Weight loss can be exhausting at times, especially when you hit that plateau and continue to work hard but see no weight changes. Before we dive into some key reasons why you may not be losing weight, let’s stop for a moment and reflect.
First, take a few moments to reflect on your health journey. Think about how far you have come. Consider the non-scale wins! The scale is not the only thing to determine success. In fact, there are some people who make significant body composition changes (fat loss and lean muscle gains….aka: “getting toned”) without losing a single pound. There are others who do not lose weight but have enjoyed all the improvements in their movement and cardiovascular endurance or maybe worked on their mental health FIRST before focusing in on weight loss. Remember, all of these things count towards overall well-being and should be celebrated.
For weight loss to occur, one must be at a “caloric deficit.” A caloric deficit is essentially eating and absorbing less calories than we burn. To lose weight, you just need to either adjust the “caloric intake” of the equation or increase the “calories burned” side of the equation. Seems simple, right? Wrong. It is very dynamic, complex, and often way oversimplified. Although the equation (calories in < calories burned = weight loss) is technically true, there is SO much that goes into both sides of equation. It is the biggest reason why the equation sometimes gets a bad rap. It is not that the equation is wrong; it is often oversimplified which makes it misleading.
That’s out there and understood, let’s dig into weight loss and some key reasons why people are not seeing weight loss even though they are working hard and staying committed!
Not eating enough protein and eating mostly carbs and fat.
Protein helps you to burn more calories than carbs and fats, because it has a higher thermogenic effect of food. Thermogenic effect of food is the energy/calories we require to metabolize, absorb, and excrete food. When we eat less protein than our needs, we are doing a disservice to our metabolism and other physiological processes, making it harder to lose weight.
Alright, do not get us wrong, carbs and fats are important! They are not the enemy. Carbs will help fuel workouts, as these are the body’s main source of energy. Ideally, a fueled workout, if programmed correctly, is going to help you gain lean muscle mass. When we gain lean muscle mass, our metabolism increases. Which means we burn more calories in a day (and likely will need to eat more). Fats also play a role here. They assist with hormonal balance, absorption of nutrients, providing energy, blood clotting, wound healing, and inflammatory processes. Can you see that all these macronutrients play a role? We need to find a balance between all of these macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein).
Eating at a caloric deficit for longer than 12-14 weeks.
The weight was trending down and now it has stopped, although we are doing all the same things we were doing before. Plateau. Bummer, right? This is what we call metabolic adaption and is a normal physiological process. The metabolism has adapted down due to less mass / weight (mass burns mass) and trying to be at equilibrium. The body does not like caloric deficits; it was made to survive. When at a caloric deficit too long, the body will reduce the metabolism to make food intake (calories) match calories burned, which results in weight maintenance. At this point, it is a good idea to reverse diet and slowing begin increasing your calories back up while maintaining weight. Once you build the metabolism back up, it is appropriate to go back into a caloric deficit for more weight loss.
Low Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
RMR makes up the biggest part of the “calories burned” side of the equation in weight loss. When the RMR is low, weight loss more challenging and harder to sustain a caloric deficit. Few reasons this can occur- lack of sleep, medications, high stress for prolonged periods of time, high alcohol intake, hypothyroidism, genetic, chronic dieting, and metabolic adaptation (read above).
Hormones can be tricky, and if not regulated, they can make weight loss tough. Here are some examples:
- Elevated ghrelin leads to hunger. If the spike is steep enough, it can make hunger hard to control during times of weight loss. Plus, ghrelin naturally goes up during times of weight loss.
- Leptin is a hormone that helps us to feel full. It is produced in fat cells. During periods of weight loss, we lose fat. Therefore, we lose some production of leptin. This makes is hard to feel full.
- Prolonged dieting at a caloric deficit can cause cholecystokinin (CCK) to decrease. This hormone is known to keep us fuller longer because it slows down digestion of fiber and protein. That is why protein and fiber are great during times of weight loss; they help keep us fuller. Until they don’t. This is another good indicator to take a break from the caloric deficit and maintain weight for a moment.
- Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Insulin resistance (the body’s cells do not respond to insulin) can also make weight loss more difficult. Some studies have shown that reducing carbohydrate slightly and having a higher portion of proteins while at a caloric deficit result in greater weight loss. However, this is highly individualized and should be monitored by a doctor and Registered Dietitian.
While weight loss may be tough and come with some plateaus, there are ways over the barriers. At Hancock Health, we are here for you and to support you over the barriers. Specifically, the Hancock Wellness Center is equipped with medically trained Exercise Specialists and Registered Dietitians to assist in developing an exercise program, nutritional regimen, and healthy lifestyle habits specific to you.
Sabrina Goshen, MS, RD, LD
Hancock Wellness Center – Greenfield