by Robert Maxwell
If you’ve ever struggled with weight loss, you know how frustrating lack of results can be. Few sights are more annoying than a familiar scale readout that refuses to drop. With over 40% of Canada’s population self-reporting as overweight or obese, the struggle is widespread. So why do so many people have a hard time shedding excess pounds? It boils down to lack of two things: motivation and information. Without healthy doses of both, you won’t lose weight. If your problem is motivation, there’s not much I or anyone else can do. You’ve got to decide for yourself to take action. If you’re motivated to lose weight but overwhelmed with conflicting ideas and in need of some direction, this article can help.
The first thing to understand is that weight loss isn’t complicated. I should clarify that “weight loss” means removing excess body fat. Losing muscle, bone, or other bodily materials is bad. Fat is the only thing you should be taking off. So what is fat, and why do we have it? Fat is excess energy your body stores when you consume more calories than you burn. Yes, calories matter. The word “calorie” might give you a bad feeling, but it’s nothing more than a unit of energy, like joules or watts. Everything you eat contains calories, which your body burns to keep you breathing, walking, and thinking. Calories are your body’s fuel. If you fill your car with gas, then keep the gas flowing after the tank’s full, the excess fuel will soon spill out, making a mess and wasting gas. Your body’s more sophisticated. Overfill it, and it’ll store the excess fuel for later. Think of it like filling a gas can and putting it in your trunk. Trouble is, carrying too many full gas cans will lower your car’s efficiency. In the same way, it’s easy for your body to become weighed down by excess body fat that’s stored but never used. Bottom line – fat loss means fewer calories. Sounds simple, but many folks familiar with this fact still struggle to lose weight. If this is you, here are 4 things you might be doing to keep unwanted pounds.
Not Managing Food Intake Properly
Knowing calories matter is one thing, managing your food intake another. If you want to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit, consistently eating less than you burn. Many people fall into the trap of eating “healthy”, with no thought to how many calories they’re consuming, then wonder why the scale shows no progress. The reason is simple – they’re not managing food quantity. Choosing healthy foods is important, but it’s not the missing ingredient to fat loss. Fewer calories is. Does this mean you’ve got to start tallying every calorie you eat? It might sound miserable, but it’s the most reliable way to ensure a deficit. Luckily, there’s an easier way. It involves measuring food with your hand. Regardless of the method you choose, food intake must be managed if you want to lose weight.
Eating More Than You Think
Every so often a frustrated person comes to me for advice. They tell me they’re managing food intake and definitely in a calorie deficit, but not losing weight. They want to know why. I always start by telling them the same thing – they’re not in a calorie deficit. They usually start arguing. “I count my calories, I know I’m in a deficit!” Basic physics tells me they’re wrong. By definition, a calorie deficit is an amount of energy LESS THAN your body needs to maintain its current weight. Everyone in a calorie deficit WILL lose weight. Everyone. All the time. If you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a deficit. It’s as simple as that. If you’re counting calories or using another method of food intake management but not losing weight, you’re not in a deficit. You need to eat less or burn more, then check the scale after a couple weeks and reevaluate.
Burning Less Than You Think
If you use a FitBit or other fitness device that counts calories burned, there’s a good chance you have an inflated opinion of your exercise. In my experience these devices overestimate energy output. Level of inaccuracy depends on the device, but even the most conservative fitness trackers seem to bump up calories burned by 10-15%. The unpleasant reality is that burning lots of calories is hard. For a 180 pound man to burn 3500 calories beyond his maintenance level, equal to one pound of body fat, he’d have to run nonstop at 50% speed for over 3 hours. Weight loss shouldn’t happen this quickly. It’s foolish to try running off a pound of fat in a single day. Even if you’re aiming for a daily deficit of just 500 calories, you probably won’t get there by exercising if you don’t manage food intake. Chances are you’re not burning as much fuel as you think, so don’t overfill the tank.
Cheating too often
You’re counting calories, using the hand method, or managing food intake some other way. You know your calorie maintenance level and stay below it. You’ve even lost some weight. Trouble is, it comes right back. What’s going on? Could be a few things, but the most likely suspect is cheat meals. If you reward yourself for clean eating with junk food, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. That’s not to say cheat meals can’t be enjoyed now and then without reversing your results. The problem is when one cheat meal per week becomes two, then three, then a cheat weekend. Next you’re enjoying treats every day, promising yourself you’ll get back on the wagon as soon as you finish the cake in the fridge. Stop lying. Eat clean and control calories most of the time. Enjoy rare treats. Anything else will ruin your results.