Updated: Sep 29
The weight loss challenge. When we change our eating habits and incorporate exercise yet the scale doesn't seem to budge. That growing frustration of feeling like you are trying so hard yet getting nowhere. The reality is even when we think we are doing everything right we may be engaging in sabotaging behaviors influencing our ability to ultimately reach our goal. This week we are helping to uncover some of the more common mistakes that occur when working toward a weight loss goal, helping to answer the question - "why can't I seem to lose the weight??"
The top 6 reasons weight loss might not be happening:
#1 - You underestimate your calorie intake. You may be surprised to find you are consuming more than you think. Documenting daily food and beverage consumption can be a great way to demonstrate just how much (and of what) you are consuming. Dietary trackers also shed light on those areas you may be low, high, and/or where you might need help hitting nutrition targets. From misjudged portion sizes to assuming the amount of useable vs. empty calories in our food choices, it is easy to underestimate just how much we are really eating and drinking throughout the day. Keep in mind when your goal is weight loss, caloric expenditures should exceed calorie intakes. Meaning, the more active you are the more calories your body will burn, and the less active you are the less calories it requires to do the job. In general, a fat loss of 1lb equates to cutting 3,500 calories a week (don't panic, that is just 500 calories a day!) and the empty calories should always be the first to go!
#2. You overestimate how hard you are actually working. You are sweating, breathing hard, and feeling those muscles work so you must be working hard and hitting your target heart rate, right?!and maintain fat loss. If your goal is to slim down then you’ll have to ramp up the intensity of your exercise and aim to hit your vo2 max threshold. A great way to do this is through HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training). In contrast to steady-state conventional cardio exercises, HIIT utilizes high-intensity interval periods, often involving several muscle groups at once, followed by a lower-intensity or rest period (think all out sprint to a light jog or fast paced walk). And bonus - HIIT can be done in half the time of conventional steady state workouts! The truth is if you can easily hold a conversation, feel like you could hit it a bit harder, or are able to repeat an entire exercise circuit fairly easily, you probably aren’t hitting that active heart rate zone. There is a difference between building cardio endurance and burning fat. Endurance activities are wonderful for heart health (so keep doing those too!), however steady state exercise alone is not enough to promote
#3. You aren’t getting physically active often enough. One or two days a week for an hour a day is not enough movement to combat an overall sedentary lifestyle. With more and more people spending their day sitting at office jobs, stuck in the car driving to and fro, playing video games, sitting on the computer or scrolling smartphones, using escalators and elevators, and choosing front row parking....well, we just aren’t getting enough physical activity in our day. The body is made to move and movement = calorie burn and increased metabolism. Take an honest look at your typical day, your week - how much physical activity are you actually getting? Challenge yourself to utilize opportunities to increase your physical activity - walking at lunch, parking farther from the store, taking the stairs, implementing 10-15min. office breaks every 2 hours to get up and walk the hall or take a sip of water, riding bikes with the kids after school, walking the dog after dinner, meeting friends for a hike. It all adds up!
#4. You are eating the same (or more) calories because you've started exercising.You may have heard the saying "you can't outrun a bad diet!" Adding fitness to your weight loss plan is excellent, coupled with proper nutrition you have a powerhouse team! Common mistakes are continuing to eating processed foods high in unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium or just eating too much. We sometimes think by adding fitness we can automatically increase our food consumption (or at least keep it the same). However if your food portions are already out of whack then losing weight will be a challenge. Remember if the goal is fat loss (we want to lose the fat, not the muscle), then ultimately there has to be a calorie deficit, meaning we have to use more calories than we consume. AND all calories are not created equal. A 100 calories of fruits, veggies and/or lean protein is not the same as 100 calories of convenience or fast foods or processed foods such as crackers, candy or chips. Other factors that can derail healthy eating habits and inadvertently challenge weight loss include chronic stress, lack of sleep, too much alcohol consumption, or not enough calories that the body can use (i.e. lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbs). In order to achieve long-term success you have to create a healthy and well-balanced approach for mind, body, and spirit.
#5. You are still doing the same fitness routine. Repetition is great in many ways, but it is important to know that the body is built to adapt and be efficient. As your body adapts to a fitness routine it begins to work more efficiently, which often translates to plateaus. Mix up that fitness routine every 8-12 weeks in order to continue reaping optimal health and fitness benefit. Don't worry, you don't have to ditch your current fitness program! Just try targeting muscle groups in a new way - there are many ways to do a squat or target those biceps for example- increase your weight loads or ramp up those repetitions, maybe add some sort of new element to your routine that causes the body to work harder to keep up and keeps it guessing (such as HIIT or plyo movements). Consistency is a wonderful thing, and so is exploring new opportunities!
#6. You rely on the scale. I see this all the time. People stuck on that number on the scale, why isn't it moving?? Remember, the scale is just one indicator of weight and fat loss in the body. Body measurements (such as hip, waist, legs, arms and chest) are better representations of changes to body composition, demonstrating inches lost and muscle gained. And you might be surprised to know that our weight actually fluctuates throughout the day (1-5lbs depending on the person). Hormones, water retention and/or dehydration, dietary changes, sodium levels, etc. all influence our daily weight and explain why you can feel svelt one day and bloated and uncomfortable the next. Ever jump on a scale in the morning and see one number, then jump on again that afternoon or evening and wonder what happened? Rather than getting caught up in that number on the scale, start noticing how your clothes are fitting as well as other notable improvements such as increased energy, improved or balanced mood, improved sleep your sleep, improved health indicators (i.e. reduced blood pressure or improved cholesterol levels) and take note of overall body composition changes - are areas that were once puffy and soft that are now tight and toned? Progress is so much more than just a number on a scale!
The take away - it's time to get honest and ask yourself the tough questions –
What am I doing well?
What could I be doing better?
Where am I putting my time and energy?
Where am I consistent?
Where am I not consistent enough?
The answers to some of these basic questions will often help reveal the areas of health and fitness challenge that may need to be addressed in order to produce positive outcomes. If you still aren't seeing a clear picture, try journaling and documenting your daily routines for a week to gain further insight. When you write down everything you eat and drink each day, including the amounts consumed and timeframes, you are able to see patterns such as associated feelings (stress, tired, sad, angry, bored, etc.). You may also note items such as how stress, sleep and physical activity influence your decisions. And don't be afraid to recruit a power partner. Accountability and support are huge, not only in establishing healthy habits, but also in making them stick! Whether it is hiring a personal trainer or nutritional health coach, signing up for a fitness class or event, or committing to a friend or family member to tackle a goal together, support and accountability are key to keeping you moving forward!