Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Not Losing Weight?
Why Am Calorie Counting and Not Losing Weight?
Perhaps you are one of millions who has set themselves a New Years resolution to lose weight? Maybe you’re calorie counting, have joined Slimming World, or trying the Keto diet? Whatever diet you are trying, losing weight ultimately comes down to burning more fuel (calories) than you take in. If you are calorie counting but not losing weight, your calories are likely too high, or your counting is inaccurate.
When starting on any diet, the first week can often show a great loss on the scales. Unfortunately, this is normally water-loss rather than a reduction in fat. Carbohydrates are fabulous at causing us to hold onto water, which is why some people blame them for weight gain, feel that a low carb diet is the answer, and dislike the bloated feeling that carbs can sometimes cause. When starting out on any diet, it is likely you have reduced your carb intake causing a reduction in water. There is roughly 2-3grams of water retained for every 1g of ingested glycogen. Mixing high glycogen (carbs) with salt (sodium) can really cause a rapid increase in ‘water weight’ and make us feel puffy as well as seeing a sudden overnight increase in the scales.
Realistically, we must eat an extra 3500 calories to put on just 1lb. If you are calorie counting and not losing weight, it is likely your caloric deficit, or tracking, is inaccurate. If you are simply eating less calories than you burn, then you will be losing weight. But finding that 'magic number' for your calorie deficit can be difficult. It is so important that you are eating little enough to lose weight, but enough to stop you feeling terrible and binging.
So why do I see so many cries for help from people who claim to be religiously calorie counting but not losing weight? Here may be some reasons.
- Your calories are wrong. Unfortunately, ultimately, it may be as simple as that. If you are very sedentary (do minimal exercise) you may well just need to eat a whole lot less calories that you previously thought. But before you drastically cut them, just read the rest..
- Are you weighing your food? I see so many people so frustrated after trying their hardest to lose weight for weeks only to be sabotaging themselves by not using scales. Measuring in cups, spoons etc can be wildly inaccurate. I stopped using the scoop that comes with my protein powder after realising I can be over or under by up to 15g a time – which can easily equate to over 100cals.
- It is also very surprising how many people nibble completely without even realising they are doing it. Picking the odd couple of chips off their kids plates whilst preparing their dinner, eating their unwanted toast crusts etc. These little nibbles massively add up. I find this particularly relevant for people who exercise, as they think a bit of nibbling won’t hurt as they’ve exercised that day.
- Are you exercising? I have previously written about diet and exercise and how it is not essential to exercise in order to lose weight. You will obviously just eat less calories as you won’t be burning quite so many. However, if you are new to your diet and have been religiously hitting the gym and increasing your exercise, you may well be mortified to find the scales have moved in the wrong direction. This is quite possibly down to microscopic tears in your muscles, a completely normal process when starting any exercise regime and essential to increasing muscle mass. However, your bodies response to these tears is inflammation and water retention. Stick with it, the fluid retention will eventually reduce, and you’ll instead see the results on the scales.
- Adding back exercise calories? Been to the gym? Fitbit showing you’ve burnt 600 calories so decided to treat yourself to a Chinese? Fitness trackers grossly overestimate the number of calories burnt, if you do decide to eat some of your exercise calories, take the numbers provided with a pinch of salt and be conservative.
- Did you eat a high carb, high sodium meal the night before you weighed? Even if this meal was within your calorie allowance for the day, it can cause some temporary water retention which you may not identify if you only weigh once a week.
- A womans menstrual cycle can also greatly effect our results on the scales.
- Weighing at the same time of day. Our weight can fluctuate massively throughout the day, so I recommend weighing in the morning after going to the toilet.
- Constipation? Any change to diet can upset our bowel habits.
- Cheat nights? I have seen so many people complain they’re not losing weight only to hear they have a day or even just an evening off every week to eat pizza and ice-cream. I actually do this myself and can easily smash 3000 calories or more on a cheat day. I have had to reduce my daily calories throughout the week in order to do this without sabotaging my weight loss. If you are planning on having a day or even an evening off tracking once a week, you will need to dramatically reduce your daily calories for the rest of the week. My 3000 calories (roughly) extra on a Friday, divides into about 210 calories I could be having extra during the day, every day, if I didn’t insist on having my pizza and ice-cream once a week.
- Make sure you count liquids too. Alcohol, fruit juices, cans of pop and even sauces can be massively calorific. If it goes in your mouth, it needs to be tracked.
- Be cautious with using calorie tracking apps such as My Fitness Pal. Some items are added by people who have inputted details incorrectly. It is always best to double check labels on your food and create your own list of trusted foods. Pay particular attention to pastas and rice, when weighing our your pasta check whether the nutritional information on the packet refers to dry or cooked weight, as 75g of dry pasta weighs a whole lot more when its cooked, and you may be under or over counting.
Calorie deficit and gaining muscle?
Unfortunately, it is very unlikely to be muscle gain causing the scales to not move, or to even increase. Although it is possible for people to gain muscle whilst eating in a calorie deficit, it is extremely difficult. It will involve eating a high amount of good quality protein, following a very strict gym routine consisting of progressive lifting of weights and often lifting until failure (until you physically can’t lift any more). Even when everything is perfect, protein intake, weightlifting techniques, enough sleep etc, the maximum amount of weight a woman (for example) can gain a month is around 0.5-1.5lb – and I believe those figures are even less when a woman is in a calorie deficit. Unfortunately, this is not a very well-known fact, and it is often suggested, particularly on social media, that if the scales are not moving it is because you’re gaining muscle, this is unfortunately very unlikely to be the case.
Controversially, I also do not agree with people who advise someone who is not losing weight, despite an apparent calorie deficit, that they need to eat more to lose. If a person is eating so few calories that their body has gone into ‘starvation mode’ they will also be feeling incredibly unwell, malnourished and be suffering from severe nutritional deficiencies and it certainly will not be something that has happened within only a few weeks of starting a diet.
Furthermore, starvation mode and a weight-loss plateau are two very different things, and are both very unlikely to effect anyone new to calorie counting.
Now, if someone admits to being on 1000 calories a day, but every 7 days gives in to horrendous feelings of hunger and has a massive binge and takes a few days to get back to tracking, then they obviously need to increase their daily calories as they are currently following a completely unsustainable plan. However, if the same person on 1200 calories claims to not be losing weight and is not doing any of the things I have stated above, I would recommend they visit their GP or see a specialist, as they should absolutely be losing weight and may be suffering from an underlying health condition. I also recommend, that anyone who believes they need to be eating less than 1200 calories a day, should seek advice from their GP.
When a person starts a calorie deficit diet and chooses calories that are too extreme, their body not only breaks down fat for energy, it also begins to eat into your muscles. The less muscle a person has, the less calories they burn at rest and your metabolic rate declines. This is why a calorie deficit that is low enough for a slow and steady weight loss, coupled with adequate protein intake and resistance training is an optimal method to weight loss.
If you are concerned that your weight-loss has stalled, or perhaps didn’t really take-off at all. Think about all the points above and wait a couple of weeks before making any changes to your allotted calories. Try adding in some exercise, even stepping around the house, or going for a 20 minute walk once a day can be enough to make a difference. If you chose to reduce your calories further, do so gradually and wait a couple/few weeks before readjusting further.
I am always happy to help and answer any questions you may have. I work away often and do not always have access to social media, but can use the internet on the work computers. Any questions sent through the forum on this site will be answered.
How is a push-up bra like a bag of chips?
As soon as you open it, you realise its half empty.