go into more detail about why you might be eating too many calories, let's tackle another common issue with dieters.
2. You are eating too few calories
What the hell, right? Again, a short explanation is necessary here. Say your body requires 2.000 calories per day. Just for the sake of this example.
Now there are a lot of super stupid diets out there, mostly in clueless, non-health related magazines, that preach stuff like 800 calorie diets - or similar nonsense.
When dieting, you want to eat as many calories as possible while still being in a caloric deficit. Usually 10-20% less than what you burn actually. In the example above, that would be 1.600-1.800 calories per day. Not less.
But why not less? Wouldn't you lose body fat faster? Yes you would. Initially! After a few days or weeks, depending on your body, your metabolism will decrease more and more. Your body knows that it's only getting half the calories it needs and therefore tries to shut down every unnecessary energy consuming activity.
You will still lose fat, but on top of that also a lot of muscle. Yes, you do have muscle to lose, even if you've never seen a gym from the inside. And guess what? Muscles burn energy. A lot. So you burn even less calories per day.
And another problem: you will feel bad. With so few calories, your body will have no energy, your brain will starve, you will have trouble to focus, to think. You will have mood swings. The list goes on.
In the end, you might have lost the amount of fat you wanted. Well done. You also managed to lose several pounds/kilos of very important muscle mass (you need that, especially when you're older!) and your metabolism is sooo down, that you now gain fat by eating 1.600 calories. Yo-yo effect anyone?
So please, never ever eat so few calories! If it's only for a day or so, because you were busy - no big deal. But as a diet and lifestyle change: hell no!
3. You have unrealistic expectations
I know. You want to lose the excess body fat ASAP! But for that to happen, you have to understand what ASAP actually means.
Example time again: you want to build a brand new house. Money is not the issue. Whatever it costs. Also, you want it ASAP. Now, even if you were Bill Gates, would the house be done by tomorrow morning? No. It will take several months.
If you want to buy a bottle of water, ASAP could be in the next 2 minutes. See my point?
You added excess body fat to your frame during the last, what? Months? Years? Even decades? You can't expect the body to get rid of the fat within a few weeks, when you spent so much money and time on it getting there in the first place.
Hence, every diet program that tells you you can get the "body you always wanted in 8/12/x weeks" is a marketing scam. It can't promise that for real, because it's just not possible. Even professional bodybuilders, people who basically diet and train for a living, diet several months!
To give you a good baseline: if you are very overweight, you should lose around 2lbs/1kg of body fat per week. If you just want to lose a few pounds here and there, expect 1lbs/0.5kg per week.
Also remember that you'll lose more than that in the first week of your diet. Always. Because your body gets rid of excess water. I can lose 4lbs/2kg by tomorrow if I want, but it's not body fat. So don't expect the same results for the next few weeks. Aim for the above mentioned targets. If you lose less than that in 2-3 weeks in a row, cut your calories back a bit more (say by 200).
4. You are not eating enough protein
Number one issue with most diet plans! Protein is freaking king. K-I-N-G! This is not just a bodybuilder thing. Protein is by far the hardest to digest macro nutrient for your body. ~30% of the calories you consume from protein are required to digest it.
It's also per calorie the most satiating macro nutrient available. Meaning, protein keeps you full! Which is nice in a diet :)
On top of that, protein spares muscle mass. Again, you don't want to lose muscle mass. You want to lose plain fat. So you have to make sure to keep as much muscle as possible.
In a long diet, every body will also burn some muscle mass. But with a high protein base, it's very little. This way, you'll still have a large amount of the muscles you had, before you started to diet, which in turn means you'll have a better metabolism and you'll burn more calories per day -> no yo-yo effect. You'll also look better. Getting rid of both muscle and fat will make you look skinny and potentially even sick, rather than strong, healthy and athletic.
Aim for 1g per pound of body weight or 2g per kilogram of body weight per day. Go higher if you enjoy protein rich meals. Your kidneys will not have an issue with that, that's bollocks. If you have only one kidney or existing kidney issues already, cut it in half and consult with your doctor, though.
