Author: Jonny Landels, Certified Nutritionist, OPEX Certified Coach and owner of Next Step Nutrition
There’s nothing more frustrating for some people than stepping on the scales after a week of eating chicken and broccoli and seeing the same number as last week. What a nightmare!
It might lead to frustration, anger, and even tears. “What’s the point? Why am I putting myself through this hell and not seeing results? Why am I not losing weight?” These are everyday things we hear from our clients.
So, what gives? This article will explore some of the reasons you might not be losing weight and how to deal with the emotions attached to scale numbers. Be ready for some hard truths, look for compassion practices to ditch the scale dread, and continue your weight loss journey with more understanding.
Why Am I Not Losing Weight?
Firstly, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to lose weight or feel they’re doing everything right but don’t see the scales budge. And modern society champions weight loss as the holy grail of health and fitness.
What if it’s not the holy grail? Treating weight loss as a destination that promises approval from the outside world cheapens the journey you take when you decide to work on yourself. And let’s be honest: you want to lose body fat, not weight.
Let’s get to the bottom of this together and discover the answers you’re searching for.
#1: You’re Not Losing Weight, but you are Losing Body Fat
Scale weight is an arbitrary number–based on many factors rather than any reason or system. It’s common for the scale not to budge for a few days or even weeks, and fluctuations occur. With this in mind, do you think you put too much stock into it?
Don’t get us wrong, weight loss is a marker that you’re moving in the right direction, but so many variables affect scale weight that it could be messing with your head and hurting your goals.
What plays a role in the number you see on the scale?
- The foods you’re eating, including their nutrient make-up
- General food weight
- How much salt and carbohydrates are in your diet, which takeaway meals can influence and added salt
- How much water you’re retaining on any given day
- If you’re working out, you might be gaining muscle at the same time as losing weight.
- Some medications cause your body to retain water.
- Menstrual cycles can cause your body to retain water.
The common denominator is water retention. Later on, we’ll explain how it shows up on the scale, especially if you only weigh yourself once a week.
Solution: Markers of Progress
There are many other markers to determine the success of your fat loss efforts. When you start your weight loss journey, you’re better off measuring fat loss instead of concentrating on a scale number.
You can measure fat loss by taking pictures and comparing them every four weeks, as well as taking measurements every two weeks. If you consistently notice changes, you’re moving in the right direction.
Keep a journal of how you feel when you step on the scales. Do you dread the act? Does it stir up feelings of inadequacy? If so, perhaps you need to develop a better relationship with the scales. By detaching emotions from your weigh-in, you can stop asking, “Why am I not losing weight?” and start asking, “How can I make better decisions today?”
Extra Tip: Weigh Regularly
If you only weigh yourself once a week, stop. You might have had a heavy meal over the weekend that’s masking progress; you might be at a certain point in your cycle. Perhaps you’re not sleeping well, or you’re injured. Whatever the reason, if you happen to be retaining water on the one day you weigh-in, the number won’t be a true reflection of your weight.
Instead, weigh yourself every two to three days, and you’ll have an average. There are handy apps like Happy Scale to track averages.
#2: Hard Truth: You’re Eating Too Many Calories
We often underestimate how many calories we eat and overestimate the calories we burn.
Sometimes we forget the chocolate bar we grabbed on our way to work. We pick at foods when we’re cooking or finish the kids’ leftovers. We might even forget to include liquid calories, and that milky latte you enjoyed contains calories too, you know.
Then there’s the overestimation of calories burned during exercise. Don’t trust your watch to show you an accurate representation of calorie burn; it’s often inaccurate.
Solution: Keep a Food Diary
Keep a food diary for three days. It can be that simple. Record everything you eat and drink and try not to deviate from your usual diet. You might be surprised by how much food you consume over a day. It’s best to include a weekend day in there, too, especially if you tend to let loose.
Once you’ve done that, evaluate your choices. Is there anything you’d do differently? Perhaps you skip the mid-morning muffin? Are there any patterns? Do you eat a cheeky biscuit after a conversation with your mother-in-law and forget about it?
You could also use a calorie counting app, but we only suggest using it for short periods and then moving to eating skills for sustainable weight loss.
#3: You Have Cheat Days
What we don’t like about cheat meals or cheat days is the word cheat. Are you cheating on your diet? How does that make you feel? Only negative emotions are attached to cheating.
