Weight loss is an important goal for many people, for a variety of reasons. Chances are that the first thing that comes to mind when you consider losing weight is looking good — be it for an upcoming event or a special vacation. So, maybe you’re working out a lot and scale isn’t budging. You’re probably wondering, “Why am I not losing weight, already!”

There’s good news though. Even if you’re losing a little bit, it can be good for your health too.

Studies show that even as little as a loss of 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lead to improvements in many different health markers.1

Of course, as many will tell you, weight loss is easier said than done. The conventional wisdom is that the path to weight loss is through diet and exercise. And of course that’s true, but it’s also open to interpretation.

How can so many people exercise and say they are eating well, but still have nothing to show for it?

The answer is that these two methods have to be approached the right way. And it all starts with understanding how we gain weight and body fat.

The Science Of Weight Gain

Understanding weight gain starts with understanding how your body uses energy. Many people know that like a machine, their bodies need fuel to run. This energy comes from your food in the form of calories.

Calories are a literal reference to units of energy. Every human needs a certain amount of calories to live. Without them, cells die and organs break down.2

And yet, whenever you hear about weight loss one of the first things that pops up is the cutting of calories. How can this be the case? The answer lies in whether or not the amount of calories you eat supersedes the amount of energy you use.

Without any way to expend calories, your body’s forced to store them somewhere. And your body tends to do this in the form of body fat.3,4

Now, the general rule is that 3,500 calories is the equivalent to about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat. So, in order to cut the amount of body fat you have, you’d need to burn about 3,500 calories more than you eat.

Note that weight loss doesn’t generally result from a loss of just body fat. Lean tissue and water weight also tend to get reduced during a workout.5,6

Can What You Eat Overpower A Workout?

When it comes to exercise and weight loss, it’s important to dispel some myths. One of the major ones is that exercise turns fat into muscle. These are different sets of tissue, but as you work out, your body fat should decrease as your muscle mass grows. These two parallel phenomena are the reason why people think there is a true link.

However, the biggest reason that people don’t get the most benefit from their workouts is the fact that their dietary choices outpace their workouts.

Remember, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you eat to start losing weight. However, if you don’t pay attention to what you’re eating, you can put yourself behind before you even work out! Several studies show that people consistently underestimate the number of calories they consume during any given day.7,8

As a result, if you’re not finding weight loss success even when exercising, your best option is to keep track of the calories you eat. There are many different apps and tools that allow you to do this at your pace, making it easier than ever. Methods like these have been proven to help people lose weight more consistently than those who don’t.9

Dietary Alternatives

As important as quantity when it comes to calories, is the quality of what you eat.

Have you ever heard the expression of empty calories?

These basically mean foods that provide plenty of calories, but little to no nutritional value. For weight loss, these are your biggest enemies. Generally, you want to avoid foods with lots of solid fats and added sugars. These include –

  • Prepackaged desserts
  • Fast food
  • Hard candy/candy bars
  • Salted snacks
  • Energy drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Bacon
  • Ribs
  • Sugary drinks

As tasty as some of these foods may be, they can help you pack on the pounds while giving your body little in return.

If you want to eat these on occasion, be sure to budget your calories and workout accordingly. It’s not all bad news when it comes to picking food, though. When trying to lose weight, you want to focus on nutrient-dense foods.

Losing weight | Nucific

In essence, these give you the most “bang for your buck.” Each calorie you eat is also accompanied by large portions of essential nutrients. Good examples of nutrient-dense foods include:

  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Raspberries
  • Flax seeds
  • Salmon
  • Broccoli10

It’s important to note that protein is considered one of the most important nutrients in terms of losing weight? This is because of the role it plays in boosting metabolism and reducing cravings.11 But not all proteins are created equal, so you still need to mind your calorie intake.

The ideal options for protein include leaner meats like poultry. You may also want to look into some of the more popular plant proteins like beans or lentils.

Working Out The Right Way

Putting together a proper diet is the foundation of a good weight loss regimen. However, there are things you can do in the gym to help your chances as well. Many people tend to focus on aerobic training at first, especially if you’re new to working out.

However, it’s important not to neglect strength training as well. Studies show that during weight loss, you can lose muscle mass along with fat without exercise.12 Not only is this bad for your look, it can actually reduce your metabolism.Strength training helps counteract a reduction in metabolic rate, especially if you are reducing calories over a long-term period.13

There are also other benefits to adding strength training to your workout – like bone support.14

Organize your Workout

Another thing you should consider is applying the same level of organization to your workout that you do to your calorie tracking. If it’s an option, consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get started. They will be able to craft workouts that will allow you to hit set goals while staying within your body’s capacity.

There are also a few lifestyle changes associated with weight loss that may surprise you.

Catch your Zzzzs

One of the key things you can do is try and focus on getting a good night’s sleep. Results from recent studies show that adults and children with poor sleep have a 55% and 89% greater risk of becoming obese, respectively.15

Losing weight | Nucific

Drink Up!

Keeping hydrated, both during workouts and outside of them, is also important. One study showed that people who drank half a liter of water 30 minutes before meals lost 44% more weight.16

Weight Loss Hurdles In Review

Understanding the science will put you on the path to weight loss. However, there is one final piece of the puzzle that bears mentioning: a healthy mindset.

It’s shown that people who take their weight loss journey bit by bit rather than going full-bore have a greater likelihood of success.16

This is because this mindset allows you to change your lifestyle rather than pursue a quick fix.

Focus on ways to add healthy foods along with counting your calories. Find an exercise regimen that pushes you without incurring risk, and be ready to adjust as you get stronger.

If you have difficulty, consider bringing on a nutritionist or personal trainer to help you create a foundation. With the proper technique and proper approach, there’s nothing stopping you from shedding those unwanted pounds over time.

For more confidence-building tips and diet suggestions, keep reading here:

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Sources:
1. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/ob_gdlns.pdf
2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263028.php
3. https://www.livescience.com/35440-weight-gain-how-food-adds-pounds-110202.html
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4066111
5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calories/art-20048065
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10932257
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1454084
8. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/130.full
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21185970
10. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/add-more-nutrient-dense-foods-to-your-diet
11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11838888
12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17075583/
13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18356845
14. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/strength-training-builds-more-than-muscles
15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2398753/
16. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

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About the Author

Dr. Amy Lee

Dr. Amy Lee has board certifications in internal medicine, physician nutrition and obesity medicine specialty. She practices internal medicine with a heavy emphasis on nutrition, wellness and weight management. Her Clinical nutrition fellowship training at UCLA has allowed her to incorporate realistic lifestyle modification in all her medicine patients.