5. You are eating calorie dense foods
Look, some people think "eating healthy" is all you need to do to lose weight. As per mistake number 1, that's nonsense. Let's break it down, to have something tangible.
Again, 2.000 calories per day is our baseline. We aim for a 20% deficit, giving us 1.600 calories.
Oat meal is healthy right? So is rice. And fruit. And nuts. Right? Awesome! Let's eat all healthy and get lean. Let's see. We'll have:
- 100g oats
- 200g skim milk (low fat of course right? we are dieting ;))
- 1 banana
- 1 handful of almonds
- 1 banana
- 100g rice
- 200g chicken breast
- 200g broccoli
- 1 large sweet potato
- 200g chicken breast
- 200g mixed vegetables
Healthy? Yeah! It's probably even too strict for most people. Very blend.
But it's already 2.000 calories and don't tell me it's too much food to eat! It's more than likely that somebody would eat these quantities. Pretty standard.
And by the way, I didn't even include any oils or spices used for cooking in these 2.000 calories!
So no, just eating healthy doesn't help whatsoever. What does help though is eating food with a low caloric density. Don't get me wrong. You should eat healthy of course, but it's not related to fat loss directly!
If you look closely, I've chosen bananas, oats and rice. All of which are commonly known as "healthy". What most people don't know and understand is, that these ingredients are also quite dense!
100g of oats on their own have roughly 360 calories already. 100g of uncooked potato has only roughly 70 calories. Way more food per calorie!
Let's try once more, this time with not so dense ingredients:
- 40g oats
- 200g skim milk
- 300g water melon
- 2 peaches
- 1 handful of almonds
- 1 apple
- 40g rice
- 200g chicken breast
- 250g broccoli
- 250g mushrooms
- 400g mixed salad (romana, iceberg lettuce, whatever you like)
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 whole cucumber
- 200g chicken breast
- 2 tbsp yogurt dressing
We decreased the serving sizes of the dense, not filling foods and added low calorie foods. Now we have 1.650 calories, but way more food to chew on! Heck, we even have super fatty dressing in there now!
Again, quite blend, but you get the idea. I'm not a chef, so my food choices are a little bit more on the pragmatic side of things. Feel free to use whatever you like, as long as it's low in calories per gram.
You'll not only take longer for your meal, your stomach will also feel much fuller and therefore your mind will feel more satiated. Why starve yourself on a diet, when you can eat a ton of food, while still being in a caloric deficit?
I for one have a specific bowl just for losing fat. It's super huge and I need over 30m to eat my dinner - and believe me I eat fast! The hungrier I am, the bigger my serving sizes are. I just use low calorie food. Make your life easier, not harder!
6. You are drinking calories
You might have noticed that I did not include any beverages in the above example meal plans. Why? Because you should not drink any calories whatsoever. Ever!
Not only are liquid calories faster to digest, so they don't keep you full for long - they are also super easy to over consume.
In general, the only beverages you should consume are water, tea and coffee. All of which have 0 calories. You can add a glass of diet coke or other diet drinks here and there, if you feel like you need something sweet. But don't drink too much of this stuff!
The studies are still not 100% sure if the sweeteners found in those drinks might actually cause weight gain. It's certainly proven to cause water retention, though!
Don't drink fruit juices, unless you want to spend your calories on juice rather than food to chew on. They are healthy, because they contain several vitamins, but they are also super high in sugar and not calorie free! Again, see point #5.
Also obviously don't drink alcohol. It's very very bad for weight loss. If you have to have some, make sure to choose wisely.
7. You are blindly following a certain diet style
With diet style, I'm referring to diets that limit you in the type of foods you can consume, not the amount. This includes things like paleo or vegan.
Don't get me wrong. Both are fine. But you can also get super fat on both. See point numero uno again. Oreos are vegan by the way.
Just because you are following one of those regimes, does not mean you will lose weight or be more healthy. A lot of people switch to, say paleo, and lose weight. Awesome! But it's not because paleo is beneficial for weight loss.
It's because those people ate crap all day before and now they consume more protein (paleo is usually high in protein) and less processed food (since our ancestors did not have McDonalds). Again, food density and protein. You know that already.
