Let’s start out with some statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC pre-pandemic 41.9% of the adult population in the United State was obese. (obese meaning 20% or more above normal weight or a body mass index over 30). This is bad. It gets even worse. The CDC also reports that 73.65% of the adult population in the United States is overweight, including obesity. This means that nearly three quarters of the adult population of the United States is unhealthy because if you are overweight you are unhealthy. Being overweight is a symptom of disease and if not remedied may lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and early death. Now that we have that soberingly cheerful and foreboding news let’s dig into some reasons you may not be losing weight or why it may be coming off slower than you would like or need.
Weight loss at its core is not complicated and yet it is a very complex process. To understand the complexity of it, realize that we burn off fat by breathing and sweating it out. The physiological and biological process that goes into turning fat into air and sweat is complex and thus we will leave that to the science majors. For our purposes of helping you lose weight we simply need to understand that the underlying process is fairly complex and yet the actions to get there are fairly straightforward. At the end of the day you need to burn or metabolize more calories or energy than you consume. Sounds simple, right? So why is it so dang hard to do it?
The first reason is because you are not a robot. As much as humans want to make us all robots they haven’t accomplished it just yet and thus we are still 100% human. Our human factor can be a great gift when harnessed. It can also be a great hindrance when not reigned in. As a human we are all fallible. Meaning none of us is perfect and thus we are going to make mistakes. Making mistakes and failing is part of the human condition. Without it we would not be where we are today, can you image no post-it notes or microwaves or penicillin or ink-jet printers or x-ray images or artificial sweetener or potato chips or Coca-Cola or chocolate chip cookies (okay, okay, we may be better off without the last four, but still) all of these were the result of a mistake. Mistakes help us progress. Embrace your mistakes because they will make you stronger and better in the longer run. It is only when we get stuck because of our mistakes that we truly fail. In terms of weight loss, understand you are going to make mistakes. The key then is to not allow those mistakes to derail you. Instead learn from the mistakes and channel your frustration and new learning into progress. Without the ability to shake off your mistakes from your weight loss efforts you will fail every time. With the ability to learn from and grow from your mistakes you become unstoppable in your efforts and are guaranteed to succeed. Success when you learn the skill of intelligent perseverance is just a matter of time.
Still along the lines of being human is our next reason you may be losing the weight loss battle. Our Boise personal trainers run into this one frequently with our clients. The issue with humans is that we are habitual beings. To simplify life we make as many things as possible run on autopilot so that we can focus our brain power on the things that can’t be done habitually. It is challenging to break out of our habits. It is challenging to form new habits. The two best books on habit formation and habit change are Atomic Habits by James Clear and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. Anybody serious about habit change needs to understand the principles in these books. Even more than simply understanding the principles in these books the principles need to be implemented. If you are not able to break or change your old habits to habits that serve you better then you will not succeed in your weight loss efforts. This is one of the main reasons that contestants from shows like The Biggest Loser do not keep their weight off after they are no longer on the show. This is also the reason that a six week challenge does not work for long term success. It takes longer than six weeks for most of us to change our habits. When you change your habits you change your life. When you MASTER your habits you MASTER your life.
In an effort to create a caloric deficit you likely slowed your metabolism, malnourished your body, and made it more likely for a vicious rebound effect. The fewer calories we eat, in other words the less food we eat, the slower your metabolism will be. The more food we eat the higher our metabolism. We want a fast metabolism for weight loss and we also must have a caloric deficit. “So, you’re telling me I need to eat more food, but also eat less food? I’m don’t get it.” Correct, in a sense. If you are eating let’s, say 1,200 calories per day and you want to lose weight based on the standard calorie reduction method you would need to drop your calories below 1,200. Consuming under 1,200 calories of food for nearly everybody on the planet would lead to malnourishment. Your body would not get the micronutrients or macronutrients that it needs to perform optimally. In contrast, if you were eating 2,000 calories and created a caloric deficit you have more calories to play around with and thus are less likely to malnourished your body. This higher caloric load will also maintain a higher metabolism making it easier to lose weight when you go into a caloric deficit. Are you following me? We need a strong and fast metabolism produced in part by a higher amount of food consumed so that when we do create a caloric deficit your body is well nourished and burns through fat like a grease fire.
Now, eating food is not the only thing you need to do to increase your metabolism. As a matter of fact for most people if all you did was increase your food intake then all you would do would be gain weight. The opposite of losing weight for those paying attention. Bueller? Bueller? Okay, so what gives and why is this so complicated. I don’t know and that’s the way it is so let’s just get on with it. You also need to increase the activity you do outside of exercise. This part is really NEAT. No really, non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In short NEAT. This is all of the activity we do outside of exercise. Things like walking, fidgeting, climbing stairs, etc. This stuff is like wellness gold When we move more we burn through more calories. When we burn through more calories we have a higher metabolism. When we have a higher metabolism we are able to better control our body composition and, you guessed it, lose weight. So you need to exercise when you are not exercising 😉 The bottom line on this one is that the human body was created to move and move a lot. We were designed to be doing low level physical activity all day long from stalking prey to foraging. Get your move on.
Quick recap here before we jump into the next few reasons you may not be losing weight at the rate you would like. Our Boise personal trainers recommend you first check your mindset. Make sure you are learning from your mistakes and using them to fuel your growth. Second, become a master of your habits. Third, eat more food. Fourth, move all day long for some quality NEAT.
