Ever felt like you’re doing absolutely everything to lose weight, and the scale won’t change? I’ve been there; I know how you feel. It sucks. You try meal prepping at home, making these complicated low carb, low cal recipes off of Pinterest, and are left with an expensive grocery bill and a scale that reads no changes.
And let me guess, when this happened you immediately went to Google and started researching weight loss. If you’re anything like me, you came across the concept of “calories in, calories out” and may have even clicked a pop up that says “lose weight fast” that brings you to a supplement company’s website.
If any of these experiences resonate with you, I’m here to break down the number 1 reason why you can’t lose weight… but it’s a little more complicated than you may think.
The Number 1 Rule of Weight Loss
Although I’m not a big fan of just focusing on calories in versus calories out when it comes to dieting, it is pretty darn important when you’re trying to lose weight. The only way, I repeat, THE ONLY WAY to physically to lose weight is to reduce the amount of energy you consume as compared to what your body burns.
This means whether following a low carb, low fat, ketogenic, vegetarian, Paleo, or even Whole 30-esque diet doesn’t necessarily matter unless you are in a calorie deficit. It’s just not scientifically possible to lose weight unless you are eating less than what your body burns. Period!
And while some studies such as this one by Foster et al. that have shown an advantage of a low carbohydrate, high protein/fat diet as compared to a calorically matched high carb, low fat diet… the differences in weight loss between intervention groups were not significantly different at 1 year. This helps further resonate that the energy you consume from foods and beverages is king when it comes to weight loss.
Does That Mean I Can Eat Whatever I Want?
While you can lose weight just by eating ice cream and donuts all day if you’re in a calorie deficit… it surely doesn’t mean that’s what I’m recommending to clients. That being said, I firmly believe that diet quality (i.e. the nutritional quality of healthful foods you eat) is very important when considering a weight loss program for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the combination of all the nutrients we consume TOGETHER in our diet is more important than individual food groups or choices. Many magazines and diet books focus on individual nutrients without realizing they all interact TOGETHER in our bodies. We must have a balance of many different types of foods and specifically macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) to make sure we aren’t developing nutritional deficiencies as well as maintaining the complex processes in our bodies.
Secondly, while calories are important to lose weight, there are certainly evidenced-based dietary patterns that are better for our physical health and are associated with weight maintenance. One of the most popular diets is the Mediterranean diet and many other dietary patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
For example, consider this study by Noakes et al. that explores the differences between a high protein versus high carbohydrate diet. Like other research I have read in the field, this paper concluded that “an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet provides nutritional and metabolic benefits that are equal to and sometimes greater than those observed with a high-carbohydrate diet.” Why? One reason may be a high carbohydrate diet that doesn’t have enough protein means it may be more difficult to maintain and retain lean body mass (muscle mass) that is important for energy expenditure. Other potential reasons include the increased thermic effect of food (i.e. protein takes more energy to break down so you burn a few more calories overall) along with the satiety-inducing effect that protein has on our hunger signals.
Why You Aren’t Losing Weight?
All things considered, I’m going to tell you the number 1 reason why you aren’t losing weight despite eating healthier… You’re not eating the appropriate quantities of food for your body!
Put simply; just because you are eating a healthful and colorful diet loaded with vibrant fruits and vegetables does not mean you will lose weight. It’s just like someone drinking a protein shake and believing they’ll just gain muscle; it doesn’t work that way. You also have to go the gym!
For many, beginning to cook at home and trying to eat healthy may result in no weight loss (or even weight gain!) if you are not mindful of how much you are eating. Conversely, if you have on-and-off dieted for some time, you may feel very frustrated that you are eating small quantities of food and not losing weight. In that situation, you are probably eating below your body’s energy needs which stimulates “starvation mode” where your body will hold on to dear life and refuse to shed weight.
In both situations, I encourage you to take a step back from weighing yourself every day and obsessing over quantities of food. Instead, a better approach is to focus on your hunger and fullness alongside portions that actually satisfy you with a variety of all foods included. Once you learn how to fuel your body, I promise you weight loss will come with time once your body adjusts to this new way of living!