Whatever lifestyle and diet style you prefer is fine with me. You can look fantastic with most of them. But make sure to remember the fundamentals and understand why something works or doesn't work.
8. You listen to the wrong people
It's quite hard to tell who's really knowledgeable and who's not, if you don't have enough knowledge yourself. But in general you should not listen to your friends or your doctor when it comes to diet advice.
Unless either of them has a proven track record of helping people to lose body fat in a healthy and sustainable way. Most doctors don't know much about nutrition, since it's not taught in med school and your friends most likely know as much as you do. A lot of doctors still preach advice that is outdated for decades now and has been proven wrong over and over again. A nutritionist is the better option here.
Oh and if it's on TV, it's most likely utter nonsense. For some reason they never invite the people that actually have a clue. Most things in popular media are badly researched, if at all.
This very article gives you enough knowledge to kick start your journey. But don't take my word for it, although I'm really trying to help you here, because I spent hundreds of hours doing my own research, so you don't have to.
Feel free to research on your own, read and understand how nutrition and bodies work. And think about every advice you receive. Does it make sense? What's the reasoning behind it? Why would the body do that?
9. You have too much stress
Ever heard of cortisol? It's a hormone tightly bound to the amount of stress we have in our everyday lives. I'm sure you heard that before.
Have you also heard that high cortisol levels hinder fat loss? It's not an excuse for you to not lose weight, but if you are super stressed all day and you are doing everything right and you are still not losing any weight, get your cortisol levels checked.
Try to calm down in the evenings. Try meditation. Yoga. Whatever calms you down and let's you chill a bit. Have sex (also burns calories ;)). Just make sure to not be too stressed if possible. It's not only beneficial for fat loss, but your health as a whole.
10. You are doing the wrong type of exercise
This one is driving me nuts. People decide to lose weight. Diet is either not changed at all or they eat half of what they ate before. Guess what. Half a pound of garbage is still a lot of garbage.
Anyway, what they do change is their workout regime.
From 0 minutes per year, they go to 1 hour of running per day.
Alright. First. 80% of how you look is your diet. At least. The rest is genetics and workouts. You can't out-run a bad diet!
Now read that again.
Second. 1 hour of running? Hey, if you enjoy it, be my guest. If you hate cardio as much as I do, read on:
Cardio is certainly nice to burn a few calories, but it's just a small portion of your daily expenditure. If you burn 200 calories during your workout and 2.000 just by living, that's a mere 10% increase. You could have just eaten a little bit less.
Don't get me wrong. Cardio is very good for your endurance and your cardiovascular system, hence the name. But cardio is not the best thing to do in terms of weight loss.
Oh and news flash: if the treadmill or an app says you burned 300 calories, you probably burned half of that. Unless the machine/app knows your weight, body fat percentage, age, heart rate and a few other metrics, it has no chance in hell to estimate the calories burned.
If you are a 185lbs/85kg lean male, the number might be correct. If you are untrained and overweight, you have a whole lot less muscle mass and hence burn way less. You most likely don't burn 600 calories per hour of simple jogging! Those machine use a standard calculation, missing most of the important metrics, as mentioned above. Sorry, but that's the truth.
Plus, steady state cardio, like jogging, walking etc. is very easy for your body. And it gets easier the more you do it. Hence, you have to do it for a longer period of time. Your body will also get more efficient. Because it doesn't like to be inefficient. So you might have burned 450 calories per hour when you started biking. But now you only burn 400 or less.
Ever noticed how cardio gets easier every time you do it? That's why.
What do you want to do now? Bike for 10 hours a day?
Enter HIIT. HIIT stands for high intensity interval training. This article is already long enough, so I won't give you the full run down. In short, HIIT means you split your cardio time into high intensity and low intensity intervals.
This way you increase your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day, even after you finished the workout. Not so with normal cardio.
Because it's more taxing on the body, it's enough to do it for only 20-30 minutes. And your body will not get used to the workout as fast as with normal cardio.
The high intensity intervals should be so hard, that you can barely breath and couldn't do it for much longer. The low intensity intervals are easy and you recover from the previous interval. No rest! Always active recovery.