Next up on why you are not losing weight is because you are not sleeping enough or well enough. Sleep is a necessity. Without it you will literally die. Without the proper amount and quality you will at minimum not perform at your best and at worst die a premature death. Yoda would say, “Sleep, you must.” What is the right amount? That depends on your lifestyle, stress levels, amount of exercise, age, etc. However, the generally recommended amount by the Sleep Foundation is seven to nine hours of sleep per night for an adult. The average adult sleeps about eighty percent of the time they are in bed. Thus, you need to be in bed attempting to sleep for 8.4 to 10.8 hours per night to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. How are you doing? Are you close? The other interesting thing about sleep is that more is not always better. Sure if you are sick, or recovering from something or are an elite athlete more may be better, but for us average folk more leads to worse outcomes than the target range. There may be any number of reasons for this that have nothing to do with sleep itself, but regardless seven to nine hours of good quality sleep per night seems to be the generally agreed upon sweet spot. If you are not sleeping seven to nine hours per night or are not sleeping well, remedy that immediately for both your sanity, performance in life, and weight loss efforts.
Here are a few sleep tips from our Boise personal trainers. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night to keep your circadian rhythm in rhythm. Do not eat within two hours of going to bed (four hours is even better). Do a brain dump before bed writing down anything and everything that comes to your mind. Exercise at some point during the day. Eat quality lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits. Make your room as dark as possible. Sleep with your mouth shut. Use headphones or other noise canceling tools. Those should be a good start. Now get some sleep.
You may be working out too hard or for too long or both. If we push the body too much it tends to think that it is in fight or flight mode…all the time. This is no good. When we are in fight or flight mode we are constantly pumping stress hormones into our bloodstream. Hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, glucagon amongst a myriad of others. Hormones more or less control our body. If we are not secreting the right hormones at the right times we are in trouble. Many of these stress hormones cause our body to want to store fat and break down muscle. The two things we want to be doing the opposite of when trying to lose weight. When you are stressed you also will have issues sleeping. One of the telltale signs of overtraining according to our Boise personal trainers is disturbed sleep. Some other signs of overtraining include weight loss plateaus, strength plateaus (or worse getting weaker), irritability, and feeling tired or winded with easy everyday activities like walking up the stairs. So what is the right amount of exercise? Good question and also a bit difficult to answer without knowing you or your circumstance, but remember we need to be doing NEAT every day. Specific exercise is recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services at 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. You can mix and match vigorous with moderate as well. For enhanced weight loss benefit up to 300 minutes per week. They go on to recommend two full body strength training sessions per week. We would recommend strength training be the foundation of your weight loss plan based on the science done on this topic. Whatever you do, don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. Generally speaking less is more when it comes to weight loss as the bulk of your results will be seen by the changes in your nutrition. You want to start at an easy level and time commitment for where you currently are. Slowly increase the difficulty and exercise time as your body gets more fit.
Following right up with excess exercise is excess stress. Excess stress leads to many of the same issues as excess exercise. We are simply not designed to be under constant stress. We were designed to be able to run away or fight for a short period of time and then get back to foraging, walking, or what have you. In today’s busy fast paced lifestyle we have to teach ourselves how to manage stress so that it doesn’t get the better of us. With too much stress in your life you will not see the results you are after in the weight loss, fitness, or health department. Learn to meditate, practice stoicism, believe in something greater than you, quit your job, eat less junk food, sleep more and better, spend more time with the people you love and enjoy and less time with those you don’t, pursue your dreams and goals. Bottom line: de-stress your life from distress. Eustress (this is the good type of stress) is fine as long as it doesn’t turn into distress over time. You don’t need to be stressed all of the time to be successful in life and in the end it leads to a life littered with issues.
You aren’t losing weight because you are doing too much cardiovascular exercise and not enough resistance training exercise. Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart, lungs, and body when done correctly and not in excess. Cardiovascular exercise is also great for burning calories while you are doing it. Resistance training on the other hand needs to be the foundation of any fitness program and that includes one with the focus of weight loss. Resistance training will develop lean muscle which will help you burn more calories while at rest and shape your body. If you want to lose weight and look great then resistance training must be part of your routine. You can lose weight with cardio, but generally you will end up looking like a less fat version of yourself. When you do resistance training you will look like a lean and toned less fat version of yourself. Some people like to use the term “look good naked.” Not only does resistance training help you look better and lose weight it will also improve your energy levels, make sporting activities easier, and increase your confidence. Just like any exercise you want to start slow and increase difficulty as your body adapts. If you have never done any resistance training you will want to start out with body weight or even less than body weight exercise variations until your body adjusts to the new stress.
You aren’t losing weight because you aren’t doing enough cardio. If all you are doing is lifting weights and weight loss is your goal you could stand to add a bit of cardiovascular exercise to your routine. When done correctly this cario work will help your resistance training sessions. Cardio training burns calories (for fat loss) and gets the blood moving which aids in removal of toxins and delivery of nutrients to the working muscles. There is a reason that bodybuilders do cardio when they are prepping for a show. If you are stalled with your weight loss efforts see if adding a bit of cardio to your workout routine helps move the needle on the scale.
This is probably the biggest issue our Boise personal trainers see when it comes to why clients aren’t losing weight. Are you ready for it? The biggest reason people don’t lose weight is because they aren’t following the plan. Nearly every diet works when it is followed. Nearly every workout program works when it is followed. The issue for most people is not following the plan or combining multiple plans. Following multiple plans at once can be as bad as having no plan at all, because often diet and fitness plans contradict each other. Find a plan you can stick with and STICK WITH IT! You can change the plan once you have exhausted the results produced by the current exercise and nutrition plan. Until you stop getting results or have to change the plan because of life circumstances keep doing it. Do not get shiny object syndrome or as the dog in UP has “squirrel” syndrome. Consistency and the level at which you implement are the two most important components to a successful body transformation program.
If you are not losing weight at the rate you want to or you have hit a plateau implement some of the suggestions from our Boise personal trainers and see if you can get the scale moving back down.