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Do you ever feel like you’re eating less than ever, moving more than ever but not losing the weight you want? Maybe you’ve cut out a food group and not seeing the magic weight loss you were promised? Perhaps you’ve started that new diet plan and you’re still not seeing the results you anticipated. Or maybe you did lose the weight you wanted, but you’ve now piled it back on and then some.
Weight loss a simple, yet complex process that is highly governed by your own habits and behaviours.
Here we’ll look at why you’re not losing weight and how you can lose it better.
Weight loss (and subsequently fat loss) can be boiled down to the simple concept of CICO.
CICO stands for Calories In vs Calories Out and is what governs the state of our energy balance.
When we consume more calories than we expend (a calorie surplus) we gain weight. When we expend more calories than we consume (a calorie deficit) we lose weight. When both calorie consumptions and expenditure are equal, we maintain weight.
Well, that’s because in essence it is. But the factors that go into both sides of the equation make things more difficult to manage.
The calories you expend on a day-to-day basis can be summarised by your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE.
Your TDEE is made up of 4 components that each individually impact the energy you expend in your daily life. These are your:
The amount each of these components contribute to your TDEE will vary between people, but generally they contribute in the following way:
Let’s look at each in a little more detail
Your resting metabolic rate is the energy expended whilst doing the most basic functions to keep you alive. Not to be confused with Basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is essentially the energy you expend if you were to lay perfectly still, with no digestive activity. RMR paints a slightly more accurate picture as it takes these things into consideration.
Resting metabolic rate is influenced by tissues that are considered “metabolically active”
The most metabolically active tissues are the ones that workday in and day out to keep us alive, including the Brain, Heart, Kidneys and Liver. The amount that lean mass and fat mass contribute to your RMR is dwarfed by these vital organs.
There’s plenty of ways to calculate your RMR online through various equations, and if you are looking to lose weight than knowing this figure is the best place to start.
However, it’s important to note that any figure and equation gives you will be an estimate and should be used a starting point to guide your decisions. RMR will vary between people due to physiological differences such as fat mass, lean mass, total mass, height, genetic differences, and dieting history.
Your NEAT encompasses all the activity that you do day to day which isn’t classified as purposeful exercise
This includes movement such as:
Your NEAT is the slow burning engine that requires a constant supply of energy, making it a useful tool for weight loss.
Ironically labelled EAT, your exercise activity thermogenesis is anything but.
Your EAT is simply all the purposeful exercise that you do each week, such as those gym workouts you’ve been putting off.
This component of your TDEE is often vastly overestimated and people will rely on this as a main driver of their calories out. Whilst your workouts may feel tough, and you may feel like you’re burning a hell of a lot of calories; chances are you’re not burning as many as you think.
Think of it this way, let’s say you’re doing three 1-hour training sessions per week, but spend 40 hours a week sitting at your desk. Do you think that 3 hours of training is going to offset your 40 hours of sitting?
Sounds counterintuitive, but we actually burn calories processing the food we eat.
The Thermic Effect of Food takes into consideration the calories we burn in ingestion, digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food.
Now when it comes to TEF, not all foods are created equal. Protein reigns supreme with a whopping 20-30% TEF, as protein is typically harder to process than other macronutrients.
Carbs come in second with a TEF of 5-10% and fats last with a measly TEF of 0-3%. What this is essentially means is that the net calories you consume can be different depending on which macronutrients you eat.
More protein in your diet will mean fewer net calories (as more are spend in the process of digestion), affecting the calories in side of the equation. However, this does only account for 10% of your TDEE overall and I’m not saying that you should just go and consume protein.
But, if you currently don’t have much protein in your diet, then introducing more protein is a good way to go.
Now you know what affects the calories out side of the equation, let’s talk about what affects the calories in.
Calories In sounds pretty straight forward, and in essence it is. Calories In encompasses all the food and drink that you consume which contains calories.
However, there are numerous factors that affect calories in and why you are perhaps consuming the amount you are.
These can include (but not limited to):
For a lot of people another factor is the know-how (which is why you’re reading this article).
There’s so much conflicting information out there and it can be hard to decipher what’s right for you. With a new diet trend out every year, people scramble to take part in the next big fat loss craze.
The most important thing for you to understand is that no matter what diet you decide to use, each will be effective only if it results in a calorie deficit. The actual method of dieting is just a tactic that may (or may not in most cases) increase your adherence.
I wanted to quickly touch on Adaptive Thermogenesis and Metabolic Efficiency as they’re an important part of why weight loss stalls.
Simply put, Adaptative Thermogenesis is your body’s response to change your RMR depending on how much energy is available (using less energy as you lose weight).