You can do HIIT on a bike, treadmill or jogging outside. It doesn't matter. Start with 120 seconds of low intensity, for instance walking, followed by 60 seconds of high all-out intensity, for instance running. Sprints basically. That's 3 minutes per round. So only 7-8 rounds and you're done.
If that's too hard for you, increase the low intensity intervals. If it gets easier in the future, do it the other way around and try 90/60 and then 60/60 and so on.
Besides cardio, there's also weight lifting of course. Everyone should do weight lifting. One way or the other. Yes, even ladies! You won't get bulky, that's nonsense!
But please, go into your local commercial gym, not the underground one with the bull-size meatheads and look at what most people are doing. It's nuts.
Most will randomly jump from one machine to the other. Everyone will do crunches like there's no tomorrow and men will do biceps curls. A lot of freaking biceps curls.
Please. If you have the dedication to go to the gym, spend your time wisely. You don't go to the cinema just to get your laptop out and watch another episode of Game of Thrones, do you?
Let's tackle each one of them in a little bit more detail, so you understand why you shouldn't do them:
Those are actually the best of the bunch. Some machines are actually good, like cables and leg machines. But most of them are unnecessary, especially ab machines and you get less results using them, compared to free weights, because you don't have to stabilise the weight.
I know, free weights might be scary for you. But it's 2017. There is Youtube. You can watch thousand of videos on how to do exercises properly. I'll give you a list in a minute.
Holy moly. Just don't. First, there are better exercises for your abdominal area like (hanging) leg raises and weighted cable crunches. Second, if you have excess body fat, nobody will see your abs. So why are you training them?
Oh I know. You want to lose the belly fat, right? There's no way to lose body fat at a certain area! None.
And for overweight people crunches are even detrimental, because muscles are below the skin and fat layer. So even if you build your abs, the only visible effect would be that your bigger abs push your belly fat out even more. Fail.
On top of that, abs are a very small muscle group, which means you don't burn many calories training them. Which leads us to...
Ah. THE man exercise. Every man wants big arms. Therefore, he goes to the gym and trains one of the smallest muscles on his body for one whole hour. Well done. After 6 months he wonders why he still looks like he did on the day he visited the gym for the first time.
So what should he do instead? The same everyone else should do, including women. Compound exercises. Exercises that train multiple muscle groups at once, with heavy weights.
What do you think burns more calories and builds more muscle? Biceps curls with 14kg or heavy deadlifts with 100kg involving arms, chest, back and legs? I think you know the answer.
As promised above, here's a list of exercises that you should focus on for at least the first 2-3 years.
- (Incline) Bench press
- Overhead shoulder press/Military press
These are the building blocks of your workout. You can do all of them every time you work out (whole body workout) or you split your workouts across multiple days and focus on a specific body part each day. Here are a few more good exercises, categorised by body part:
- Cable flys
- Decline bench press
- Pec-dec machine
- Pull ups
- Bent over row
- Lat pulldown
- T-Bar row
- Seated cable row
- Leg press
- Leg curl machine
- Leg extension machine
- Calf machine
- Calf raises on smith machine or with dumbbells on a plate
Legs are super important! "Never skip leg day" is not a joke. The leg muscles are the biggest muscle group and when trained, stimulate growth hormone release in your body. Plus it increases testosterone production in men. You can only win, when you train legs!
But what about arms? You can of course train arms. For instance as finishing exercises in the last 10% of your workout.
By the way: if you want to grow your arms, don't train your biceps, but your triceps! The triceps is 2/3 of the whole arm and makes a real visual difference.
Here are a few good ones for both:
- Biceps curls (they are still a good biceps exercise)
- Skull crushers (I prefer with dumbbells)
- Triceps cable pushdown
- Close grip bench press (for triceps)
- Preacher curl
- Hammer curl
And for shoulders:
- Side raises
- Rear delt raises
- Dumbbell should press
- Front raises
Just check them out on Youtube. If you want more info for a specific exercise, let me know in the comments!
11. You are giving in to social pressure
Going out with friends and family can be a bit of a problem when dieting. Everybody will look weird at you or might even judge you.