Unfortunately, cheat meals often lead to full days or even whole weekends. “I’ll start again on Monday” is a road paved with regret and waiting for Friday and then eating the world in a weekend might be sabotaging your efforts.
You aren’t bad or good based on what you eat, so stop thinking about food in this way. Food is food, and some foods are healthier than others, and it’s the more nutritious foods that should make up the majority of your diet.
Solution: Eat What You Want Day
When you permit yourself to eat whatever you want, you’re less likely to overeat. Instead of a cheat meal or day, experiment with using different words. You’re going to eat normally for a day or enjoy a fun meal.
The overall picture of your diet should follow the same principles. Most foods are either nutrient-dense or less nutrient-dense, or healthy and less healthy. There’s a spectrum. As long as you stay towards the nutrient-dense side of the spectrum, you’ll be in a better position to lose weight.
Extra Tip: Make Room
Monday to Friday, make room for foods you love, so you don’t feel restricted and overeat on the weekend. Who said dessert is only allowed on Sundays? Put food rules in the bin.
#4: You’re Not Eating Mindfully
Eating mindfully is a bit of a phenomenon, and with good reason. Our attention is pulled in so many directions, so we never really know where we’re putting it. Food is to be enjoyed. It’s not an inconvenience; it’s nourishment. But if you eat and watch Netflix at the same time, you might be wolfing down your food without taking the time to enjoy it, chew it, and digest it, and before you know it, hello indigestion!
How do you know when you’re full? Unless you check in with yourself, you won’t. Let’s say you eat 80% of every meal, leaving roughly 100 calories on your plate. That’s a 300-calorie deficit right there–without even trying. You might think you need to clear your plate because that’s what you were taught. You can’t waste food, right? Wrong. You can leave a bit of food on your plate, and in some cases, wrap it up and eat it tomorrow.
Another reason you might not be eating mindfully is reactionary eating. When you’re bored or stressed, do you eat? Twenty-seven percent of adults do the same, and 34 percent report overeating because of stress and say this behaviour is a habit. So, what can you do about it?
Solution: Practice Mindful Eating
What does mindful eating look like? First, start small. You can’t decide to eat mindfully, and BAM, you’ve cracked it. Habit-forming is important. You could try any of the following:
- Eat slowly
- Chew your food more
- Use smaller plates
- Put your fork down between bites
- Check-in with yourself. Are you full?
- Ask yourself if you’re eating out of boredom or because you’re stressed
- Eat without distractions
Becoming aware is the first step to long-lasting change. Pick one and stick with it for two weeks.
Extra Tip: Chopsticks for the Win
For a fun way to eat slower, try eating with chopsticks. It’s usually more challenging and more fiddly, so you’ll eat slower and might listen to your fullness cues.
#5: You’re Too Focused on Weight Loss
If you’ve been dieting for a long time or tend to yo-yo, it might be time to adopt a new approach.
Studies show that people who constantly diet actually gain weight over time. Are you too focused on weight loss? Does it consume the decisions you make daily? Have you been trying to lose weight for a long time without success? Or a little bit of success and then weight gain?
As scary as it sounds, it’s probably time to ditch the diet.
Solution: Adopt Healthier Habits
Instead of dieting, why don’t you try building healthy habits? You don’t need to ditch bad habits; you need to adopt healthier habits to replace the bad ones. It’s much easier to introduce good than it is to let go of the bad. We are built to survive.
If a bad habit serves a purpose, something you think you need to survive, your brain will trick you into thinking you can’t let go of that habit. But replacing the bad habit with a healthy one? Now we’re talking!
For example, if you think eating a 100g bar of chocolate relaxes you, try going for a relaxing walk and listening to music. If the latter produces the same response, you can double down on it, and eventually, you won’t comfort with food.
Habit-based approaches seem to bring more success. Adopting healthy habits such as eating more nutrient-dense foods, exercising and moving more, and doing things that make you happy regularly nourish your body and mind. Habits become lifestyle changes.
Weight Loss is Simple, But Not Easy
Stop beating yourself up. Stop asking, “Why am I not losing weight?”
Start thinking about how you can adopt healthier habits instead of restricting the foods you love. This work isn’t easy, and you might not know where to start.
Working with a coach to develop habits slowly is a good place.
Be compassionate with yourself. Success isn’t instant, and habits are harder to implement if you try to change too many things at once.