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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 the scale isn’t budging. You’re probably wondering why you are not losing weight.
There’s good news though. Even if you only lose a little bit, that weight loss — specifically, losing fat — 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, reaching your weight loss goals 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. Body weight is a fickle thing, as are methods to lose it.
How can so many people exercise and say they are eating well, but are still not losing weight?
The answer is this: exercise and diet need to be approached the right way. And it all starts with understanding how we gain weight and body fat.
The Science Of Weight Gain
To understand weight gain, loss, and why you’re not losing weight, you first need to understand how your body gets and uses energy. Like a machine, the human body needs fuel to run. This energy comes from food in the form of calories.
Calories are a reference to literal 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, a.k.a. creating a caloric deficit. 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.
The human body naturally uses a number of calories for basic functions, like breathing, keeping your heart beating, etc. Even beyond those basic functions are movements that involve minimal effort, like typing or stretching. Even beyond those movements are activities like walking or exercising. But if you live a sedentary life, the calories you consume aren’t put to use beyond those basic functions. 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 lose one pound, you’d need to burn about 3,500 calories more than you eat. If you aren’t creating this caloric deficit, that is likely one of the reasons you are not losing weight.
Also, as a side note, if you spend a lot of your time sitting, you’re likely dealing with water retention, which will also add to your body weight. 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.6
Can What You Eat Overpower A Workout?
When it comes to exercise, weight loss, and losing fat, it’s important to dispel some myths. One of the major ones is that exercise will turn fat into muscle. This isn’t true. Fat and muscle are different sets of tissue. As you work out and your body fat decreases, your muscle mass can simultaneously grow, particularly if you implement weight training into your weight loss program. This parallel loss and growth is 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, which is why many people turn to intermittent fasting. However, if you don’t pay attention to the unhealthy food that 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 losing weight even when you exercise regularly, your best option is to keep track of the calories you eat for meals and snacks. There are many different apps and tools that allow you to do this at your pace, making it easier than ever to track how many calories a day you’re consuming. Methods like these have been proven to help people lose weight more consistently than those who don’t.9
As important as the quantity of calories you consume is the quality of the food sources they come from.
Have you ever heard of empty calories?
They refer to foods that provide plenty of calories but little to no nutritional value, like carbs and fats. For weight loss, empty calories are your biggest enemies. If you’re not losing weight, food with empty calories may be the reason. Generally, you want to avoid foods with lots of solid fats and added sugars. This kind of food includes –
- Prepackaged desserts
- Fast food
- Hard candy/candy bars
- Salted snacks
- Energy drinks
- Fried foods
- Sugary drinks
As tasty as some of these foods may be, they may be the reason why you’re not losing weight. Instead, these empty calorie foods can help you pack on the pounds while giving your body little in return. These foods can also be attributed to health changes, such as your blood sugar.10
If you want to eat these foods on occasion, be sure to budget your calories and workout accordingly so that they don’t keep you from reaching your weight loss goals.
Don’t worry; it’s not all bad news when it comes to choosing what food to incorporate into your meals. Simply put, when trying to lose weight, you want to focus on nutrient-dense foods. (Hint: these do not involve carbs.)
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:
- Bok choy
- Flax seeds
It’s important to note that protein is considered to be one of the most important nutrients in terms of losing weight. This is because of the role protein plays in boosting metabolism and reducing cravings.12 But not all proteins are created equal, so you still need to mind your calorie intake.
The ideal options for protein that help improve your body weight include lean 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. Studies show that during weight loss, you can lose muscle mass along with fat without exercise.13 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 (which, by the way, is good for long term weight loss).14 So, if you find that you’ve been working out regularly but not losing weight, the type of exercise you’re doing might be to blame.
There are also other benefits to adding strength training to your workout – like bone support.15
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. Some gyms even offer a free session with a personal trainer, to help get you started. They will be able to craft workouts that will allow you to hit your weight loss 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.16
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. Keep in mind that any initial weight loss you experience is likely water weight, due to water retention. If you feel like you’ve hit a weight loss plateau after those first workouts, don’t worry; there is more to come.17
The Power Of Positive Thinking
Can you think yourself thin? Absolutely. Recent studies show how the mind can help overcome the hurdles of not losing weight.
How to do it? There’s several ways to train your brain. The idea is that the more you believe you are getting fit and losing weight, the more it will happen. And vice versa. If you are constantly walking around telling yourself, “I can never lose weight” or “I will always be fat and unattractive” or “Eating healthy and exercising is too hard”… you’re actually talking yourself out of losing weight and getting in shape.
So, here are some ways to improve your mindset to help tip the scales in your journey to health by losing that belly fat and those unwanted pounds.
- Start each day by writing down 20 things your grateful for…including your body and its ability to lose weight and be healthy.
- Write down an affirmation on a piece of paper you tape to your bathroom mirror or desk. Examples include: “My body sheds weight easily.” “I choose healthy foods and portions that help me lose weight faster.” “I have a fast metabolism that burns fat quickly.”
- Observe how you talk about yourself to others. Do you tell others about how you can never lose weight after a baby or after turning 50 or ….? Stop. Tell others the opposite, even if you don’t feel like it’s truth yet. The more you say positive things about your body and weight loss journey, the more you will start to believe it.
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 food to your diet, along with counting your calories. Find an exercise regimen that pushes you without incurring risk of injury, and be ready to adjust those workouts as you get stronger.
If you are not losing weight and have difficulty with creating a healthy diet or workout plan, 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.
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