Don't let them! Look at it this way: you are trying to improve your physique and health. They are not. Their behaviour seems strange to me. Doesn't it?
Follow your own goals and don't let others push you off the right track. Trying to be healthy is a good thing!
Of course you can enjoy a dinner with friends and family as well. Just try to chose mostly unprocessed, low calorie food and make sure to eat enough protein. It doesn't have to be a salad, but it's certainly always a safe bet.
If you feel like eating something "off the right path", enjoy it, make sure you don't stuff your face all night and get back on the horse first thing the next morning.
12. You are measuring wrong
If you follow a specific meal plan with meals and sizes, you have to use your kitchen scale to measure your food.
This is actually a pretty good exercise, because this way you learn how 200g of chicken breast or 300g of tomatoes look like. This way, it's easier to estimate the caloric content of a meal in a restaurant.
What a lot of people get wrong though, is when to measure the food.
Always measure your food raw!
100g of rice means before cooking. Same with chicken breast and everything else! Keep that in mind. I see this question come up a lot.
Everything that is cooked with water will increase in weight (e.g. oats, rice), everything that is baked or stir fried will decrease in weight (meat, vegetables). Make sure you don't get that wrong.
13. You give the scale too much credit
This is a tricky one. First and foremost, it's more important how you look in the mirror than how much you weigh. As mentioned above, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the scale to check if you are losing "enough" weight every week.
However, the scale might be lying. How so? If you are a beginner in terms of weight lifting and you are doing a weight loss diet plus weight lifting and you are doing it right, you will most likely, especially as a male, gain muscle while losing fat at the same time. It's called "newbie gains", because it can't really be done after your first year of lifting. Another reason to make the first year count and do the right exercises!
Muscle is a lot more dense than fat by the way, which means if you put 1 pound of fat next to 1 pound of muscle, the fat mass is a lot bigger.
Let's say your scale says you have not lost any weight whatsoever. That could mean you actually lost no weight. But if you got stronger in the gym, look better and still have the same weight, you probably lost fat and gained muscle. Which is awesome!
So don't just blindly assume your diet doesn't work, just because the scale doesn't show any weight loss. Trading 1 pound of fat for 1 pound of muscle is better than simply losing 1 pound of fat. Celebrate it!
For women, the same effect can happen during their period. Women's bodies tend to hold a lot more water during those days, which means the scale might not change or even go up. Don't be discouraged. We recommend women don't weigh themselves during that time at all, since it's misleading anyway.
When in doubt, look at yourself in the mirror. Make progress photos. Always in the same room and with the same lighting conditions of course!
Or ask your spouse or friend, because you see yourself everyday and you might not be able to see the changes that already took place.
14. You are overestimating your caloric needs
If you use any of the calculators out there to estimate your daily expenditure (try ours), they will most likely ask for your activity level. After all, more active people burn more calories. So far so true.
But, a lot of people overestimate how active they really are and most calculators do a bad job of giving users decent options to select from.
As a general rule, if you are unsure between two options, chose the less active one.
15. You are on the wrong diet for your body
This goes beyond the calories in vs. calories out principle. As we know, caloric deficit means fat loss. But everyone is different and therefore everyone should eat differently as well, in order to feel good.
Everyone knows that people with an allergy or an intolerance can't eat certain things. But it doesn't stop there. You might not be intolerant to certain food groups, but you can certainly react badly to them anyway.
Simple carbs for instance are one of those things. They are not bad, they don't make you fat, but depending on your genetics, insulin sensitivity and other factors, you might feel great and satisfied after eating them or you might feel sluggish and even more hungry. Same with fats for instance.
You should build your diet and lifestyle around foods that make you feel good and make it easy for you to follow a meal plan/diet/lifestyle change. If you are not sure where to start with that, go head and try our free diet check. It's literally free advice from one of our nutritionists!
I hope with these 15 tips, you can get closer to your body goals. It's all pretty straight forward when you think about it. It makes sense. Our bodies don't do weird stuff, just to screw with us.
If you have further questions or other tips, that helped you in the past, let me and the other readers know in the comments!
Over and out.