Metabolic Efficiency happens as your body gets better at extracting more energy from less food, a key way this happens is by slowing digestion. Overall, as you lose weight, your body will increase the efficiency in how it uses and stores energy, decreasing your RMR and effecting the other components of TDEE.
Naturally, you will get to a point where the deficit you’ve created is no longer a deficit and you’ll need to re calibrate the equation towards weight loss once more.
The reason your weight loss efforts aren’t working comes down to CICO.
Most people will assume that because they’re not doing much activity, it’s fine because they’re not eating that much. Or, on the flipside, people will assume that it’s fine that they eat loads because they consider themselves very physically active.
The thing is, often all you’re doing is balancing out the equation and not making any real impact on either side. To lose weight, you’re going to have to disrupt this balance.
A key part of my advice to my clients is to control the controllable and start with the lowest hanging fruit. We all live complex lives, with a variety of things influencing our behaviours. Instead of getting caught up on what you can’t control (like your metabolism), focus on what you can control. Can you start walking more to work?
Can you join a gym and begin a workout routine? How about hiring a coach? Can you make better food choices? Are you tracking your calories somehow? What about taking lunch to work instead? Can you get your family or partner involved in what you are doing? Out of anything you do decide on, start with the lowest hanging fruit; or the easiest choice that has the highest impact.
Here’s a few of my tips for both activity and nutrition.
When it comes to activity, we’re largely looking at how we can affect the NEAT and EAT components of your TDEE.
If you’re struggling to lose weight then the chances are you’re not doing as much movement as you think, and if you are then it may not be taking into consideration the powerful NEAT part of your TDEE.
To increase your NEAT, you need to add more movement into your daily life. For my clients, I recommend two simple and powerful ways to do this:
Most people work at a desk, commute on a train or car and then go home and sit down to cap off the day.
Start off by increase your steps to 7000-10,000 steps per day. Simple ways to do this can be through getting off as stop early on your commute, take active meetings and walking with colleagues, walking 30 minutes before breakfast/dinner, go for purposeful walks each day.
Naturally, standing requires more effort than sitting and expends more calories too.
If you sit at a desk all day, start by introducing periods of standing every hour, increasing this over time. This can be standing for 5 minutes every hour, then building into 10, 15 and so on.
For desk-bound workers, I would also recommend looking at transitioning into a standing desk in the longer term, for a variety of health benefits not just increased calorie expenditure.
For more ways to do this, check out our article on getting more movement into your daily life here!
The best exercise routine is one that you can do consistently, so it’s important to find something that you enjoy. Having said that, it is important to take into consideration that certain exercise regimes may provide more benefits.
Resistance training routines have shown to be an effective tool in weight loss (more specifically fat loss) as they maintain or even increase lean mass as you lose weight. If you maintain lean mass as you lose weight, then your RMR may be less affected as lean mass is more metabolically active than fat mass.
Physique wise, this will also encourage more muscular (or “toned”) look that many people desire. I would recommend resistance training 3-4 x per week, or any training regime that you will do consistently.
This is a topic that whole books have been written on, so here we will keep it simple and short.
First things first, you want to make sure that you are eating in a calorie deficit. Without a calorie deficit, any efforts to reduce your weight will be futile.
You can use a simple online calculator to estimate you TDEE, and then subtract from that to create a calorie deficit. You can use a calorie tracking tool such as MyFitnessPal to track your calorie intake.
With 1lb of fat equating to 3500 calories, starting with a 500-calorie deficit per day may result in a 1lb a week weight loss.
It’s important to note that, weight loss is often expressed as a percentage of bodyweight, so to those who are heavier, 1lb of fat will be easier to lose each week than it would be for a lighter individual.
The best thing you can do is use outcome-based decision making to guide your efforts. Weight yourself daily to account for fluctuations and gain an average weight over the week.
Each week this number should trend downwards, and if it’s not then it may be time to adjust one side of the equation by increasing activity and/or creating a bigger deficit.
Get more protein in your diet to encourage the maintenance of lean mass as you lose weight, as well increase the TEF component of your TDEE. Use foods that can be eaten in high volumes such as vegetables which a great way to benefit from a tonne of nutrients with minimal calorie intake at the same time.
Don’t over restrict your calories and start off conservative. You can also decrease your calories slightly more and this will help with adherence in the longer term.
Last but not least, be consistent in your efforts!
All too often people will work hard in the week to create a calorie deficit but make it all back up and then some during the weekend. Your weight loss efforts are 7 days a week, not just Monday to Friday.
To summarise, the recommendations in this article are far from exhaustive and I encourage you to do your own research and find what works for you. The mechanisms behind weight loss are complex, and whilst your body will fight against your efforts, it cannot break the laws of thermodynamics. Your diet doesn’t have to be extreme, and you can enjoy a variety of foods as long as you are in a calorie deficit.
Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Sam Lynch - Fitnitiative
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